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Celebrities tackle the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way this Easter

28 Mar 2024 7 minute read
Pilgrm’s Way. Image: BBC

Pilgrimage is back with a brand-new series returning to BBC Two and iPlayer this month, as seven well known personalities, of differing faiths and beliefs, tackle a modern-day pilgrimage, this time along the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way.  

Across 3 x 60 minute episodes, Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales will follow the celebrities, as they take a personal journey along a route that celebrates Celtic early Christian saints.

Spiritual journey

Immersing themselves on this spiritual journey are: wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan who places her faith in the natural world;  Spencer Matthews, a former Made in Chelsea reality star, 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 grew up in a Jain family; comedian Eshaan Akbar, a lapsed Muslim; Amanda Lovett, a practising Catholic, who catapulted into the public eye in the first series of Traitors; actor Tom Rosenthal of Friday Night Dinner fame, who is areligious; and TV personality and former model Christine McGuinness, who is spiritual but doesn’t practise one particular faith.

Travelling on foot and by bus, the pilgrims begin their adventure from the start of the 220km Pilgrim’s Way near St Winefride’s Well.

In a journey taking two weeks, they will be faced with challenging paths and climbs as they traverse North Wales, tackling the foothills of spectacular mountain ranges.

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.

Celtic connections

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 places of outstanding natural beauty in the mountain ranges of Eryri and the North Wales coast path.

The 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.”


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.”


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). 

The new Pilgrimage cast

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.”

“End of the world”

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!”

Their final destination is Bardsey Island, or Ynys Enlli, which means ‘isle of currents’. It was a popular destination amongst early Celtic Christian monks and hermits who believed Bardsey was the end of the world, where the space between heaven and earth became ‘thin’, which made the island a place of guaranteed resurrection. 

But crossing the Bardsey Sound is notoriously dangerous, so will the celebrities manage to complete this challenging journey safely?

Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales launches on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer on Good Friday (29 March) at 9pm and runs across three consecutive Fridays.

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