Griff rediscovers a once well-trodden route, picking up the medieval pilgrim's staff to retrace the steps that thousands of worshippers made from Holywell to St Davids.
Browse content similar to Pilgrims. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Britain was once a difficult country to cross.
Roads were few and paths obscure.
And yet, our ancestors travelled.
For work, and for pleasure.
For faith, and for fortune.
But the routes that they followed are lost.
I'm going to rediscover them,
and the people who took them.
What they saw, and why they travelled.
Who they met, and where they went.
I'm following the forgotten routes
that made this country great.
'This week, we are starting on the northwest coast of Wales.'
We're in the Dee Estuary, and we are on our way to a small
but very ancient port
My job is to get these good people
safely ashore, and embarked on
an arduous trek across the entirety of Wales.
Because we are going to follow
a medieval pilgrimage route
to St David's.
It's a 160-mile journey.
From the shores of the Dee estuary
to Britain's smallest city,
hidden away on the tip of the Pembrokeshire coast.
St David's Cathedral was one of the most important
religious sites in the country
during medieval times,
and the destination of choice
for Britain's first mass travellers.
Between the months of May and October,
thousands of pilgrims, from Ireland and the North country,
could be seen travelling across the Welsh countryside.
That wind is blowing like the clappers.
And the tide is coming in.
In retracing this perilous route,
my compatriots and I
will imagine ourselves back in 1450,
when the popularity of medieval pilgrimage was at its height.
I want to find out what it was like
to travel through this country
as a religious pilgrim, over 500 years ago.
I want to discover the legacy of the pilgrimage route today.
The mountain passes,
the forgotten tracks.
This looks like footprints.
The towns and villages that grew up along the way.
But most of all, I want to try to understand why,
over a period of three centuries or more,
thousands of people embarked on a journey
which many would never survive.
Greenfield Dock has been here
for more than 2,000 years.
It would have been used by medieval pilgrims
from the north.
Like the characters in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales,
I've chosen not to travel alone,
but to tag along
with people that might be of help to me along the way.
Maddy Polonceaux, for example,
is a member of the St John's Ambulance.
Given possible danger ahead,
she is top on my list to make friends with.
What have you got there, Maddy?
Just a standard first aid kit.
The rest is in the bag here.
-Is there more in your bag?
-Yeah, just in case.
It's a matter of prevention, more than anything.
And St John,
they were originally serving pilgrims, weren't they?
Yes, they did, in Jerusalem.
Joining Maddy are Nathan,
Bob, Lara and Dave.
Each, I hope, will make their own contribution
to our pilgrimage, as we go on.
In 1450, when we are setting off,
this trip would have been difficult,
but it was meant to be.
A medieval pilgrimage was undertaken
as a penance
for sins that had been committed.
It was no good if it was too easy.
In fact, as early as 1250,
everything had been codified
to such an extent that it had been decided
that two trips to St David's
were worth one to Rome,
which is why so many people
from Ireland and Lancashire and the North of England went on it.
But pilgrimage wasn't confined to those who wanted to save their souls
from hell and damnation.
Sickness and disease were rife
during the medieval era.
Many pilgrims were either ill or dying.
What they were looking for
was a miracle, here on Earth.
After a short walk from the dock,
the pilgrims would have arrived here,
This holy Catholic shrine
survived the destruction of the Reformation,
and - to my astonishment - is still thriving
in non-conformist Wales
where Catholics are now a tiny minority.
The miraculous healing powers of St Winefride's Well -
the Lourdes of Wales -
have drawn the sick, the lame, and the downright curious
since the eighth century.
There was a duke, apparently,
who felt that the healing waters
would be so efficacious...
..that the longer he stayed in,
the better off he would be.
But of course, he stayed in so long, he died
All I can say is,
any ailments I have
have to be...
lower than my chest,
cos I'm not going any further down.
So, very welcome to St Winefride.
To this oldest shrine of unbroken pilgrimage
The holy well of St Winefride's
reminds me that Wales was once amongst
the most devoutly Catholic countries in the world.
It is a place of faith, a place of devotion.
It is a place of healing.
Italian priest Father Salvatore Musella
has been appointed by the Vatican
to provide daily services
for the 30,000 visitors that still come to this shrine every year.
Although few of them would walk on to St David's.
-Glorious Virgin and Martyr.
-ALL: Pray for us.
Mounted inside this elaborate case
is a fragment of St Winefride's 1,400-year-old
Kissing a holy relic
is also reputed to have healing powers.
