2021 has been a significant growth year for the British Pilgrimage Trust as we have attempted to capitalise on the recent global trend towards domestic and meaningful travel. Two particularly strong growth areas were partnerships and volunteers. Our website received 150,000 visitors who visited it 540,000 times over the year.
Our mission is to help build routes, infrastructure and support for pilgrimage all around Britain; create a community to support the work of the BPT and other organisations across the country by supporting them in return; communicate to create understanding, awareness and involvement; and thereby make the practice of pilgrimage popular, with strong participation across Britain.
We continue to create new resources for pilgrims, some of which are free of charge to use, i.e. our routes directory, and some of which are available for purchase, i.e. Old Way Online Guide and our Britain’s Pilgrim Places book.
2021 was another strong year for press coverage of the BPT. Pilgrimage seems to be a source of endless angles and stories for journalists, who find that there are as many reasons for making pilgrimage as there are pilgrims.
The press articles were:
Guardian (UK Overview, Ley Lines and Silent Pilgrimage articles), Telegraph, Independent, Catholic Herald (article 1/3), Money Week, Nat Geo Traveller, Simple Things magazine, Magnifissance, iNews (+ another), Religion News Service, Church Times, Idler magazine, Hijaz Shrine in Coventry Telegraph, South West Londoner, School House, Peter Stanford – Cathedral Cycle Routes Project – BBC Midlands TV on Ley line pilgrimage, 2chill, Old Way featured in top 15 list and Kent Life – Worcestershire News – BBC Songs of Praise – Sight Magazine – St Peter’s Way in Telegraph – BBC1 TV Sunday Morning Live – Sacred Steps Podcast – Pilgrim Pioneers campaign launch – ArteTV – National Trust.
Here are some other pilgrimage-relevant pieces: Daily Mail, Observer and English Heritage (there are many more on the general subject of pilgrimage).
Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way
Perhaps the most significant step up for our charity was to be awarded a large contract to deliver a new pilgrimage route between Ireland and Wales. We have partnered with Pilgrim Paths Ireland and two Welsh organisations, Guided Pilgrimage and Journeying, to establish the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way which will become one of Europe’s leading pilgrimage routes. From November we met the marketing and branding agency, all the key stakeholders, the team who will evaluate us, put out a project launch press release, and advertised for two jobs.
Golden Valley Ley Lines, Herefordshire
Visit Herefordshire and Orphans Marketing commissioned us to create a 4-day legacy route, and also a 2-day route for a guided event we organised to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Alfred Watkins ‘discovering’ ley lines in Blackwardine on 30 June 1921. Guy devised on the ground, took photos, drew a map of all the ley points and lines in Herefordshire mentioned in Alfred Watkins’ The Old Straight Track, wrote historical blurbs, and published a route map of the Twin Valley Pilgrim Trail. With the associated Golden Valley Pilgrim Trail we worked with local vicar Simon Lockett, who has taken the initiative of developing another 7-day route with Night Sanctuary options administered by the local Deanery.
Way of Saints Cybi and Seiriol, Anglesey
The Llan Project commissioned us to create a route in Anglesey that joins Holyhead with Penmon. The route is now designed, having been reccied but not yet walked in entirety, and with all of the key pilgrim places having been visited and photographed. [Route page to follow very soon.]
Britain’s Pilgrim Places Book
We have now sold over 10,000 copies, and have printed a third print run. The book continues to inspire pilgrims all over Britain, who perhaps want to leave the weighty 608-page tome in their glovebox in order that they can find a pilgrim place wherever they go in Britain, or indeed plan a pilgrimage from their armchair.
