Following seven Pilgrims’ progress

Picture shows: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Louisa Clein, Will Bayley, Scarlett Moffatt, Monty Panesar, Shazia Mirza, Nick Hewer ,Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Louisa Clein, Will Bayley, Scarlett Moffatt, Monty Panesar, Shazia Mirza, and Nick Hewer, following in the footsteps of St Columba.

Want to read more?

We value our content and access to our full site is only available with a  subscription. Your subscription entitles you to 7-day-a-week access to our website, plus a full digital copy of that week’s paper to read on your pc/mac or mobile device.  In addition, your subscription includes access to digital archive copies from 2006 onwards.

Just want to read one issue? No problem you can subscribe for just one week (or longer if you wish).

Already a subscriber?

 

Problems logging in and require
technical support? Click here
Subscribe Now

Seven well-known personalities with differing faiths and beliefs, put on their backpacks and waterproofs and travel more than 1,600km on foot, by road and sea, to learn about a key figure in early British Christianity, St Columba: an Irish monk born 1500 years ago who helped spread the faith from Ireland to Scotland.

Following ancient paths and heritage walking trails are interior designer Laurence Lewellyn-Bowen – a non-conforming pagan; England cricketing legend, Monty Panesar – a Sikh; actor, Louisa Clein, who is Jewish; TV personality Nick Hewer – an agnostic; social media influencer, Scarlett Moffatt – a Christian; comedian, Shazia Mirza – a Muslim; and Paralympian, Will Bayley – a lapsed Christian.  Together they will live as modern-day pilgrims.

With only 15 days to complete their pilgrimage, they begin their adventure in the county of Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland, St Columba’s birthplace. From here, they make their way to Northern Ireland, visiting Londonderry, also known as Derry, where Columba is patron saint. After crossing the North Channel to Western Scotland, their pilgrimage takes them through stunning landscapes into the Highlands. They head northeast, to an area in Moray on the edge of the Highlands, before going west and exploring the Outer Hebrides.  They then travel back south to reach their final destination, the tiny island of Iona and the site of Columba’s most famous monastic settlement.

They will visit key places of worship and rural communities, but will this journey of a lifetime change the way they think about themselves and their beliefs?

The series starts tomorrow, Friday April 8, at 9pm on BBC Two.

Speaking to the participants about why they have joined the Pilgrimage, here is what they had to say.

LAURENCE LLEWELLYN-BOWEN

Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?

I think faith is absolutely fascinating and I think at the moment, we’re all looking very, very deeply into ourselves:  are we happy with this idea of self-determination? Are we happy with this idea that we’ve created a world that doesn’t necessarily need a higher power? We rely so heavily on technology, on science, it’s one of the things that people just simply don’t talk about anymore – you really don’t talk about it – which is why this programme has always been so fascinating.

What was your highlight from the journey?

It was so incredibly immersive. Above and beyond the different religions and the different faiths, I think the different personalities is the thing that really comes through as the series goes on. It was a lovely thing to do, and the judge was very specific in terms of my parole!

During the journey, there were some very profound moments for all of you, could you say what you learned at the end of it?

I think that the power of the experience was so much to do with the humanity of it: so much to do with us being together, us being supportive, us all doing the same thing, but doing it in different ways, doing it on different terms. And the extraordinary power of the nature that surrounded us. I mean, Scotland – the Highlands – was incredible, but very veiled by mist every now and again. We’d get a little glimpse of a little bit of Glencoe or something like that. I’m relatively relieved that I came through not having discovered God. I think God feels the same about me as well. I think she’s very relieved!

Did you find any moments particularly tough?

The whole thing was obviously deliberately tough, and the point of Pilgrimage is putting you outside of our comfort zone. It always has been. And this was very uncomfortable. However, there’s no doubt about it, it was also incredibly awe-inspiring. It’s a very overused expression but the nature that we were walking through was absolutely beautiful.

What was the most challenging part of the pilgrimage?

One of the most challenging things was the fact that you’ve got camera crew in your sleeping bag with you when you wake up in the morning. We developed these very sneaky ways of putting our teeth in without anyone noticing. Doing our mascara before they realised…

I mean, one of the really lovely things is that there was a real sense of destination to the experience.

But I think Saint Columba is an incredibly interesting subject. I’m very interested in Celtic Christianity anyway, but we made discoveries about him and his relevance, including the fact that he’s incredibly different in Scotland and Ireland.

