Pilgrimages in a Motorhome: 7 ways to spiritualize your van life road trips

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If you have an interest in exploring the UK’s most sacred sites, how about turning your van life road trips into pilgrimages?

On this page we’ll share some of the stories of our ‘spiritual journeys’ in our motorhome to sacred sites in the UK such as Avebury, Canterbury, and Glastonbury, journeys that somehow seem more significant than everyday road trips.

We’ll look at 7 ways you can create a sense of the sacred for all your adventures. And we’ll dig deeper into the roots of Celtic Britain and try to uncover the meaning of stone circles, ley lines and labyrinths.

Plus, we’ll tell you about our book – out now – which we’ve called Meeting God in a Motorhome.

van life pilgrimages: stonehenge at sunrise
Image: Ankit Sood

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What is a van life pilgrimage?

Before hitting the road, let’s start by defining the word ‘pilgrimage’…

According to the University of Oxford a pilgrimage is…

A devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, often undertaken on foot or on horseback, toward a specific destination of significance.*

For centuries, pilgrimages have been taken along ancient routes to places that hold some kind of spiritual importance. As the quote says, this usually means travelling on foot (or horseback). But as vanlifers, we wanted to know if it was possible to follow some of these routes in our trusty old VW Cree.

How close could we follow the old paths? Could our journeys even be deemed ‘pilgrimage’ without the sweat and toil of a long and arduous trek? Would we be able to feel a sense of reverence whilst sitting in a motorhome? In other words, would these journeys feel any different to a ‘normal’ road trip?

This is what we found out…

Pilgrimages to the UK’s most sacred places

Without being devoted to any particular religion – though certainly not atheists – the pilgrimages we’ve taken so far have always involved connecting to nature, history, and some kind of ancient wisdom.

In Christian terms this ancient wisdom is said to come from God. Native Americans, such as the Cree Indians, might refer to it as Great Spirit or the Great Mystery. The Chinese might refer to it as The Tao, and Hindus, Brahman.

The thing is that if you’re able to get into a more receptive or reverent state – away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life – your consciousness expands. A sense of wonder begins to reveal itself inside and outside of yourself as you connect up to a Bigger Reality. A road trip becomes a spiritual quest.

But how do you get into this more reverent state of mind, especially when travelling in a campervan or motorhome?

Let’s explore 7 ways to turn road trips into pilgrimages…

pilgrimages in the UK: wooden carving of two pilgrims, near Canterbury, Kent
A wooden statue of two pilgrims on the way to Canterbury

7 Ways to Spiritualize Motorhome Road Trips

Let’s spend a moment and look at what goes into making a pilgrimage…

In poet, Jay Ramsey’s wonderful book, Places of Truth – Journeys into Sacred Wilderness, we were intrigued by his notion of seven stages to a pilgrimage. We’d like to summarize those seven stages here and add our own thoughts with respect to making a pilgrimage in an RV.

places of truth - journeys into the sacred wilderness by Jay Ramsay

Stage 1: feeling what it means to be a pilgrim and how different this is from just travelling from A to B

Jay says that if we are lost in our thoughts we are devoid of the immersive ‘felt-experience’ that a pilgrimage offers. This is the first challenge, if you like, of being a pilgrim. It’s about learning to be present on the journey so that you can feel the process rather than just intellectualize it. Otherwise, the pilgrimage will be experienced only retrospectively, when you look back at the photos you’ve taken.

When you’re amidst the standing stones at Avebury, or high up on Glastonbury Tor, or standing on St Cuthbert’s tiny hermitage on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, you owe it to yourself to be fully present.

Stage 2: reading the signs; seeing that journeys are entities in themselves and that they take on a life of their own

It’s become a well worn cliche now but it’s absolutely true: it’s all about the journey – not the destination.

In Paulo Coelho’s book, The Pilgrimage, he talks about ‘omens’ and being able to ‘see the signs’ along the route. It’s as if God/Great Spirit/The Tao is speaking to us in a more intuitive language, pointing out to us what we need to know about life – and ourselves.

the pilgrimage - paulo coelho
So, what do you notice along the way? Are your eyes open? Are you open to life showing you possible detours or unexplored avenues?

This is the thing about pilgrimages in a van; you can end up in some surprising places – and sometimes dead ends. Like life is trying to teach you something, which, of course, it is.

Stage 3: becoming aware of your companions

Who are you travelling with? What do these people mean to you? How did they come into your life? What gifts do they bring to your life? What lessons are you learning together on this journey?

On Armistice Day, 2018, at the Shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham, Norfolk, we witnessed the ritual lighting of the beacon to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

We stood in the village square amongst hundreds of others, listening to stories and poems about those who had sacrificed their lives. Their memories live on; they are still our companions.

Stage 4: the history and story you are witnessing (and its social, political, and spiritual implications)

What is the story behind the pilgrimage you are on?

