Celebrity pilgrim BBC series across North Wales takes in Conwy villages

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Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales, follows wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan who places her faith in the natural world; Spencer Matthews, a former Made in Chelsea reality star, who was christened in the Church of England but is still searching for answers to life’s big questions; Sonali Shah, a journalist and TV presenter who grew up in a Jain family; comedian Eshaan Akbar, a lapsed Muslim; Amanda Lovett, a practising Catholic who was catapulted into the public eye in the first series of Traitors; actor Tom Rosenthal of Friday Night Dinner fame, who is areligious; and TV personality and former model Christine McGuinness, who is spiritual but doesn’t practise one particular faith.

North Wales Pioneer: Tom Rosenthal, Spencer Matthews, Amanda Lovett, Christine McGuiness, Eshaan Akbar, Sonali Shah and Michaela Strachan in front of St Winefride's Church, HolywellTom Rosenthal, Spencer Matthews, Amanda Lovett, Christine McGuiness, Eshaan Akbar, Sonali Shah and Michaela Strachan in front of St Winefride’s Church, Holywell (Image: CTVC)
On Good Friday, March 29, viewers watched the seven pilgrims begin their adventure at Flint Castle, on the bank of the Dee Estuary. They followed the coast path to Greenfield Valley, the official start of the 220km Pilgrim’s Way.

The pilgrims arrived at St Winefride’s Well, a pilgrim destination since the 8th century, which has a spring of water known for its healing properties.

They then headed for their first night’s accommodation in the farmlands of Llansannan, near Abergele, where they were introduced to the drop loo.

As dawn breaks, the celebrities crossed moorland before heading to the church dedicated to St Winefride in Gwytherin, a village in Conwy county. It’s here during a conversation with Eshaan, that a confused Spencer discovers that not only did Winefride once exist, but so did Jesus.

North Wales Pioneer: Tom Rosenthal, Spencer Matthews, Sonali Shah and Michaela StrachanTom Rosenthal, Spencer Matthews, Sonali Shah and Michaela Strachan (Image: BBC/CTVC)
The pilgrims followed the pilgrim path through the Hafodunos woods, until they reached the Llangernyw village and St Digain’s, a church celebrating a 5th century saint. To Michaela’s delight, in the churchyard is an ancient yew tree, said to be around 4,000 years old.

Friendships start to form and on the pilgrim path the next day, Christine, who’s autistic, tentatively asks Tom if he’s had an autism diagnosis. He confides she’s not the first to ask, and comments that a lot of things she says resonates with him.

The pilgrims then head for one of the oldest and most remote churches on the pilgrimage, St Celynnin. It sits in the foothills of the Carneddau range and to reach it they have a demanding climb up ‘Coffin path’, that’s been in use since at least the 6th century.

North Wales Pioneer: Michaela Strachan at Aber FallsMichaela Strachan at Aber Falls (Image: BBC/CTVC)
At the church they meet its priest Eryl Parry, who has an interest in Celtic Christianity. Rev Parry has strong links to North Wales; her parents are from Llanberis. She was ordained as a Pioneer Priest by the Bishop of Bangor in 2020 in Llangelynnin Old Church. 

Rev Parry led the pilgrims to a breath-taking viewing spot on the hillside and asked them to look out and imagine a ‘thin place’, where the sense of the barrier between earth and heaven is thinner.

This notion of a ‘thin place’ evoked some powerful responses, and later in the series becomes a theme for the pilgrims as their journey continues.

Tom is moved by the concept and feels he’s as close to heaven on earth that he’ll ever get, while Christine reveals that she has a fear of death. Eshaan is moved to tears when he feels a gust of wind which reminds him of praying at his mother’s grave.

North Wales Pioneer: Christine McGuiness, Sonali Shah, Spencer Matthews, Michaela Strachan and Eshaan Akbar on Yr WyddfaChristine McGuiness, Sonali Shah, Spencer Matthews, Michaela Strachan and Eshaan Akbar on Yr Wyddfa (Image: BBC/CTVC)
In episode two, on Friday, April 5, viewers will see the pilgrims head into Eryri National Park. The pilgrim path takes the group to one of Wales’ most famous natural wonders – Aber Falls.

The following day, the pilgrims detour to the island of Anglesey which is rich in pre-Christian history. The pilgrims split into two groups: Eshaan, Michaela and Spencer go to LLigwy Neolithic burial chamber while Tom, Christine, Amanda and Sonali head for an ancient lake, Llyn Cerrig Bach, to find out about recent pre-Christian finds, thought to have been gifted to the lake by druids. It has an enormous impact on Christine, as she learns about an ancient way of ‘letting go’ of the past.

On day six, the pilgrim path takes the celebrities past Yr Wyddfa, or Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales. The group rise to the challenge and attempt the summit. An old knee injury prevents Tom from joining them, but the rest head up on the Llanberis path. 

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Over dinner, Sonali talks about the holiest festival in the Jain calendar, and some of the pilgrims decide they will join her on a one day fast. It leads Eshaan to talk about his mother’s death and how it contributed to him vowing never to be a practising Muslim again.

Spencer relates the story of his brother Michael on Everest and describes how forgiveness became a significant part in letting go of the pain he felt around his brother’s death. 

Their final destination for the celebrities is Bardsey Island. It’s thought Celtic early Christian monks and hermits believed Bardsey was the end of the world, where the space between heaven and earth becomes thin, which made the island a place of guaranteed resurrection.

But crossing the Bardsey Sound is notoriously dangerous, and over the centuries, many pilgrims have drowned.

Watch Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales on BBC Two or via BBC iPlayer. 

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