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Pilgrimage Ways and Tours

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Pilgrimage walking is almost as old as the religion that it is associated with. This activity applies to all major faiths, however in the UK and Europe is related predominantly to Christianity.

Although the nature of Pilgrimage has changed over the centuries it is still important to many and a growing number of individuals and groups are embarking on Pilgrimage walks.

Christianity came to Southern Scotland through St Ninian in the early 5th century. The location of his ministry was principally in Whithorn in Galloway but it is said he also converted many Pict to Christianity on the east side of Scotland. Details on St Ninian are confused and uncertain even the date of his ministery.
More clear cut is the life of St Columba with his arrival from Ireland onto Iona around 560 and from here Christianity quickly spread across Scotland and into the North of England. Important Saints such as Ninian, Columbia, Aidan, Cuthbert and Oswald are all early Christians of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries that have influenced life in the northern half of Britain. For succeeding centuries people have retraced some of these Saints' steps in a hope of finding an inner peace or a stronger understanding of life.

Iona Abbey (c)FreeFoto.com

    Iona Abbey - Photo supplied by FreeFoto.com
Heavenfield - St Oswald's Way

In the 21st century the pilgrimage experience is unlikely to be as physically demanding and penitential as in earlier times but it still offers to both religious and enquiring individuals a time of reflection, escape from the day-to-day stresses and an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the countryside around.

Walking Support is fortunate to be located next to the St Cuthbert's Way, one of the UK's most recognised and walked Pilgrimage routes. This has resulted in Walking Support working with Pilgrimage Groups and developing an expertise in the planning and delivery of group pilgrimages. This is only a small part of our business, but it is an increasingly important segment of our work that we are actively developing, not simply on St Cuthbert's Way but other walking route.

Many of the groups that we support are international, from as far a field as North America, South Africa and the Scandinavian countries. Additionally we get groups and individuals from across the UK, some in church affiliations some independent.

Old Melrose Pilgrimage Walk

Following discussions with the landowner at Old Melrose, Walking Support has had agreement to run guided walks around this 7th century monastic site thereby opening up the stories of St Aidan, St Boisil and St Cuthbert. We also see this as an important additional starting day's walk for those walking St Cuthbert's Way as this opens up the exact location where Cuthbert started his monastic life.

This was an agreement initially for the walking season of 2015 so that we and the Old Melrose Estate can determine the interest and viability of such a walk and how this might impact on the landowner's activities. We are pleased that this has been retained subject to us always giving advanced notice of any group walk.

The plan is to offer a day's guided walk starting from Melrose outside the 12th century Abbey then walking to Old Melrose via the site of the Roman Trimontium Fort. Following a refreshment stop, the guided walk would be around Old Melrose the site of the 7th century monastic community. At this location there are interpretive displays detailing the story of St Cuthbert, the life of the early monks and the nature of the Old Melrose area. Following a break for lunch the guided walk would depart from Old Melrose using the Monks Trail to the site of the ford across the Tweed at Monksford before heading back towards Melrose passing by Thomas the Ryhmer's Stone and then using a section of the Borders Abbeys Way to arrive at the Cistercian Abbey and the opportunity to visit the ruins and adjoining exhibition.

The walks will be booked through and guided by Walking Support and there will be a nominal charge for the day's walk. We will offer this to Pilgrim Walking Groups at a time that suits their wider Pilgrimage event, and we will offer open walks on hopefully a monthly basis (based on demand) where individuals or small parties will be welcome to join the guided walk. We will hope to shortly publish dates for the monthly walks, the Pilgrim Walking Groups should approach Walking Support to advise on their suitable dates.
Photos from Old Melrose Guided Walk

John Henderson guiding a foreign walking group around the Monastic site at Old Melrose

It is our belief that the Pilgrim Walking Groups are likely to be adding this days walk to the front of a Pilgrimage walk on St Cuthbert's Way whilst the monthly open guided walks are more likely to be for individuals visiting the area and wanting to learn more about the history of this area of Old Melrose.

We would encourage any interest persons or groups to make contact with Walking Support at an early date, simply click on this link and tell us about your interest, the date you would be wanting to go on a guided walk and the number in your group.

Pilgrimage involvement - 2018 & 2019.

These have been yet another two years for pilgrim groups walking both the St Cuthbert's Way and an increasing number using the Borders Abbeys Way as a faith / spiritual based walking experience. This has also seen the first international group walking sections of the Whithorn Way adding to the number of pilgrim walkers from within Scotland.
The St Cuthbert's way has also been used by a group of clergy from Norway and Sweden as the focus of their study leave. This group of ministers starting with a presentation and service in Melrose Parish Church then the next day a guided walk to Old Melrose. The group then walked a further two sections to reach the Holy Island and the end of their study tour.

Study Tour 1 Study Tour 1

Pilgrimage involvement - 2017.

