Walking a pilgrimage in England……the new Camino from Reading to Southampton
What is a pilgrimage?
Have you seen the recent BBC show “pilgrimage”? A couple of celebs have been tasked with walking through Portugal to the holy site of Fatima. Many of the famous characters, which include former Boyzone members, social media influencers and comedians, are walking to reconnect with a faith, to strengthen it, others are looking for something new or just seeking an adventure. A pilgrimage is traditionally associated with religion, but not everyone who walks a pilgrimage today does so for reasons of faith.
A pilgrimage is a devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, often undertaken on foot or on horseback, toward a specific destination of significance. It is an inherently transient experience, removing the participant from his or her home environment and identity. The means or motivations in undertaking a pilgrimage might vary, but the act, however performed, blends the physical and the spiritual into a unified experience.National Trust Website
We’ve walked the Camino de Santiago, including the Portuguese route (the other direction through Portugal to that shown on the BBC show), so we immediately wanted to see if the celebs could cut the mustard too. There’s an attraction to watching celebrities taking on a long walk through Portugal in aid of pilgrimage. How will they cope? Will there be any divas amongst the group? Which of them will find the cramped hostel accommodation too much? Are they going to have any raging fights?
Of course, once we started watching we were instantly rooting for them. A long distance hike is transformative and we quickly started to see the celebs connecting with something greater. They started to find more peace and joy in every day of walking, an inner contentment perhaps. We’ve felt this too when we walked the Camino de Santiago and latterly the Via Francigena.
Can you do a pilgrimage in England?
Even more recently we walked from Reading to Southampton, a sentence I never thought I’d be writing, let alone a walk I ever thought I’d be doing. This route is part of the Camino Ingles, a Camino route which eventually leads to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It is believed that the original pilgrims from Reading Abbey, would have walked this route through Southampton before boarding a boat to Galicia to continue their journey.
We wanted to try this new stretch of path, which is helpfully sign posted with the signature scallop shell of the Camino de Santiago. We heard about first in this Guardian article and we soon decided that it was one of the best long distance paths in Europe that we would try this year. It seemed a fitting way to celebrate the Kings Coronation.
When we set out from Reading, we wondered if we would experience the same feeling that we had on the longer, and warmer, pilgrimage routes. We wondered if we would cultivate the same peace and joy, the same transformation, as the participants on the BBC show.
As it turns out, you can find this experience in the UK. Even just from walking the three or four day route from Reading to Southampton. Not only that, but it was great fun and a uniquely English experience that you can’t get anywhere else.
Here are ten unique things about walking a pilgrimage in England
One: The Great English Pub
It’s not that we don’t love a Spanish wine bar on the Camino de Santiago, but there is something splendidly unique about an English pub. It’s hard to capture the essence of a Great British boozer in words, but it’s a heady mix of sticky beer mats, English banter bouncing around the place “alright fella,” and that sort of thing and of course the smell of greasy fried chips with ketchup.
The pubs on the English Camino vary somewhat. The Cunning Man is the first you’ll come across, complete with a sprawling and classic English pub garden. The Purefoy Arms found on day two is a Michelin guide power house, here we were given complimentary homemade melt in the mouth truffles after our lunch. In Winchester we even found the pinnacle of the English pub experience, a pub quiz! What a way to end a long day of walking.
Two: Uniquely English countryside
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core”John Keats
John Keats lived in Winchester for a few months when suffering with Tuberculous, it was in Hampshire that he wrote Ode to Autumn. This poem is a celebration of the English countryside. In fact, Keats connection to Hampshire is so enshrined that you visit the Keats Museum in the city. And, as you walk out of Winchester, you will stroll along the Keats Way.
You will walk through the English counties of Berkshire and Hampshire, along rivers and through woodland. Along the way enjoying some time in pub gardens if the weather is fine, or cosily huddled indoors if is not. The English Camino route is a veritable highlights reel of the two counties and a chance to imagine you are a pilgrim from a far away time as you journey through the English countryside.
