Gathered Knowledge

Barefoot Magazine Article

I (Will) was privileged to have been invited to write for the Barefoot Diaries, a beautiful quarterly publication whose previous columnists include Peter Owen-Jones and Brigit Strawbridge.

Designed and printed by Verity and Stu McLellan, you can expect a profoundly beautiful magazine, full of practical guidance and living inspiration. Pre-order it here

This is what I wrote:


What we did on our Holy Day

By Will Parsons

 Rainbows on the South Downs

Modern Britain suffers a spiritual inertia. The heavy material smog of mortgages and cars, along with the ever-increasing pace of working life, leave little time to simply connect with the land, ourselves and each other. Our traditional guides fail us, with religion losing relevance daily and science proclaiming that ‘spirit’ doesn’t even exist. In this modern land, it really isn’t easy to break through to the Light.

But not all is bleak. There is good news. A very ancient spiritual technology has been recently rediscovered, offering direct engagement with the Source. You don’t need to dress smartly, sit still, feel guilty or get bored. No training or gurus are required. It is a natural form of whole-body movement, a deep dance through imaginary labyrinths, and a hearty adventure. We call it: pilgrimage.

Alright, so you’ve heard of it. But what is pilgrimage? Simply put, it means making a journey on foot to a holy place. It means becoming a stranger in your own land, and re-discovering yourself as part of nature. It means putting aside the conveniences that define our modern lives, to travel in the oldest way, slowly and deeply, carrying only what you need and learning to ask for the rest.

This may sound basic, but unfold the concept and you will find profound challenges and mysteries. For example: what is a ‘holy’ place? And what does it mean to walk for more than a day to get there?

The British Pilgrimage Trust is here to help answer such questions. A ‘holy’ place is somewhere healing to you, a place you fall towards. As a child you knew such places well. They might be great trees, the sources of rivers, or hilltops where people have lived for thousands of years. They might be chapels on cliff-tops, the burial place of heroes, or mighty stone cathedrals. Wholeness (holiness) does not just sit around throbbing. It is all about relationship. The magic needs you to need it. And there is no better way to activate this holiness than to take the time and energy to walk there.

Of course, it’s not all about the destination. Far from it, pilgrimage enshrines the process, the cumulative act of every step. By spending such a long time – as long as you can afford to dedicate – in making an unbroken journey on foot, you create a distinct life-space, set apart from everyday existence. In this special soil unexpected things grow, strange meetings, synchronicities and discoveries. Do not expect to return home the same person. Or rather, expect to come back more you than ever before. As the path unfolds outward through nature, so mirrored doors curl inward to reveal aspects of yourself long ignored. If life is a journey from birth to death, making pilgrimage is a microcosm of this whole path, intense with all the richness and rawness that life ought to offer but somehow often doesn’t.

If it’s so good, you may wonder how we ever forgot about pilgrimage. Well, Henry VIII banned it 500 years ago as part of the religious takeover called Reformation. Pilgrimage encouraged self-awareness and freedom, which conflicted with the newly imposed Protestant work ethic. But with its source in ancestral Ice Age migration and hunter-gathering, pilgrimage was older than some hills, and not even a King could kill it. He merely sent it underground. So for 500 years pilgrimage has slumbered in Britain. This fallow period gives us the opportunity to reclaim and renew pilgrimage as a modern spiritual practice unbound by specific religious liturgy.

Today the inheritance is yours. So choose your holy place, make your plans, dedicate your time, and set out walking. Be sure to carry as little money as possible, and to say yes to whatever arises. It is as simple and wonderful as you dare to imagine.


Will Parsons co-founded the British Pilgrimage Trust with the aim of encouraging and facilitating the revival of pilgrimage in Britain. He is walking and mapping new traditional pilgrimage routes, developing low-cost accommodation networks, and telling as many people as possible that British pilgrimage is back on. To help make this happen, they are looking for volunteer web-designers, artists, documentary-makers, photographers and benefactors. Please get involved. Contact will (at) or visit the website at Thank-you.


Will and pilgrim family

Hastings at Remembrance Hour

CORAB policy recommendation for an Open-Faith British Pilgrimage Future

On December 31 2014 the ‘Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life’ (CORAB) closed its National Consultation.

CORAB is tremendously important, described by some as ‘a Beveridge report for the non-material’. Its policy recommendations will go straight to the new government.

For us it was an opportunity to have British pilgrimage discussed at the highest levels. It took a King (Henry VIII) to shut down pilgrimage in Britain – it may well need a similar top-down approach to revive it.

