What is British Pilgrimage? (an article from 2015)

So what is British Pilgrimage?

It has been a long time since pilgrimage flourished in Britain. Despite its current burgeoning renaissance, there remains some confusion over what it really is.

So read on, and learn how simple and beautiful making pilgrimage can be for you and your friends…

Make an unbroken walk
The most radical rule of pilgrimage is the simplest: only walk, nothing else. If you take a bus, train or car, your pilgrimage ends. A new one begins with your next footstep on land. The benefits of a pilgrimage are cumulative. Keep on walking.

Godstone common

no lifts please, we’re pilgrims

Travel between sacred centres
Pilgrimage centres are like magnets on the landscape. Some centres are overlaid with great stone temples, while others are overgrown and lost. Few retain such strength as Winchester and Canterbury, and the walk between these cities is known as the ‘Pilgrims’ Way’, or ‘The English Camino’.

Amid the corn

hats are crucial

Lose the fixing route
There is no right or wrong path. History attempts to fit a rigid frame to the chaotic meanderings of millions of pilgrims past. But pilgrimage has always been pragmatic. Follow your own needs and instincts. Trust in the journey, and create your own path.

“Wanderer! There is no road – the road is made by walking” (Antonio Machado)

Green lanes of Farnham


Spiritual Wandering

Pilgrimage is a spiritual practice accessible to everyone, regardless of religion or belief. Its rewards and blessings do not belong to any single Church or creed. Almost every religion embraces the practice of journeying on foot through creation as a form of meditation and prayer.

Along with music, pilgrimage is a core source of spiritual experience. It is the raw stuff from which religion is made, the desert, the sacred tree, the holy mountain and the eternal spring – and everything in between.

Whatever your spiritual stance, the infrastructure of British Pilgrimage is hugely influenced by the Medieval Christian Church. Make the most of its astonishingly beautiful temples. They are usually empty. Spend quiet reflective time in them, and most of all, sing in them.

I Slept Here

Places of Song

Watts Chapel Door

the way in…

Walk on footpaths

Tarmac roads are hard and busy, but between them is concealed a network of secret passages – footpaths offering road-free travel almost anywhere. This is the legacy to celebrate: the inheritance of kings, saints and cattle-drovers. On pilgrimage, follow the long beautiful looping green paths, not the fast grey ways.


Go slower
There is no prize for a quick pilgrimage. It is an anti-race, where the most intense experience wins (but there is no winner). Immersion in land and journey is the great goal. We pass this way but once, and great hurry steals the blessing. Go deeper, go slow and feel more. Have the courage and patience to go astray.

Mr Slow Worm

slow wyrm

Camp out

Whenever possible, try to sleep outside. Pilgrimage is a turning on its head of normal life, a re-learning of ancestral ways. One of the easiest methods to achieve this is by carrying what you need to sleep outside.

This will free you from needing to find B&Bs or hotels. It will allow you to walk without the worry of reaching your pre-booked shelter on time, and will let you pursue sub-quests arising mid-journey. It is a tremendous blessing to free yourself of the panic of where you will sleep tonight.

We are working on establishing a network of non-commercial wild-camping venues for British pilgrims. But for now, aim for woods or churchyards. Be subtle, quiet and respectful. Lying down and stringing up a tarp or tent is no crime. Imagine you owned the land, and treat it as you would hope others to.

Night's shelter

lay low

Spend less
Abandon the paradigm of needing more money to have a better time: on pilgrimage, money insulates experience. Set the lowest budget you can and make it work. The greatest pilgrims carry no money at all. Try to spend at least one entire day without spending any money at all.

Gems of the chalkland

foods for free

Be an ambassador
Greet everyone you encounter, and offer them good day.

When people ask what you are doing, say you are a Pilgrim. This password will open doors. But it is no pretence. With a staff in your hand and a pack on your back, the rain in your eyes and hunger in your belly, you inherit the earth. You become the exotic wandering stranger and secret king of the road. People will trust you with their tales, dreams and secrets. Let them tell and learn to listen. Offer in return the most beautiful advice you can summon.