This was yet another good year for pilgrim groups walking both the St Cuthbert's Way and an increasing number using the Borders Abbeys Way as a faith / spiritual based walking experience. The pilgrim walkers have come from across the globe while still there are return groups arriving from Norway and now other parts of Scandinavia.
Additionally there are now individuals and walkers undertaking parts of the developing pilgrim routes such as the Whithorn, Three Saints and Forth to Farne Ways. With several requests from various pilgrim groups to walk new faith based trails we envisiage that these newly re-established routes will become increasingly walked. To learn more about them link to their websites.

Whithorn Way

Three Saints Way

Forth to Farne Way

Pilgrimage involvement - 2016.

2016 has continued with pilgrim groups coming to the St Cuthbert's Way and a few also making use of the Borders Abbeys Way as a faith tourism experience. On the latter route the groups have made use of the Historic Environmental Scotland Border Pass to gain access to all of the Border Abbeys. This is needed for Merlrose, Dryburgh and Jedburgh Abbeys, while Kelso can be accessed without any pass or payment. What is not passed directly on the route is the very earliest of the 12th century monastic sites, this being the site of the Tironensian monks at Selkirk (Lindean). They only stayed in Selkirk for a few years before moving to establish Kelso Abbey, the largest of the four Abbeys, but now Kelso is the Abbey with the least remaining ruins.

St Cuthbert's Way however still attracts more pilgrim walkers with groups from Scandinavia, North America and from within the UK all taking part. Walking Support can with advanced notice arrange a guided walk to the 7th century monastic site at Old Melrose, this providing a very appropriate start to any pilgrimage on the St Cuthbert's Way. The pictures are of a group at Old Melrose the day before they set off on the Way from Melrose Abbey.

At a more developmental stage, Walking Support has been active in helping in the ongoing development of the Whithorn Way, the Three Saints Way (a part of the larger Iona to St Andrews across Scotland Pilgrimage) and the Forth to Farne Way.

Pilgrimage involvement - 2015.

Walking Support continues to have close connections with Pilgrim Groups from Norway, supporting them in setting up and running pilgrimage walks on St Cuthbert's Way.
While not working with client groups Walking Support is active with SPRF (Scottish Pilgrim Routes Forum) in its work of expanding pilgrimage walking routes within Scotland.

Pilgrimage involvement - 2014.

This year has seen a range of activities from working with groups on St Cuthbert's Way to engaging with others to develop new pilgrimage ways.
  • A group from the West of Scotland led by Gerry Murdoch came to St Cuthbert's Way and John joined them on the initial leg of their Pilgrimage. Gerry had also been involved in the Paisley 850 Pilgrimage as were most of the group. At the end of the walk all participants were given a "Holding Cross" that Gerry had carved and crafted. This came with a prepared leaflet of prayers and meditations.
  • As part of the Iona to St Andrews Pilgrimage plan there is now a section from Killin to St Andrews that is being actively developed by a group in the Strathearn and Perthshire area. John has become an active member of this group and has been responsible for the development of the "Three Saints Way" website.
    This has involved meetings and active walking to confirm route lines and identify points where route options need to be considered. Images of this development walking and information on the route can be seen on the website.
  • The Paisley Abbey Pilgrimage 850 has shown that there is the making of an important pilgrimage route between Whithorn and Glasgow going via Paisley Abbey. Work is underway to develop and in some cases revise paths so that this can be promoted to a much wider audience. This ongoing activity will insure that the extensive work and effort put in by Pilgrimage 850 is not lost to the wider international pilgrimage movement.
    Following a meeting of interested parties in early August a steering group has been set up with defined objectives and tasks to develop the route and to encourage walkers onto the Way. The rouet is being called the "Whithorn Way" and a dedicated website for the route can be found by clicking on www.whithornway.org.
  • Initial plans are being developed by Walking Support to offer guided and self guiding notes to St Cuthbert's way walkers who what to visit and experience something of the "true location" of St Cuthbert at the start of his monastic life.
    As a result of a more open approach by the landowner and the establishment of some visitor attractions on the Old Melrose estate this suggested additional day opportunity appears to be a viable option for pilgrim walkers as of 2015.
    Click here to see more details on this topic.

Holding Cross

Pilgrimage involvement - 2013.

The most recent Pilgrimage acctivities have been in February 2013 when on both occasions the weather has been glorious, clear blue skies and little winds.
The first walking event was in Argyll along with Calum and Ruth from the Craig Lodge House of Prayer. This was undertaken to explore the opportunites for a new Pilgrimage Way that would pass through Argyll on the way between Iona and St Andrews.

The second was a study tour that Walking Support had arranged with a group looking into developing a Pilgrimage Way to Selja, an island off the west coast of Norway with close connections to St Sunniva. The group of six was lead by the area's Lutheran Priest along with local tourism officials, the warden for the Selja monestary and a local publisher and historian.
The porpose of the four day visit was to understand how Pilgrimage is supported and run in the UK and to experience sections of the St Cuthbert's Way. Their hope is to establish a pilgrimage route between Bergen and Selja.
Below are images from both activities.

