Walking the Pilgrims’ Way: What is a pilgrimage?



Why make a pilgrimage?

What is a pilgrimage and why am I aiming to walk the Pilgrims’ way as a gratitude walk in September 2016?

I have just searched the internet for images of “pilgrimage”.  There are SO many and they are also so varied:  thousands at Mecca, a handful on a St Helier Pilgrimage in Jersey, barefoot Sadhus on a glacier, travellers to Santiago de compostela, hordes in Rome, pilgrims at a cave in amarnath yatra, Kashmir, The Holy Land, A Buddhist Shikoku Pilgrimage, Assisi, Lourdes, a pilgrimage to beat climate change, Pilgrims Progress, the Canterbury Tales, women in 1913 on a pilgrimage to bring attention to the women’s suffrage issue….  OK, I’ll stop now.  But if I ever thought I was someone a bit special and different undertaking a gratitude walk, then I am reminded yet again of what a small part I play  in this world.

Over the centuries people have undertaken pilgrimage for many varied reasons.  Some people have travelled to fulfil a pledge or promise;  some to review the direction of their life;  some for healing;  some to understand scripture better or feel a connection to a power greater than themselves. Some of the wealthy even paid others to perform pilgrimages on their behalf – oh, they were missing out on a whole lot of fun!    Pilgrims have also journeyed to worship and pay respect;  to spread a message; as a penance or punishment or as I am doing to express gratitude.  What however seems to be common is the recognition of the connection between the journey of a pilgrimage and the journey of our lives and the life within and the fact that all expect in some way to be changed by the experience.

For me, the idea of pilgrimage seems different from travelling as a tourist.  For a tourist the goal is generally about reaching the destination, whereas for a pilgrim the experience is   “About the Journey”.    Some are simply curious and others maybe do not even know what they are looking for.  Martin Robinson in his book “Sacred Places, Pilgrim Paths” Harper Collins, 1998), talks about the idea of the peregrinatio, taking Christ’s message from their Celtic lands to spread far and wide, being developed into those who became perpetual wanderers. I suppose somehow we are all perpetual wanderers throughout our lives.

We are all perpetual wanderers



My challenges along the Pilgrims’ Way

I would expect at times on my journey to be challenged, probably in ways I do not expect or have not prepared for.  I am quite sure that this will not just be in physical ways (although no doubt I will be challenged physically), but I also know from my walking experiences in the past that I will be challenged mentally (if only in navigating the route) and emotionally.  In my long-distance walking of the Ridgeway last year, documented here, I found in the earlier more isolated parts of the walk, that I journeyed for six hours some days and only passed two or three people.  Being with my own company in my own head for all that time was certainly interesting and sometimes even quite entertaining.  On this walk, I will be alone at times, but I am not expecting the area to be quite so isolated and I expect to be joined by some fellow walkers, and I wonder whether I will in fact get resentful at not experiencing peace the same way.  I will also be challenged in connecting with people I meet along the route and having to adapt to staying in different accommodation each night.

A meditation along the Pilgrims’ Way

I find that the act of walking itself enables me to process thoughts in my mind more easily. I get a freedom from being outside and away from artificial lights and noises which I find at times so distracting.  (I don’t quite know how to reconcile that with my love of loud rock concerts – something to ponder on, maybe?)  If I am alone each step can take on a meditative quality and calm my mind and walking with others gives the chance for discourse away from many interruptions.  I love the quote by Brother Ramon, in “The House of Prayer (1995) that “all of us are on this journey, and all our pretensions, ambitions, wealth and power come to an end at this place”.  “This place” being our walking pilgrimage or our grave.




The aim of my pilgrimage is to walk in gratitude and reflecting on what is meant by gratitude and how feeling and expressing it changes us.   My walking destination will be Canterbury and I have posted about why I have chosen the Pilgrims Way as my particular path and why I am walking it here.

An Index of Pilgrims’ Way posts:

An index of all my Pilgrims Way posts can be found at “The Pilgrims’ Way: A Gratitude Walk”


To subscribe to my blog detailing my local walks and adventures along long-distance trails please click here and add your e mail details  or alternatively please visit my Facebook Page: Jackie McAll – “About the Journey”


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