But what made the owner of this bit of finger a saint?
The story goes that Winefride,
the daughter of a Welsh nobleman,
rebuffed the passionate advances
of an amorous prince.
The prince took it badly and beheaded her.
From the very place that her severed head hit the ground,
a spring burst forth.
It was the spring water that rejoined
her head to her body.
This was the miracle that brought Winefride back from the dead
and led to her becoming a saint.
Imagine the impact this extraordinary story
must have had on a medieval mind.
I feel as if we've been...
to the Middle Ages.
So many of the things in this service
are actually the concerns
that an ordinary Welshman in the Middle Ages
would have had about his life,
and about his health,
and about his beliefs,
that would have prompted him to go on his grand tour.
There were miraculous wonders to be found
in this world.
That's why the pilgrim went,
and the longer the journey - the more effort made to get to them -
the more powerful those miracles might be.
With our visit to the holy shrine of Holywell
under our belts,
we are ready to negotiate the long and difficult journey
to our ultimate destination,
now just 156 miles away.
Dave Kelly-Parkinson spends his life
guiding people up the most dangerous mountains in the world.
He is here as our chief navigator.
We need to have a little think here.
This looks the more obvious road, though.
-The one to the right.
-The direction we need to go is southeast.
It is actually going this way, on the left fork.
Dave has based his route
on the strip maps of John Ogilby.
It's called the Pilgrim Way,
even though it was drawn 100 years after the last pilgrims walked it.
And it takes the form of a strip,
showing the route and the major landmarks along the way.
A sort of 17th-century version of a satnav.
What's astonishing is how much of this ancient route
lies just under the surface,
waiting to be discovered amongst the tracks, paths
and roadways of today.
I didn't realise there was so much thought that went into medieval...
At the moment, we look like a bunch of Sunday walkers.
It is time for us to acquire the true badge of pilgrimage.
Seen one in there.
Let's have a look.
What we are doing now is looking for staves,
an essential part of the pilgrim kit.
Here's a nice strong one.
Can you give me a quite knobbly one?
I like a little bit of character.
A little bit of a Gandalf staff for me...
-You know what I mean?
Nathan Goss is a carpenter by trade,
hence his collection of tools,
and the know-how in using them.
About there, you are.
Nathan's never happier than when he's got an axe in his hand.
Oh! Speared myself right in the nadgers!
Pilgrims' staffs were more than just walking sticks.
They were weapons of self-defence.
And they helped identify pilgrims from other travellers.
Bit nervous about this axe, Nathan.
'They came to symbolise the very act of pilgrimage.
'The staff of Jesus was held in such high regard
'that St Patrick was reputed to have brought it
'all the way back to Ireland
'from his travels in the Mediterranean.'
Do you want to make a go of chopping it yourself?
-Are you sure?
I love to see a man working.
Since I don't do a job myself, you know.
In medieval times,
few people were encouraged, or even permitted,
to travel freely through the country, like this.
Ordinary citizens were expected to live, work
and die in the parish they were born into.
Anybody who strayed was labelled a vagrant
and shipped straight back to where they had come from.
But pilgrims were different.
They could go freely,
on condition they kept to their agreed route,
and returned home the same way.
Pilgrimage offered the common man and woman
the one moment of true freedom
they could expect to enjoy in their entire lives.
A series of hills called the Clwydian Range
run due south from Holywell
and even today act as a barrier to the Welsh heartland beyond.
With their ancient forts
and modern telecommunications aerials,
pointing towards heaven,
these hills bear testimony to the hundreds of generations
of human traffic that have crossed them.
'Ogilby's 17th-century map
'has helped Dave uncover a pathway across an open field.'
After a big slog uphill,
you've got a new view of where you're going.
What is interesting is that it's not marked, as it were.
We don't have little markers saying,
"You are now on the pilgrim route,"
like the Pennine Way.
We're actually finding our own way.
These ancient tracks,
moulded into the earth over the centuries,
were precisely the kind of paths that medieval pilgrims followed.
Back in 1450,
we would have had neither maps, nor the ability to read them.
We would have had to ask locals for direction.
A return journey of more than 300 miles through difficult terrain,
as we are doing,
would have taken the average pilgrim many weeks to complete.
Assuming he was lucky enough to return home alive.
Once over the Clwydian Range,
the pilgrimage route runs along the Vale of Clwyd
and right through the middle of the village of Llanynys.
Pilgrim routes prompted the building of churches,
and churches encouraged
the development of villages like Llanynys.