Our CORAB recommendation is that pilgrimage in Britain should be renewed as an open-faith spiritual tradition, accommodated and hosted without religious prescription by the Church of England.

We believe there is room for people of all beliefs and backgrounds to make sacred journeys together through our green and pleasant land.

Thank-you to everyone who contributed to our  policy recommendation. It was a last-minute push at a very busy time of year, and we are exceedingly grateful for the wide-ranging support and advice we received.

Read on for the text we sent to CORAB.

Policy Recommendation for the Commission on Religion and Beliefs
Written by William Parsons (with Guy Hayward), Founding Directors of the British Pilgrimage Trust, in consultation with:

Peter Owen-Jones (Vicar and BBC Presenter);

Marion Marples (Secretary of the Confraternity of St. James);

Satish Kumar (Writer, Vice President of RSPCA, Editor of Resurgence Magazine); 

John Rowley (Trustee and Project Manager of the Gandhi Foundation);

Rupert Sheldrake (Biologist and Writer);

Robert Jackson (former Minister & MP);

Caroline Jackson (former MEP);

His Honour Judge James Patrick (Ordinariate of England and Wales);

Martin D Locker (Doctor of Pilgrimage History);

Mark Vernon (Philosopher and Journalist);

Jules Evans (Public Philosopher);

Catherine Lloyd (Green Pilgrimage Project Officer);

Casper ter Kuile (Non-religious Minister-in-training)


We hope to draw the Commission’s attention towards British Pilgrimage, responding to questions of ‘Dialogue and Engagement’ with the following practical recommendation:

We recommend that pilgrimage be revived in Britain as an open-faith spiritual tradition, and that pilgrims be accommodated by the Church of England.

Pilgrimage we define as a journey on foot to holy places. It is a core practice in many of the world’s religions with numbers involved growing yearly. But in Britain this physical spiritual tradition remains dormant since its Reformation suppression five hundred years ago, when the dissolution of the monasteries removed Britain’s overnight pilgrimage accommodation.

Thankfully much has changed since this era of extreme religious intolerance. Today we live in a bolder, kinder nation, rich with religious diversity. There are in Britain, however, few open spiritual practices within which all different beliefs can co-exist and co-operate freely.

Pilgrimage is potentially one such practice. It removes people from their normal socio-religious context and places them on an incredibly simple journey through the land. Pilgrims are both set apart and unified by their shared experience of moving slowly, thinking expansively and experiencing physical freedom. Onto this experience people of all (and no) faiths can add their own layers of devotional purpose. Pilgrimage has room for all, side by side.

The constant chance encounters of pilgrimage create increased opportunity for cross-cultural and cross-faith engagement, not just between fellow pilgrims but also with the communities they walk through. Each individual pilgrimage is a step forward in Britain’s sacred journey toward a more harmonious future society.

The main issue stopping this revival is the lack of low-cost overnight accommodation for pilgrims.  The requirements are basic – access to shelter, water and toilet facilities. In our consideration the Church of England is uniquely positioned to fulfil this role of host, to open its doors, without proselytising, for pilgrims to sleep in and around its holy places. In urban parishes during winter months this practice is already common when shelter is given to people suffering homelessness. We suggest that pilgrims might be extended a similar invitation. The Scriptural precedent is strong:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)

Moreover, the opportunity is timely. Many rural churches suffer under-attendance and are often empty or locked. This makes them targets for theft and vandalism, creating a vicious circle of decline. Also, our established Church is suffering a reduction in its perceived relevance to the population, and struggling to sustainably maintain its extensive fabric. Yet at the same time we are currently witnessing a large increase in the number of walkers stepping out onto Britain’s footpaths.

This moment of kairos – if met with vision and boldness – could bring renewal and growth. For example, during our recent pilot of a South Downs pilgrimage route from Winchester to Canterbury we secured initial agreements from five churches to become ‘Pilgrim Churches’ that will host pilgrims at night, demonstrating how local communities on the ground see the value of this scheme.

Whilst safeguards need to be implemented to protect our national spiritual treasures, the example of the Camino to Santiago de Compostela offers ample encouragement. Every year this Spanish city hosts up to 250,000 ambulatory pilgrims, preventing abuses with little more than a passbook and stamp scheme. Half its participants claim varied religious motivations and the rest declare no spiritual intent, yet religious disharmony is rare and nearly all participants report positive transformative experiences.

We hope that by opening this discussion Britain can move forward in creating a new pilgrimage tradition of maximal openness. As well as promoting cross-faith dialogue and engagement, pilgrimage can help celebrate and integrate our British identity and heritage, reinvigorate rural economies, improve our physical and mental health and reduce our carbon footprint – all through the straightforward act of walking to and between holy places.