Accept offers of hospitality, and trust strangers. Imagine the centuries of distrust you are reversing, and the trail of goodwill you lay for those who come afterward.

Kind shelter givers

Pack light
Only carry what you will use each day. Treat pilgrimage as a shedding of the skins of ‘stuff’ which protect and project your identity in ‘normal’ life. Bank accounts, cars, houses…these are of lessened importance on pilgrimage. Carry less, and find more time, more quiet, more experience and more profound meetings.

Though don’t forget the saying: “Trust in God, but tie up your donkey”. So be sure to carry the right things and stay safe.


sturdy accommodation

Grow your health
As animals designed to walk, modern lifestyles are insufficiently active for our bodies’ needs. Being sedentary, computer and desk bound, our blood curdles and our muscles atrophy. We simulate proper exercise in intense gym bursts, but continuous and deep moderate exercise is the key. Your pilgrim body will soon respond to the hills and miles. Your breath will become deeper, and early pain shall blossom into later strength. Fresh air casts out the dusty allergies of indoor life, as blood flows more vigorously. You will feel more alive, balanced and capable. Your body will remember what it is for and might do, and it will thank you.


Get initiated
Pilgrimage is a tool for turning difficulty into character. Many people in modern Britain are rarely challenged on a sustained physical level. Mechanisms of convenience overwhelm our ancient requirement for discipline and self-motivation.

Pilgrimage, a simple walk through beautiful landscapes, is a surprisingly deep source of such challenges. Pain, fatigue, and the lazy desire for quick convenient solutions will strike from all sides. In ‘normal’ life, fridges, sofas, cars and shops can insulate you from such threats, but on pilgrimage this protection is reduced. Instead, you must find sufficient depth and resolve in yourself and the natural world.

The capacity for personal transformation is inherent to the pilgrimage process. As you walk the slow beautiful gauntlet, you will emerge as an upgraded version of yourself. You will have increased awareness of your capacity as a human, the world around you, and the constant serendipity of life, the thousand natural co-incidences that bless each waking footstep. This is the good stuff, and it makes pilgrimage life-changing.

On the way

Meet Nature
Pilgrimage is a journey through the great outdoors. It is not a parade through interiors. Sleep in the fresh air. Watch the moon and sun rise. Hear birds and sing along. Forage basic foodstuffs. Taste and smell the land. Walk among the great event of life on these islands, and find yourself a living part of it.

Beech roots Knole

Drink better water
The springs and streams of Britain were holy long before any church was built of wood or stone. Some things do not change. Pay respect to the waters – but always use appropriate filtration to avoid unwanted upsets.

The Black Prince's Well, Harbledown

Black Prince’s Well, Harbledown


Tips and Tricks for a better pilgrimage

– Open and close your pilgrimage. Treat it as a ritual, a dedicated holy space and time. When beginning, voice your intentions. Hold them close. When finishing, give thanks, and wash yourself clean. Use fire and water. Create small ceremonies that are meaningful to you.

– Rest. There is no hurry. The more you rest, the more you will receive. Blind exhaustion is fruitless. Consider taking every seventh day off, and enjoying the place you have reached. Also, if the weather is impossibly foul, just find a shelter and wait. There is no point wishing it isn’t raining when it is. Follow the journey’s prompts.

– Cut a walking staff. This is a full outdoor logistical solution. It will save you from wrenching ankles. It will clear brambles from your path. It will reach better apples. It will warn you if a puddle is actually a lake. Choose wisely, and say please and thank-you to the tree from which you cut it. Wood is conductive, and will carry the memory and charge of your journey. Tap your stick on great trees and rocks, to accumulate mana, and to leave your invisible kinetic tattoo on the landscape.

More Specific tips and tricks are available HERE:



Dog watches

Staying mindful (or watching rabbits?)

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