A church has certainly stood here since the 13th century.
I am told that inside, there is some compelling evidence
that pilgrims visited here.
Discovered 50 years ago,
this painting of St Christopher
must have been created 600 years ago
at the height of the age of religious pilgrimage.
He is the patron saint of travellers.
It's a monumental picture
of the saint.
Crossing a river, and the river itself
is thronging with fish.
And he was a giant.
But he found that the child
that he was carrying on his shoulders
grew heavier and heavier,
because the child was Christ,
and Christ carried the weight of the sins of the world.
because his name was Offa,
until he carried Christ,
and then became "Christ-Offa", Christopher.
And he is carrying
a beautiful staff.
And you sense that this was a message to pilgrims who came here.
Looking at the south side of the church,
I can see it is much larger than would normally be expected
in a village of this size.
It is thought it was made that way
to allow pilgrims to sleep here.
Suitably refreshed by St Christopher,
we continue on our way.
Late spring saw the first rush of pilgrims
through the Welsh countryside.
The timing was no accident,
as this was the earliest the local flora and fauna
could usefully be harvested to sustain the pilgrim on his way.
A real range of flowers.
These are Welsh poppies. So, truly, we are in Wales.
'Lara Bernays is a qualified herbalist.
'So I'm hoping she's going to prevent us
'from eating anything poisonous.
'I'm afraid there are countless stories
'of medieval pilgrims falling ill en route,
'and expiring in a lonely wood.'
Lara, I've always been told
that you have to be careful with watercress,
in case of liver fluke.
This is true.
-This is why we are going to cook it.
-If you cook it, it kills off the liver fluke.
The river bank has yielded a successful haul.
We have watercress, wild garlic and stinging nettles.
The medieval pilgrim in Wales could eat well
between the months of May and September.
The steady flow of pilgrims up and down the countryside
brought news and contact with the outside world to the towns
and villages they passed through.
The first place of any size that we come to
is the 13th-century market town of Ruthin.
It must have been exciting
to come to what was then a bustling new town.
We've come to the one house in Ruthin that was undoubtedly
standing at the time of our pilgrimage.
The merchants who owned it would have probably let in pilgrims
as an act of piety, possibly good business sense as well.
Nantclwyd House was built in 1420,
which makes it the oldest surviving town house in Wales.
Nathan, our carpenter, is also a building surveyor
for the National Trust.
He can't resist sharing his knowledge
of how it was built 600 years ago.
Basically, what we've got here is a five-bay,
crucked, scarf-crucked house, medieval house.
What's interesting is just, judging from this picture,
is effectively, it was a hall house.
So you had the fire in the middle of there, where that carpet is
down there, and that went up through a hole in the roof.
-There wouldn't have been a hole in the roof.
-They just had a fire.
-And it filled up with smoke?
-So they didn't have, they didn't have a chimney?
-No chimney. No, no.
They don't really want us to have our own fire inside tonight
and so we've moved out to the garden to do our cooking.
Dave has put his charts and maps down for a moment
in order to skin a couple of rabbits.
As a pilgrim, you had to be careful.
The church forbad the eating of meat on Fridays
and, until late medieval times,
it was banned on Wednesdays and Saturdays too.
-I am bringing the rabbit over to you.
-There we are.
You're making a sort of stew, are you?
A kind of pottage, I'd say. Medieval rabbit pottage.
A pottage. Which means it will have various
root vegetables and things like that in?
Barley, we've got, we're going to add.
We've got wild garlic, which will be really important to sterilise rabbit
and keep us all healthy and free of colds and coughs on our pilgrimage.
-So is this sort of medicinal as well as flavouring?
-Oh, very much. Yes.
In my medical kit here, I have got rather a special little herb.
Welsh medieval physicians, they said to produce joy, eat saffron.
But beware of overeating, in case you die of excessive joy.
Well, we don't want that.
'What does seem to be giving us excessive joy is our staves.
'We've all become obsessed with whittling their shafts
'and personalising them with fancy designs,
'which, when you think about it, is an activity as old as man himself.'
As the sun dips below the timber-framed houses,
our pottage thickens and matures.
Nettles, barley, rabbit.
We're not going to turn up our noses.
The medieval era was beset with endless famines.
I want to try the nettles, just to be sure they are cooked.
It's not as bad as I thought.
-They're not a strong flavour.
'And the food is actually delicious.'
That is fantastic.
'No-one finds it more so than Nathan,
'who reveals a passion for offal.'