We should like to thank the Commission for the opportunity to offer this recommendation. We believe that pilgrimage can offer a healthy and safe step toward sharing Britain’s sacred places.


The British Pilgrimage Trust

Will and Guy en Way

On September 15th 2014 the Trust Deed was executed to form:

“The British Pilgrimage Trust” (The BPT).

Its objectives are to “advance education in and preserve the heritage and traditions of British pilgrimage”.

In other words, we aim to restore pilgrimage to Britain in its best possible form, and to make it accessible to thousands more people.

The Cause

There is a boom in the number of people making pilgrimage globally. The BPT feels a duty to bring more of this pilgrimage ‘market’ to Britain, our ancient green and pleasant land. We want to encourage and guide this burgeoning return of pilgrimage, to help create a sustainable British pilgrimage infrastructure that might endure over a thousand years.

At the Reformation, British pilgrimage disappeared. But like many ‘lost’ British traditions (bushcraft, knitting, baking etc.) pilgrimage has today re-awoken with new resonance for our modern land and lifestyles.

The BPT aims to help this renaissance continue – and grow – into its best and most accessible form.

Reaching Canterbury


The benefits of increased numbers of people making British pilgrimage are clear and manifold:

– To help people – young and otherwise – learn discipline, courage, freedom and joy – and to rediscover their limits and needs, the beauty of nature, and their active place in history and society. We believe people can gain as much from three weeks of ‘proper’ pilgrimage as from six months of jet-setting global ‘travel’ – with a fraction of the ecological and economic cost.

– To help British Churches overcome the current crisis of non-use, by restoring their active role in British life, to make them necessary spaces in the provision of pilgrim requirements – shelter, solace, prayer, historical information, song, water and electricity.

– To re-invigorate village and small-town economies, turning depressed rural areas into thriving hubs of living community enterprise.

– To encourage a health revolution. As a form of moderate exercise, pilgrimage is intense and continuous. Many studies link regular walking with lowered chances of acquiring nasty diseases. A walking nation is a healthy one.

Our Patron

We are very proud to name Rupert Sheldrake as Patron of the BPT.

Rupert is the renowned author of: A New Science of Life; The Science Delusion; and ‘Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home. 


Rupert embraces and values the practice of British pilgrimage, and in lending our Charitable Trust his support, he is helping to ensure the best possible re-emergence of pilgrimage for modern Britain.

Watch his lecture on Science and Spiritual Practises (clips starts at discussion of pilgrimage) HERE.



What Is To Be Done…

The BPT aims to achieve the reinvigoration of British Pilgrimage through the following steps:

– A re-appraisal of ‘How to Be a (proper) Pilgrim’ in book-form, to clarify the best possible methodology of pilgrimage, and to make this practise available to anyone, anywhere in the world, even those with as little as 1 hour to spare.

– The launching of a dedicated British Pilgrimage Trust website, detailing routes and destinations all over Britain, offering technical guidance and support, reviewing pilgrim equipment and helping would-be pilgrims get on the path.

– The exhibition of promotional pilgrimages, involving filming, talks and concerts.

– The development of new takes on traditional pilgrimage routes.  Re-plotting the Old Ways to cope with the modern twists – like motorways – that our ancestors did not face. Mapping these new routes on the website, and also on the ground.

– The creation of an established pilgrimage circuit between Winchester and Canterbury – following the North AND the South Downs – to create a Great British ‘Camino’ that can rival the best pilgrimage routes of the world. We believe that if the Spain can do it, so can Britain.

– The establishment of pilgrim hubs at Winchester and Canterbury, as administrative centres offering basic accomodation and equipment hire.

– The creation of an infrastructure of ‘British Pilgrim Churches’ which are open (perpetually or upon request) to provide pilgrims with shelter and basic facilities. The more people using these great Temples of the British landscape, the more secure they will be, in both the short and long-term.

– The foundation of a network of Pilgrims’ cold-harbours – wild-camping spots owned and administered by the BPT. These Pilgrims’ Acres shall remain perpetually in trust, to provide a non-commerical and ecologically impeccable accomodation infrastrucutre for British Pilgrims on the Way.

– The increase of pilgrim numbers through targeted promotion and grass-roots marketing.

– The creation of a sustainable growth model that can be re-applied in order to rejuvenate other British pilgrimage paths.


Abergevenny Vista

Forever Pilgrims’ England…

If you want to see pilgrimage return to this land, in its best possible form for all the right reasons, please pledge your support today.

