People have been going on pilgrimages for centuries. It’s a great way to holiday. But it’s much more… when you go on pilgrimage you take a risk; the risk that you might not return as the same person who set out! Pilgrimage invites us to travel from the known into the unknown; to journey from place to place on a ‘voyage of discovery’.
Pilgrim Adventure is an ecumenical Christian organization based in Bristol, England. Since 1987, through our Journey Programme; we have shared the challenge and excitement of pilgrimage with like minded people from many nationalities; as well as walks of life.
Nevertheless, the Celtic Christians were great adventurers who spoke of pilgrimage as ‘wandering for the love of Christ’. Although our pilgrimages are, first and foremost; ‘journeys for today’ many have been inspired by the early Celtic saints who lived on the fringe of Western Europe. At the heart of each pilgrimage lies the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
‘Island hopping, hill walking, worshiping in out of the way places.’
A typical pilgrimage day begins with breakfast followed by a short time of worship. Worship with Pilgrim Adventure is a blend of both ancient and contemporary expressions of Celtic Christianity; as well as those of other Christian traditions. We gather again for a time of gentle worship last thing in the evening.
With the exception of some of our island adventures we walk each day; which is great for weight loss; and starts at 10 am. The pace is always relaxed; with plenty of time to simply look at the view and soak up the atmosphere. Of course, on some days you may choose not to walk. Alternatives are always available.
Fun and laughter are never far away on a Pilgrim Adventure pilgrimage; even when it comes to doing the chores! As pilgrims travelling together, we share the practical tasks of meal preparation and washing-up; often great times for forging new friendships! The average group size is ten.
What we recommend
However, we recommend that pilgrims wear comfortable walking boots. There is no need to carry more than a day-sac on any of the walks. When you book your pilgrimage; we will send you a list of suggested items to bring with you. Our pilgrimages are suitable for singles and couples and people of all ages.
The price of a pilgrimage includes all accommodation, meals, entrance fees and transport. Each pilgrimage is led by two Pilgrim Adventure guides; they who stay with the group throughout the journey. Our planning team in Bristol will be very happy to assist with your travel plans to the pilgrimage start point.
This is the story of ten pilgrims, a small boat and a distant island
Eight miles off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland; and the stark pointed rock of Skellig Michael explodes out of the 280 foot deep sea and soars up a further 720 feet. For years Great Skellig, the largest of two adjacent islands; was home to perhaps the most isolated early Christian community the world has ever known.
Pilgrims take risks; the Christian journey is an adventure! Marooned on an island, becalmed on a boat without fuel, towed to land by the rival firm! Our previous trip to these islands had been a time of high adventure… But on this particular June morning; with the sun shining, and a well equipped boat waiting to whisk us off to the Skelligs; there could be no thought of such daring escapades…
To be sure, you could almost see the islands from the harbour!
Gathering on the quayside at Valentia Island we looked around for our hire boat. A passer-by waved us in the direction of several craft beyond the clock tower. Which one could be ours? The elegant twin hull with the wooden deck, covered cabin and rather nice seating; at about forty feet long she looked just right.
Another, slightly smaller and red, would certainly do. Perhaps it was boat number three, a newer vessel with chrome railings, upper deck and a dazzling array of aerials; although we suspected this belonged to the survey team working in the channel. We settled on boat number two and started to search for the skipper. “Hi, are you the pilgrim group going to Skellig Michael?” We turned and looked across the quay to a man in sea denims; aged about forty five. “The boat’s over here.”
We crossed the tarmac quay and looked down into the water
There was nothing visible above quay. A small open boat, maybe twenty feet long bobbed about below… We looked at each other. No one said a word. This was not going to be a cruise in a pleasure craft! Thoughts of captain Bligh cast adrift from the Bounty; or Robin Knox-Johnson rowing the Atlantic came to mind.
Still, the Skipper, we’ll call him Diormit; was likeable enough and as we putt-putted our way along the channel toward the open sea; he managed to put us at ease with stories of life in the West; of cutting turf and sending the first telegraph message to America. The wind was slight and the sky blue with occasional clouds drifting over the hills.