Photos from Argyll

Track from Stonmilchan heading towards Glen Noe

Highest point / watershed on Glen Noe

Loch Etive from the Glen Noe to Taynuilt path

Beinn Dorian close to the West Highland Way

Loch Lyon from a point near Gleann Meurain

Track along south side of Loch Lyon

Photos from St Cuthbert's Way and Dunfermline Abbey

Selia Group at Melrose Abbey

Selia Group walking at St Cuthbert's Cave

Lindisfarne Priory

Selia group with John at Lindisfarne Priory

Dunfermline Palace, Abbey and Abbey Church

Group at St Margaret's Chapel, Dunfermline Abbey

Pilgrimage group from 2011.

Norwegian pilgrimage group beside Melrose Abbey - September 2011
Norwegian pilgrimage group beside Melrose Abbey - September 2011

We are proud of the comments that these groups have offered after their Pilgrimage experience.

Melrose Abbey

"Everyone from our group has a good time.
"I have done this trip (Iona & St Cuthbert's Way) before with another company and was very impressed with your choices. Putting up 12 people, especially in small towns is a real challenge. This was one of your strengths.
"Transportation was very good. You got us to Iona and then back to Melrose in a very timely manner.
"From your end, I thought you did an excellent job. I have nothing but praise for your work and preparation. .... you did a great job. You worked your rear end off and it made for a great trip."

John Hagan (Michigan USA)

"The responses from the members of the group have been very encouraging. They were very pleased with almost everything.
"So again; thank you for your very good service!"
"As for next year I want to take a new group of 20 people......"

Sven Aasmundtveit (Norway)

"I am pleased to say we completed our walk on schedule with a barefoot splash along the Pilgrim's Way. We thoroughly enjoyed it and would like to thank you for your help. What you booked for us was very good."

West Sussex

"We had a wonderful pilgrimage, everything worked out perfect for us. No problems at all. Just a lot of blessings. All the hotels were wonderful."
"So thank you for the job you did for us. There's a lot of interest to hear about the tour here, so we will both tell and show pictures, and recommend your firm, be sure of that."

Hakon Borgenvik (Norway)

"I made the walk in 2008 as part of a two month sabbatical. Long days of walking made for fabulous opportunities for reflection and prayer. Upon arriving at Lindisfarne I walked across the sands rather then take the road; literally soaking in the entire experience.
"It has been difficult to keep my comments brief as the experience truly was an amazing one for me.
"On my list to do again"

Brad Whitaker (Detroit USA)

Pilgrim group at St Cuthbert's Cave

The key to our “Support” is in the flexibility of what we can offer and provide. For many they want time on Holy Places like Iona and Lindisfarne and they want to walk in some of the steps of the great Saints. But time rarely allows them to combine all these without some additional transport to move the group from religious centre to centre. Walking Support will plan and arrange all of this, not just the walking element of the Pilgrimage.

Walking Support is also committed to the future of development of Pilgrimage in Scotland and Northern England. We have been active in the possible development of new Pilgrimage Ways and in research into the views and desires of walkers undertaking a pilgrim focused walk.

Slieve League with insert of cliff face

In the autumn of 2011 John was able to experience walking on a Pilgrims path in Donegal, this taking walkers to the top of Slieve League where there are remains of an early church, beehive huts and stations associated with St Aedh MacBrice (6th century).
Slieve League is overlooking the Atlantic in the south west corner of Donegal and the mountain has a steep cliff face on its SW side, this claimed, but also disputed, as being the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Only a few miles further west is the island of Rathlin O'Birne where St Patrick's companion St Tassach was a hermit for several years before being encourage back onto the mainland. St Assicus was also associated with this area of Donegal and there remains some confusion as to which Saint this pilgrims path truly relates to.
Whichever is correct, the Christian Heritage in this northern province of Ireland (Ulster) is very extensive starting with St Patrick in the 5th century and being also the early home of St Columba in the 6th century before he was exiled to Scotland to continue his missionary work.

If you are a Church Group of any size and you are considering a retreat or pilgrimage type walk we would be delighted to discuss this with you and hopefully assist you with the planning and delivery of the event. Our involvement can be as little or great as you require, from simply setting up all of the itinerary to being a part of the group as the event is happening.

For information and an initial no obligation exchange simply click on this link and give us some basic outline details of your intentions and we will quickly respond to your enquiry.


Walking Support is a founder member of the newly formed Scottish Pilgrim Routes Forum (SPRF). This group was formally started at a meeting in February 2012 at Culross Abbey and has attracted interest from churches, walking businesses, local authorities and route planners.
John Henderson has become one of the steering group that is developing the mission, strategy and development programmes for this new Forum.

Any interested party may wish to link to www.sprf.org.uk where there is a website explaining the Forum in more detail. It also provides information on membership and the development projects that are being prioritised.


The St Cuthbert Pilgrim Journey- Searching for Peace

From Edinburgh to Melrose and Holy Island, follow Cuthbert‘s quest for peace in a troubled age. You can also follow the St Cuthbert‘s Way, a signposted walking route from Melrose to Lindisfarne, and connect with Scotland‘s Borders Abbeys Way. The Pilgrim Journey continues to Cuthbert‘s final resting place at Durham. Encounter quiet strength and reflection amidst natural beauty.
For more detail on this Journey and others access www.scotlandspilgrimjourneys.com

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