The British Pilgrimage Trust: a charity, formed in 2014, dedicated to renewing pilgrimage in Britain (Registered Charity 1176045).
Our core goal remains to “advance British pilgrimage as a form of cultural heritage that promotes holistic wellbeing, for the public benefit.”
We believe that ‘holistic wellbeing’ includes physical, mental, emotional, social, community, environmental and spiritual health, and we aim to make these benefits accessible to wide new audiences. The BPT believes that pilgrimage has the potential to promote community and diversity in Britain’s spiritual landscape.
Pilgrimage – 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 was brought to an abrupt end in 1538, when Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell banned pilgrimage in Britain. Ever since, the tradition has been paused in Britain.
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.
It is time for Britain to take part too.
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…
The BPT believes that pilgrimage in Britain today should not attempt to imitate medieval forms of religious exclusivity. Instead, the tradition can be renewed to fit with modern needs. To this end, the BPT aims to help pilgrimage become a spiritual activity that is Open to All, whatever your beliefs, background, age or physical ability.
The Old Way
The flagship project 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 by BPT co-founder William Parsons while researching 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.
Britain’s Pilgrim Places Book
We have recently published our first book, Britain’s Pilgrim Places, which was written by the BPT’s Guy Hayward and Nick Mayhew-Smith. 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 – in fact, Guy Hayward and author Nick Mayhew-Smith are currently working alongside the Association of English Cathedrals to create accessible 1-day pilgrimages to mark the Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimage in 2020.
The BPT is also partnered with English Heritage, with whom we promote pilgrimage routes in their Annual Handbook and Member’s Magazine that connect their heritage sites.
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.