Routes for guided pilgrimages need to have some key ingredients to ensure that not only are they wonderful experiences, but also attractive enough to motivate people to book tickets.
A great route will have a great start point. This will really help to set the tone for the day, get your pilgrims into the right mindset and give you the right setting to carry out the appropriate practices, such as setting intentions, eye contact greetings, moments of silence and finding contact relics etc. More on that in the Pilgrimage Content section.
Your destination is critical; not only will this be the element that really captures the imagination of your would-be pilgrims, it needs to be special enough to be the high point of the day, leaving a lasting impact that will stay with your pilgrims after the journey is over. Cathedrals and abbeys work well for this, but it doesn’t have to be a traditional holy place. Ancient monuments or natural spiritual places, such as waterfalls or hill tops, can also work well.
Use one of our existing 1-day routes to make planning easy, with wayfinding and suggested waypoints already done. Just add pilgrim practices!
If possible, include a variety of terrain. The transition from woodland to open to fields, hilltops to urban areas, wild water or coastal paths will all provide a mix of opportunities for different practices that can add extra dimensions to your pilgrimage. We try to use less road, and more footpath, to create a better experience. Sometimes it is necessary to walk on roads for practical reasons, but if you can find a little diversion to take you into the wild places between the roads, quite often it is worth the extra distance.
Variety of Practice
Consider the opportunities for sharing a variety of practices. If you are guiding a Silent Pilgrimage focus on the physical and sensory experience. If guiding a Guided Pilgrimage, you will need to consider different spiritualities, include folklore and nature, perhaps some heritage stories or songs. General practices include meditation, connecting with nature, water (drinking/bathing), reading, singing, chanting, being silent, walking barefoot foraging etc. Pilgrimage specific practices include circumambulation, forehead contact, lying down looking up, meditation, lighting candles,
and much more. Each route will present different opportunities, which can vary depending on the time of year. You’ll want a good spread of different things throughout the day, to strike a good balance for different pilgrims and keep everyone engaged. You might also want to give yourself different options at places depending on the group.
A Coherent Theme
It’s not always possible, but ideally your route should have a coherent theme. Can you follow the story of a particular saint? Link together the different waypoints with water, from holy wells, rivers and springs? Perhaps different healing plants grow along the route, or there are stories of different people that share a similar theme? Why not use the season to prompt a theme, such as a fresh start for spring, striking a balance at the equinox, letting go of something for the autumn…
Speed and distance
The speed and distance you can walk with a group will be less than you can normally do on your own, and every group will be different. It’s a good idea to build in flexibility, so you if you really need to you can slow the pace or add extra breaks, or on the flip side be able to add extra practices if your group is faster than usual. We would normally do 10 – 12 miles maximum on a guided pilgrimage, but it is possible to make 8 miles last all day! There is also the option of 4 – 6 mile routes for shorter or half-day pilgrimages.
Walk your route, check for all the practical things you’ll need too. These include toilet stops, (either public facilities or good hiding places for a “wild wee” if there is a long gap between proper loos). Plan places for quick rest breaks, where you will take lunch etc. Think about public transport options; how will your pilgrims get to your start point, or travel back at the end? Are there time constraints you’ll have to meet, such as opening times, Evensong, the last bus? Time yourself between waypoints so you can plan the day around these and decide how much practice or how many waypoints to include. Do any of the places you intend to visit charge admission or recommended donations? Lastly, consider the safety of your route in different conditions. Review the standard risk assessment and consider your particular path. Chalk paths can be exceptionally slippery in damp conditions, some paths get impassable with nettles; have a think about what advice you may need to give pilgrims, what contigencies you can put in place for poor weather (e.g. alternative routes, more indoor practices)
Once you have your draft route, speak to Guy or Dawn to iron out any queries, for tips on best practice and so we can share your great ideas with our other volunteer guides.