Were there any moments when there was any fallout? Or did you just get along the whole time?

I think all of us were very keen to hear the point of view of our comrades. And sometimes people approach that exercise of discourse in a very different way. Sometimes it’s a charming and light conversation, sometimes it’s a much more forceful, much more passionate experience. Sometimes there can be friction. But the important thing was that we came up the other side of it, it helped us to define ourselves, but much more specifically, it helped us to define our relationships with each other, and our friendships with each other, which is important.

LOUISA CLEIN INTERVIEW

Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?

I felt that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to challenge myself physically and to meet some fascinating people from all different faiths and a chance to chat. It was a privilege to be asked to represent the Jewish faith and selfishly, a chance to explore what it really means to me to be Jewish!

Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage? What did you do?

I consider myself relatively active and fit and have my dog Schnitzel, so before the pilgrimage, I was walking a good few hours a day with the dog…I can’t pretend that the terrain around North London is similar to the Scottish Highlands though!!!

What did you NOT do?

I did NOT practice walking carrying a heavy bag!!! Nor did I realise the reality of sleeping on concrete floors.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during this pilgrimage?

I found the reality of being away from my family tough. I missed home and, in a way, because the experience was so extraordinary, I missed being able to share it daily with my gang!!

Tell me about your experience on the series?

I had two weeks of life changing experiences! To have space and time to contemplate both the big and small things was such a luxury and although I was homesick and missed my family, I think I really did make the most of the opportunity. I absolutely adored the physical side of the programme. I loved walking, the sailing, the amazing adventures of where I would sleep each night and I treasure the friendships that I made.

What was your highlight?

The memories that stick out: our night in the Bothy, the experience at the monastery with the monks, and a personal favourite for me was our day walking across Mull. My father was a doctor on the Isle of Mull before I was born, and it is an extremely magical special place for him. To be able to see just a tiny corner of that island was immensely special.

What was the hardest part?

Besides the obvious homesickness, it was a real shame that the weather prevented us from some of the adventures that had been planned. It was hard to see the mountains around Ben Nevis, and not have the opportunity to explore!!! I was also away for two of the most special days in the Jewish calendar, so it was a little sad to be away from my family on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

What was the most emotional part of the pilgrimage for you?

There were emotional moments for me, sometimes at the most unexpected times!! I think we were all very emotionally honest and therefore vulnerable with each other… it’s often almost easier to be so with people you don’t know so well. Having to ask oneself questions and contemplating some of the Big Questions was emotional!

How did the weather affect your mood during the journey?

There were moments when it was a real shame the weather was quite so wet and grey… however, it didn’t really dampen (excuse the pun!!) our spirits and even made us giggle and laugh more! There were tantalising glimpses of some extraordinary views which tempted us to keep walking!

Did you see others behave differently during the harshest weather conditions?

I must say it brought out the best in people in that we all stuck together and helped each other and all these experiences in the pouring slippery rain bonded us even more!

Are you affiliated to any religion? If so, which?  Do you practice?

I am Jewish. I would say that as I have gotten older, my family and I have observed more and we bring our children up with a strong Jewish identity.

Has the experience changed or increased your faith?

The experience has made me question what I do believe and what it means to be Jewish. I am not sure if it has changed or confirmed any religious beliefs, but it has made me feel extremely proud of my Jewish faith and identity… I have spent a lot of my life whispering my Jewishness… slightly hiding it and this is the first time I have shouted about it.

Has the experience changed you in any way?

I’m not sure it has changed me as such, but it has enriched me for sure and it has given me six wonderful new friends!

You spent two weeks with a group of strangers. Did you learn anything new about yourself through the experience? Your strengths/weaknesses.

I realised I am somebody who will listen quietly. I see it as a strength and a weakness. I am a pretty tolerant person, and I was surprised at how easy I found it to be amongst six strangers for so long!

Based on your experience on the Pilgrimage, what might you do differently in the future?

Ask more questions? This was such a brilliant opportunity to ask questions. I realise more and more that not to know is OK, but not wanting to know is where the problems begin.

What did you learn about the other pilgrims’ faiths that you didn’t know before?

I loved our trip with Monty to the Sikh Temple. I loved the inclusivity and colours of the temple, and I loved the food.

What fascinated you about their beliefs?

The similarities between our faiths and also the differences.

