Old Way

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

Similar to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, this pilgrimage path was almost forgotten – but BPT co-founder William Parsons 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, and 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 paths 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.

Gough Map, c. 1360
The original Old Way route

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:

Navigation Guidance

Including images of route-marked OS Maps, Google Maps locating holy places, and facilities, information on local waymarks, mileage and elevation as well as 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. 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

Old Way Online Guide

Download Old Way GPX files

Click for instructions on how to download a GPX file onto your smartphone map app

Our Old Way Online Guide is free for everyone to use, but if you want to support us in making these resources free to the general public, please consider donating or becoming a friend of our charity.

Press for the Old Way

The Guardian – 8 Great Winter Walks with a theme

The Guardian – A Spiritual Walk on the South Downs: the Old Way pilgrim’s route

Mammut Journal – Discovering Pilgrimage

Taunton Leisure – Rediscovering an old pilgrimage route through the South Downs

The Tablet – The Tree of Life – and Death

Financial Times – Five Extraordinary Walking Holidays

BBC South East Today – Winter Walks: The Old Way

BBC Sunday Morning Live – Pilgrimage and the Old Way

The Guardian – A Gap Year for the Grounded

The Quarantini Podcast – with The British Pilgrimage Trust

The Guardian – How intention turns a walk into a pilgrimage

Kent Life Magazine – New Life for Old Ways