The Staff

Take the Staff and Walk

A natural wooden walking staff – a stave, crook or stick – is British Pilgrimage’s distinctive technology. Shape and whittle it, carve designs on it, and be glad.

Visibly, you can distinguish a pilgrim in Britain from an ordinary hiker by their wooden staff. It is a prop used by Moses, Gandalf – all the greats. It’s a classic renewable logistical solution for pilgrims makingtheir journeys toward holy places on foot. A staff can stop stumbles from becoming full wrenches, can propel you uphill and slow you downhill, can investigate puddles to learn if they are in fact lakes, can part seas of nettles, and can pluck distant apples from wayside trees. Staffs can also be tent poles for tarpaulins, to help allay the risk of nighttime rain.

Wood is a conductor, so use your staff to knock greetings on great wayside trees and old stones. It’s a quick way to make contact and pay respects as you go, and an easy way to leave a real but invisible trail. Overnight, prop it up in the best possible places to recharge…

With it you can bash mental turmoil into the forgiving soil. You can spin it in the air to make random direction decisions. You can lean on it, and trust its propulsion uphill and resistance down.

Your association with this stick will become rife with the mana of your pilgrimage. This complex and unique accumulation of carbon is formed from the love of a plant for the sun. It is pure accumulated sunshine, connecting heaven and earth with you in between.

Carrying a stick feels right. It’s one of our oldest and most important technologies. Think of the importance of other staffs – the scythe, the sceptre, the spear, the seed-dibber, the bow and the fishing rod  – and you begin to realise why it feels so natural in your hand.

Some people claim less likelihood of encountering malevolence with a five-foot switch of wood in hand – but sticks have two ends, and such thinking can work against you. Also, please do not cut wood from wherever you find it without permission. The BPT is working with regional coppice woodlands to create a stock of quality pilgrim staffs. So if you can’t find anyone to ask before delving for yours, you can always ask us.

You CAN get the staff these days.

Perhaps the greatest use for wooden staffs for a pilgrim is that they can physically embody the challenge of letting go at the end. Pilgrimage is a microcosm of the journey from birth to death. And at the end of pilgrimage, just as in life, we should let go of something we have loved, that has supported and empowered us on the way. In death this is our bodies, but in pilgrimage this can be our staffs, which have almost become extensions of our bodies, and we really don’t want to discard. But it’s vital practice to easily say cheerio. So cast your staff to water, and let the stick carry on its own pilgrimage toward the sea…



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  1. Manon Adams

    Where do you find the list of hostels and the cost of doing this Pilgrimage?

    • British Pilgrimage

      Hello Manon,
      Pilgrims are currently asked to carry their own homes on their back, as a tent & sleeping bag wild-camping solution. A full map and list of accommodation venues is in development. We have a wide range of inital up-takers – from churches, hostels, meadows, village-halls and pub gardens. We will be publishing a full list in the next year.

      So currently, the only way to set out on this pilgrimage is in pioneer form – to set off and work it out yourself. It is an additional challenge to the dedicated walking of pilgrimage, but it comes with correspondingly additional rewards. The greater challenge can bear greater fruit…

      • Hannah

        Is it legal to do wildcamping in the UK and Ireland? Thank you beforehand! 🙂

        • British Pilgrimage (Author)

          Hello Hannah,

          The short answer is no. It depends what you mean by wild-camping. Sleeping outside, without a proper tent, in places people do not normally sleep, is legal as long as the landowner has given permission. If not, it is trespass, a civil offence. If the wild-camper damages the land in some way, this a criminal offence.

          Some people argue that wild-camping is one of those victimless crimes, that if done well causes zero harm and even improves the land on which a wild-camper stays, if for example they pick up others’ litter as well as their own, and leave nothing but the indent of their body, and no-one knows they were there. We have heard people argue this. Also, that finding out who owns a patch of ground is nearly impossible anyway.

          But wild camping in the UK, in terms of sleeping on someone else’s land without permission, remains a crime. So it cannot be recommended.

          There are specific places in the UK where wild camping is permitted – like Dartmoor, and parts of Scotland. Also, there are wild-camping sites where campers can pay to wild-camp. And in some settings, churches can be a good option – though permission remains crucial in order to remain legal.

          Hope this helps – the very best yours…

      • Rebecca Churchman

        Is it available yet?

  2. Steve Payne

    The staffs shown are far thinner than would be common in the middle ages, which were built as much for defence as for walking.

    • David Anson

      This observation has hung about without comment and it surprises me. People carried the quarterstaff. Not the long heavy pole depicted in the movies where robin Hood and little John fight. As it says a quarter but of what? A quarter of a Rod or Rood- 20 natural feet. The old natural foot was 9.9 imperial inches., so take 5 feet of it at 49.5 imperial inches with an iron ferrule and you have a walking stick, land measure and a pretty handy weapon in an age when only our lords and masters could carry swords and other weapons. Nice length for a pilgrim, been carrying one for years and had a stall in markets selling them.

      • Jane Cobb

        I doubt whether it was that precise for practical purposes. A good length for a fighting staff is somewhere between chin and head height, however tall you are,and that is practical as a walking staff too.

  3. Jacqueline

    Lovely to see this proper honouring of the tradition of carrying a staff. Where can I find out more about your stick of staffs?

    • Jacqueline

      An interesting typo there! Stock of staffs would have perhaps been better, but less amusing.

      • ray incera

        make your own , its more personel to you and feels more a part of you

        • British Pilgrimage (Author)

          We quite agree. But be sure to take it from somewhere you have permission to cut wood – and don’t cut anything while the sap is rising or the birds nesting…

    • Dave

      A good 15 years or more ago I found a staff (a natural bit of wood, not a manufactured staff.) abandoned and forgotten by the edge of a wood; rather than leave it there unloved I took it home with me. It’s been an exceedingly good companion to me whenever I’ve gone off on a long multiday walk. If you’re ever fortunate to be gifted a staff in such a way I’d recommend taking the gift; such a staff is, in my own personal opinion, a nicer companion than a purchased staff.

  4. Pam Scott

    Looking forward to the list of accommodation. Its a great idea and will open up a lot of Pilgrimages to a lot more people. Thank you.

  5. Phil Hall

    Great advice.


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