2020 has been a challenging year for everyone but we have attempted to turn the difficulties of this year into opportunities to support and connect to our community, and find ways to ensure the sustainability of the BPT for years to come.
We have achieved this by creating new resources for pilgrims, some of which we have given to the community, and some of which we have made available to our supporters in exchange for a donation or purchase.
2020 has been a good year for press coverage of pilgrimage in Britain.
We have appeared in: BBC Radio’s 4 Today, BBC News, Financial Times, Times2, Times Luxx, The Independent, Waitrose Weekend, Town & Country, Country Life, Woman’s Weekly, Tatler, Guardian (Avebury, Ritual Walk feature). Telegraph (Staycation Top 10, Anglesey as a Top 10, Top 10 World Pilgrimages, Glastonbury Water Way feature), Culture Trip, Catholic Herald, The Tablet, Country Walking, Ramblers Walk magazine, Countryman magazine, Suitcase Magazine, New European, House & Garden.
We have also started doing our own interactive livestreams with authors Nick Mayhew-Smith, Jini Reddy, and the digital map addressing app, What3Words. We hope to continue this initiative into 2021.
Britain’s Pilgrim Places
Britain’s Pilgrim Places, the BPT’s first ever book, was published in August 2020. The book includes 600 holy places, 100 pilgrimage routes, and every medieval cathedral in Britain, and an introduction from Sir Simon Jenkins.
Produced by the British Pilgrimage Trust and Lifestyle Press Ltd (following the best-selling Britain’s Holiest Places in 2011), the book was written by Britain’s Holiest Places author Nick Mayhew-Smith and BPT’s Guy Hayward. The vision for Britain’s Pilgrim Places is to harness the current interest in ancient ways of finding meaning and peace in the landscape, and encapsulate the spirit of this popular connection to the past.
Public figures have praised it, including Emma Bridgewater, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Satish Kumar and Fiona Reynolds (to name a few) – and it has been featured by Radio 4, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Times, the Independent…this list goes on. Britain’s Pilgrim Places is an Amazon Bestseller and Hive Top Ten Monthly Bestseller. We are delighted by how the book has been received, and four months since its launch and 5000 sales, we are proud to announce its second print run. The book is available for purchase through most online book sellers and local bookshops.
Old Way Online Guide
Also in August 2020, the BPT’s much-anticipated online guide to the Old Way launched. The BPT team spent five months developing and expanding the OWOG, the first version of which had been created by Will Parsons with the help of Alice Attlee. The guide breaks the 250-mile route between Southampton and Canterbury into 38 sections, with added alternative route options for pilgrims to try. Within each section, pilgrims will find route descriptions full of historical information, stories, directions, and details about local flora and fauna. Along with this, pilgrims will find accommodation listings, places to stay, transport information, and holy places to visit: these holy places range from medieval priories, to thousand-year-old trees, to river mouths…we could go on. We have also included GPX downloads for each section, along with OS Mapping and interactive Google Maps.
The Old Way Online Guide is an evolving project, which will continue to develop and grow as more pilgrims walk the route and contribute to the guide. We set up the guide to have comments enabled at the bottom of every section, which means that whenever one of our subscribers and Friends wants to tell us something about the route, or suggest an update, they can let us know. In December 2020, we completed our first update of the guide since its launch, incorporating user feedback, and integrating ideas from the BPT Team, in order to continue to nourish this growing pilgrim resource.
Friends of the BPT
The third in our trio of launches in August 2020 was our Friends of the BPT project. As a charity, we depend on donations in order to continue to offer our services to the pilgrim community: but we want to offer an opportunity to those who want to support us, to engage more deeply with the work of the BPT and to gain benefits for their support – hence the creation of Friends of the BPT!
Friends receive: year-round access to the Old Way Online Guide; year-round access to the Sanctuary Project (launching in Spring 2021); a growing number of discounts at pilgrim-friendly organisations; exclusive BPT e-mailouts; advance access to guided pilgrimage tickets; and discounts or free guided pilgrimages – dependent on which tier to which Friends choose to sign up.
Cathedral Day Routes
2020 started well, with an appearance on BBC Radio 4 Today programme focused on the Cathedral Day Pilgrimage Project. But for much of 2020, encouraging pilgrims to make long-distance journeys has not been an option. This year has been one where we have all, largely, had to stay close to home (if not actually at home). As a consequence, the BPT’s focus on creating 30 linear and circular cathedral day-pilgrimage routes has proved a brilliant opportunity to encourage our supporters to safely, within government guidelines, continue to make pilgrimage.
