Throughout history, people have been taking challenging walking journeys for a deeper understanding of our world, their beliefs, and values, and to ultimately embark on a path towards self-discovery. Today we name these journeys pilgrimages.
Pilgrimages are notoriously expeditions of religious significance. Yet today, anybody can take on a pilgrimage, regardless of their beliefs.
In this Maximum Adventure article, we present you with our top 5 pilgrimage UK walks. Taking on these trails will lead you to sites of great historical importance, and lay the ground for rediscovery across the UK. Walk in the steps of your ancestors, and those who lived thousands of years ago.
Challenge your mind and body, while connecting with our wondrous natural world by taking on a pilgrimage walk.
- What is a pilgrimage?
- The significance of pilgrimage trails in the UK’s religious history texts
- Pilgrimage UK #1: The Hadrian’s Wall Pilgrims’ Way
- Pilgrimage UK #2: The St Cuthbert’s Way
- Pilgrimage UK #3: St Oswald’s Way
- Pilgrimage UK #4: Cotswold Way
- Pilgrimage UK #5: The Pilgrims Way
Pilgrims among you, let’s get ready!
What is a pilgrimage?
A pilgrimage is a journey that has religious or spiritual significance, usually taking the traveller to an important religious place. In the past, pilgrimages were taken solely for religious reasons, but today, the meaning of a pilgrimage expands to anyone taking on a spiritual journey, meaning their journey’s significance goes beyond relaxation and fun.
For this reason, anyone can be a pilgrim, whether you’re religious, agnostic, or atheist. Pilgrimages are personal journeys, a tool people use to connect with themselves, search for meaning, values, or truth, and so they mean something different to everyone.
The significance of pilgrimage trails in the UK’s religious history texts
Much of the UK’s history is dominated by Catholic and Christian religions. And it’s from these belief systems that long-distance pilgrimage walking began.
Easter time is of special importance and is associated with religious rituals that involve a pilgrimage.
According to the Christian and Catholic faith, Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected at Jerusalem. During the Holy Week (which begins on Palm Sunday) worshippers gather at the sites they believed these critical events occurred.
Then on Good Friday, the day when Jesus is said to be crucified, solemn pilgrims across the world make the journey from the Mount of Olives to the Holy Sepulchre in the middle of Jerusalem’s Old City. It’s not unusual for these pilgrims to carry a wooden cross on their backs to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus.
This gives you an idea of the significance of pilgrimages in the UKs religious history. Yet, you don’t have to walk to Jerusalem or turn to religion to have a spiritual experience. If you’re wanting to do something different and reconnect with yourself and nature, then why not take on a pilgrimage walk in the UK?
Below we’ve detailed our top 5 Pilgrimage UK walks. We want you to be able to join the millions of people taking on these pilgrimage journeys across countless geographies, cultures, and eras. With that said, let’s jump straight into our list.
Pilgrimage UK #1: The Hadrian’s Wall Pilgrim’s Way
Distance: 23 miles
The Hadrian’s Wall Pilgrims Way journeys across a snapshot of the Hadrian’s Wall walk, starting in Housesteads and ending in Corbridge. The route begins on the wild hilltop of Housesteads Roman Fort, where in the past people worshipped the “Hooded Gods”. The route will then take you to Carrawburgh Roman Fort, which is a Temple dedicated to Mithras, the god of light. Follow the route to the Chesters Roman Fort, where you’ll find artefacts from a well of the water nymph Conventina. From here you come to the St Oswald Church, the site where Oswald erected a wooden cross at which he knelt before the Battle of Heavenfield.
Pilgrimage UK #2: The St Cuthbert’s Way
Distance: 62 miles
The St Cuthbert’s Way is a long-distance trail that starts at the Scottish Borders, in the small town of Melrose. This walk is named after Cuthbert, a 7th-century saint, who spent his life in the service of the church (c.634- 30 March 687AD). Cuthbert became prior of the Old Melrose Abbey in 662, and around 665 became prior of Lindisfarne Abbey on Holy Island (Lindisfarne), Northumberland. His final resting place is in Durham Cathedral.
The St Cuthberts way opened in 1996. The route travels through the pretty borders countryside, with medieval abbeys, along the River Tweed, and into the glorious Cheviot Hills. The route finished in Lindisfarne.
Pilgrimage UK #3: St Oswald’s Way
Distance: 97 miles
Oswald was the King of Northumbria in the early 7th century and was successful in bringing greater unity to a previously divided region while promoting the spread of Christianity. On this trail, you come across castles, coastlines, islands, river valleys, hills, forests, and farmland.
The route, which was launched in 2006, starts from the Holy Island (Lindisfarne) in the north, and follows the Northumbrian coast south to Warkworth, before heading inland towards Hadrian’s Wall and Heavenfield.
The idea of this journey is that it links the places associated with St. Oswald, who played a major part in bringing Christianity to his people.
If you’re feeling truly inspired, why not link the St Oswald’s Way with the Hadrian’s Wall Walk, to give you an epic pilgrimage adventure.
Pilgrimage UK #4: Cotswold Way
Distance: 102 miles
The Cotswold Way route takes you across the British Cotswolds, over green landscapes, rolling farmland, peaceful woodlands, and attractive quaint villages. What’s significant about this route is that it finishes in Bath where you can visit the Bath Abbey.
The Bath Abbey has a striking façade of angels climbing ladders, a design that was inspired by the dream of the Bishop of Bath, Oliver King. It is here that the first king of all England, Kind Edgar, was crowned in 973, and his coronation set the precedent for future king and queen ceremonies of Great Britain.
Pilgrimage UK #5: The Pilgrims Way
Distance: 124 miles
The Pilgrims Way is the ultimate UK pilgrimage and is a route that should inspire many for its natural beauty and historical importance. The route runs from Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire and travels to the Canterbury Cathedral in Kent. This is an ancient byway that dates as far back as the stone age. The topography of the area forms a natural causeway that travels over the north downs, which is thought to be followed by our stone-age ancestors.
Pilgrims have followed this trail since the 12th century to pay respects to former Archbishop, saint, and martyr Thomas Becket, who was murdered in 1170. His shrine now lies in Canterbury Cathedral. This route was brought back to the 20th century by writer Hilarie Belloc.
Book your long distance walk UK with Maximum Adventure
“The Pilgrim is humble and devout, and human, and charitable, and ready to smile and admire; therefore, they should comprehend the whole of their way, the people in it, and the hills and the clouds, and the habits of various cities.” – Hilarie Belloc
The 5 pilgrimage walks listed in this article withhold the history of ancient times and the religions that ruled these eras. When walking these trails, you’ll be hiking in the footsteps of your ancestors, who took on these journeys to connect with their beliefs.
Today, you don’t have to be religious to take on a pilgrimage. These are spiritual journeys helping you connect on a deeper level with yourself, others, and our natural world.
With that in mind, any long-distance walk can give you this spiritual experience. Check out our recent article, An Introduction to Our 12 Best Long Distance Walks UK, to find out more about long distance walking.
You can book your long-distance walking adventure with us at Maximum Adventure. We’ll take care of your logistics, accommodation, and safety. All you have to do is relax, and train for your big event.
For inspiration, check out our popular long-distance walking routes below:
- The Coast to Coast
- Hadrian’s Wall
- Jurassic Coast
- The Chiltern Way Challenge
- The Cotswold Way
- The Great Glen Way
- The Ridgeway
- The West Highland Way
Do you have a pilgrimage trail you want to tackle? Do you have any questions about your chosen route you’d like our outdoor professionals to answer? Get in touch as we always love to hear from you!