Prior to this pilgrimage, had you ever found yourself discussing faith and religion with your contemporaries before?

I haven’t discussed faith and religion that much… having grown up in a very non-Jewish community, it was never really discussed and now that I do live within a relatively Jewish community, it’s a given. To be given the opportunity to chat about what it means to me to be Jewish was a real gift and inevitably one formalises one’s own view more when you’re challenged or questioned.

How did you get on with the other pilgrims?  Was it a bonding experience for you all?

It really was an extraordinary experience to have with these six other pilgrims. Shazia, Scarlett and I as the three women spent a lot of time together which was special, and I am holding on to all six pilgrims!

Have you stayed in touch with the other pilgrims?

Absolutely! The WhatsApp group is very active and even though Lawrence claims he’s silent on it, I know he reads it all!

Describe your feelings/emotions when you reached the end of the Pilgrimage and arrived in Iona?

It was as if Columba was with us, and the sun shone. It was utterly beautiful and having spent two weeks of intense walking and emotions, to reach this place was unbelievably special. There was a sense of gratitude to our friend St Columba… we had got to know him and suddenly there we were! It was immensely special and bittersweet as it was also the end of the journey and time to say goodbye.

Would you do it again?

In a heartbeat – but in the summer!

MONTY PANESAR

Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?

I wanted to spend time with people I didn’t know and learn about their faith. The unknown is something that excites me.

Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage? What did you do?

I did some extra walking to break in my walking boots. I go to the gym on a regular basis so I was quite fit, but I had to do extra reading to learn about the show and watched a few episodes.

Was there anything you wanted to do on the journey but didn’t manage to?

We didn’t walk Ben Nevis – I was really disappointed about that, but the weather wasn’t ideal for it.

Tell me about what you learnt on the series?

I learnt about other people’s faiths, to understand the similarities and differences between each one. I really enjoyed learning about St Columba and the impact he made to the people in Scotland.

What was the hardest part?

Working with my new team and respecting their views without having a huge argument! Also sleeping in a church and a bothy which was really cold but it made the group closer. We ended up having open conversations.

What was the most emotional part of pilgrimage for you?

When the other pilgrims went to the gurdwara with me and started to ask about my religion and beliefs, which is always hard to do in normal life. Talking about faith is not the coolest thing to chat about, but faith is such an important part of my life. So, the other pilgrims helped me to open up.

How did the weather affect your mood during the journey?

When it got cold and rained a lot, I was very moody! And the soggy sandwiches didn’t help when I was walking with Scarlett. I suppose the longer walks were good for us.

Did you see others behave differently during the harshest weather conditions?

Some of the pilgrims got impatient with the rain and walks. Especially at the beginning walking up the hills in foggy conditions but the scenery helped with its breath-taking views.

Are you affiliated to any religion? If so, which?  Do you practice?

I am a Sikh. I follow faith to help develop patience with success and failures in life. It helps me to keep a balanced perspective of life.

Has the experience changed or increased your faith?

The experience helped me to confirm my thoughts about my faith and belief system by speaking to this group of people about what I think about God, faith and how we can understand this concept in a logical world.

Has the experience changed you in any way?

There are a lot of people who believe in a faith, and it is ok to talk about your own faith with other people.  In fact, it is a cool thing to do because we are living in a world where saying I believe in god is actually a good thing to do.

You spent two weeks with a group of strangers. Did you learn anything new about yourself through the experience? Your strengths/weaknesses.

My strengths are that I can adapt in unknown environments and get to know new people. I am a people person, and it was good to see how I was able to get to know new people who I didn’t know anything about.  I tried to put myself in their shoes to understand how they really feel and really listen to them.

Based on your experience on the Pilgrimage, what might you do differently in the future?

I would do the pilgrimage in a hot country to see how the weather would affect my mood!

What did you learn about the other pilgrims’ faiths that you didn’t know before?

I learnt that Jewish people have a holy meal on Fridays, similar to Muslims who have Friday prayer. I also learnt that Paganism existed before Christianity and that it is OK not to believe in God but it’s important to have the conversations about God.

What fascinated you about their beliefs?

I was fascinated by how important each person’s faith was to them, even though they may not show it.

Prior to this pilgrimage, had you ever found yourself discussing faith and religion with your contemporaries before?

Only in a cricket dressing room, asking about my faith and why I look different from others! Obviously, it gets people to ask questions about faith and religion.

