TV blog

Pilgrimage With Simon Reeve: Retracing footsteps

Director and Producer

Travelling from Holy Island in Northumberland to Jerusalem. What an adventure!

That's what I thought when I got a call from Simon Reeve to join him on his latest travels for Pilgrimage With Simon Reeve.

What drove our ancestors to take on these epic journeys?

No doubt some of our intrepid ancestors would been just as excited by the thought of the adventure as well. Although we've got it easy today compared with them.

Pilgrims of the past had to travel by foot, on horseback or by boat on perilous sea crossings. All the while they had to avoid robbers, disease, hunger and exhaustion.

Health and safety guidelines wouldn't allow us to give Simon a taste of all these things but as a traveller himself he had always wanted to retrace the footsteps of our pilgrim ancestors.

Working with Simon was great fun. He's happy to throw himself into any situation and has that adventurer spirit which is shared by pilgrims of the past and present.

Neither of us are religious and I think when we set off on this journey, across the mud flats to Lindisfarne, we weren't sure what to expect or what we'd find.

Simon Reeve follows a line of posts marking out the Pilgrims' Crossing at low tide

It's raw nature out in the North Sea and we experienced some of the harshest filming conditions on the entire shoot, strong winds being the biggest factor and especially challenging for a sound recordist.

We had hoped to catch a lift with some local fishermen back to the mainland but the conditions made it too dangerous. Mind you looking through a camera while bobbing around isn't much fun.

The stunning beauty of Lindisfarne and that entire stretch of coastline more than makes up for its harsh climate.

No wonder our ancestors chose this spot to be closer to God.

Making a travel documentary means that you're constantly on the move. Just when you're settling in to one place, you're off to the next.

With long car, train and plane journeys the crew gets to know each other pretty well. For me that's one of the best things about being on the road but I draw the line at playing 'I spy'.

My colleague Damian O'Mahony took over directing the next leg of the journey to Rome but I joined up with Simon in Istanbul to film the final leg to Jerusalem.

I would recommend this journey to anyone, religious or not. So much of our own history and culture comes from this part of the world.

A particular highlight for me was meeting a group of Greek Orthodox monks at the Mar Saba monastery in the West Bank.

The Mar Saba monastery is built directly into the side of a mountain deep in the desert

Very few film crews are allowed inside and although we managed to get beyond the front gates we were unable to show you the extraordinary 1500-year-old chapel adorned with hundreds of skulls of monks, martyred in holy wars.

Behind a thick curtain we were shown another dark room packed with bones on which was placed more skulls.

We were then taken to the main chapel where we saw the partially preserved body of St Sabbas, a devout Christian who founded the monastery in the middle of the desert.

Although macabre it was actually very moving and although I would have loved to have shown you these sights, perhaps in hindsight some places are better left as sacred.

And so we finally made it to Jerusalem, but not with the blisters that have accompanied so many pilgrims who made it this far over the centuries.

It's an amazing place to film and a dream for directors. Lots of atmospheric, narrow streets with pilgrims from the major Abrahamic faiths all making their way to their sacred sites.

If like me you're a bit of a people watcher, then Jerusalem is a great place to be.

Our final destination here was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

On arrival priests scurried us into the sepulchre itself, allowing us just a few precious minutes to get the shots we needed while other visitors waited for their turn.

It suddenly dawned on me that I was standing on the spot where Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.

If the camera is a bit wobbly at this point it's because it's hard not to feel an enormous sense of awe at the significance of this spot. Fortunately Simon held his nerve better than me.

Chris Mitchell produced and directed episode one and episode three of Pilgrimage With Simon Reeve.

Pilgrimage With Simon Reeve is on Tuesday, 3 December at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD, and 11.20pm on BBC Two Scotland. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

More on Pilgrimage With Simon Reeve
BBC: Watch an interview with Simon Reeve
BBC News: The man who carries a 25kg cross everywhere
The Telegraph: Simon Reeve: A pilgrim's progress
The Daily Mail: Simon Reeve reveals how he was moved to tears making a series on ancient pilgrims

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Comments

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  • Comment number 37. Posted by David Upshal

    on 14 Jan 2014 15:16

    Hello to everyone who's taken the time to post comments on here. I'm the co-Executive Producer on the series and wanted to thank you for all the great feedback.

    As well as being delighted that so many people have enjoyed Simon's journey, I also want to take the opportunity to answer Jonathan Adam's point about the Palestinian Authority.

    I believe it arises from the point in episode 3 when Simon says: “Leaving Jaffa I head for Bethlehem, in the West Bank, a territory controlled the by Palestinian Authority”. The commentary was intended to describe Bethlehem specifically as being under the control of the Palestinian Authority and NOT the West Bank as a whole. Apologies to anyone who interpreted the line as meaning otherwise as this was not our intention.

  • Comment number 36. Posted by KiltedGreen

    on 9 Jan 2014 23:02

    I watched this because the subject matter interested me, but expected to be irritated endlessly by yet another presenter who had been to the seemingly compulsory BBC Presenter Mannerism School. I knew nothing about Simon Reeves.