Maybe our trip wouldn’t be too bad after all…
“Pass the cover, put this over your legs, here comes another…” CRASH! a wave broke across the bows and sent several gallons of salty water across the wooden deck. “I’m told if you keep your eyes on the horizon you won’t feel sick.” A pilgrim voice called from one corner of the boat. We all clung to the horizon trying not to be the first to disprove his theory. And all the while on the same horizon; the distant solid peaks of Skellig Michael and its sister island, Little Skellig, seemed to remain as far off as ever…
It must have taken hours. But Diormit assured us it was only two “and that wasn’t bad”; before the boat eventually jostled its way alongside the jetty at the base of the rock. Wobbly, but relieved; we made our way from the boat up the stone steps to the top of the platform. Diormit said we had no more than three hours because the weather was turning. Somehow I didn’t think it was for the better!
Skellig Michael is a remarkable place
An imposing “rock” of some forty-two acres; it attracts up to 50,000 breeding birds each year; puffin, kittiwake, manx-sheerwater, storm petrels, razor bills. Human habitation on the rock goes back thousands of years. Legend has it that Ir, the son of Milesius, leader of the Milesians, first invaders of Ireland, died on the rock in 1300 BC. In 856 AD Olaf Trigussaon, the heir to the throne of Norway, was born and baptized here… And before that, during the sixth century, St Finan and his monks chose Skellig “the shining rock”; as the site for their monastery.
Climbing skyward, the enormity of the task facing those early Christians became apparent. This is a harsh environment; a small deep sided island, with little vegetation; open to the full force of the Atlantic. Amazingly, the location chosen for the monastery lies just below the summit on a ledge facing east; 650 feet above sea level!
It is truly a salutary experience to stand among the well preserved Beehive huts; and walk the narrow stone paths of this tiny “village in the sky”. What God, what presence of mind inspired man to live here…
Returning to the jetty
Mindful of each step as we negotiated the precarious stone stairway; and occasionally drawing eye to eye with a puffin making its nest along the lee side of the path; we began to straggle out. With the more agile finding time to make a detour to the highest peak; an alarming climb that took our intrepid pilgrims through a stone chimney with hand holds and steps cut into the rock face.
Up two narrow grass gullies.
Eventually on top there was a great rock outcrop with a rusted weather vein set into it… not a place for somebody who did not have a head for heights! On a small platform immediately underneath the peak one monk lived his solitary life of prayer. The remains of his cell and grave are still to be seen.
Diormit had the engine running and was awaiting our arrival. “Put these on” he called, handing out oilskins. “You might need them.”
Clad in our new outer layer
However, we were covered from the waist down by a ribbon-like blanket of canvas; we sat around the edge of the boat, waiting for the worst. Diormit at the front of the boat, facing the open sea, had his back to us so we couldn’t see his face. But I could tell by the way he gripped the wheel that he was almost as apprehensive about the crossing as we were.
Friendly nervous banter tried to keep spirits afloat as we inched away from the shelter of the rock. But with the first lunge of the boat as it began to fight its way through the green heaving waves the banter ceased. As well as the steely expression of people about to experience disaster returned…
An hour out with the boat rising and falling with increased vigour, a strange calm descended. Difficult to describe; it was almost as though the boat and its passengers had become one with the elements. Together we were cutting a safe passage! There was a sense of time and timelessness, of early pilgrims with us; battling their way to an from that remote outpost “on the edge of the world”.
We were caught up in the pilgrim experience.
Nevertheless, we felt close to God, the elements and fellow pilgrims stretching back to who knows when. We were on a journey but we were not alone; it was a great feeling.
Poems by Pilgrims
Skellig Michael – By Jennifer Smith
Mysterious Skellig, awesome rock,
Atlantic force for thy embrace –
Today to me your strength unlock
To share with saints of old, your face.
O wonderous Skellig, living rock
Adorned with flowers of vibrant hue,
Where sea birds for their nesting flock
And God still speaks – with words anew.
Pilgrim Adventure – Carole Hodgkins
The hills of grey blue erstwhile were green,
And the pilgrims walked onwards through heather’s mauve screen.
Some chatting, some silent – over rocks and bog plough
While their spirit soars heavenward knowing that –
Heaven is now!
Ragged robin and orchid bring joy to the eye,
Mosses, soft green and springy ‘neath our feet lie.
The deer on the hillside, the stags on the brow,
Convince me more strongly that –
Heaven is now!
The mysterious water hides Neptune’s dark world,
The whale and the otter glide ‘neath ripples froth-furled.
And the Lord shares our travail, this I avow;
His glory in flowers and His people reveals –
Heaven is now!
