British Pilgrimage — spiritual journey or Emperor’s New Clothes?

I took a weekend out during the summer.

Just me and a brand new experience. It felt good.

I joined a weekend pilgrimage [pictured above] with the British Pilgrimage Trust, a charitable trust with a modern-day take on the ancient art of pilgrimage.

After a night in an Airbnb in Frome and meeting a group of 20 complete strangers over coffee the next morning, we set off — pilgrim staffs in hands [pictured above].

It was a long haul, covering some 12 miles per day, although the bucolic countryside of the Avon Valley helped to distract from the burgeoning blisters.

After two full days of walking, we arrived into Bath and took the waters to conclude a pilgrimage devoted to the goddess Sulis Minerva.

Sinking in

So how did I feel at the end of the weekend? Underwhelmed.

The idea of weekend alone with my thoughts in nature really appealed. But the practicality of the pilgrimage itself started to grate, especially after we arrived really late at our overnight stop on the first day and having run out of water.

If you’ve got a group of people paying £150 a head to join the pilgrimage, you have a duty to cover the basics and look after people.

Maybe, I was expecting too much. As one of the walk leaders told me over breakfast:

“It’s about giving our pilgrims an experience. Whether they enjoy it or not, it’s still an experience.”

Tacking stock

I’ve deliberately waited a couple of months before pitching and placing an article about my experience. It will be published in the new year.

Meanwhile, I’ve had time to think back over the weekend. Did I bring my own stresses or preconceptions to the pilgrimage? Or is this type of group experience simply more Scout camp than spiritual journey?

Read my article and decide for yourself. Here’s a preview:

We finally made it to Iford Manner on the Somerset-Wiltshire border as night fell, tired and hungry, for an al-fresco take-away dinner and homemade cider.

Bedding down en masse on sleeping mats in an outbuilding that night, I pulled the sleeping bag around me glad to rest.

This pilgrimage lark, I was coming to realise, was no walk in the park.

A pilgrimage should be about the journey, not the destination. But it was only when I spent time alone in Bath afterwards that I actuallly found the sense of peace I had been looking for all along.

I’m not planning to re-book. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a pilgrim after all.

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