The following is an article written by Nick Cooke and which was published in the 2014-15 Annual Review of the Scotland Churched Trust
Recreating Scotland’s Pilgrim Walking Routes
Over the past two decades a revival of off-road pilgrimage travel to historic centres of Christian worship has been gathering momentum across Europe. Typified by the huge popularity of the camino to Santiago de Compostella in northern Spain, this can also now be seen across Scandinavia and in many other places. Here in Scotland we are recognising that the banning of all forms of pilgrimage following the Reformation of 1560, and its suppression for centuries thereafter, has hidden a much older tradition centred on Whithorn, Iona, St Andrews, Tain and many more shrines which once gave Scotland such a prominent place on the religious map of Europe. Today, new life is being breathed into this rich 1,500 year old heritage.
The Scottish Pilgrim Routes Forum, established in 2012 following earlier exploratory work by ACTS Scottish Churches Rural Group, is not a religious body as such but seeks to bring together organisations and individuals in a national network to develop off-road pilgrimage travel. In establishing designated, themed walking routes linking Scotland’s historic pilgrimage centres, we recognise that the end result should bring significant economic, social and environmental benefits to local communities as well as foster a spiritual dimension of journeying in the great outdoors for the individual. Anyone can be a pilgrim.
Scotland’s Churches Trust has been a Forum member since the outset, and the Scotland’s Pilgrim Journeys project offers real scope to encourage SCT member churches to become active partners in shaping the development of new Pilgrim Way walking routes. Currently, SPRF member organisations are actively promoting at least four such routes across Scotland and playing a key role in their steering groups, so here are important seeds for partnership.
Crucially, individual churches are already heavily involved in the Forum’s work. In 2013, the congregation of Paisley Abbey celebrated the 850th anniversary of the church’s original foundation as a Cluniac monastery with a series of pilgrimage walks to Whithorn, which has now resulted in the creation of the Whithorn Way long distance route, linking Glasgow Cathedral in the north with the Isle of Whithorn in the south. This year, ACTS has supported a new programme group to encourage ecumenical church input to the future operation of the Fife Pilgrim Way walking route linking Culross, Dunfermline and St Andrews. Elsewhere, local churches in the Borders, on the island of Arran, and on Shapinsay, Orkney are planning to cater for pilgrim visitors, and on the Cowal peninsula a new Church of Scotland initiative has begun to promote ‘faith tourism’ in the area, using local resources to attract visitors to churches and early Christian sites. In Aberdeenshire, mid Perthshire and East Lothian, local networks set up with SPRF input are planning and promoting future Pilgrim Way walking routes with the same aim.
SPRF recognises that this is a movement that is only just beginning, and there is much work still to do to raise public awareness. We warmly welcome representatives of any SCT member church at our third annual Scottish Pilgrimage Gathering, to be held in Melrose on 2nd October when we will be focusing on the pilgrimage heritage of St Cuthbert and its legacy today; the programme includes an interpreted walk linked to the Pilgrim Way that bears his name.
For full information on SPG 2015, and on any other aspects of the Forum’s work, please visit www.sprf.org.uk
Secretary, Scottish Pilgrim Routes Forum