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Episode 1

Simon Reeve follows in the footsteps of pilgrims across Britain. He starts at the mystical Holy Island, before he follows the route made famous by Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

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 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 get to heaven. Now more than half a million visitors make the crossing every year 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 Prince during a retelling of a Chaucerian tale.

Simon also meets a pilgrim who has carried a 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 pilgrimage was abruptly ended. Until then Britain's ultimate medieval pilgrimage destination was the site where Thomas Becket was murdered: Canterbury.

1 hour

Last on

Thu 14 Mar 2019 13:45

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Credits

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

Broadcasts

  • Tue 3 Dec 2013 21:00
  • Tue 3 Dec 2013 23:20
  • Mon 9 Dec 2013 23:20
  • Fri 31 Jan 2014 00:50
  • Thu 12 May 2016 15:45
  • Tue 30 May 2017 16:15
  • Mon 5 Mar 2018 15:50
  • Mon 5 Mar 2018 15:55
  • Thu 14 Mar 2019 13:45

Retracing footsteps

Retracing footsteps

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Simon Reeve around the world

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