Episode 1

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Episode 1 of 3

Duration: 1 hour

For centuries pilgrimage was one of the greatest adventures on earth, involving epic journeys across the country and around the world. This series sees Simon Reeve retrace the exciting adventures of our ancestors. He learns about the forgotten aspects of pilgrimage, including the vice, thrills and dangers that all awaited travellers. He explores the faith, the hopes, desires, and even the food that helped to keep medieval Britons and more recent travellers on the road.

Simon embarks on a 400 mile journey to Canterbury from the north of England, beginning at the mystical Holy Island, just off the rugged coast of Northumberland. To reach the island, one of the earliest sites of Christian pilgrimage in Britain, Simon follows a line of posts marking out a crossing that emerges from the North Sea at low tide.

Medieval Britons believed that journeys of endurance, suffering and sacrifice to a holy site would help them find a place in heaven. Now more than half a million visitors make the crossing every year, mostly by car, to enjoy both the rich history of the island and magnificent wilderness.

Travelling further south through England, Simon gets to try medieval food; marvels at the beauty and majesty of Lincoln Cathedral, once the tallest building on the planet; and joins thousands on an annual pilgrimage at a remote village in Norfolk.

Simon discovers the inspiration behind pilgrimage has not always been religious devotion and piety. Pilgrimage was often a chance for long-suffering peasants to get away from a life of drudgery and explore their land. Many were attracted to the road by the opportunity for adventure and an excuse to do a little sinning away from home.

Simon visits the area of London where brothels paid rent to the Bishop of Winchester while tempting passing pilgrims. He learns more about exquisite medieval travel souvenirs that have been discovered in the muddy banks of the Thames.

Heading out of the capital, Simon meets a group of Chaucer enthusiasts who walk the pilgrimage route made famous by the Canterbury Tales, and gets to play the part of a lovelorn Prince during a retelling of a Chaucerian tale.

Simon also meets a pilgrim who has carried a heavy life-size cross thousands of miles, and gets to see the 700-year-old cranium of a monk while staying at an ancient monastery.

The draw of relics for pilgrims was immense before Henry VIII's Reformation, when the golden age of pilgrim was abruptly ended. Until then Britain's ultimate medieval pilgrimage destination was the site where Thomas Becket was murdered: Canterbury.

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Music Played

27 items

Credits

Presenter
Simon Reeve
Executive Producer
David Upshal
Executive Producer
Tracey Gardiner
Producer
Chris Mitchell
Director
Chris Mitchell

Broadcasts

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