Reflections on Ensay – Carole Hodgkins
I’m an oyster catcher wild and free
Soaring in flight over the Ensay sea.
And I’m boldly patterned in black and white,
My orange-red legs are a brilliant sight.
I have a stout red bill and shrill, piping cry,
There are people on Ensay and I’m wondering why.
Is it the stillness, the peace or the sheep,
The house or the chapel, or the charms of the deep?
High I fly over sand and dune,
Freedom and song my good fortune.
Who is the figure I see below?
Where has she come from – where will she go?
I’m an oyster catcher without discontent
To follow the Master is my intent
The figure I see is an Adventure Pilgrim,
Who strives like me to follow Him!
Share the earth, the sky and sea
Companions together in life are we,
To laugh, to learn, to live and love
And walk with Him our Lord above.
O Small Cross – Ryan Smith
Oh small cross between land and sky
Connecting earth and heaven, by and by
How you change the landscape as you portray Christ’s choice to the sons of men
Everything for me or all for you, nothing more or less
That is the choice you offer, O small cross of Lindisfarne.
Memory – Cynthia M. Spey
Thank God for memory,
It is the youth of age
And Winter’s welcome Spring;
And it brings back love
When fleeting love has fled
To cause confusion in some other breast;
Also, it strews with flowers
The rough paths that we tread,
Brings back birdsong
When the bird is dead.
Where in the ‘Celtic World’ would you like to go?!
The Pilgrim Adventure Team are currently planning the next journey programme. We would love to know which of the following destinations you would like to see in the programme. Please email or post your thoughts to Pilgrim Adventure.
- Bardsey Island (North West Wales): A small island lying off the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula; often known as the Island of 20,000 saints.
- St David’s (West Wales): Birth place of the Celtic Saint David. A wild and romantic location on the Pembrokeshire coast.
- Caldey Island (South West Wales): Home of the Cistercian monastic community; 1500 years ago, St Illtyd, the first great leader of the Celtic Christians of West and South Wales.
- St Piran’s Oratory (Cornwall): The cradle of Christianity in Cornwall.
- Lindisfarne (Holy Island, Northumberland): A tidal island stitched to the mainland by a great hem of sand! In 634, St Aidan brought the Gospel to bleak Northumberland. He chose Lindisfarne as his headquarters.
- The Lakes (Cumbria): Mountains, Lakes and a collection of early Saints; including Herbert who found refuge on a tiny island in Derwentwater.
- St Kilda (West Scotland): A remote island 80 miles west of mainland Scotland.
- Iona (West Scotland): In 563, a small leather coracle washed ashore on the southern tip of Iona, carrying an Irish monk called Columba; and the rest; as they say, is history!
- Applecross (North West Scotland): 1300 years ago, Saint Maelrubha created a sanctuary among the mountains and forests of the region; a place to prepare, a place to begin a journey…
- Whithorn (South West Scotland): Before Columba landed on Iona or Patrick sailed to Ireland, Ninian, son of a Galloway chieftain, built Candida Casa, the ‘Shining White House’; from which the Gospel light streamed throughout Galloway and beyond.
- Shetland (North Scotland): A cluster of unique islands situated between Scotland and Norway. We usually include a visit to SOLI, the small, isolated ‘Society of Our Lady of the Isles’; on Fetlar Island.
- Orkney (North Scotland): Watch or be watched by seals, porpoises and maybe a whale! Look to the skies and catch a glimpse of the Merry Dancers; the Northern Lights! We explore and worship in places where the earliest Celtic Christians made their homes.
- Skellig Isles (South West Ireland): The remote Skelligs, home to perhaps the most isolated early Christian monastery the world has ever known.
- Glencolumbkille and Lough Gartan (Donegal): Breathtakingly beautiful, the pilgrim route through Glencolumbkille (Columba’s Valley) leads to the place where Columba founded a monastery. Further North, amid the mountains, is Lough Gartan, birthplace of the Saint.
- Glendalough (County Wicklow): A ‘lost horizon’ tucked away in the Wicklow mountains. Saint Kevin chose this magnificent site as his place of sanctuary; during the sixth century.
- Croagh Patrick (County Mayo): Ireland’s foremost Holy Mountain; and the place where Saint Patrick spent forty days and nights during Lent AD 441.
- Dingle (West Ireland): ‘Brendan Country’; Bee Hive huts, the great Blasket Island, Gallarus Oratory as well as Mount Saint Brendan.
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