The British Pilgrimage Trust is working to develop one of Britain’s great rediscovered pilgrimage routes: the Old Way, a 240 mile journey from Southampton to Canterbury.
An Ancient Route
Like the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, this pilgrimage path was almost forgotten – but the BPT rediscovered it on Britain’s oldest road map (Gough Map, c.1360). This map reveals an intriguing red line running between Southampton and Canterbury.
This path wouldn’t have been exclusively used by pilgrims, but the waypoints include the large religious houses that formed the network of hospitality for pilgrims. It also connects the harbours and ports of the South coast, where many European pilgrims would have disembarked before joining the most convenient and direct route to the shrine of Thomas Becket. Many of these waypoints have a long history of pilgrimage as destinations themselves. In between them you’ll discover lost shrines, healing wells and pilgrim graffiti hinting at the journeys known to have been made back and forth along the path we now call the Old Way.
The modern route still links all of the Gough Map’s waypoints but includes so much more. Pilgrimage today is as much about the journey as it is the destination. The revived and recreated Old Way embraces a variety of pilgrim places, from the pre-Christian to the modern, and the wild to the urban. It follows some of the oldest tracks in Britain, but will also use the best paths to avoid busy roads. You may even find traces of those that have gone before you in the marks left in stone, names of buildings, and stories on the path.
Our criteria for re-creating this route have been:
1. Gough Map Waypoints
2. Footpaths Not Roads
3. Heritage & Holy Places
4. Nature & Beauty
Our free Old Way Online Guide gives you everything you need to know to walk Old Way. It breaks down the route into 14 stages with suggested itineraries to suit a variety of preferred daily distances. Navigating the Old Way is via your smartphone – or Online Guide. It is not yet waymarked, but most of the route follows existing waymarked trails. The Online Guide tells you which waymarks to follow.
Updated regularly, it includes:
Including images of route-marked OS Maps; Google Maps locating holy places and facilities, information on local waymarks, mileage and elevation; and the GPX files.
Accommodation, Food and Transport Listings
Recommended accommodation links and Sanctuary information; the best places for food and drink, from our favourites to pilgrim recommendations; public transport links.
Holy Place Suggestions
From ancient churches to thousand-year old mulberry trees, each Google Map is full of holy places. Each holy place has a brief write-up and, if possible, links.
Alternate Routes and Shortcuts
Every pilgrimage is different and so these routes allow you to tailor your journey to include must-see places which are off the main route, or miss out a particular place and take a more direct path.
Route Highlights and Overview
Brief highlights on the best of what that stage has to offer; overview of the stage including links for further information; beautiful photographs within each section, for inspiration.
Between the Chalk and the Sea (2023) – Over four seasons, travel writer Gail Simmons walks the Old Way to rediscover what a long journey on foot offers us today.
Press for the Old Way
The Guardian (Dec 2022) – 8 Great Winter Walks with a theme; The Guardian (Dec 2022) – A Spiritual Walk on the South Downs: the Old Way pilgrim’s route; Mammut Journal (Aug 2022) – Discovering Pilgrimage; Taunton Leisure (Jul 2022) – Rediscovering an old pilgrimage route through the South Downs; The Tablet (Jun 2022) – The Tree of Life – and Death; Financial Times (Feb 2022) – Five Extraordinary Walking Holidays; BBC South East Today (Jan 2022) – Winter Walks: The Old Way; BBC Sunday Morning Live (Oct 2021) – Pilgrimage and the Old Way; The Guardian (Jun 2021) – A Gap Year for the Grounded; Quarantini Podcast (May 2021) – with The British Pilgrimage Trust; Kent Life (Mar/Apr 2021) – New Life for Old Ways; The Guardian (Jan 2021) – How intention turns a walk into a pilgrimage.