-Just give me the kidneys, the liver, the heart.
That is unbelievable!
We've all survived the rustic pottage
and we didn't die of excessive joy.
The word pilgrim derives from the Latin, peregrinator,
meaning a traveller.
But not all pilgrims walked.
There were quite a lot of rich people who went as well,
and often, they went by horse or mule or some other transport,
so I've got ourselves a sort of mule
and we're going to travel like merchants.
Keep following now and go left at the top here.
'Now, I've driven one of these before, but they've all got their quirks.'
Isn't it funny how there doesn't seem to be a universal
having your indicator on the same side?
-ENGINE CUTS OUT
Unlucky, now. Have we got the choke in or something like that?
There's no choke on a diesel.
-Is it a diesel? I always want to blame the choke, you see.
Whole sections of the ancient pilgrimage route, like this
stretch of the A494 to Bala, were so well chosen,
they now form part of the modern transport network.
To tell stories, you know, he goes like this.
'Even with me behind the wheel, we're safer to drive than walk.
'But we'll not be on it for long.'
We're due to catch the 11:50 train and we're late.
This is Bala Lake.
It's the largest lake in Wales and the pilgrim route
once hugged the two and-a-half mile length of its eastern shore.
'Today, that same stretch of the pilgrim route has been given over to
'the Bala Light Railway and we've just got seconds to get on board.'
Well, ladies and gentlemen, the train now leaving platform...
the platform... is going to Llanuwchllyn.
Llanuwchllyn? Llanuwchllyn. Is that right?
-Llanuwchllyn. Yes. Yes.
Up until 1965, this was the main line to Barmouth,
a seaside resort on the west coast.
Though it no longer goes further than the length of the lake,
its purpose is still to serve the holiday-maker.
What was a pathway to God has become the railway line to leisure
and a modern form of spiritual refreshment.
Now, here we are in Llanuwchllyn. The end of the line.
From here, we must forge our way up into the Cambrian Mountains,
to the pass of Bwlch y Groes.
This very real physical barrier was one of the biggest challenges
the medieval pilgrim faced.
Whereabouts are we, Dave?
Halfway up to the pass of Bwlch y Groes
and we just passed Aran, the mountain on our right.
-So how close are we to the... to the Pilgrims' Trail?
-This is it.
-This is on it. We are on it.
-We are actually on it?
-This road was it.
We can see by the number of peaks drawn on Ogilby's map
that we have left the soft, rolling hills behind
and we are now into serious mountain country.
For many medieval pilgrims caught in bad weather
or lost in the hills, this would have been the end of the road.
The lucky ones that survived could relish the prospect
of only another 109 miles to go.
This is the highest part of the highest mountain pass in Wales.
All 545 metres of it.
Pilgrims and travellers would have assembled here before filing through
the narrow gap in the mountain range,
and now, we're going to do the same.
I'm a mountain girl by nature.
So you know what Ruskin said about weather,
that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
-Something like that, anyway.
I think he put it in a more poetical way than that.
Waterproof trousers surely fall into the category of bad clothes!
But unfortunately, like Robert, I think we're going to need them.
The cloud and the weather is coming in over there pretty badly.
Quite atmospheric though. I do like weather and mountains and clouds.
'So strong is its connection with the pilgrim route that this
'is still known as the Pass Of The Cross, or Bwlch y Groes in Welsh.
'And its spiritual past does not go unmarked.'
Ah! Look at that down in front of us.
And here is the cross that indisputably tells us
we are on the pilgrim route.
And we're also coming towards bandit country.
-What are they called?
-They are called the Gwylliaid Cochion.
Gwylliaid Cochion. And what does that mean, Robert?
It means wild bandits, red wild bandits, something like that.
Red wild bandits. And they were in this area?
Well, I'm not 100% sure I want to go this way, to be honest with you.
I think I'd rather that pass.
The bandits of Mawddwy were a gang of red-headed highwaymen
who operated in and around this pass during the 16th century.
Back in the 1930s, a local film-maker brought the legend
to the silver screen, casting the film with local people.
Sheep stealing was endemic,
as was robbing from passing travellers and pilgrims.
But on 12th October 1555,
our red-haired robbers went one step too far and murdered the Sheriff.
The bandits were caught, tried for their crimes
and made to pay the ultimate price.
'We've set up camp.
'Dave's bushman skills should keep us warm and fed, and these tents,
'based on medieval designs, will keep us dry.