For those who live in cities, the routes provide an opportunity to re-enchant one’s local environment: encouraging a sense of wonder and resonance in landscapes, heritage and places that may have previously gone unnoticed. One of the great challenges of 2020 has been in finding adventure closer to home, and for the huge number of people living in cities, the cathedral day-routes provide the opportunity to do just that.
Furthermore, the BPT is committed to exploring ways to make pilgrimage in Britain more accessible. The circular cathedral routes in particular often require minimal to no transport for those living in a city, and therefore are a less costly pilgrimage option. They also can be walked in a day: a far more accessible pilgrimage option than taking weeks, or even months, off work to walk! Finally, the geography in and around cities is often far more accessible to those with limited mobility. We will continue to explore accessibility and pilgrimage in the new year: Cathedral Day Routes is one way we’ve been working on this issue in 2020.
In 2020, we really missed meeting with our supporters and making pilgrimage, and we know that many would-be pilgrims have missed getting out on the path and exploring pilgrimage routes. In this difficult year, we wanted to find a way of connecting with the pilgrimage community, and providing our supporters with some form of escapism. This led us to conceiving Virtual Pilgrimage.
Our Virtual Pilgrimages are an opportunity for those in our digital community to experience the richness, beauty and spiritual awakening of British pilgrim routes from the comfort of our homes. We began the initiative in the spring on Instagram, before moving the project onto our mailing list, where we were able to provide even more detail to the pilgrimages. We made it our mission to take our supporters – virtually – on different pilgrimages across the country, exploring the history and the landmarks found upon the paths. Additionally, we have been suggesting practices influenced by an aspect of the chosen pilgrimage, providing a chance for us to connect, discover and play in these otherwise anxious times.
We intend to continue this initiative into the New Year, even when pilgrims will be able to journey freely onto pathways once more. The Virtual Pilgrimages have allowed many to explore pilgrimage routes they would otherwise not have been able to reach, for a range of reasons: financial, geographical, and physical circumstances can often restrict pilgrims from stepping out onto the path, and Virtual Pilgrimage is a way of making the practice accessible to many. It also provides a low-commitment introduction into making pilgrimage in Britain, for those who are considering taking up the practice for the first time.
Alongside our Virtual Pilgrimages, we’ve been offering our supporters a regular collection of resources, brought together by the BPT Team. We loved sharing the podcasts, articles, films, and other work that inspired us during the difficult months of lockdown – both amongst ourselves as a team, and with our followers on social media and mailing list subscribers. This practice helped us to better understand the myriad ways in which pilgrimage speaks to many other current issues.
From diversity and inclusion in the countryside, to folk songs, children’s books, exploration documentaries, labyrinths… it’s been eye-opening to see how the practice of pilgrimage intersects with other cultural, ecological, spiritual and heritage-related issues. We’ve also loved receiving BPT Recommends from our supporters, exchanging thought-provoking and joyful resources amongst the BPT network. As with our Virtual Pilgrimage project, we intend to continue our recommendations with our supporters beyond 2020, as a way of continuing to open up the conversation around pilgrimage, and how it relates to other aspects of our lives.
Strategy & Vision
Though the ability to step out onto the pilgrim path with our supporters was greatly missed in 2020, the restrictions on movement did allow the BPT Team to reflect on the charity’s work – in the past, present and future. working closely with the trustees, the team are producing a cohesive strategy for the next three years, to ensure the sustainability of the BPT for many years to come.
Our strategy will focus on: our dedication to making pilgrimage in Britain Open to All; bringing both local communities, and the pilgrim community at large, to pilgrimage; continuing to build and expand our network; and developing the Old Way, our flagship route.
We will continue to “advance British pilgrimage as a form of cultural heritage that promotes holistic wellbeing, for the public benefit” – and furthermore, we will “continue to lead with pilgrimage initiatives, but also listen to and learn from our audience, creating strong partnerships with communities, organisations and individuals, in order to make pilgrimage in Britain open and accessible to all.”
Another opportunity arose from the restrictive nature of 2020: to review and update our website. We’re proud of the scope of our site: it contains 135 major pilgrimage routes, 47 cathedral day route pages and 13 English Heritage routes, all of which are freely accessible to all, and all of which have downloadable GPX files to help pilgrims navigate along the path. Our website also lists our guided pilgrimage events, provides a platform for other pilgrimage events, and has a huge amount of information available for those wanting to find out more about making pilgrimage. With so much content within the website, we felt it was time to update it, to make it easier for pilgrims to use.
