How to go on a pilgrimage
Long before you take that first step along the road, you will have been thinking and planning your journey. Here are a few questions that you might ask yourself to help with that process. Click through the tabs to see all of the questions.
Why are you going?
Think about your reasons for pilgrimage. Reflect honestly on what it is that is making you undertake this journey. Are your reasons powerful enough to keep you going through the difficult parts? List five reasons on a piece of paper. Then burn the list – on the journey you are about to undertake, you need to be open to all possible ways of transformation. Do not limit yourself to what you think you will gain or learn - let the experience teach in its own way.
But above all, remember it's your pilgrimage!
Remember that there are no rules, that it’s your pilgrimage, and that in a real sense it begins and ends at your own front door.
A Pilgrim Path is one which emerges from the Christian tradition. With the purpose of spiritual encounter, it is generally undertaken on foot to a significant place.
Have you got time to train?
If you decide to undertake a pilgrimage on foot, this might be the single most demanding piece of physical exercise you ever take. Very often we remain unaware of our bodies in our day to day lives, noticing them only when they temporarily cease to function.
Aware that we should take some exercise, usually guiltily aware that we don’t take quite enough, the pilgrim must be very serious about training and preparation for the journey if their bodies are not to let them down before the experience has properly begun.A programme of regular walking, leading to two and three day expeditions wearing all the kit that you will wear on your journey, will help acclimatise you to the stresses and strains your body must expect.
However, nothing can really prepare you for the experience of walking for long periods of time, day after day, and you will soon become more aware of your body than you have ever been before.Even well worn in boots can rub, even the friendliest and most ergonomic pack can cause back ache! Care must be taken to adjust slowly to the demands of pilgrimage – planning too long a stage at the beginning can result in a journey cut abruptly short through injury.
Where are you going?
One of the biggest challenges when preparing for a pilgrimage is deciding which route to choose. There are hundreds of different routes to choose from, all over the UK and Europe as well as further afield.
The route choice will be dependent on the time you have, funds available your level of fitness – but take the time to consider carefully which route to take. Look on websites, ask other pilgrims – its worth the research to find a route that suits you!
How long have you got?
It is quite important to be realistic at this stage – you are not going to make it from the Spanish border to Santiago in a fortnight, for example! Work out how many days you have available for walking (taking into account the time it will take to get to your starting point, the possible need for rest days, your probable desire to spend a day or two at your destination, and the time to get home again), and the distance you reckon to cover in a day: 20 kms would be a moderate distance; 25 kms closer to the average; 30 kms for the stronger and fitter.
Don’t worry if its not as long as you hoped – pilgrimages come in all different lengths and levels of challenge!
Who will you go with?
Who you travel with will have a profound impact on your trip. Some prefer to travel alone, others walk to meet people, others begin in groups… Its up to you!
But even for those who choose to make their pilgrimage alone, there will still be travelling companions. These are the people who are travelling the same route as you, but at a different speed, or in longer or shorter days of journeying. Relationships with these fellow travellers can be very intense and very rewarding. Many pilgrims have written about the way that a whole new community is formed by those sharing a journey.
How much will it cost?
Actually, more than you think!! Despite your best efforts, your spending will be quite significant on the trip.
Even the cheapest of pilgrim hostels still charge for food and accommodation, and if you sleep in hotels the costs can go up considerably. In some places, food and drink can be quite expensive, and you should factor in travel and equipment costs as well.