How did you get on with the other pilgrims?  Was it a bonding experience for you all?

I felt it was an amazing bonding experience for us, because we would talk about day-to-day activities and then go deeper into faith and what god means to us all. We were able to have open conversations without offending anyone.

Have you stayed in touch with the other pilgrims?

Yes, we stay in touch on our WhatsApp group. I am sure during the summer we will catch up at some point.

Describe your feelings/emotions when you reached the end of the Pilgrimage and arrived in Iona?

I appreciated how hard it must have been for Saint Columba to travel across to Scotland, especially in the 6th century. He didn’t have the technology that we had.

Would you do it again?

I would do it again yes.

NICK HEWER

Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?

Although I am essentially retired, I was intrigued at the thought of joining this year ‘s Pilgrimage programme. I suppose the key driver was the fact that I grew up in a Catholic family which had an Anglican father and was sent at a young age to a Jesuit boarding school at which Catholicism was a central theme to one’s life. As an agnostic, I was intrigued to find if I had any lingering beliefs in Christianity.

Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage? What did you do?

The one thing that made me hesitate was a concern that I would be unable to physically keep up with the main body of the participants. It was not only a question of age but also of the lack of general fitness under pinned by mild COPD.

What did you NOT do?

I regretted not having studied any history of Saint Columba in advance.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during this pilgrimage?

Surprisingly, I was able to manage the physical aspects of the two week walk albeit I found myself lagging behind the main group most of the time. The biggest problem was perhaps being some 40 years older than most of the participants and therefore slightly out of my depth when it came to modern culture. I was also in trouble when it came to sleeping on stone church floors.

What was your highlight?

My highlight was hearing the monks at the Benedictine monastery performing plainchant in Latin.

What was the hardest part?

The most difficult time was sleeping on the cold stone floor of a small church somewhere in Scotland. It was not only very cold, very hard but also a little disconcerting to wake up to find a camera practically joining you in your sleeping bag.

How did the weather affect your mood during the journey?

Although it rained for two weeks solid, this made no difference to my enjoyment of the magnificent scenery in the Scottish Highlands and indeed generally throughout the pilgrimage.

Did you see others behave differently during the harshest weather conditions?

I don’t think that the constant rain had any adverse effect on any member of the group principally because we all had the right equipment, and generally speaking, it was pretty warm.

Are you affiliated to any religion? If so, which?  Do you practice?

I was brought up as a Catholic, which I respect although I am no longer a practising Catholic.

If you don’t have any faith, are you atheist/agnostic? What helps you explain the world?

My own educated view of the world is that it was created and evolves today at the hands of nature and increasingly by man.

Has the experience changed or increased your faith?

No, though I am now more aware and increasingly thankful for the beauty and the strength of nature.

Has the experience changed you in any way?

No, although I hope that I will in the future be more forgiving of others with whom I am forced to spend an extended period of time.

You spent two weeks with a group of strangers. Did you learn anything new about yourself through the experience? Your strengths/weaknesses.

I learned that I am unreasonably critical of others.

Based on your experience on the Pilgrimage, what might you do differently in the future?

Be more understanding and less critical.

What did you learn about the other pilgrims’ faiths that you didn’t know before?

I was interested in Sikhism through Monty Panesar’s religion about which I knew nothing, but I have since made some initial investigations all of which show Sikhism in a very good light. At Monty’s invitation, I have visited the Sikh temple in Northampton and met the very impressive president and I’ve also seen the wonderful work that the Sikh community does for the homeless and hungry in Northampton and also at their food kitchen in the Strand in London.

How did you get on with the other pilgrims?  Was it a bonding experience for you all?

Although I was some 40 years older than many of the other pilgrims, and 20 years older than Lawrence,  we all rubbed along pretty well and there were no angry words although inevitably there were times when one prayed for a little less noise. I bonded principally with Monty, Louisa and Shazia, all of whom are by nature quite quiet and thoughtful though each is capable of wonderful dry humour.

Describe you’re your feelings/emotions when you reached the end of the Pilgrimage and arrived in Iona?

I was happy to finish the pilgrimage, though in all honesty it was sad to leave those I most liked in the pilgrim group, and importantly, those I liked and admired in the crew. I came away thankful that I have had the opportunity to test myself, to visit the Highlands and islands for the first time and I left with the certainty that I would return and spend more time. Although I failed to have any religious awakening I did for the first time, accept that surely nature must sit next to God if there is a God.