One of our most visible changes has been to reorganise our home page. We’ve produced new content to explain who we are as a charity, and what it means to make pilgrimage in Britain. We’ve also restructured the order of the page to make navigating through the website simpler. You’ll also find that information about what we do, and who our team is, has changed this year – and plenty of new pages have been created to help pilgrims guide themselves and others on pilgrimage (more on this below). On practically every page of our website, updates and improvements have been made, to ensure that for our growing number of website visitors are provided with everything needed in order to start making pilgrimage.
We have also added a subscriber gateway for those who have signed up to use the Old Way Online Guide, or have become a Friend of the BPT. This restricted section of the website provides our users with all the information they need to traverse the Old Way, and gives our Friends all the benefits they receive from supporting us.
Pilgrimage Community Tools
This year, we have addressed the growing need for resources for emerging pilgrims, hoping to set out on the path and experience the practice for themselves. While under normal circumstances, we offer guided pilgrimages, which often serve as an introduction to the practice, this has been difficult to do this year. Furthermore, we understand that not all pilgrims can afford to attend a BPT Guided Pilgrimage, and may not live a convenient distance from where these events take place.
With this in mind, we have produced a series of resources to help pilgrims discover the practice for themselves. ‘Tips for the Pilgrim Novice’ introduces key practices and ideas that the BPT have found speak to most pilgrims, and also provides a practical kit list for those setting out on the path. We have also updated our ‘Holy Places’ page this year, to demonstrate the scope and variety of places where pilgrims might feel connection and resonance along the way. We’ve also included a page for finding local food along pilgrimage routes, as well as a pages to help you create and test pilgrimage routes – as well as a page on how to guide a pilgrimage. We hope this work will make it easier and more accessible than ever to become a pilgrim in Britain.
In addition to our collaboration with the Association of English Cathedrals for the day cathedral pilgrimages project, and eight cathedral partners for the circular routes, we are now working with the Cathedral Cycle Routes project, a group working to plot cycle routes between every cathedral in England.
We continue to work with English Heritage, and will provide 10 routes for their Annual Handbook 2021/22.
One of our most important roles is as a connector hub between various localised pilgrim route creator communities. We work to keep the network of pilgrim route creators aware of what is happening elsewhere, of developments to our Sanctuary project, and introduce them to relevant people. In turn we receive information and their own creative help. For example, Nigel & Penny at Cornish Celtic Way have inspired us with their guidebook and their advanced work in a version of our Sanctuary project of low-cost church-based accommodation along their route. Hugh Lockhart of the Way of St Andrews helped Guy with the blurbs for some of Scotland’s routes for the Britain’s Pilgrim Places book. The Lincoln-based Journeys of Faith team have been helpful in our collaboration on a day route to Lincoln Cathedral. David Pott helped us with presenting his new set of six routes to Durham Cathedral: the Northern Saints Trails.
St Edward Way – Kentigern Way – St Alkelda’s Way – St Winefride Pilgrim Trail – Way of St Hild – Northern Saints Trails – Whitby Way – Anglesey – East & West Peckham Trail – Penrhys Pilgrimage Way – Dorset Catherine & Cernunnos Route – King Arthur Way – Robin Hood Way
New Day Pilgrimage Routes:
Glastonbury – Avebury Circular – St David’s – Hereford Cathedral – Rochester Cathedral – Guildford Cathedral – St Edmundsbury Cathedral – Edinburgh Cathedral – St Albans Cathedral – Cambridge – Bath Abbey – Anne Lister Pilgrimage – 30 Covid-compliant cathedral circular routes.
We are building our understanding of introducing pilgrimage to schoolchildren, and are forming a list of partners, such as the Phoenix Academy, London; Truro Cathedral; Salisbury Cathedral; a school in Gloucester; and the Woodard schools group.
Changes to our Team
We are delighted to inform you that two outstanding new trustees joined the Board in January 2020, Sylvia Perrins with strong financial and charity expertise and Simon Hillson, a seasoned lawyer. Will Parsons left the BPT in March 2020 and Guy Hayward was subsequently appointed Director of the charity whilst stepping down as a trustee. As such, the BPT now has five trustees, Peter Gangsted, Merlin Sheldrake, Abigail Rowe and the two mentioned above. We were also fortunate in 2020 to be able to employ Alice Atlee, working almost entirely on Old Way, and in particular on writing, testing and launching the Old Way Online Guide. Alice left the BPT in Dec 2020, and she will be succeeded by Dawn Champion, who has 20 years experience in community engagement and volunteer management from her previous roles at English Heritage (South East) and Kent Wildlife Trust.