TRAGIC vicar Bob Thorn was rowing home from Cornwall on a spiritual journey recreating the traditions of Celtic saints when he died.
The body of the Burton Bradstock vicar was found on Monday after a long search following the discovery of an empty rowing boat at Seatown.
Village residents and the church community reacted with shock and grief to the news.
The 59-year-old church leader announced last year he wanted to go on a sabbatical to Cornwall from March to May but was planning to return for the Easter break.
He said he had wanted to follow the Celtic Christian saints in the way they travelled by coracle.
He is believed to have been rowing back to his parish when he got into difficulties.
When describing his journey last autumn he said he was not mad enough to do the same but would be using a rowing boat.
He said: “The Celtic Christian saints were ascetic to a reckless degree, and I need to make some shift in that direction to be able to understand something of what they were about.
“Then I shall row home again. Did I say how I was going to get there?
Well. By water, as so many of those Holy people did in those half forgotten times.
“They went about by coracle. I have a little boat, which I know is not authentic, but then have you ever paddled a coracle any distance yourself?
“Do you think I am mad?”
Close friend Bridport Rector the Rev Andrew Evans said the Rev Thorn died doing something he was passionate about.
He said: “Obviously when the news came it was devastating. We are all very sorry both for him and for his wife Jean.
“He died doing something that he passionately wanted to do but of course the outcome of it has been such a tragedy both for him and for Burton Bradstock.
“He was a larger than life character, a hugely spiritual man, which is why he was doing what he was doing – he was doing the Celtic spirituality thing, going on to the sea and so on.
“In Celtic times the early members of the church that’s how they travelled, they got into their coracles and rowed and that’s how the gospel spread.
“In a sense he was trying to recreate that sense of journeying and pilgrimage but it is a devastating loss.
“He was hugely respected and well liked. Thoughts and prayers go to his wife Jean and to his mum and the wider family.
“He will be greatly missed. For me personally he was a great chum – I’d known Bob since my days in Bristol when we were both priests there – we were ordained together in 1991.
“I have known him for more than 20 years. It is a huge loss.
“The shock has rippled through the diocese.”
The small rowing boat was found on the eastern end of Seatown Beach and a large scale multi-agency search was launched by Portland Coastguard on Monday morning.
Coastguard teams from West Bay, Lyme Regis, Exmouth and Beer and all were tasked with carrying out a shoreline search of their areas.
The RNLI Lifeboat from Lyme Regis, both RNLI Lifeboats from Exmouth and the Independent lifeboat from Sidmouth were also launched and the Portland rescue helicopter was also scrambled.
After hours of searching, the Rev Thorn’s body was discovered by West Bay officers in East Ebb Cove at the base of the cliffs below Thorncombe Beacon.
A spokesman for the team said: “Due to the difficult terrain and location, rescue helicopter 106 assisted with the recovery of the deceased and all teams were then stood down to return to station.
“Our thoughts are with the persons family and friends at this most difficult time.”
Church member Juniper Greener from Long Bredy said: “He rowed down to Cornwall and he was aiming to be like the old Celtic saints and just go and survive on nothing and be self-sufficient.
“We shall miss him enormously.
“It was not just as a vicar but as a man he was fully rounded intellectual, cultural, spiritual, musician, cook, communicator.
“He did everything gladly and humbly, he was joyfully eccentric. He was such a good communicator with anybody of any age.”