Every little helps, but a lot helps loads. As with all charities, donations can only be spent on furthering our objectives.

Phase 1 aims to create a beautiful website of stunning artwork and high-value information, a stable administrative base, a pilot trial of waymarking our new pilgrimage routes on the ground, and promotional drives through film and photography. Phase 1 requires funds of £7000.

If you own land or businesses along the North or South Downs, and you are willing to offer pilgrims low-cost accomodation, please get in touch.

Likewise, if you own or know of property around Winchester or Canterbury that could become a hub for the revival and restoration of British pilgrimage, please contact us.

Together we can create an enduring Pilgrims’ Britain.


William Parsons – co-founder and Trustee of the BPRT


THANKYOU to our generous donors:

The beginning of a venture is the hardest time to offer it support, yet a time when such help matters most. Thankyou to these first donors:

Rob Macfarlane (Bestselling author of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, Chair of Judges for 2013 Man Booker Prize)

Casper Ter Kuile (co-founder of the UK Youth Climate Coalition)

Emma Rose Barber (Historian of Wayfaring – University of Kent)

Julie and Andrew Little (Churchwardens of Wilmington Church, Sussex)

Cox & Jones (BBC Documentary film-makers)

Sophie Wire

David O’Brien

Allan Brown

Paul Yarrow

Terry Yarrow

Karen McMillan

Angela Gurr

Yvonne Crone.


British Pilgrimage: The Ritual that Disappeared…

All across the globe, pilgrimage is booming. Kumbh Mela in India is the largest gathering of humans on earth, with one hundred million pilgrims in 2013.  The Hajj in Mecca hosts three million pilgrims per year, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain welcomes two hundred and fifty thousand walking pilgrims.

Yet Canterbury cathedral, the heart of British pilgrimage, has this year hosted only fifty pilgrims.

Why is Britain so far behind the curve? Where have all the pilgrims gone?

there’s one…

Read on to find out…


Pilgrimage to Hartlake Bridge

Pilgrimage to Hartlake Bridge

A 6 day walk, to return a song to its source,


Advice for Wild-Walkers of Britain

So you want to go walking, without a mind for turning round and going home?

You seek a land of stream, forest, hilltop castle and storm-swept chapel?

You want to trust your life to the skill of your instincts, the luck of your blood and the kindness of strangers?

We know just how you feel.

The Way On Foot

On our very first long walks, our heads were filled by strange childish hopes and unreal expectations. We made the mistakes of foolish infants, overfilled by naiive optimism. This was of course necessary. Slow-learning is full learning. And we’ve a very long way to go yet.

But all the same, we would not have minded a little good advice to set us on track. So now we will offer you some of what we’ve learned.

Reality is a good teacher, the very best of its kind, but advice is golden.

So please read on for the good stuff…


10 Good Questions

Two years ago, an EFL Textbook called OUP Headway used our stories and songs to help teach English.

Since then, schools in Argentina, Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia etc. have sent us their classroom questions.

This list of enquiries arrived from Katerina in the Czech Republic, teacher at the Kurzy Klement language school in Pisek (twinned with Caerphilly).

In Katerina’s classroom are mugs emblazoned with the Union Jack, and on her wall is pinned a large map of Britain. We can’t help thinking, it’s often people far from the UK who hold the dream of Albion most strongly.

We seek to encourage this dream, wherever it’s found. For is this not the hedged and wild-flowered land, of green hills and forests, ancient chapels and castles, twinkling rivers and mountain lakes?

Ed Skirrid Fawr

Here are the questions given by: Jirka, Jindriska, Vasek, Ilona, Jana, Andrea, Petr, Zdenka – and their teacher Katerina. And here are answers:

(Click more to read on)…


Anorak Magazine

We are very happy to be featured in: Anorak the Happy Magazine for Children (The Myths and Legends edition). We like the Doggy Bowie cartoon best of all.


Ed and Will in Anorak Magazine

Ed and Will in Anorak Magazine

Two Spanish Poems

Two works by Spanish poets, which we read and thought oh!

Have them both:


“Proverbios y cantares XXIX”

by Antonio Machado
trans. Betty Jean Craige

Wanderer, your footsteps
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, we have no road,
we make the road by walking.
As you walk you make the road,
and to look back is to see that never
can we pass this way again.
Wanderer, there is no road,
only traces in the sea.



Walking Around

by Pablo Neruda
trans. Robert Bly

It so happens I am sick of being a man.
And it happens that I walk into tailorshops and movie houses
dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt
steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes.

