Follow in the footsteps of the Kingdom’s ancient pilgrims

St Margaret's Pilgrim Journey ends at St Andrews Cathedral
St Margaret's Pilgrim Journey ends at St Andrews Cathedral

Between the 11th – 16th centuries, Fife attracted pilgrims from near and far to the shrines of St. Andrew and St. Margaret.

They followed their faith, in search of miracles, cures, forgiveness and adventure.

A network of ferries, bridges, wells, chapels and accommodation was built to facilitate the safe passage of these pilgrims.

As part of the Scottish Pilgrim Journeys, which aims to help people explore the country’s sacred places, the 70-mile route will link together many examples of the region’s medieval and pilgrim heritage, using Fife’s existing network of rights of way, paths and tracks to offer varied opportunities from a long distance route, supplemented by a number of shorter or circular routes.

The project will seek to uncover and tell the story of pilgrimage through imaginative interpretation and activities.

Stuart Beattie, director of the Scottish’s Church Trust, who oversees the Pilgrim Journeys, said: “The Journeys are based on the book written by the Rev Donald Smith.

“His book, ‘The Pilgrim Guide to Scotland’, is a introduction to Scotland’s major pilgrim routes, which covers every regionof Scotland and offers inclusive, simple devotional directions related to each journey.

“There are more than 500 churches along each of these different routes, and the journeys give the public access to these buildings that they might not have had before.

“The journey’s are also suitable for everyone. Yes they can walk them, but they can also travel along these routes by car and or they can cycle.

“Not everybody has the means or the ability to walk these kind of distances.”

In taking part in the pilgrimages, it’s a win-win situation for both those taking part and the churches as Stuart explains.

He said: “The public benefit from taking part in these sacred journey’s and by visiting the churches along the way, the building too benefit.

“We are opening up these places of worship to more people so it really is a win-win situation.”

Each journey follows the route of a particulat saint, and are based on true accounts.

“It helps to have prior knowledge of the saints whose route you are following,” Stuart continued.

“Following in their foootsteps is a very spiritual experience.”

Following the route of St Margaret, it starts not in the Kingdom, but within the castle walls of St Margaret’s chapel – the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.

Onwards to Fife, and the River Forth is profoundly connected with Margaret’s story. It’s here she arrived on the north shore as a storm tossed refugee.

Later she founded the Queen’s Ferry to give pilgrims safe passage to the shrine of St Andrew, whom she especially honoured as one of the first disciples.

At South Queensferry the Priory Church of St Mary of Mount Carmel marks the pilgrim hostel above the original landing stage.

Nowadays, boats leave from the pier at the other end of the village, from where you can sail to Inchcolm Island.

In Margaret’s time Dunfermline was the capital of Scotland and it was also her first home.

Amongst the atmospheric riches are the remains of the palace, the inspirational Benedictine Abbey founded by Margaret, and the Abbey Church where Robert the Bruce is buried.

And it’s from Dunfermline that St Margaret’s Pilgrim Way begins.

Heading inland towards Falkland, there’s the opportunity to visit Parish Churches in Kelty, Kinross, Milnathort and Scotlandwell before coming to a stop at Falkland Parish Church.

Taking the coastal route towards St Andrews, passes landmarks including Columba’s Parish Church in Burntisland, Kinghorn Parish Church, Kirkcaldy Old Parish Church and the tower of the former St Serf’s Church and Crail Parish Church as well as historic pilgrimage paths such as the Waterless Way at Ceres.

All routes end in front of the grand ruins of St Andrews Cathedral – a city whose original street layout was designed to cater for the constant influx of pilgrims from all across Europe.

For more on the journey, visit www.scotlandspilgrimjourneys.com.