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?

I’d like 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 beautiful arrival 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 concieved and 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.


Will and pilgrim family

Hastings at Remembrance Hour

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