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A COMBER clergyman is planning to walk almost 90 miles to help raise funds for restoration work at his church.

Reverend Sam Johnston, from St Marys’ Church, is walking 89 miles from Armagh to Downpatrick in a bid to raise funds for restoration works for the front of the church which hasn’t been renovated since 1928.

A recent inspection small bits of stone were chipping off the clock tower and an inspector was able to lift off a chunk of stone. Mr Johnston is starting his walk on March 13 and hopes to finish on March 16.

“I would have been into walking in the past but I haven’t been doing any for a while,” he said.

“I walked 27 miles on Saturday and the week before to Bangor and back which was 25 miles.

“I’ve done long walks before but it’s the back to back I think that’s going to be the issue,” he added.

“We had a few ideas but with the timing of coming up to St Patrick’s Day and realising the walk seemed the best fit. I have gone through phases where I think it’s doable and others where I think it’s going to be difficult.

“I probably haven’t done much walking for the best part of decade, it’s going to be a challenged. The walk is supposed to be done over six to eight days and I’m doing it over four days, roughly 22 miles or so a day.”

The Minister is going to be walking along St Patricks Way, and is aiming to meet up with another pilgrimage on his final day.

There’s a pilgrimage from Saul to Down Cathedral which is the burial place of St Patrick,” he explained.

“Normally it’s St Patrick’s Day but this year it’s the Saturday before, so the hope is I’m going to meet up with them.

“One of the things that I’m finding interesting when walking is seeing things you wouldn’t usually see, and it’s fascinating to think that this is how people got around 1,500 years ago. It’s teaching me not to take my car for granted.”

St Mary’s Church was built in 1840 with the last renovations on the Clock Tower being completed in 1928.

“It hasn’t had any work done in almost a century and basically we’ve realised that there’s work that needs done to the stonework,” he said.

“In the short term we’ve blocked off the front of the church, and we hope relatively soon to get safety measures up so we can use the front entrance to the church, but we need to get the works done.

“There’s little bits of stone coming off. We got it inspected they were able to lift stones off but it’s not the case that big bits are falling off so this is risk mitigation.

“We don’t have the exact figure as to what it’s going to cost as yet but it’s going to be six figures. I’m not going to raise that walking 89 miles but I’ve set a target of £15,000.

“We have some reserves, we have received some grants, but we have a huge way to go so we’ll be doing more fundraising over the next while.”

The church has remedial works to do to all their buildings, so over the next number of years they’ll be doing different bits but this is the most immediate project.

At time of print the church has raised £6,600 and Mr Johnston would like to thank everyone for their donations, and all their prayers and support.

The church has a JustGiving page that people can donate to and Sam will be updating as well with his walking progress.

If anyone would like to donate, go to

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