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Celebrities follow in footsteps of Celtic saints for new TV series

21 Mar 2024 7 minute read
The new Pilgrimage cast

Seven famous personalities, of differing faiths and beliefs, are set to tackle a modern-day pilgrimage along the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way. 

Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales will follow seven celebrity pilgrims, as they take a personal journey along a route that celebrates Celtic early Christian saints, with Bardsey Island the fabled ‘Island of 20,000 saints’, just off the western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula – as their final destination.

Immersing themselves on this spiritual journey are: wild life presenter Michaela Strachan, who places her faith in the natural world;  Spencer Matthews, a former reality TV star turned entrepreneur, who was christened Church of England but is still searching for answers to life’s big questions; Sonali Shah, a journalist and TV presenter who was raised in a Jain household; comedian Eshaan Akbar, a lapsed Muslim; Amanda Lovett, a practising Catholic, who catapulted to public attention in the first series of BBC’s The Traitors; actor Tom Rosenthal, star of Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner, who calls himself ‘areligious’; and TV personality and former model, Christine McGuinness, who is spiritual but doesn’t practise one particular faith.

“Outstanding” beauty

Created in 2011, the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way is linked by ancient churches dedicated to sixth and seventh century saints, but also takes pilgrims through outstanding places of natural beauty in the mountain ranges of Eryri and the north Wales coast path.

Travelling for two weeks on foot and by bus, the seven celebrity pilgrims start their 220km adventure at Flint Castle on the bank of the Dee Estuary, and follow the coastal path to Greenfield Valley and the official start of the pilgrim way.

The pilgrims will be faced with challenging paths and climbs as they traverse north Wales, tackling the foothills of spectacular mountain ranges, as well as taking on England and Wales’ highest peak Yr Wyddfa.

Carrying their own backpacks, they’ll sleep in basic accommodation from a caravan to a climbers’ hut, as well as experiencing an eco-retreat in an ancient oak forest and a Buddhist meditation Centre.

Challenge

Their final destination is Bardsey Island, or Ynys Enlli, which means ‘isle of currents’.

It was a popular destination among early Christian monks and hermits, who believed Bardsey was the end of the world; a place where the distance between heaven and earth becomes intangible and so becomes a place of guaranteed resurrection.

Crossing the Bardsey sound is notoriously dangerous, so will the celebrities manage to complete this challenging journey safely?

Te celebrities shared their reasons for deciding to join this pilgrimage, with Spencer Matthews saying: “A pilgrimage is when you walk and sleep on church floors and eat dead rats and stuff, which I’m looking forward to. 

“I’d be pretty low in the faith knowledge bracket, but I’m on a quest to broaden my knowledge and religious horizons.

I’m an open mind, an open book.  I want to learn about different faiths, cultures and religions and develop a firm understanding of my faith and how it can potentially play a larger role in my life.”

Christine McGuinness said: “Since my autism diagnosis, it’s really made me want to grab opportunities with both hands.  I want to say yes to more things, things that I would always say no to, because I find socialising quite awkward.

“I don’t really like being pushed out of my comfort zone , but I’m realising more and more that I want to live, I want to do more things, I want to have good memories, I want to make friends, I want to learn more about other people, and the only way I can do that is by pushing myself a bit.”

“Meditation”

Michaela Strachan compared walking to meditation. She commented: “I think this pilgrimage is going to be really good for me. These days we all tend to live busy, complicated lives, and what I love about walking, is all you’ve got to think about is putting one foot in front of the other.

Michaela Strachan

“I find it very cathartic, it’s my form of meditation. There’s a simplicity to just walking.

“Walking, thinking, taking time to connect with nature.  I guess that’s my form of spiritual engagement.”

Amanda Lovett said: “They say that if you go on a pilgrimage, there’s a hope that by the end of it there will have been some sort of realisation, so I’m looking forward to finding mine!

“I do have a strong Catholic faith. I still pray, and I believe there’s an afterlife, but I’m excited to explore other people’s faiths and religions and how they view life.

“I’ve always been the mum, the gran, the worker, and I sort of forgot about me. I’ve done school runs for 32 years, and I’ve found my time now.

“I’m looking forward to learning about myself, digging deep and processing and seeing how I’ll evolve in the future.” 

“I don’t do hikes”

Eshaan Akbar doesn’t often take hikes. He said: “Why am I doing this pilgrimage? I’ll be honest, I think it’ll be fun, believe it or not.

“I’m not a great fan of walking without a purpose, I don’t like hikes, I don’t like going up and down different types of terrain, I don’t like sleeping in uncomfortable situations.

“My immigrant parents worked way too hard for me to start fetishizing poverty by choosing to make my life too difficult. I’m really looking forward to the experience but I can’t promise that I won’t moan for most of it.”

Sonali Shah said: “It felt like the opportunity of going on a pilgrimage like this came at the right time in my life.

“I grew up in a liberal Jain, East African Indian household in North-West London, where faith, race and culture were very intertwined.

“While I have always been comfortable with who I am and the way I live, in recent years, with my kids asking more questions, I realised that using the word agnostic hasn’t been quite right.

“I was also curious about what, if anything, I could add to the party as someone who was born into a faith that many people have never heard of.” 

“Wonderful opportunity”

Tom Rosenthal talked about the wonderful opportunity the show has offered, saying: “I’ve always been interested by anybody with any thoughts as to what it is we are all doing here.

“It’s fairly confusing and if I spend all my time watching Arsenal and the The Traitors I’m never going to find out.

“Dedicating myself to a pilgrimage for two weeks is a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon my spirituality and to make a TV show my grandmother will actually enjoy watching.”

Acclaim

Now into its sixth series, the critically acclaimed Pilgrimage series has previously been described as “The BBC’s best religious programming innovation” (Sunday Times), “thought provoking journey of faith” (Sun TV Mag), “heart-warming and uplifting TV” (TV Times), “gentle, thoughtful telly” (Radio Times) and “enlightening” (Daily Mail). 

A firm fixture in the BBC Easter schedule, The Herald said: “There are many traditions associated with Easter, and Pilgrimage is fast becoming one of them.”

Daisy Scalchi, BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics for television, said: “Pilgrimage is a series like no other; getting into the heart and soul of who we are and what makes life meaningful.

“All 7 pilgrims embraced the journey wholeheartedly, with extraordinary honesty and generosity towards one another. It’s inspiring, and thought-provoking, to watch.”

Caroline Matthews, Executive Producer and CEO, CTVC says: “This is one of the strongest series we’ve ever made – the pilgrims immersed themselves fully in the experience with extraordinary results. I echo what Christine said “Pilgrimage has been insane!”

Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales launches on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer on Friday 29 March at 9pm.


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Andy Lloyd
Andy Lloyd
3 months ago

Sounds fascinating. What people believe, or don’t believe is always informative, and in the context of a “Pilgrimage” it should be well worth watching.

Ianto
Ianto
3 months ago

How is Yr Wyddfa the highest peak in England? Is it also the highest in Belgium?

CapM
CapM
3 months ago
Reply to  Ianto

Yr Wyddfa – highest mountain in England and Wales and also in that other pseudo country England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, Belgium, Denmark and Cymru.

Gaynor Jones
Gaynor Jones
3 months ago

Love this series. Fascinating

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