'But we're still in what would have been bandit territory
'during the medieval era, so we're going to try
'to do what the pilgrims did to ward off danger.'
'Musician Robert Evans is an expert in early Welsh music.
'He sourced a 14th-century hymn in honour of St David that would
'have been sung by pilgrims as they traversed the countryside.'
'Now he's got the unenviable task of teaching us
'all to sing this ancient work.'
THEY CONTINUE TO SING
500 years ago, these dark valleys
and stark mountain sides would have seemed terrifying to people
who had never left their farms and villages before.
THEY SING IN LATIN
To those prospective bandits lurking in the hedges,
the sound of our sacred singing would have acted as a warning,
and that's because by 12th-century law,
the punishment for attacking or robbing a pilgrim
was excommunication, expulsion from the church.
It's pretty hard to imagine the horror of that now,
but back then, it meant a passage straight to hell.
THEY SING IN LATIN
'The hardship of the pilgrim way
'is stirring the imagination of my companions.
'None more so than Nathan.'
Tell me about your shoes, Nathan.
Ah, my shoes. Now, then.
These are beautiful little numbers.
We've got a bit of cow's leather, here.
-And they are medieval shoes?
These are medieval shoes all right.
-And what are the things at the bottom?
-These are called patterns.
They are made traditionally out of beech.
They were made, basically, to keep your boot out of the cachu,
out of the muck.
Because you know what the streets of London
were like back in the medieval period.
It was throw everything out of the window, basically, onto the floor.
-And are they comfortable?
-I won't lie to you, no.
-They are absolutely killing my feet.
This is the Dovey.
The source of this great meandering river
lies less than 40 miles upstream,
back in the Cambrian Mountains, where we've just come from.
The river has always presented a challenge to the traveller in Wales
and back in 1450, there was no bridge.
So we're going to have to find another way to get across.
Well, we've reached a major obstacle for a 15th-century pilgrim,
the River Dovey.
Essentially, it is the border between North Wales
and South Wales, where we now want to go.
Not an easy thing to cross.
On the other side, over in South Wales where we want to be,
we spot some of the last tidal fishermen to work this estuary.
Wading across the deep river is not a possibility
and we are now on extremely boggy ground,
riddled with deep ditches.
The tide is coming in fast, filling the ditches even deeper.
We're in trouble.
Don't just try and wade across.
We've got to find a place to jump.
'Lara's gone in.'
-Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no!
-Are you OK?
Fortunately for poor soaking Lara,
the fisherman is there to offer his services as ferry man.
-'We can cross, but only two at a time.
'We send Lara over first so she can dry off in the fisherman's hut.'
-There used to be a ferry.
-Did there? Right.
There was a ferry going across here, and the hut
is the old ferry man's hut.
'This isn't the first time Geraint has rowed people across,
'but Bob remains unconvinced.'
-You look worried, mate.
-No, I'm not worried.
Look at this beauty! How much would that fish be, then?
-What, are you buying it?
No, it's seven pound. Eight pounds a pound. Seven eights.
-56 quid for the entire fish.
-We could fry it up here, if you want?
-That would be nice.
-Got a gas stove there.
Does that smell good, or what?
'Our encounter with ferry man and salmon is one
'medieval pilgrims might have experienced 500 years ago and now,
'just as then, the locals have made a bit on the side into the bargain.'
'We are now officially in South Wales.
'The lakes and the mountains of the high ground are behind us
'and the coast and flatlands of the south and west lie ahead.'
The town of Aberystwyth marks our first sight of the sea.
All the medieval pilgrim would have encountered would have been
this 12th-century castle and a lot of breaking waves.
It was the Victorians who developed this place into a seaside town.
With its colourful hotels and bracing sea air,
Aberystwyth came to be billed as the Biarritz of Wales
for a short time.
We've had enough of wet clothes and draughty medieval houses,
so we've booked ourselves into a classic seaside hotel.
Enough of holy days.
We're going to treat ourselves
to the modern secular equivalent, a holiday.
Look at this! I've found somewhere to put our staffs.
Are we all right to leave our staffs in the umbrella stand?
Thank you very much.
-Are we all on this floor?
-Some of you are on the second floor as well.
-Come on through, then.
There we go. The rest of you, are you on the second?
Are you on the first as well, Nathan?
No, no. I'm on the second.
'En-suite bathrooms, four-poster beds...'
Nerys, this is very glamorous, yeah.
'..and perfect sea views.
'The stock in trade of the promenade.'