When we walked to Canterbury Cathedral along the Pilgrim’s Way we dived deeply into the story of Thomas Beckett and his martyrdom. Come Evensong, we were fortunate enough to sit right by the candle that marks the place of his tomb before the reformation.

Canterbury Cathedral, destination of one of the many pilgrimages throughout the UK
One of the magnificent ceilings inside Canterbury Cathedral

Stage 5: losing your role as observer and becoming part of the landscape, part of the story

This is a major challenge on a pilgrimage. How do we viscerally connect to the landscape and environment and become part of the story? How do we move beyond merely witnessing a journey and become truly part of it?

What’s called for here is getting out of your head in order to cast aside your everyday worries, concerns, and inner dialogue so that you experience the eternal now. But how do you do that? Meditation? psychedelic drugs? Fasting? Yoga? This is where the pilgrimage itself serves as the ‘liminal space’ that creates the altered state within you.

We’ve experienced this more than once on our van life journeys: time slows down when you enter certain landscapes. We’ve noticed this most clearly on our road trips around the island of Anglesey and again on the Isle of Skye.

Stage 6: seeing with the eyes of spirit: appreciating the land, a place where heaven and earth meet

Like looking at and fully appreciating great works of art, to get the most from a pilgrimage you need to approach it in a certain way, an altered state if you like, similar to a state of reverie or daydream.

Appreciate every step you take – or every mile you drive – along this sacred land.

In this more ‘soul-conscious state’ you are free of the egoic mind with all its old personal stories and agendas. You are, instead, more connected to the bigger story of the pilgrimage itself. When the soul awakens on a pilgrimage you really do see with different eyes, as taught by Richard Rohr in his excellent book, The Naked Now – learning to see how the mystics see.

Stage 7: affirm that we are all God’s people (whatever we understand by that word)

Deep down we are all spiritual (even those who claim they’re not).

To us, spirituality is about refining one’s perception of reality, like polishing the mirror to get a clearer vision of the truth, free from old conditioning. Only then are we truly able to connect to the divine.

Getting out of the ‘everyday’ – not as a means of escape, but as a means of reconnecting to something eternal, both inside and outside of ourselves – is what pilgrimage is all about.

The labyrinth, at Chartres Cathedral in France
The labyrinth inside Chartres Cathedral, France. Image: Robert Lukeman

No time for a long pilgrimage?

Pilgrimages can take weeks to complete but if you don’t have the time have you considered a ‘micro-pilgrimage’?

It might be as simple as walking a labyrinth or walking attentively around a garden or church yard.

Hobo Trudi believes strongly in the benefits of ‘micro-pilgrimage’ and although purists would scoff at the notion, she insists that the lunch-break pilgrimage has a valid claim to the title.

And it can be a life saver, as she explains in her own words…

What is a micro-pilgrimage?

In my years of managing a care home, there were days when I genuinely worried that I would have a stroke at the desk. The pressure was constant, often without respite. Fool that I am, I allowed it to happen.

RELATED CONTENT: Why I quit my job and became a van-lifer

But I learned to take time out – really take time out – even if only for 15 minutes. I would switch off as best I could by going into the garden for a walk, and adopt the mindset of reverent mindfulness. A micro-pilgrimage. Time would stand still as I saw – really saw – what was around me, probably for the first time that day.

But how does that count as pilgrimage? I would sit and travel inwards, taking a micro-pilgrimage towards the calm centre of myself.

From here, I could see the creator in everything. I marvelled at the delicacy of a flower growing in the gutter. I considered each stone in surrounding buildings and gazed with childlike wonder at trees and the sound of birdsong, taking me into another realm.

A micro-pilgrimage to your calm centre is something that could come in useful when travelling in a campervan. It can help you remain open and receptive to the learnings you might receive when stuck in traffic or having taken a ‘wrong’ turn (if there is such a thing).

Read the stories of our pilgrimages

We hope you’ve enjoyed this page and that it has inspired you to think about ways to ‘spiritualize’ your van life travels.

Dive deeper into the pilgrimages we’ve made to sacred places in the UK such as…

The Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury Cathedral

Glastonbury and the Tor

Walsingham – England’s Nazareth

Or get the full stories of 7 different pilgrimages in our new ebook – Meeting God in a Motorhome

van life pilgrimages: meeting god in a motorhome ebook

For more ideas about how to make your journeys more epic, remember to check out the heroes journey in a motorhome.

Then explore Celtic spirituality in the British Isles and the mystery of ley lines, labyrinths and stone circles.

* Quote cited on https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/what-is-a-pilgrimage. The full quote is: “A devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, often undertaken on foot or on horseback, toward a specific destination of significance. It is an inherently transient experience, removing the participant from his or her home environment and identity. The means or motivations in undertaking a pilgrimage might vary, but the act, however performed, blends the physical and the spiritual into a unified experience.”

The featured thumbnail image used in the SEO title for this page is by Niklas Weiss

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