Our 2023 in Review

…in Numbers:

700K website visits
300K website visitors
20K total e-newsletter signups
28 new routes added to website
27 partnerships created
15K total Britain’s Pilgrim Places books sold
36 guided pilgrimage events delivered
540 Friends of British Pilgrimage Trust

Setting Our Intention

We promote pilgrimage in Britain by publicising old and new paths as well as encouraging the practice of pilgrimage itself. Our mission is to ‘advance British pilgrimage as a form of cultural heritage that promotes holistic wellbeing, for the public benefit.’ 

The surge in public interest in pilgrimage in recent years, evidenced by increased national and international media coverage, brings an exceptional opportunity to build on this momentum. This year, in particular, we have been laying foundations for the development of a new website that will provide a wealth of information, advice, and tools, both to inspire more people to discover, and make it easier for everyone to make pilgrimage.

The following report highlights our main areas of achievement and the impact that has been derived from everyone who has supported us.

Cwmyoy Church Valley, Ewyas, Olchon and Monnow Valleys Way

Inspire

We have worked with the press and media to bring pilgrimage to a wider audience. Our website received 300,000 unique visitors and 700,000 visits this year. Our work has been publicised this year by The Times, BBC Radio 4, Travel & Leisure and others, and a column in the bi-monthly Idler Magazine. The year culminated with an article in the Spectator on our Director’s personal pilgrimage journeys since 2014. (For full list, see below).

We delivered two pilgrimages for the YHA Festival of Walking, events that attracted a wider audience through their national network who were unaware of the BPT, as well as generating a BBC radio interview. Our weekend symposium in County Wexford had 150 delegates and launched the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way. Our ‘Paws on Pilgrimage’ collaboration with Chichester Cathedral reached new audiences through Brightword, an agency that coordinates influencers. We have also upped our digital marketing by hiring an agency to manage our social media accounts.

Such exposure brings new pilgrims, communities, and supporters to the BPT and showcases the work that we and others are doing to raise awareness of the benefits of practicing pilgrimage.

Capel Lligwy, Anglesey Saints Way

Inform

We researched and added several new routes to our website including the River Itchen Way, the Three Choirs Way, the Dartington Leechwell Pilgrimage, the Mary & Michael Pilgrims Way Guidebook, the Francigena Brittanica, the River Dart Way and others (see below for full list).

An alternative starting leg of the Old Way, from Winchester to Chichester, has been created and written up with its own guide page as part of the Old Way Online Guide.

In addition, our Catholic Pilgrimages champion, Dr Phil McCarthy, devised ten new routes and we have created a webpage collection of Catholic Cathedral and Shrine Ways.

Dubs Hut, St Bega’s Way

Plan Pilgrimage

Our Sanctuary Network offering pilgrims low-cost community-run accommodation in churches, church and village halls has grown significantly and the Pilgrims Way Sanctuaries are now up and running. A non-church Sanctuary was added to the Cornish Celtic Way and the first location on the Mary & Michael Way is now live too. The first Sanctuaries have been added for the St James Way.

Our Communities project manager held a Sanctuary workshop for the Wexford–Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way which has resulted in two new sanctuaries going live later this year, and also an online “Introduction to Sanctuary” workshop which attracted eighteen participants, including eight representatives from Scotland. This work is now firmly embedding pilgrimage in local communities, reaching new locations, and bringing economic and other benefits to those involved.

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (played by Jim Broadbent)

Make Pilgrimage

We delivered a cross-border pilgrimage route project, the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way, working with Pembrokeshire and Wexford’s county councils and national park authorities. Click here for a summary of the whole project.

We have delivered thirty-six guided pilgrimages so far this year, including project and festival pilgrimages, generating much needed funds for our charitable work. Private bookings have been delivered for the Bank of England, Progressive Pilgrimage (USA) (and next year, RAW travel (AUS)). We are also supporting the development of a bereavement pilgrimage and other new forms, such as dream incubation and silent pilgrimages. 

We created and produced a series of passport stamps, one for each section along the Old Way. These are now being distributed to enable pilgrims to mark their progress and achievement.

We signed up a number of Route Champions to act as local representatives at a number of locations including cathedrals at Canterbury, St Davids, Rochester, Southwark, Hereford, Chichester, St Edmundsbury and Bradford. We promoted Cathedral Cycle Champions events with Carlisle, Newcastle, Durham, Portsmouth, Peterborough, Rochester, Bradford, and Southwark Cathedrals. 