Three: Canals and boats
From Reading, you will follow the canal for around 10km. This is the Kennet and Avon Canal, which is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the 18th and 19th centuries and was used to transport goods, as well as people. An apt start to a pilgrimage in England.
Today it is dotted with canal boats, many are lived on and others are used by tourists exploring the area. The occasionally hissing swan can also be found throwing shade at passing walkers.
Four: Greggs Bakery
A British institution so important that it requires an entry in this article. Move over Tuscan cuisine, in the UK on the Camino Ingles, you can find several Greggs bakery outlets. Who needs Italian gastronomy when you make your own Greggs lasagne (a steak bake with a cheese slice on top), grab a vegan sausage roll or a classic bacon sarnie. What could be better for a hungry pilgrim than hot, and cheap, baked goods?
Five: And more upmarket gastronomy
Don’t fear, there is more to the gastronomy on the English stretch of the Camino than just Greggs. In Basingstoke, there is an array of restaurants in Festival Place ready and willing to feed hungry Pilgrims. In fact, before you even leave Reading you can enjoy some scrumptious bites from Street Food trucks at Blue Collar Corner (Thurs to Sun), grab a curry, or dine at one of the larger restaurants at The Oracle. Once you hit Winchester, there are plenty of upmarket places to dine, as well as the usual smattering of chain restaurants. And of course, pubs on the way serving traditional pub grub.
Six: Cathedral City of Winchester
There are 40 cathedral cities in England, Winchester is possibly one of the most famous. The city was first founded by the Romans and was originally called Venta Belgarum. Today, Winchester is a popular tourist city with many coming to visit the Cathedral, as well as pay respects to Jane Austen, whose remains are buried there. It is a vibrant and upmarket city and an excellent stop on any pilgrimage in England.
Seven: Roman history
Winchester isn’t the only area on the English Camino route with Roman history. In fact, on your pilgrimage in England, you’ll walk along a section of Iter VII, which is a genuine Roman Road. This road will take you past Basingstoke and into the town of Silchester (former Roman name Callava). Here you will see the remains of the Roman city walls and an amphitheater – a free entry English Heritage site.
Eight: Thatched Cottages
Before the nineteenth, thatch was the most common type of roof found in properties. As you walk the English Camino route, you will meander through villages chockful with thatched cottages. A quaint remanent of days of old evoking uniquely English charm.
Nine: English villages
As you walk from Reading to Southampton, you’ll visit some fine examples of English villages. Not only are these places steeped in history, but they still show the trappings of English tradition today.
Some of the most charming villages that you will walk through on the your pilgrimage in England include the parish of Dummer in Hampshire, which has a population of less than 650 people but was once the home of Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. You will also walk through the upmarket village of Upper Wield, complete with some fabulous properties, and the charming village of Preston Candover, which has two churches and a population of around 700 people.
Ten: Uniquely English wildlife
On our English pilgrimage, we saw deer, rabbits, horses and even a few llamas. The latter of which we were not expecting. There are estimated to be around 5,000 llamas in the UK today, so I’d say we got quite lucky seeing three of them.
We even had a slightly affronting experience with some cattle who had decided to graze on the Camino route (we made no eye contact and powered through.)
Read more about the Camino Ingles in England
You can find our guide to walking the English Camino in England here. We also have a guide book on Amazon that is available to purchase now. Packed full of useful information to help you plan and take on a pilgrimage in the UK.
John and Emma’s hiking gear. These are items we love to use when we go hiking, find them here on Amazon.
Osprey 40L, Multi, O/S
HOKA ONE ONE Mens Speedgoat 4 Textile Synthetic Trainers
HOKA ONE ONE Women’s Clifton 8
CWVLC Unisex Cushioned Compression Athletic Ankle Socks Multipack
Dr. Scholl’s Blister Cushions, Seal & Heal Bandage, 8 Cushions
Montem Ultra Strong Trekking, Walking, and Hiking Poles – One Pair (2 Poles)
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