We are a registered charity formed in 2014 that aims to promote pilgrimage in Britain by helping to develop and publicise new and old paths as well as the practice of pilgrimage itself by suggesting people say ‘bring your own beliefs’.
Our core goal remains to “advance British pilgrimage as a form of cultural heritage that promotes holistic wellbeing, for the public benefit.”
‘Holistic wellbeing’ includes physical, mental, emotional, social, community, environmental and spiritual health, and we aim to make these benefits accessible to wide new audiences.
Pilgrimage has the potential to promote community and diversity in Britain’s spiritual landscape, nurture our relationship with the land, and add meaning and purpose to people’s lives.
Today, there is a global renaissance of pilgrimage – 350,000 pilgrims walk the Camino to Santiago each year, 2.5 million make the Hajj, 25+ million the Arba’een and 50 million the Kumbh Mela.
Pilgrimage takes people outdoors, often with a conscious intention to connect with nature. The act of walking with a purpose or intention frees up the mind from its usual grooves, and encourages new mental connections to be formed, which can improve mental health and inner wellbeing. Slowly walking through nature and visiting ancient sacred heritage is a fun form of physical exercise and connects you with local communities.
Pilgrimage – defined as journeying with purpose on foot to holy places – has been manifest since hunter-gatherers followed well-worn tracks, which became processional pagan pathways, which in turn became ritualised journeys in Celtic, medieval and early modern Christianity. Pilgrimage was once Britain’s most popular expression of leisure and spirituality, enjoyed by Kings and serfs alike.
The tradition in England and Wales was brought to an abrupt end in 1538, when Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell banned pilgrimage. In Scotland, like England and Wales, pilgrimage was actively discouraged and many shrines and monasteries (providing free pilgrim accommodation) were destroyed during the Reformation period.
Today, Britain is witnessing a pilgrimage renaissance.
Consequently, learning from the past, we should not attempt to imitate medieval forms of religious exclusivity. Our vision is that pilgrimage is accessible to as many people as possible, reconnecting them with an ancient tradition in a modern way. To achieve this, we promote pilgrimage as a practice that is Bring Your Own Beliefs, whatever someone’s beliefs, background, age or physical ability.
Our role 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 pilgrimage popular, with strong participation across Britain.
Much of the core infrastructure is already in place – off-road footpaths, under-used churches, pubs and village shops. We simply need to join the dots…
What we have achieved
At the time we formed our charity, few people were talking about pilgrimage in Britain. We started gathering pilgrimage routes across Britain and re-opening the concept in new ways to new audiences, both through the press and off-line communities along the routes. Since then we have:
- featured in the media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, Daily Telegraph, BBC TV, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and travel and lifestyle magazines
- we rank near the top of online search results globally for the word ‘pilgrimage’ and no. 1 for ‘UK pilgrimage’
- over 700,000 visits to our website per year, and 250,000 unique users
- built a strong social media community of 60,000 followers
- published a guidebook, Britain’s Pilgrim Places, which has sold over 12,000 copies
- normalised the concept of day pilgrimage routes, and rolled it out via a route network to all English and Welsh cathedrals
- since 2016, we have led 2000+ pilgrims on 100 guided pilgrimages
- established two routes: Old Way to Canterbury and Wexford–Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way
- we now promote 250+ walking routes and 50+ operational Sanctuaries (low-cost community-run pilgrim accommodation) across Britain
The Old Way
The flagship route of the BPT is the Old Way, which winds for 250 miles from Southampton to Canterbury. We intend the Old Way to become a pilgrimage route that highlights new solutions and models for best practices, which will help take British pilgrimage forward.
The route was discovered on Britain’s oldest road map, the Gough Map (c.1360). It has been developed with the intention of retaining the integrity of this ancient route, while adapting to the ways the landscape through which the landscape has evolved since the 14th century: to walk the exact Gough Map route now would take pilgrims onto motorways and main roads. The Old Way launched in August 2020.
Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way
We have joined forces with the national pilgrimage organisation of Ireland, Pilgrim Paths Ireland, and two organisations that organise guided pilgrimages in Wales, Guided Pilgrimage and Journeying, with funding from Ancient Connections to establish the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way to become one of Europe’s leading pilgrimage routes, attracting thousands of committed and long-distance pilgrims and walkers to Pembrokeshire and County Wexford within five years.
This 160km route, between Ferns and Rosslare on the Irish side, and Fishguard and St Davids on the Welsh side, will become the Camino of Ireland and Wales – connecting the route associated with two great saints of Wales and Ireland near the coastline of both countries.
Britain’s Pilgrim Places Book
We have recently published our first book, Britain’s Pilgrim Places, co-authored by Nick Mayhew-Smith and BPT’s Guy Hayward. This book harnesses the current interest in ancient ways of finding meaning and peace in the landscape, and encapsulates the spirit of this popular connection to the past.
The BPT run guided pilgrimages, which serve both as fundraising opportunities for the charity, and an opportunity to connect pilgrims together in shared ventures. Our guided events are an opportunity for us to meet our supporters, to learn from them, and to share our love of pilgrimage.
Route & Event Directories
The BPT is also documenting routes throughout Britain, and is keen to list pilgrimage events being hosted by other organisations and individuals here. The BPT encourages the creation of new pilgrimage routes as well as the re-discovery of old ones.
The Sanctuary Project
Set to launch in Spring 2021, the Sanctuary Project will provide cheap accommodation for pilgrims within the heart of local communities. Beginning in village churches, with the aim of expanding into other community spaces as the project develops, Sanctuary will first be trialled along the Old Way, before rooting itself throughout the country.