Other non-Cathedral Champions include Devon Pilgrim, Kent Downs AONB, High Weald AONB, Dover District Council, Canterbury City Council, the Bishop of Wrexham, and the Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Sussex.

We now plan to set up a communication platform for networking these champions and volunteers, and to work with our professional researcher with a grant from British Academy/Leverhulme in order to explore data gathering opportunities amongst the pilgrimage network in Britain. This will provide us with some means of establishing how many people undertake pilgrimage in Britain, a question we are often asked but which is currently impossible to answer without commitment from pilgrimage destinations (e.g. cathedrals).

Fulking Spring
Dunking one’s head in Fulking Spring, Old Way

Our Path Forwards in 2024

We are a small team with 2 full-time and 1 part-time employees, but our ambition is big: we want to normalise pilgrimage in British culture and across the world. To achieve this, given our constraints, we must leverage digital technology as best we can. Hundreds of thousands of people per year reach our website, but it is now 9 years old, and website design and digital mapping has moved on so much since we first built it. So now our focus is on giving our website visitors the best experience we can, so they go from being interested to actually stepping out onto the footpath.

This year, one of our expert volunteers, Alice Lankester, designed the full scoping deck for our new website (launching Spring 2024) and guided us with careful thoroughness as we attempted to find a suitable agency. Vovi Studio were selected following a competitive process in which we interviewed around 15 agencies, and the contract was signed this October.

We also decided to start uploading our pilgrimage routes to external walking map apps rather than develop a separate BPT app. This is in order to leverage these apps’ pre-existing audiences of millions of users, and to reduce the digital friction of getting pilgrims onto the footpath. We have hired someone to start this work of uploading our 250+ routes, beginning with Ordnance Survey, Outdoor Active, All Trails, Komoot, Outdoors GPS.

Our other exciting development is that we have secured funding to develop a programme for introducing pilgrimage into Holistic Education. We will achieve this through collaboration with teachers, priests and chaplains in schools, and by working with adult volunteers who will educate those outside of the school system by becoming route developers, guides and speakers/ambassadors. Schools in Britain have legal obligations which require them to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and pilgrimage is well placed to support that.

The Trustees of the BPT are grateful to everyone who has donated to us, as well as those who use our services and inspire us to keep on going, as we can not achieve any of this without you.

Cheriton Wayfarer’s Walk, River Itchen Way

Radio & National Print:

Times Top 20 Spring Walks; Travel & Leisure; Geo Magazin; Idler Magazine columns; Spectator; BBC Radio 4 interview; Silent Pilgrimage in Church Times; The Critic; Catholic Herald

Film / TV

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry Film Launch Event, Leicester Square with Author Rachel Joyce Q+A; Netflix series: Mysteries of the Faith; Escape to the Country on Golden Valley Pilgrim Way

Guided Pilgrimages (36 events)

Avebury – London – Winchester – Golden Valley, Herefordshire – 4-& 7-day) – Old Way – Chichester, Cuckmere Valley, Rye, Canterbury – Oxford – Cambridge – Ewyas, Olchon & Monnow Valleys – Glastonbury – Salisbury – St Michael’s Mount

Talks

Chiddingfold Parish Hall; Drink with the Idler; Temenos John Michell Symposium; Mayfair Chelsea Literature Festival; PilNet Cambridge Conference; Interview with Alice Albinia ‘The Britannias’ book – Stanfords, Covent Garden; Women’s Institute.

New Routes Added

Eden Way – Dalriada Way – Hope Pilgrimage – London to Walsingham – White Horse Pilgrimage Trail – Harold Fry Unlikely Pilgrimage – Oxford Day Pilgrimage to the Centre – River Itchen WayThree Choirs WayDartington Leechwell Pilgrimage – Mary & Michael Pilgrims Way Guidebook PDF – Via Francigena (Francigena Brittanica) – River Dart WayTinners WayAnglesey Saints Way – Mary’s Crescent – Ewyas, Olchon & Monnow Valleys WayCatholic Cathedral and Shrine Ways

Partnerships

The Big Hoof – Churches Conservation Trust – Finland Pilgrimage Route Managers – Canterbury Cathedral – Southwark Cathedral – Simon Coleman/ PilNet – Alice Sainsbury – Ellie O’Keeffe – Llan Project – Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford – TV Documentary Consultations – Welsh Cistercian Way – Guidl Audio Map – Ways of St Andrews.