Religion and travel are two topics that are rarely combined, yet the Guardian did so –- in a fashion –- with a piece on Britain’s ancient pilgrim routes and how they’ve soared in popularity. The point of the feature was that one need not be religious at all to tread ancient paths that honor everyone from St. Cuthbert, St. Cadfan, St. Werburgh and St. Chad to Saints Wulfad and Swithun.
What results are nature walks with likeminded people with not a nod to the religious history that has traditionally surrounding this activity. Imagine traveling to Mecca for the … architecture? Might religious convictions have something to do with the motives of some of the travelers?
Here’s an account of how secularized Brits are strolling from church to church just to get some peace and quiet.
In one of the smallest churches in England, a couple of dozen people are taking the weight off their walking boots for a moment of quiet reflection in the cool gloom. Outside, an unlikely April sun pours over the South Downs.
It seemed, says Will Parsons, a good moment to learn the lyrics of John Bunyan’s To Be a Pilgrim -- perhaps, he adds, adopting neutral terms “to be more inclusive”.
The group was soon belting out the 17th-century hymn, drawing curious passersby to peer into the tiny hillside Church of the Good Shepherd, in Lullington. Come wind, come weather, regardless of lions, giants, hobgoblins or foul fiends, “there’s no discouragement / Shall make them once relent / Their first avowed intent/ To be a pilgrim”, they sang.
This merry band are part of a new boom in pilgrimage which has seen the re-establishment of ancient routes and the growing participation of people on a spectrum of belief from religiously devout to committed atheists.
The story goes on to say the hikers were walking Lewes Priory to the Holy Well in Eastbourne over two and a half days.