Would you do it again?

No unless it was on my own or with close friends.

SCARLETT MOFFATT

Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?

I enjoyed watching the previous series and I found it to be one of those rare programs where people really got a lot out of doing it. For me being brought up as Church of England but not being a practising Christian, I wanted to know how important religion was to me. I also always loved RE at school, and I wanted to know more about other religions and how religion played a part in other people’s lives.

Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage? What did you do?
What did you NOT do?

I did go on lots of walks to break in my walking boots, although I did get a few funny looks walking around my small village with my rambling sticks. Me and my boyfriend went to get all the equipment I would need, and I was the definition of ‘all the gear, no idea’ because I didn’t even know you had to be fitted for a back pack and oh my word, waterproof jackets aren’t always waterproof, I learnt that very quickly:  they could only withstand so many droplets of rain – a mistake I will never make again.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during this pilgrimage?

As well as the walking – because I am not a lover of walking up hills let me tell you – just the weather was a big challenge. Walking in the freezing cold rain and then getting to a hostel and never quite really warming up wasn’t fun. But for me the biggest challenge was being questioned on my religion. I think there’s a reason we are told never to discuss politics and religion and that’s because they’re such personal parts of our lives, so to be talking for 15 days non-stop about religion, it really makes you think about yourself in a different way.

Tell me about your experience on the series? What was your highlight?

The highlight for me was attending a mass in a cave, what a once in a life time opportunity that was. It’s something I will never ever forget.

Also meeting new people and them becoming friends. Also being invited into their lives:  going to the Sikh temple with Monty was such an amazing experience.

What was the hardest part?

Missing my family and boyfriend was actually the hardest part.   Because I was talking about religion I often found myself talking about love, and thinking how God helped me through hard times, so I felt like it made me appreciate them a lot more.

What was the most emotional part of pilgrimage for you?

For me it was hearing Will’s story of how religion gave his family hope when he nearly passed away as a child. I think Will is a true inspiration and a genuinely lovely bloke.

How did the weather affect your mood during the journey?

Nobody likes walking in the rain, especially when even your bone marrow is cold.

Did you see others behave differently during the harshest weather conditions?

I think we all tried to stay jolly and come together as a team.  We definitely helped each other out a lot.

Are you affiliated to any religion? If so, which?  Do you practice?

I am Church of England and I do now since the experience make more effort to pray.  I speak to my pappy about God more and I think it’s made me less embarrassed about being open about how religious I am. I think before the show I wouldn’t have dared speak about it on social media or anything but it’s a part of me and I’m proud of that.

You spent two weeks with a group of strangers. Did you learn anything new about yourself through the experience? Your strengths/weaknesses.

I learnt that my go-to emotion is tears.  When I couldn’t quite explain myself properly, I think I just cry as a release, so the show’s helped me grow up a lot and now I take a deep breath and put my feelings across in words more.

I love how the whole group is in a WhatsApp and Nick called me just yesterday actually asking how I was.  They’re a great bunch of people.

Based on your experience on the Pilgrimage, what might you do differently in the future?

Get a better waterproof jacket.

What did you learn about the other pilgrims’ faiths that you didn’t know before? What fascinated you about their beliefs?

I learnt so much and I think the big thing I learnt – whether it was about Sikhism, Judaism or Muslim beliefs – is that religion is so personal to people. And everyone is entitled to give themselves the label of a religion without feeling that they must go to their place of worship every day. As long as you know in your heart your beliefs, that’s all that matters.

Prior to this pilgrimage, had you ever found yourself discussing faith and religion with your contemporaries before?

Never. Politics and religion are always conversations I shy away from.

Did anything about this pilgrimage surprise you?

Just how religion plays different parts in people’s lives. I found living with monks very interesting, that they dedicated their whole life to their faith as they had a calling. I also assumed monks would act a certain way, but they were funnier than some stand-up comedians I’ve met, they had us laughing so much.

Describe your feelings/emotions when you reached the end of the Pilgrimage and arrived in Iona?

A sense of understanding, how it must have been for St Columba. It also felt like a sense of achievement that we had done it. And the question I wanted answering about how important religion is to me, was answered.

Would you do it again?

In a heartbeat… although I’d love it to be somewhere hot.

SHAZIA MIRZA

Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?