I love coming to seaside towns.
I love it because for me, it is a sort of nostalgia.
I suppose I'm the last of the generation who actually took
seaside holidays as a boy.
British, proper British seaside holidays,
with piers and ice creams and roller-coasters,
things like that.
I think they should be preserved in all their glory,
sort of monuments to a happy British past.
And we should all make pilgrimages to places like Aberystwyth.
Aberystwyth's Constitution Hill was a great Victorian treat
and I can't resist following my own ascension
to nostalgic enlightenment.
After days of rigorous religious observance,
we're all planning a spot of shopping,
but these amusements and diversions
remind me that it was the seductions of holiday
that spelt the end of strict religious pilgrimage,
so we must be careful.
When pilgrimage began in the early church,
pilgrims willingly subjected themselves to pain
and suffering in exchange for the eradication of their sins,
but as the centuries passed, the church decided to cash in.
They allowed pilgrims to pay money to have their sins absolved,
and these short cuts to absolution were called indulgences.
They led to a corruption of the whole idea.
No, not real.
By removing the penitential aspect, pilgrimage became pleasurable
and began to resemble the modern holiday,
travelling to distant places, meeting new people,
seeing amazing things and buying loads of souvenirs
as mementoes of your visit.
They all have their roots in the fashion for religious pilgrimage.
Did pilgrims buy things like this on windy days?
The first souvenirs for pilgrims
were manufactured in Spain
just under 1,000 years ago.
And by the end of the 12th century,
virtually every shrine was manufacturing little badges
which people wore to prove that they'd been there.
It's all so tacky. I'm going to go to the beach.
Whistles and bells they liked because when they reached
the shrine, also, pilgrims liked to make a bit of a racket.
A bit like football fans.
My chosen souvenirs at least
have a connection to their religious origins.
I'm keen to see what my companions have dug up.
-I thought I'd buy myself a pillow.
That's very good, I'm impressed.
I find this rather distasteful, all this plastic from China.
So I've taken the sea air
and I've filled one of my bottles with sea air.
This is total pilgrim tradition.
Go like that to get plenty of ozone in the bottle.
Indeed, and with my affinity with water, I thought... Don't!
-Don't release the air!
-I'm just going to sniff it!
Did Nathan dig this up?
This is the sacred manhole cover of Aberystwyth.
Ironically, the best connection ever made between the decline
of religious pilgrimage and the rise of the secular holiday
is to be found minutes from Aberystwyth's seafront,
because this town is also home to the National Library of Wales,
a powerhouse of knowledge, with over four million books,
and I'm just interested in one of them.
There are only two original copies of Geoffrey Chaucer's
Canterbury Tales in existence and this is the earliest one,
the Hengwrt Chaucer.
It is the oldest manuscript...
Transcribed in 1400, the year of Geoffrey Chaucer's death,
which makes this book more than six centuries old.
Chaucer documented the aspects of religious pilgrimage that
would ultimately bring about its downfall.
So we'd learn about the cook's debauched love of drinking
and dancing, the Wife of Bath's insatiable sexual appetite...
..and the venality of selling indulgences and souvenirs.
There's very little God in here,
but the clergy certainly make an appearance.
Here's the abbot.
"His boots supple, his horse in great estate.
"Most certainly he was a fair prelate."
In other words,
Chaucer is noticing that the abbot makes a bit on the side.
He's fat, well accoutred and has very, very little to do
with the business of being very holy, or involving himself,
seemingly, in the business of following the laws of St Benedict.
What's great about the whole story is it sort of,
it sort of shows that the pilgrimage was a social event.
All these people come together and bicker and argue,
but they laugh at each other's jokes
and expect entertainment and jollity along the way.
Chaucer's self-serving abbot provides a sharp contrast
to the man who inspired our pilgrimage.
St David was a devout ascetic monk
who founded the Christian church in Wales long before there was
one in pagan England, and every mile is now bringing us closer to him.
1,500 years ago, there was a miracle here in Llanddewi Brefi.
A priest caused a mound to burst up from under him
so that he could speak to a vast assembly of people.
The priest was St David and 500 years later,
they built this church in his memory, on top of his miracle mound.
-Well, it's quite a mound over here, isn't it?
-And it's of a pretty circular shape as well.
You see, I have my own theory that actually...
I like to have theories about miracles because when a miracle
gets as well attested as this, either they were all hallucinating,
or perhaps you can see land has a tendency to sort of fall away.
