In the current crisis caused by COVID-19, we at the British Pilgrimage Trust believe in the power and importance of pilgrimage now more than ever.
Many people, in response to the difficulties of 2020, find that they now need to ‘find a new direction’. Many are also keen to spend more time outdoors in Britain, having suffered from nature deficit disorder acutely this year.
A therapy that gives physical direction through the countryside towards a time-honoured destination is just right for our time. And, importantly, holy places are often off the beaten track of ordinary tourism; their remoteness often making them naturally compliant with COVID-19 restrictions.
We encourage you to make pilgrimage, but we urge you to take precautions, and plan carefully, when you do.
Government guidelines are changing swiftly, and we advise anyone planning a pilgrimage to check the UK, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland Government Guidelines (depending on where you are planning to travel) before setting out, as well as any further local restrictions.
The golden rule that applies to all activities also applies to pilgrimage: If you are suffering with COVID-19 symptoms, you must self-isolate.
In England, according to government guidance you may walk outdoors for exercise with the people you live with, your support bubble, or one person from another household. Walkers in England should note the different restrictions in other nations, and not travel to Scotland and Wales.
In Scotland, the ‘Rule of Six’ applies when planning pilgrimages with those not in your household – though organised exercise is, in some cases, exempt from this rule: we advise pilgrims to do their own research around this issue. Pilgrims should not travel from different Tiered areas to make pilgrimage, though there is some leeway with this, for routes that leave a local area for a short distance.
In Wales, walking in groups out of doors, while retaining social distancing, is currently permitted. Non-essential travel is not advised, so pilgrims should try to find routes within their local area. However, there are currently no legal restrictions on travel within Wales for residents.
In accordance with current advice, pilgrims must remain socially distant from those who do not live in your household, and follow government advice on group meetings. Sanitize your hands often: at touchpoints (gates and doors, for example, when walking on footpaths), and, more generally, especially before eating, and upon entrance and exits of buildings . Pilgrims should also wear face masks when in enclosed spaces, and respect and observe other guidelines set out by the places you are visiting – and consider checking for these in advance.
During these uncertain times, normal operating hours and procedures do not always hold: whether you’re hoping to stop for a pub lunch, stay in a B&B, visit a heritage or religious site, or catch a train. We advise contacting the places you wish to visit in advance, and be prepared for unexpected changes!
The Ramblers Association has helpful further resources for those hoping to make pilgrimage during this time.