The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse sobs.
The only thing I want is to lie still like stones or wool.
The only thing I want is to see no more stores, no gardens,
no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators.

It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails
and my hair and my shadow.
It so happens I am sick of being a man.

Still it would be marvelous
to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily,
or kill a nun with a blow on the ear.
It would be great
to go through the streets with a green knife
letting out yells until I died of the cold.

I don’t want to go on being a root in the dark,
insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,
going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,
taking in and thinking, eating every day.

I don’t want so much misery.
I don’t want to go on as a root and a tomb,
alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses,
half frozen, dying of grief.

That’s why Monday, when it sees me coming
with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night.

And it pushes me into certain corners, into some moist houses,
into hospitals where the bones fly out the window,
into shoeshops that smell like vinegar,
and certain streets hideous as cracks in the skin.

There are sulphur-colored birds, and hideous intestines hanging over the doors of houses that I hate,
and there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,
there are mirrors that ought to have wept from shame and terror,
there are umbrellas everywhere, and venoms, and umbilical cords.

I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes,
my rage, forgetting everything,
I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic shops,
and courtyards with washing hanging from the line:
underwear, towels and shirts from which slow dirty tears are falling.

The Flowing Britain Trust

A charity dedicated to the Heritage Drinking Waters of Britain.

Flowing Britain

Ed and Will and friends are forming a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, devoted to monitoring, enhancing and championing British drinkable (and bathable) ancient and natural waters i.e. springs and wells.

We believe everyone deserves access to safe natural drinking water, within walking distance of their home.


The Aims

– To provide water choices in a tap on/tap off world

– To offer improved health through detailed analysis of natural waters

– To make forgotten and lost springs fashionable

– To promote British water tourism, nationally and internationally

– To combat nature disconnection syndrome

– To increase local distinctiveness and pride

– To provide community amenity and cultural venue space

– To enhance Britain, for the good of all


Come take the waters!

Britain has been periodically famous for her mineral-rich and health-giving waters, free flowing from the ground. The Romans, the Georgians and the Victorians, all have renovated our ancient natural water network, for health and tourism benefits.

Towns like Bath in Avon, Wells in Somerset, Tunbridge Wells in Kent, Llandrindod Wells in Powys, have been literally built around their spring waters. Most small villages “sprung up” in proximity to a reliable safe water-source.

This heritage can be revived. The waters never stopped flowing. What other so fundamental an element can be re-discovered in so significant a way?


Murky Waters

Today, public tap-water is chlorinated, and sometimes fluoridated. And with industrial and agricultural chemicals leeching into ground-waters, general mistrust of natural water sources has become prevalent.

But the waters need not be unclear. Many ancient springs flow from miles underground, where chemicals cannot reach. Such deep-waters remain fresh, wholesome and delicious, and carry diverse mineral-contents, which may help aid a number of our surface-dwellers’ ailments.


The Vision

A website, based around Google maps, showing the location of scientifically tested springs and wells. Also an iOS and Android app (i.e. find my nearest spring/well)

Website to include history and lore, photo and video, with a members upload portal

Waters tested with full spectrum mineral/bacteriological analysis, and regularly scheduled re-testing. Partnerships for best value to be found. Legible and relevant information available for lay-men.

Spring/well artwork restored, and new fountainheads commisioned in stone and metal by young artists.

Increased local tourism based on the health-giving effects of waters.

Unification with long-distance footpaths – a new symbol on the OS map?

Enhancing of springs/well spaces, where suitable, to create community spaces – herb gardens, seating etc.

A brass cup on a chain at every spring tested. Commissioned and cast by British artist.

Possible commerical partnerships with water filtration companies, water butt manufacturers, and bicycle-trolley makers.

Long-term custodianship roles in local communities, for regular re-testing and cleaning.

Encouragament of other groups – villages, parish councils, churches and private land-owners, to open up and include their water-sources on the public-access map.

A prudent legal disclaimer/caveat to prevent confusion and accidents.


First phase

Preparation of website/organisational structure /staffing.

Establishing testing partnerships and routines.

Research, collating existing tested wells and springs information

Launch of first “re-discovered” springs/wells collection, focussing on highly accessible existing beautiful water-sources.

Trial of first commissioned artwork

Trial of first herb garden community space (links to national nursery possible)

Encourage local community groups to utilise the space, for worship, music, thatreetc.

Publicise tested local sptrings in catchment area, via pamphlet/radio/concerts


Please contact us, and help Flowing Britain achieve these great goals.

Ed and Will and friends, 2014