The river will undermine the bank, so there's a sense that possibly,
they're all standing here and suddenly a big bit of land went
whoomph, fell down and suddenly it looked as if St David had come up.
Yes. Quite possible.
But just when I think I've come up with
a rational explanation for the miracle,
Nathan pursues his own theory.
St David was a big fan of water.
He'd often stand up to his neck in it.
He'd drink nothing else and he'd use water for his miracle cures.
Nathan believes that if he can find an underground spring,
this might add credence to the story.
But what are those rods he's using?
They're just... It's just plastic-coated metal.
-But you use this in your work?
I occasionally get called upon by the National Trust
to try and find water pipes for the mains,
all these types of things.
What were you looking for, then?
I was thinking water, thinking spring,
thinking Holywell, thinking about that beautiful well, and it comes.
They just move.
I haven't the faintest idea how it works, but it does.
So you think that in this,
this might have indicated there are springs in this mound?
Oh, yeah, definitely. Definitely springs in the mound.
Llanddewi Brefi has retained its magnetic qualities over the centuries.
It provided the setting for the television series Little Britain.
He's not the only gay in the village.
'Something the corner shop likes to remind its customers of.'
But it was also a focus for '60s counterculture,
with reports of legendary figures like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger
coming to hang out here in country cottages and enjoy the country air.
Amongst other things!
As long as they weren't hassled by the fuzz.
Bob was a local. In those days, Bob, were you stoppable?
-I mean, you were young.
-I was young.
Did you have an afro?
-No, I never had an afro.
-Mm. The best I could manage.
-Anyway, quite a lot of hair.
Bob, did you have a bit of long hair in those days?
-I did. I looked a bit like Jesus in those days.
Well, no wonder they stopped you!
We're in Pembrokeshire, on the home straight.
And from now on, we follow the coastline
pretty much all the way to St David's.
Well, this bit feels the most medieval, but it's not at all, really.
Medieval people were far too sensible to walk along here
by the side of the sea.
They went on the inland route,
following what is now a fast trunk road.
Instead, we are taking what is essentially
the new pilgrimage route, which is the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.
And if you ask me,
the modern desire for mortification of the flesh gained by trudging
this tricky route echoes an original pilgrim desire for suffering.
After our excesses in Aberystwyth, we're back on course.
We've got just 24 miles to go.
Nevern churchyard was the junction of pilgrim routes.
'Pilgrims would assemble here from all parts of the country
'before proceeding en-masse to their final destination.'
It's the perfect churchyard...
'As we get closer to St David's Cathedral, the evidence that we're nearing
'what was once an important shrine begins to increase.'
Nathan, look at this.
-What's this, Bob?
This looks like, um, footprints.
So many people walked down this route following the pilgrim,
they wore, or perhaps they cut... Do you think?
-I'd say it was cut.
-..the descent down.
-Quite handy to have them cut.
It's quite easy to go arseius over titus.
Further down the road is Newport.
Today, the people of this ancient borough are hosting a game
of the medieval sport of Cnapan.
Cnapan was played on Shrove Tuesday,
one of the original religious holidays.
Townsfolk, farmers and medieval pilgrims got swept up
in a violent frenzy of an early form of beach rugby with menaces.
Dave and Nathan have volunteered to join opposing sides.
Come on, Nathan!
Anything up to 1,000 people a side would have played.
Unlike today, they'd have used a heavy wooden ball
that could crack your head open.
Come and give it a try for ten minutes?
-We need your support.
What? Look at the state of you two!
You two are young, fit men. What would I do?
I'd just embarrass myself and humiliate myself.
-But I guess that's my role in life, isn't it?
Go, Griff, go!
'As a would-be medieval pilgrim, I can regard any maiming or injuries
'I incur while playing Cnapan as something I can offset
'against all the sins I've committed.
'Assuming I'm not crushed to death before the final whistle.
'It's absolutely terrifying.'
It's the final day of our pilgrimage and we have a lot of work to do.
Some of us really haven't suffered enough for our sins
to be absolved, so I've ordered a batch of hair shirts.
These haven't been made specially by a prop maker,
these have been made for people who like to wear hair shirts.
'medieval pilgrims often wore hair shirts like these
'as an act of penitence.
'Made of sackcloth, riddled with ticks and lice,
'they are superbly uncomfortable.
'They're bad enough for a few minutes,
'let alone for weeks on end, as the original pilgrims would have worn them.
'Their flesh would have been chafed to bits.
'In the heat of the midday sun, they become absolute torture.
