Pilgrimpace's Blog

pilgrimage with simon reeve
December 3, 2013, 3:17 pm
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The first of this series is on tonight at 9pm on BBC 2.  Looks well worth a watch:


For centuries pilgrimage was one of the greatest adventures on earth, involving epic journeys across the country and around the world. This series sees Simon Reeve retrace the exciting adventures of our ancestors. He learns about the forgotten aspects of pilgrimage, including the vice, thrills and dangers that all awaited travellers. He explores the faith, the hopes, desires, and even the food that helped to keep medieval Britons and more recent travellers on the road.

Simon embarks on a 400 mile journey to Canterbury from the north of England, beginning at the mystical Holy Island, just off the rugged coast of Northumberland. To reach the island, one of the earliest sites of Christian pilgrimage in Britain, Simon follows a line of posts marking out a crossing that emerges from the North Sea at low tide.

Medieval Britons believed that journeys of endurance, suffering and sacrifice to a holy site would help them find a place in heaven. Now more than half a million visitors make the crossing every year, mostly by car, to enjoy both the rich history of the island and magnificent wilderness.

Travelling further south through England, Simon gets to try medieval food; marvels at the beauty and majesty of Lincoln Cathedral, once the tallest building on the planet; and joins thousands on an annual pilgrimage at a remote village in Norfolk.

Simon discovers the inspiration behind pilgrimage has not always been religious devotion and piety. Pilgrimage was often a chance for long-suffering peasants to get away from a life of drudgery and explore their land. Many were attracted to the road by the opportunity for adventure and an excuse to do a little sinning away from home.

Simon visits the area of London where brothels paid rent to the Bishop of Winchester while tempting passing pilgrims. He learns more about exquisite medieval travel souvenirs that have been discovered in the muddy banks of the Thames.

Heading out of the capital, Simon meets a group of Chaucer enthusiasts who walk the pilgrimage route made famous by the Canterbury Tales, and gets to play the part of a lovelorn Prince during a retelling of a Chaucerian tale.

Simon also meets a pilgrim who has carried a heavy life-size cross thousands of miles, and gets to see the 700-year-old cranium of a monk while staying at an ancient monastery.

The draw of relics for pilgrims was immense before Henry VIII’s Reformation, when the golden age of pilgrim was abruptly ended. Until then Britain’s ultimate medieval pilgrimage destination was the site where Thomas Becket was murdered: Canterbury.


5 Comments so far
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I was disappointed that this series neatly excluded Wales and Scotland, especially Iona. The topic was English, not British pilgrimage, and clearly Simon Reeve thought that ‘Britain’ and ‘England’ were synonymous.

This programme offered an incomplete and lopsided view of the history of British pilgrimage.

Comment by Gargantua

Yes, it was just based in England.

However, I enjoyed it. Of course, it’s only partial on many levels, but I found Reeve engaging, open, wanting to learn. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the programmes when he will journey through northern europe and then to the middle east.

There’s a BBC blog with more about the programme and lots of links here:



Comment by pilgrimpace

wish you could have visited Lourdes and Medgergoje as well as some stigmatists like Catalina Rivas , the uk is spiritually starving , programmes like these may heal the emptiness

Comment by carolien flanagan

loved this programme loved Reeves even more being a catholic he is saintly himself although he is not aware of this, Humility intelligence and a sense of humour could watch him ll day and night.

Comment by carolien flanagan

Thank you. I missed the last part due to work, but am really looking forward to watching it on iplayer as soon as I can.


Comment by pilgrimpace

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