Vicar of Firle, Glynde and Beddingham: Peter Owen Jones on his latest venture
PUBLISHED: 17:02 18 May 2015 | UPDATED: 16:24 14 January 2019
Peter Owen Jones is the vicar of Firle, Glynde and Beddingham, and an occasional broadcaster. His latest venture is a collection of walks named Pathlands
The life of Peter Owen Jones, the charismatic vicar of Firle, Glynde and Beddingham, has followed an extraordinary path. From leaving school at 16 and travelling to Australia, to pursuing a career in advertising, his has perhaps not been the typical route to life as a parish priest. But he laughs this off. “I am not sure you can be prepared for life as a clergyman. It’s so completely reactive and it is nothing other than a privilege. It isn’t this sugar lump existence that people imagine it to be: it is brutal and can be quite bruising.”
Peter’s television series have included Around the World in 80 Faiths, The Battle for Britain’s Soul and How to Live a Simple Life. As part of his BBC series Extreme Pilgrim, Peter spent 21 days of solitude in Egypt. The letters he wrote whilst in exile led to his last book, Letters From an Extreme Pilgrim.
His latest publication is an anthology of walks, part travelogue, part celebration of the secret paths and bridleways that criss-cross rural Britain. The prose is lush and limpid, beautifully evoking the landscapes it describes. Of the 21 walks detailed in the book, three are in Sussex: through woodland in Bedham, West Sussex; Dry Hill, on the Kent border; and Sutton in West Sussex. He says:“I have written several books but I have never really written from the perspective of something I truly love and admire and that has been the bedrock of my life. I have always walked since I was a little boy. It is something I have done every day for at least 10 years.”
“St Francis said Salvatore Ambulando, which means ‘you will solve it by walking’. When you are faced with a deep question, walking it through is very much a meditative process. All the great spiritual masters have also taken time to walk.”
Christ spent his 40-day exile walking in the desert and his (walked) journey to the cross is one of the cornerstones of Christianity. Peter’s own spiritual journey is punctuated by a literal journey, taken every day, up Firle Beacon where he says his prayers. Although it is a route he travels daily he says that it is never the same, changing from day to day as the weather alters and the seasons develop.
I was interested to discover why he had chosen to walk between villages for this book: was it a reflection of his life as a village priest? “A village has its unique character fermented by those of us who live there.” And besides, “people have tended to focus on the trophy walks that exist up and down this beautiful island.” Peter wanted to celebrate the smaller paths, he says, because they are “the great jewels of this land”. In countries such as America and Northern Island, such freedom of movement does not exist: you can’t simply cross streams or traverse fields, whether because of towns built for the convenience of the car or a country cleaved by religious rifts.
Asked what makes a good walk, Peter laughs “There is no such thing as a bad walk. I love walking in the rain and I love walking on a bright June morning. A good walk leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to face the struggles of human existence.”
For many of us, the prospect of a well-earned rest in a country pub is a highlight of a long walk. Peter agrees, saying that they are “really jewels of our culture”. He doesn’t have favourites as such, but he believes himself lucky to live near The Ram in Firle.
Pathlands: 21 Tranquil Walks Among the Villages of Britain by Peter Owen Jones is published by Rider and is available in hardback at £12.99