The Virtual Pilgrimage

Join us for a fun, medieval walking challenge, following a historical pilgrimage trail across the south of England.

Wait, what?

With walking or running, cover the 250 mile distance of the “Old Way”, a traditional pilgrimage route from Southampton to Canterbury in six months or less! If you finish, you’ll get a reproduction pewter pilgrim’s badge to commemorate your hard work. The pilgrimage will start September 1, 2021 and end February 28, 2022.

How will this work?
  • Have you ever done a virtual race? It’s a bit like that, except I don’t have a special app.
  • Sign up with the link below and start walking!
  • As you do your activities, track the distance you cover with an app or manually (measure it on a map, Google Maps has an inbuilt distance tool)
  • Log your distance using the form linked below!
  • I’ll track it all on a Google Sheet so you can keep appraised of your progress.
  • As you log miles along the way, you’ll get periodic emails as you pass particular landmarks with fun facts and information. (Optional)


No, but seriously Kinehild, why?

I like finding ways to incorporate aspects of medieval life into my day-to-day experience. I’m a nerd and its fun! During the last year, I’ve been enjoying using virtual runs and distance challenges to encourage myself as I get healthier. So, I figured why not combine the two? And, since I’m terrible at not sharing, why not invite others?

What about riding (bikes/horses/etc)

I’m really sorry, riders, but I’ve decided to limit this to foot-based activities only. Obviously (see image from BL Royal 18 D II, f. 148, to the right), medieval pilgrims didn’t always complete their journeys on foot. However, this is my party and it’s pedestrians only. I will happily help someone set up a similar project for riders, though!

You did some research, didn’t you?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, mostly other people did the research, I just did some googling. Canterbury is possibly the most important pilgrimage site in England. The killing of Thomas Becket, archbishop and sometime friend of King Henry II, in 1170 led to Becket’s canonization and by 1184, the construction of a new chapel had been completed to house Becket’s remains as his cult grew and spread. The shrine remained popular (providing inspiration for, among others, Geoffrey Chaucer) until 1538, when Henry VIII had the tomb removed and summoned the dead archbishop to court to face charges of treason. Having failed to appear (duh), Henry found Becket guilty and confiscated the treasures of his shrine. More about Becket can be found here.

The Old Way is a speculative route based on a route depicted on the Gough Map, one of the earliest geographically recognized map of Britain. The map, dating from around 1350, is detailed enough to show routes and roads, including a route marked in red leading from Southampton to Canterbury. Starting from Southampton, the route passes through Havant, Chichester, Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Boreham Street, Battle (!), Winchelsea, Rye, and Appledore before reaching the Cathedral Town of Canterbury. Unfortunately, the map doesn’t provide much detail on the exact path of the road, so the British Pilgrimage Trust has done their best using a four criteria, to recreate the route. More about their process can be found here.

Medieval Pilgrims undertook their journeys for a whole host of reasons. Sometimes it was an expression of religious devotion, sometimes it was a penance, and sometimes it was just to go on a trip. Pilgrims often wore distinctive clothing or badges, and could be expected to be welcomed at churches or monastic sites along the way. Upon reaching the site of their pilgrimage, pilgrims could purchase badges or other souvenirs that carried some of the “magic” of the saint (or just to remember the trip).

Other Questions
  • When does it start an end?
    • It starts September 1 and ends February 28.
  • What about steps?
    • If you use something like a fit-bit, that calculates mileage based on your steps (or have another means to do that math yourself) go ahead and use those. It’s cold in the winter and outside walking isn’t going to work for everyone. HOWEVER, do not simply tell me your step counts, I’m not doing the math for you. Also, if you want to be nice to me, only log that mileage once a week.
  • Are we supposed to do this in garb?
    • I don’t plan to. Go ahead and get down with yourself if that’s your jam.