THE Bishop of Ripon yesterday led hundreds of pilgrims in a prayer of thanksgiving for the re-opening of footpaths hit by foot-and-mouth disease.

The Right Reverend John Packer said this year's Boxing Day pilgrimage from Ripon Cathedral to Fountains Abbey had added significance after a year of crisis in the countryside.

He led walkers on the traditional, four-mile route, retracing the footsteps of the group of monks who founded Fountains Abbey on December 26, 1132.

Much of the route through the Studley Royal estate and nearby farms had been closed for months because of the epidemic.

Bishop Packer celebrated Holy Communion in Ripon Cathedral before setting out along the city's streets and into the countryside.

Canon Keith Punshon, one of the organisers, said: "The walk has a religious dimension to it and it is a genuine pilgrimage.

"I think Fountains has that sense of being a holy place.

"People find that they are profoundly affected by it and altogether it is a moving event, as well as a very enjoyable one."