If things go wrong…

What could possible go wrong?! Things very rarely do go awry, at least to the point where it is a problem. But it is good to have some tools at your disposal to head problems off at the pass, and the confidence that you are doing the right thing should you be the one unlucky guide!

Don’t forget that for the traditional pilgrim, overcoming challenges on their journey were an intrinsic part of their experience. One of the reasons for carrying a staff was protection afterall. Fortunately we don’t think you’ll have to deal with many brigands, thieves, warring nations, starvation or plagues (hopefully).

If there are some challenges, don’t be shy about sharing some thoughts on how dealing with problems are part of life’s journey, and finding meaning in all the experiences of the day – not just the planned ones.

Salome with St James the pilgrim disciple in bottom right
You are running late Public transport can be unreliable, so make sure you double check your arrangements the day before in case of unexpected engineering works etcMake sure you have your attendance list so you can contact all of the pilgrims and let them know. Give them something to do whilst they wait, like finding an object in the churchyard they can take with them.
A pilgrim is running late You should build in a 15 minute window for arrivals in your schedule, and ensure start times take into account public transport. Make sure your pilgrims have your mobile number so they can let you know. Depending on how long they will be, you might have the flexibility to wait; you can start without them and bring them up to speed before moving on, or even arrange to meet them further down the route.
Adverse weather Check the forecast two days in advance; admin will be sending out a reminder email and can include any special guidance that may be needed, just let them know. You may need to make a decision closer to the time, in which case let pilgrims know when to expect a message from you – generally we’d recommend making a judgement call by 10pm the night before at the latest. Pilgrims may decide not to come if it is raining, but that is up to them. We will only cancel or postpone a pilgrimage for the weather if it is hazardous; e.g. storms, floods, snow.

Consider whether travel will be safe as well as the route, at the end of the day as well as the start. If you need to cancel, we’ll always back you up; we’ll try to arrange an alternative date or give people a credit for another pilgrimage.
The pilgrims are too slowBuild some flexibility into your schedule; it’s easier to add things in as a nice surprise than disappoint by cutting out something that was advertised. Explain at the start of the day what the expectations are – if you need to arrive by a certain time, make sure they understand. You can ask them their preference around fast pace or shorter breaks.
Before you have used up all your slack, discuss with the group. You can decide together whether to cut something out, pick up the pace, or accept your destination will be shut when you arrive. It’s their day, let them choose if they prefer a slower pace or getting to experience a particular place. If guiding a Silent Pilgrimage you will need to make this decision yourself balancing the needs of the group.

Should you leave someone behind? We’d rather not, but under exceptional circumstances, or if that is their preferred option, someone can leave the group at an appropriate waypoint – make sure they have onward travel arrangements in place before you leave them. If someone has a disability or a medical condition, they should only leave the group at their own suggestion, never ours.
There are problems with the route. Even if you check the route the day before, Mother Nature can still throw out some surprises! All you can really do is make sure you have considered likely issues in your risk assessment and planning, and have some shortcuts or diversions up your sleeve if possible. Make sure you have a map of the route, either hard copy or an app on your phone. If you have an awareness of alternatives it can help you make a decision quickly of how and when to divert. Discuss this with the group, let them know what the options are and decide together. If guiding a Silent Pilgrimage you will need to make this decision yourself balancing the needs of the group.
One of our waypoints is shut. When planning, don’t assume that the advertised opening times will be the case – let them know you are coming, so if anything changes they can alert you. There are plenty of things you can do if you can’t get into the building. Forehead contact, circumambulation; make sure you have a variety of practices in your pocket and you will still be able to interact with pilgrim places, even if they are shut.
Accidents and incidentsPlease see the Safe, Suitable, Sensible section
Please see the Safe, Suitable, Sensible section
Complaints Complaints usually arise out of disappointment, so you can avoid these by managing expectations. This starts with the information provided at the point of booking, the reminder email which goes out a few days before, and your briefing on the day. Keep your flexible items to yourself, make them nice surprises when included rather than disappointments when cut. If you need to make changes on the day, let the group know what is happening and why; if you have options on what to do, consult them. If they are involved in the decision they are less likely to complain with the outcome. Some tips:
1. Take the individual away from the rest of the group, ideally find somewhere to sit down so you can give them your full attention.
2. Listen to everything they have to say – even if you think you know, don’t interrupt, they need to feel listened to.
3. Reflect back your understanding of the issue, so they know you understand
4. Acknowledge how they feel about it – even if you don’t agree, or accept they have good cause, we can still recognise their emotional response.
5. Ask yourself if there is anything you can do to resolve it. If so, is it reasonable? Will it affect the rest of the group? If it is possible to do something, then discuss it with them.
6. If it isn’t possible, apologise, explain, and let them know they can contact Dawn or Guy by email to take up the matter further if they prefer.
Problem Pilgrims We’ve never had a pilgrim whose behaviour has caused us problems yet, but you won’t know until you meet one! In the exceptionally rare circumstance that you do get a pilgrim who is causing problems for the group, you’ll need to make your best judgement about how to handle it. Are they disrupting the experience for other pilgrims? Are they being deliberately problematic, or are they unaware of their behaviour? It’s generally best to have a quiet word with the individual – be clear and straightforward – and find a solution between you which may include the some of the options above. If someone’s behaviour towards you or another pilgrim is obviously unacceptable, you do have the option of warning them or asking them to leave, as long as you don’t leave them in an isolated area (see the guidance above about people leaving the group).

It’s worth bearing in mind that some people’s behaviour may be percieved as rude, challenging or difficult, but can be a result of Neurodivergence, e.g. if they have Autism Spectrum Disorder, so do not assume someone’s behaviour is disrespectful, seek a conversation to gain understanding first.