I thought it would be an interesting and unusual thing to do, with people that I wouldn’t normally meet in comedy. I was intrigued and curious and thought it might be an adventure walking across Ireland and Scotland whilst talking about religion at the same time as getting fat eating 11 Kit Kats a day. I thought this would be something unusual to do, so far away from comedy.

Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage? What did you do?

I got the appropriate clothes- all waterproof; lots of cheap knickers and ate loads of burgers; did some Pilates and shaved my legs, none of which helped. I thought I was fit and well-dressed enough for a Pilgrimage though.

What did you NOT do?

I did not talk to God, and ask him lots of questions about why I am doing this? And am I one of the chosen ones?

What was the biggest challenge you faced during this pilgrimage?

Coping with the non-stop rain and being constantly wet and damp.

Tell me about your experience on the series?

We went to some really interesting places and slept on floors of churches, slept in monasteries….

It was difficult at times, walking in the rain, and sleeping in cold places, but that’s what a pilgrimage is, and you just have to get on and endure it. It was great being with different people who have different beliefs though and talking to them about faith and religion so honestly and openly without them thinking I’m weird or a fanatic.

What was your highlight?

Staying in a monastery with monks was really special. It’s an experience I’ve never had before and will probably never have again. The monks were special and unusual, and I found their lives very interesting. Their dedication to God, was amazing. The one man I met had joined the monastery when he was 25, and he is now 75.  I really hope there’s a God waiting for him at the end of all that.

What was the hardest part?

The hardest part was staying in a bothy overnight which was freezing cold, on a stone cold floor, and having to walk ages to get there through bushes and treacherous and muddy land, downhill. That whole bothy experience really pushed me to the edge of discomfort.

What was the most emotional part of pilgrimage for you?

It was very emotional going to Derry and hearing stories from people about their time growing up in ‘The Troubles’. To hear a woman talk about how her husband was killed by the IRA was really shocking, sad and moving.

How did the weather affect your mood during the journey?

It rained most of the time, of course it did – it was Ireland and Scotland.  I was wet and damp most of the time, and it was hard to keep going, but what made it easy was being with the other celebrities. We laughed a lot and told each other stories and had really interesting and fun conversation and that made time pass quickly.

Did you see others behave differently during the harshest weather conditions?

Some people took it better than others. Some cried, some moaned, some got offensive, and some got hungry. We all reacted differently but one thing we all did was just get on with it. We all carried on, at various speeds but no one got a lift home.

Are you affiliated to any religion? If so, which?  Do you practice?

I’m Muslim. But that doesn’t mean I do everything all the time. So, I’m always trying to get better and do what I’m supposed to, but it’s easier to do what I’m not supposed to.

I love the smell of a bacon sandwich, but I‘ve never eaten one. I’m not supposed to, but I really shouldn’t be smelling one either.

Has the experience changed or increased your faith?

The experience taught me that you don’t actually need faith. You don’t need religion; you don’t need to believe in anything. It’s a choice, and sometimes a privilege, but it doesn’t mean that you live a better or worse life; it helps some people, and other people feel they don’t need it. That’s fine also, we all die in the end – that we know for sure, no matter what religion you are.

Has the experience changed you in any way?

It has made me more tolerant. People can believe or not believe whatever they want, it doesn’t affect you and it doesn’t change your life, so there is room for everyone and whatever they believe. It’s interesting to hear people’s beliefs and how they came to them. It made me see people for themselves rather than for what they believe.

You spent two weeks with a group of strangers. Did you learn anything new about yourself through the experience? Your strengths/weaknesses.

I learnt that if someone is talking too much or just talking rubbish, then get a Mars Bar and stand behind a tree on your own eating it. You don’t have to argue with them or be confrontational, just step out of it, it probably doesn’t matter.

Based on your experience on the Pilgrimage, what might you do differently in the future?

In future I would have no hesitation in going to a Mass service if I was passing by a church or popping into a Synagogue to pray if there was one near me. I see every religious place as a place for worship, no matter what religion you are, or what you believe; I would feel comfortable anywhere.

What did you learn about the other pilgrims’ faiths that you didn’t know before?

I didn’t know that in Judaism they don’t believe in the afterlife. I just assumed that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all believed in the afterlife, but they don’t.

What fascinated you about their beliefs?

That there are many ways of looking at the different aspects of religion. In Sikhism they believe in Oneness. In Judaism they believe in getting together on a Friday and eating altogether. In Christianity people get together and have mass and sing hymns. It’s all about how people come together in different ways for the same thing.