'Which, of course, was the point.
'Ogilby's map tells us we've got just one more mile to go
'before we reach St David's.
'But we have a few more rituals to perform.
'The first is to go barefoot.
'This wasn't uncommon.
'Henry II walked barefooted all the way from London to Canterbury
'in an attempt to beg forgiveness from the Pope
'for the death of Thomas A Becket.
'And as if this wasn't enough, monks whipped him while he prayed aloud.'
'Penitence Bridge was the last-chance cafe for repentance.
'A bit of humble foot washing might improve my chances
'in the afterlife.'
As your leader, a little bit of water.
Splippy, splibby, sblobby, splib.
-Oh! God alive!
I'm just saying, the business of washing feet,
I believe the Pope does it quite a lot, doesn't he?
With clean feet, but rather itchy bodies,
we blow our whistles noisily just as medieval pilgrims would have done
600 years ago to announce our arrival.
Here we are. Glorious.
-Welcome to all of you.
-Thank you for having us here.
Welcome to journey's end.
'Once inside the cathedral,
'the pilgrims must have stared in awe and wonder
'at its Norman beauty.
'Nothing they would have seen or heard would have prepared them
'for the scale and grandeur of this workmanship.'
This is what the pilgrims came to see.
This is where they would have knelt.
The bishop, Wyn Evans, leads us to the shrine of St David.
All the jewels and bodily relics of the saint
that were once lodged inside were confiscated during the Reformation.
The idolatry of saints had become a crime.
Catholics were threatened with persecution.
The Catholic religion was hounded out of the country.
St David's was no longer a Catholic cathedral.
In time, it became a Protestant one.
And a lot of Welsh went further
and became predominantly Nonconformist.
Without the Catholic religion,
pilgrimage would never be the same again.
We've completed our journey.
All 156 miles of it.
We've uncovered this ancient route and got to grips with the lives
and the times of the people that used it.
We can appreciate the logic and elegance of the course it takes.
Connecting north with south.
Sacred with secular.
Past with present.
Ooh, tremendous. Ooh!
You see why the people wear these hair shirts,
just to enjoy the moment of taking them off.
It's nothing to do with pain, it's got everything to do with
a masochistic impulse to stop doing it.
In its time, the Bishop's Palace was the finest,
most lavish ecclesiastical building in Europe.
Proof, if any was needed,
of the importance of pilgrimage to St David's.
But the attempt to destroy it during the Reformation
is as evident today as it was 500 years ago.
During the height of pilgrimage in the medieval era,
when we imagined our journey to have taken place,
the bishop would have invited distinguished pilgrims
to dine here in the Great Hall.
And the current bishop has invited us to do the same
and to reflect on our journey together.
I wouldn't have thought that going on a pilgrimage
would have been such a sociable adventure.
The company's been absolutely fantastic.
I really enjoyed getting to know everybody.
-The other thing was the rabbit stew.
Kidneys. Ah, I loved the kidneys.
And the liver! Oh, the liver was just heaven.
I think the thing we've failed to mention is the whittling.
Everybody spent hours and hours sitting down
just whittling away at their staves.
-Bob, can you give us a Welsh toast?
-ALL: Iechyd da.
And now it's time to celebrate our own pilgrim tales.
# Davey was a hairy chap
# But he got stuck with an antique map
# Nathan was a lusty man
# Until he played Cnapan
# Lara did what her daddy taught her
# And then she fell in the muddy water
# A man named Griff had a tale to tell
# He froze to death in St Winefride's Well
# Walk with me across the rover
# Until we get to all that clover
# We can walk the pilgrim route
# As long as our luggage
# Goes in the boot! #
In a spectacular journey through the Welsh countryside, Griff picks up the staff of the medieval pilgrim to retrace the steps that thousands of worshippers made in medieval times from Holywell to St Davids.
Walking with five hardy companions, he rediscovers a once well-trodden route that passes through remote mountain ranges and was exposed to attacks from bandits and many other dangers. Foraging for food and facing fast-flowing rivers, Griff and his fellow travellers come face to face with the perils of medieval travel. Following the arduous tradition of pilgrimage, walking sometimes in sackcloth and sometimes barefoot, they try to understand the lengths that men and women of the Middle Ages went to in the name of penitence. Passing through beautiful villages, discovering gems of the medieval world from grand manor houses to ancient churches, encountering miracles and relics, bathing in holy wells and washing feet, Griff and his band explore how the British holiday has its roots in the observance of holy days.