The goldcrests - a story of pilgrimage

An adult goldcrest (Image: RSPB)

An adult goldcrest (Image: RSPB)

KEEN walker and bird-watcher Dave Bradley shares this story of hope and encouragement on pilgrim journeys:

In May 2017, I set off to walk the North Wales Pilgrim Way. I'd felt very drawn to it, following the 2013 St. Bride's pilgrimage which walked the last 32 miles, along the Lleyn Peninsula to Bardsey Island. A secondary purpose was to raise sponsorship money towards the refurbishment of St. Bride's. Thank you to those who gave - your support was appreciated. 

My wife, Carol, joined me to walk the first mile and a half to the remarkable St. Winifred's Well at Holywell. We paused briefly on a woodland track a few hundred yards before the Well. We have both been amateur birdwatchers for the past 25 years or so and have never before seen or heard of anything like what happened next. A goldcrest flew out of the hedge at the side of the track and landed on my left boot. After a few seconds it calmly flew off. 

Wild birds avoid human beings. The goldcrest, Britain's smallest bird, is a skulking bird, very difficult to get near. Its behaviour was inexplicable. I took the incident as an enormous encouragement. I am slow to label events supernatural or due to God's direct intervention, but that seemed to me the best explanation for what had happened. It was a gentle, beautiful touch from a Creator who loves to encourage, using a creature in its own lovely natural setting. 

Another pilgrimage is planned, this time for the whole of the Team Parish of St. Luke in the City, which includes St. Bride's. We will be walking the Peak Pilgrimage trail from March 29th to April 3rd 2019, staying at Dovedale House in Ilam.

On Thursday 19th April a group of visited Ilam to recce the first day's walk and to look around Dovedale House. We had a good tour round the lovely house and saw its beautiful grounds. We were then led across the courtyard to the rustic chapel, which, to be honest, I hadn't realised was there. It quickly emerged that a bird was trapped in the chapel. It flew around with difficulty as it was trailing a large amount of spiders web, snagged around its leg and claws. It was a goldcrest. 


Our Team Rector, Miranda, managed to hold onto the bird, which would never have happened with a wild bird if it had not been so burdened. She freed it, as can be seen in the accompanying photo. It's a little fuzzy but my excuse is that I was overwhelmed by what I was seeing. After the encounter with a goldcrest on my own pilgrimage, it was extraordinary to meet another on this first visit - in the chapel of all places. 

A friend tells me that a goldcrest is a symbol of resurrection. How symbolic is it that it was our vicar, Miranda, who freed the bird, liberating it from its burden? What are the chances of these remarkable encounters being mere coincidences? 

Questions. It is easy to get over-excited, to be always claiming 'God did this, God did that'. In our scientific age, we are inclined to either be sceptical on the one hand or to live in a credulous, miracle-obsessed bubble on the other. I prefer the middle ground in which there is a recognition that sometimes the Creator, who sustains everything all the time anyway, does intervene in ways that are out of the normal. We should have the courage to identify and celebrate those moments. And I believe the double coincidence of the goldcrests is one of them.

It has left me enormously encouraged and excited about the prospect of the pilgrimage. Do consider joining us if you haven't already.