In order to know whether a route is any good you need to actually walk / ‘recce’ it. Before unleashing on others, walking a proposed route allows you to look around as you walk the route, so you don’t miss anything that the map might have done. There is nothing like being on the ground, as there’s only so much our ‘How to create a pilgrimage route’ guide and Google Satellite view can help with. Be aware that recces are sometimes disappointing as the route might not be brilliant, but that is the whole point of doing a recce! You can’t expect to get a route right first time.
Transport – Try out the public transport options to see if they work- if they were difficult for you they are likely to be difficult for others too. You might want to get there in a more convenient way, and that is fine, but for best practice it’s good to check it out yourself. Let us know about any problems or scheduling issues.
Route Quality – Did you enjoy all of the route? Was it beautiful or meaningful? Was each church, holy well, ancient tree you visited wonderful or nothing to write home about? Did the route approach each holy place in the best visual way, or show off the landscape to its full glory? Is the route too long or difficult to navigate for the average person? And if you are trying out an established route, was that diversion to a (not wholly remarkable) holy place unnecessary, or at the very best, optional? Don’t be afraid to report back to the BPT if, in your opinion, one of the routes we promote needs a tweak!
Route variations – if you have a look at the Ordnance Survey map before you test out the route, look for possible variant route options for certain sections along the path in order to give you a better overall picture. If a section of a route doesn’t look very promising and doesn’t go in a straight line between two points then a good rule of thumb is to ‘mirror image’ that section on the other side of the imaginary straight line and see if that would make for a better route. Take a friend and split for these moments and compare notes of the different routes you took (this splitting is optional, because you might want to walk with your friend, and if you are the one making the final decision you will need to walk variant routes yourself rather than rely on other people’s accounts).
These and other questions of route quality are fundamental – a pilgrimage route is an artwork and the route needs to be as transcendent as possible! Go with your instinct with all of this evaluation- your intuition is probably the best guide because it can be hard to analyse and compare, given there are so many factors at play.
Path Condition/Functionality– Was all of the route easy to follow? Was any of it private- no walkers allowed? Did you have to jump fences or traverse awkward styles? Was barbed wire an issue? What condition was the path in? Was the path’s condition a weather-specific problem or did the path look unloved and uncared for? Were there any unpassable sections, or sections difficult for those who struggle with agility and balance? Would it be suitable for pilgrims in wheelchairs?
Opening times – Were all the churches and holy places open? If not, what are their normal opening times?
Try and connect with locals to give the route lasting impact by contacting custodians/wardens of all the holy places you will pass through IN ADVANCE of your trial recce. Let them know you’re coming and when you’re hoping to arrive, and then they can meet you and talk things through. Not all the churches and holy places will necessarily be open, so you don’t want a wasted trip. By seeing inside each one, you will be able to work out which holy places you think the route should focus on given time constraints of the average pilgrim. Also, being able to get in allows you to pick up history sheets in each church, usually found on a table at the back, so you can take them home and process the historical information at leisure. Also, the information on these is often only printed and doesn’t appear on the internet… Natural holy places, like trees and wells, by contrast, are out in the open and so are less often inaccessible.
Timings and Rhythm of the Day – don’t forget to make a note of the timings, recording at each holy place the time when you arrived and when you left. This is vital to creating a realistic and replicable experience for others, with a good rhythm.
Tips from Locals / Boosting Local Awareness – talk to locals that you meet and tell them what you’re doing, especially those who work in cafes and pubs because they are likely to know the local area well, or at least know other people who know. Pilgrimage is a grass roots movement, and a recce can double up as an awareness building exercise amongst local communities. You also never know where the conversation will go, and they may tell you about places very relevant to a pilgrim you had no idea about.
Lunch/Dinner stop – if walking a day route, try to leave at the time in the morning that you would expect to leave usually and then record at what point you got hungry and felt like lunch. Are there any pubs nearby that point? When are their food serving times? Similarly, when you arrive at your end point of the day try out a cafe or place for dinner to report back on, as all this is useful information for future pilgrims who won’t have the luxury of trying out the route several times in order to eat or drink at the best place. Become an amateur food critic for the sake of others!
Stopping points – Loo stops, general beautiful stopping points for short rests, and a lunch place (if outside in nature and suitable for a packed lunch) are good to think about as you walk along. Flag these points on your smartphone app.
Photos – for promoting the route, please photograph the route as you walk it, and send them to email@example.com. A rule of thumb is that as soon as you have the feeling ‘what I am looking at right now is beautiful’ take a photo of it. Another helpful rule is to photograph each holy place, and, with churches, to find out from the church booklet the main highlights of the church and photograph each highlight. Then use a photo editing program like Adobe Lightroom (very easy to use) to spruce up your photos. The photos can be used to get people excited about the route! Or if that all seems too much, search online for photos with a Creative Commons licence that you are allowed to use for free, if correct copyright credit is given.
Unexpected practical details– there will be some thing not mentioned in categories above that you feel pilgrims should know before setting out, let us know about these too!
Please send us an email with written answers under the following list of headings via our Contact page. Write your answer under each heading by reading the sections above and answering the questions in each.
Opening Times of Places;
Timings and Rhythm of the Day;
List of holy places visited and any comments;
Tips from Locals;
Lunch stops (indoor and outdoor);
Places for stopping for a beautiful, short rest;
Photos (please send to us).