    What I found what fascinating programme; beautifully, honestly, moving and sensitively presented that had me close to tears on many occasions.

    Thank you Simon especially and the rest of the team too for such a great suite of programmes. Oh, and can Simon please give lessons to all of the other BBC documentary presenters on how to do it right. Thanks. ..

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  • Comment number 35. Posted by Jonathan Adams

    on 3 Jan 2014 20:23

    The series was delightful. I found I was interested most in the sites I do not know – particularly Compostella, Constantinople, and Mar Saba.
    My delight does not indicate that I agreed with every aspect of the approach or every view expressed. I wasn't looking for agreement nor for my own views to be promulgated. What I found deeply interesting was someone else's intelligent exploration of the notion of pilgrimage and honest response to some renowned sites.
    I have, however, an adverse criticism which is small as a comment on a valuable series, but large and serious in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
    I share the excitement Simon felt as he approached his first crossing of the Israeli Separation Barrier, but his words included a dangerously inaccurate perception of the West Bank frequently voiced in Israel and not resisted by the Israeli government: that Palestinians now have their own country, so there is no need for change in the status of the West Bank.
    It might be too much to ask the programme to be clear that Simon was already in the West Bank before crossing the Separation Barrier, but is was quite unnecessary for him to give the seriously inaccurate and politically dangerous description of the West Bank as under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
    • Only Area A (3% of the West Bank) is under in any sense complete control of the PA;
    • there is no dispute at all that Area C (61%) is under compete control of the State of Israel; and
    • the remaining approx 36%, Area B, is under Israeli security control.
    Simon's words represented either sloppy research or a small triumph for those wish to exaggerate the benevolence of the Israeli policy of occupation.
    I write this as someone who has worked as a human rights monitor in the West Bank. I am deeply concerned that the future security of both Palestinians and of the people of the State of Israel are threatened by the Israeli policy of occupation and falsely comforting deceptions like that voiced (I imagine unwittingly) by Simon.

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  • Comment number 34. Posted by Sue pender

    on 22 Dec 2013 22:29

    Have just watched the 3 episodes of Pilgrimage.....please pass on my congratulations to Simon and the film crew It was absolutely brilliant......I am not a particularly religious person - but was so moved by Simons reactions to the Holy Land sites ...I too felt the effects from my armchair!!!!
    I felt part of his journeys and he somehow managed to convey so many deep emotions without seeming too schmaltzy or fake
    His journeys were entertaining and informative as well as encouraging others to take part in the whole Pilgrimage experience
    I had a smile on my face for so much of each programme
    Simon never over reacted to any strange discoveries or people and made it easy to understand,appreciate and enjoy each site
    He rolled the history / Geography/ and Religious aspects of each programme up into an enjoyable experience .......without feeling I was in a lecture
    The cinematography was amazing....I was out there with the camera in every city and site
    Well done Simon and crew....I have followed you in many travel series ....This was by far the best( made special because he admitted he was moved to tears.....even as a non believer)
    Best wishes
    Sue P

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  • Comment number 33. Posted by David John

    on 22 Dec 2013 17:10

    I really liked watching and seeing the pilgrimage routes across Europe,seeing episode two brought back loads of good memories,having done the pilgrimage from Lourdes in France V St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago in Spain back in 2010,taking 38 days in total.It was such a life changing event,I am hoping to go back for a second time in 2014 but will start at St Jean,to anyone thinking of doing the Camino,go for it you can do it,if you put your mind into It,walking the Camino is 98% in your head and the other 2% in your legs,dont make any excuses,I was 65 when I did It last,and a few years before that I had a double by pass op,Buen Camino

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  • Comment number 32. Posted by hondated

    on 21 Dec 2013 17:18

    Just want to say that having watched all three programmes that I have been left inspired to set off on my own " spiritual " journey.
    Well done Simon, Nick and colleagues.

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  • Comment number 31. Posted by Aqua

    on 21 Dec 2013 12:24

    Really enjoyed this series. As a non-believer, Simon, you showed remarkable respect and reverence on this subject. As a practicing Christian myself, I found the programme very moving, particularly your reaction to the people you met and places you visited. The places aren't necessarily important more so the Holy Ghost that bears witness that Jesus is the Christ. God bless you, Merry Christmas.

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  • Comment number 30. Posted by Clarissa

    on 21 Dec 2013 10:24

    Thoroughly enjoyable, fascinating, inspirational. Thank you, another BBC masterpiece! When is the series out on DVD?

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  • Comment number 29. Posted by jimmyboo

    on 21 Dec 2013 00:31

    Oh....if you like the music you may also like this...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYKUeZQbMF0

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  • Comment number 28. Posted by jimmyboo

    on 21 Dec 2013 00:21

    Always enjoy Simons travel programmes. The fact that he is not religious and was clearly moved at points made it all the more remarkable for this long lapsed catholic. He has the knack of describing his journeys in a very down to earth way... like you're listening to your mate down the pub saying what he sees. More please...

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