Prior to this pilgrimage, had you ever found yourself discussing faith and religion with your contemporaries before?

I have talked about faith and religion with other Muslims, but it was the first time I spoke so in depth about Islam to people of other faiths and of no faith. We talked about religion a lot, all day every day, very easily and comfortably. It was very freeing.

Did anything about this pilgrimage surprise you?

I’m surprised about how easy going and non- judgmental people really are about religion and faith. People are more accepting than you think they are. They really don’t mind what you are or what you choose to do in your spare time as long as you don’t force it on them.

How did you get on with the other pilgrims?  Was it a bonding experience for you all?

We had a really good laugh. Everyone was a strong character, everyone had strong opinions and was intelligent and interesting, so we were never bored and always had good banter. Everyone threw each other into each other’s religions, which was fun.

Have you stayed in touch with the other pilgrims?

We have a WhatsApp group where we keep in touch, some of them too much. Some people are messaging things in the middle of the night. Some miss each other more than others.

Describe your feelings/emotions when you reached the end of the Pilgrimage and arrived in Iona?

There was a sense of achievement that we had reached the end. We made it. We didn’t die. We were all still talking, and some of us had eaten so much we had put weight on and didn’t know how we were going to lose it.

Would you do it again?

Yes definitely. Maybe somewhere hotter, that would be nice, somewhere like Sri Lanka. But the experience I’d definitely like to repeat. It was a joy and a privilege.

WILL BAYLEY

Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?

I thought it would be a good physical and mental challenge and would push me to my limits. I thought it would also be interesting to learn about different faiths.

Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage?

I didn’t have much time to prepare as I had just returned from the Tokyo Paralympics.

What did you NOT do?

I did everything I wanted to do. I accomplished everything I set out to.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during this pilgrimage?

I think the biggest challenge was a mental one, having to be around people in such an intense environment the whole time.  When you’re tired, you end up disagreeing with people – I found that the hardest.

Tell me about your experience on the series?

I think it was a great experience. I learned a lot about myself, about all the different faiths, it was great!

What was your highlight?

This was probably the finish, getting to the end and realising I had achieved something incredible.

What was the hardest part?

The hardest part WAS getting on with people and making sure I was emotionally alright when I was so tired.

What was the most emotional part of pilgrimage for you?

Missing my family and my children was so hard, especially after being away from them for so long directly beforehand in Tokyo and then coming home and having to be away from them all over again.

How did the weather affect your mood during the journey?

The weather wasn’t great, so it did affect my mood, but most of the time we were happy.

Did you see others behave differently during the harshest weather conditions?

Yes, it was rainy and wet and cold, which affected everyone.  Plus, we were all so tired from the pilgrimage but it didn’t stop us from having a special experience.

Are you affiliated to any religion? If so, which?  Do you practice?

I’m not affiliated to any religion.

If you don’t have any faith, are you atheist/agnostic? What helps you explain the world?

I don’t really have a faith, but I believe that if you do good things then good things will happen to you.  I try to live by that mantra.

Has the experience changed you in any way?

I don’t think it has – I’ve always been determined and resilient and will continue to be so.

You spent two weeks with a group of strangers. Did you learn anything new about yourself through the experience? Your strengths/weaknesses.

My strength is definitely not giving up. I tried to lead the group in terms of determination and tried to tell them to be positive.  I like to be positive the whole time.

Based on your experience on the Pilgrimage, what might you do differently in the future?

I’m not sure I would do anything differently.  I would just continue to treat others as I wish to be treated and carry on doing what I already do.

What fascinated you about their beliefs?

I just found it all generally interesting.

Prior to this pilgrimage, had you ever found yourself discussing faith and religion with your contemporaries before?

I never discuss my faith or religion with anyone, not even my best friends.

How did you get on with the other pilgrims?  Was it a bonding experience for you all?

We all got on well. I bonded with some more than others, but I think that happens generally in life.

Have you stayed in touch with the other pilgrims?

We have a WhatsApp group, so we all stay in touch to see what everyone is up to.

Describe your feelings/emotions when you reached the end of the Pilgrimage and arrived in Iona?

I felt relieved when I reached the end, I just wanted to go home and see my family! But I felt like I had achieved something.

Would you do it again?

Yes definitely, it was a good experience and a great challenge.