Tag: walking holidays

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.

Spring walks for English Heritage magazine

I’ve finished two stories looking forward to spring this week.

And, let’s face it, we all need a hint of snowdrops or a glimpse of daffodils at this time of year when the days loom grey and the vitamin D levels are low.

The first is a piece for the English Heritage Members’ Magazine and profiles a series of spring walks for some blow-away-the-cobwebs spring days out.

Suggestions range from a walk in the footsteps of the Roman legions around Housesteads Roman Fort, Northumberland, to soaking up the Arthurian legend on a walk around Tintagel.

The walk descriptions come with short route plans to discover the walks for yourself.

Pilgrimage route

The second is a feature about the Two Saints Way [pictured above], an ancient pilgrimage trail between Chester and Lichfield cathedrals.

The long distance walking trail, recreating the ancient pilgrimage paths, takes its name from Werburgh and Chad, two Saxon saints who brought Christianity to the ancient kingdom of Mercia in the 7th century.

The saints were laid to rest at Chester and Lichfield respectively, establishing the ancient cathedral cities as alternative pilgrimage destinations to Rome or Jerusalem.

Both magazine articles are out in the weeks to come, so check out my Twitter feed for links.

Walking the Magna Carta Trail in Lincoln



It’s Magna Carta 800 year.

And every freelancer worth his or her salt is chasing a Magna Carta angle.

Last week it was my turn, taking a trip to Lincoln for a walking-themed trip in the footsteps of a devout scholar.

It was, in the end, a mixture of walking and heritage with a few pints around Lincoln’s historic Cathedral Quarter thrown in for good measure.

The full story will be published in the June issue of Walk Magazine, the quarterly publication from the Ramblers.

But here’s a work-in-progress preview, picking up the trail in its early, rural stages before I headed west towards the city and an audience with a 4,000-word calfskin manuscript that changed the face if history as we know it:

I picked up the trail at the St Giles church in the Lincolnshire village of Langton by Wragby to learn more about the learned scholar Stephen Langton.

This Lincolnshire lad was born in the village in the 12th century and went on to become both Archbishop of Cantebury and one of the chief architects of Magna Carta, presenting the document to King John as a fait accompli for signing at Runnymeade, Surrey, in June 1215.

The newly opened Stephen Langton Trail, a 16.5-mile, three-stage walking route through rural villages, arable farmland and via ruined, medieval churches, attempts to trace key locations from his life.

St Giles Church marks a suitable trailhead with Langton looking down on ramblers benevolently from a stained-glass memorial window on the south aisle.

Walking with me on this section of the trail was Hugh Marrows [pictured above], the retired civil servant who has researched and plotted the cross-country walk over the past year.

“I’ve spent 30 years walking the footpaths of Lincolnshire but I’m still discovering new places,” he says as cross an area of limewoods, the sunset over Lincoln Cathedral on the sun-dappled horizon.

“Walking this trail has helped me understand Lincoln’s crucial role in this period of English history.”

Have you walked the Stephen Langton a Trail? Share your experience below.

Liked this? Try also A Pilgrimage Trail through the British Midlands.


Visit Lincoln

Walk magazine

New-year escape: A walking and meditation trip to the Lake District


I tried to make a more healthy start to 2015.

That’s why I headed off to Cumbria on New Year’s Day, bombing up the M6 while everyone else was still busily nursing hangovers.

The reason? To join a walking group [pictured above, just outside Loweswater] and test drive a new Mindfulness in the Mountains package from Ramblers Countrywide Holidays.

The story is out today in the Independent and here’s an extract:

Back on the banks of Loweswater, meanwhile, the afternoon sun was starting to fade like the gentle ebbing of a new-year hangover.

A pint of the local Sneck Lifter ale at The Fish Inn in Buttermere would spur me on for the final few miles and a supper of beef-stew dumplings and plums in vanilla custard would be slow cooking back at Hassness.

Most of all, I had found a few days of walking and mindfulness offered me a fresh perspective on new year.

I had come to know closeness to Cumbrian nature that inspired the Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge; the meditative power of simply putting one foot in front of another over the fells; and the sheer carpe-diem joy of just loosing yourself in the moment.

Read the full story, Sole searching.