This year we have been exploring partnerships with various organisations and individuals. In terms of academic research, Eleanor O’Keeffe, used the BPT as a case study for a report on ritual innovation under Covid in Britain. We are also now working with Swansea University researcher, Jaeyeon Choe, to provide data about how pilgrimage tourism can help post COVID recovery in Wales. We provided photos of pilgrim places for the Cambridge University Divinity Faculty Shared Sacred Landscapes Photo exhibition. We will be working with Rurallure over the next year, a company working to improve the cultural and digital infrastructure for rural heritage on European pilgrimage routes. We worked to promote the ‘Listening to the Land’ pilgrimage to Glasgow – a group of 20 artists and performers walking nine weeks up the ‘Spine of Albion’ from Southampton to the Glasgow COP26 conference. They produced a theatrical performance of their journey that gets to the heart of what long-duration pilgrimages do. Our work with English Heritage continues and they will be promoting pilgrim routes across England in their 2022-23 Annual Handbook.
Thanks to a supporter of BPT, William Cash, in September Guy met with senior government ministers, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Conservative Party Chairman Ben Elliott (Levelling Up minister Michael Gove also saw the papers), to persuade them to focus more funding on improving walking infrastructure in Britain, most notably accommodation. They recognise the importance of walking for the health of the nation in so many ways – physical, mental, economic – and understandably wanted to focus attention on Levelling Up areas, such as Preston, Bolton, Stoke and Bradford. We are yet to see what will come from this, and our ideas are now in the hands of the Tourism department.
Emma Bridgewater has joined our team as as a Patron, and she has exciting plans for 2022!
2021 has seen the launch of our first volunteer scheme. We are now training a team of volunteers to help us with charity admin, improve the Google Maps for our routes by adding more information, lead guided pilgrimage events and provide social media content. Our scheme is at full capacity for the moment, but our volunteer page gives an idea of the work involved should vacancies become available. Guy and Dawn have also been providing online training courses for our volunteers, including a 5 x 1hr course ‘How to lead a guided pilgrimage‘.
We took 150 pilgrims on 14 guided pilgrimage fundraising events organised for the general public, led by BPT’s Guy, Dawn and trustee Abigail. These were: Old Way (x3): Nutbourne to Chichester, Lewes to Firle, Icklesham to Rye, Patrixbourne to Canterbury (x4) Glastonbury (x2), London, Herefordshire.
For our Jan-Mar 2022 Guided events click here.
New routes from local communities:
Northern Pilgrims Way
Edith of Wilton Way
Glastonbury Way Day Pilgrimage
St Morrell’s Round
St Thomas Way
Cathedral Cycle Route
York Minster City Circular Pilgrimage (thanks to BPT volunteers Anthony Skeels and Micki McNie)
Gower Pilgrimage Way
We continue to explore the potential for working with school children. To this end, Guy wrote a piece for School House magazine. One fruitful avenue would be to explore the creation of pilgrimage summer schools. Guy released a podcast with Fr Graeme Rowlands who takes children in different year groups to Walsingham, St Paul’s Cathedral, St Albans Cathedral and Westminster Abbey each year – Fr Graeme’s insights are illuminating.
We redesigned our new homepage map and routes directory page in February. There is now functionality for leaving comments on our pilgrim route pages, and a route feedback form is now in place on each route page. This will allow us to keep our route directory as up-to-date as possible.
Community / Mailing List
We’ve been sending out e-newsletters to those on our mailing list all year, and the archive can be viewed here.
Our Chair of the Board of Trustees, Peter Gangsted, is stepping down after five years, having steered the BPT from our beginning to where we are now. Old Way Project Lead, Dawn Champion, joined us in January, having come from from English Heritage and Kent Wildlife Trust and has brought much-needed expertise. We also welcome our new trustee William de Winton.
Plans for next 12 months
We will continue to develop our partnerships with a view to connect with a more diverse range of sectors, such as nature conservation, heritage and mental health. Dawn will shift the Old Way project’s focus towards community engagement, both through the Sanctuary scheme and a broader spectrum of ways the community can engage with promoting and managing the route. We also aim to expand a National Sanctuary Network beyond the Old Way. With the uplift in interest in pilgrimage as a result of Covid it is also now time to expand our capacity. Therefore, we will be launching our volunteer scheme to widen our offerings of guided pilgrimages across Britain, and further develop and update our extensive routes directory with test walkers and admin supporters. We will also explore our long-term strategy for a Britain-wide school pilgrimage scheme.