A record 2,000 people joined the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds as he led his final Boxing Day pilgrimage from Ripon Cathedral to Fountains Abbey before his imminent retirement.
Walkers young and old from the city and across the region enjoyed a crisp sunny day which started with sub-zero temperatures and frosty footpaths as they began their 90-minute, four-mile route.
The Rt Rev John Packer, who has served as Bishop of Ripon and Leeds for 13 years, said: “For me, the Boxing Day pilgrimage has always been one of the highlights of the year though more so on a crisp winter morning than if it is pouring with rain.
“The walk gives us the chance to talk with one another and gives us a sense of pilgrimage and of moving forward and on into the new year.
“This year in particular I will be looking forward to a new chapter in my own life and to a new chapter in the life of the diocese.”
The pilgrimage follows in the footsteps of a group of Cistercian monks from York who walked from Ripon to Fountains on December 26, 1132, and founded the abbey.
The walk began at the west front of Ripon Cathedral following a short service of Holy Communion where several hundred walkers set off with the Bishop along Ripon’s streets.
Making their way through the city and through beautiful parkland and countryside following the banks of the River Skell, the number of walkers had swelled to 1,200 when the half-way point had been reached – the Studley Royal water gardens entrance of Fountains Abbey.
According to the National Trust, which runs the World Heritage Site, a further 800 visitors joined the pilgrims for the final service of carols held in the cellarium of Fountains Abbey.
It was standing room only with many outside the building as the Rt Rev Packer conducted the 25-minute act of worship during which he announced 2014’s pilgrimage will be led for the first time by the Rt Rev James Bell, the Bishop of Knaresborough, who becomes area Bishop for Ripon when the new “super-diocese” of West Yorkshire and the Dales is formed at Easter.
A final farewell service for the Rt Rev Packer and his wife Barbara will take place at Ripon Cathedral on Sunday, January 5, at 3pm.