Pilgrimage enthusiasts rejoice as the highly anticipated sixth series makes its grand return to BBC Two and iPlayer this month. This time around, seven prominent figures from various faiths and backgrounds are set to embark on a contemporary pilgrimage along the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way. Spanning three captivating 60-minute episodes, ‘Pilgrimage: The Road to Wild Wales’ will document the spiritual expedition of these celebrity pilgrims, with Bardsey Island, renowned as the mythical ‘Island of 20,000 saints’, serving as their ultimate destination.

Leading the charge on this profound journey are esteemed personalities including wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan, who finds solace in the wonders of the natural world. Joining her is Spencer Matthews, a former reality TV luminary turned entrepreneur, who, despite being christened in the Church of England, remains on a quest for life’s deeper meanings. Also partaking in the pilgrimage is journalist and TV presenter Sonali Shah, raised in a Jain household; comedian Eshaan Akbar, a lapsed Muslim; Amanda Lovett, a devout Catholic recognized for her appearance on BBC’s ‘The Traitors’; actor Tom Rosenthal, famed for his role in Channel 4’s ‘Friday Night Dinner’, who identifies as ‘areligious’; and Christine McGuinness, TV personality and former model, who espouses spirituality without adhering to a specific faith.

Established in 2011, the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way is steeped in history, dotted with ancient churches dedicated to sixth and seventh-century saints. Beyond its religious significance, the route offers pilgrims a glimpse of breathtaking natural landscapes encompassing the majestic Eryri mountain ranges, also known as Snowdonia, and the picturesque North Wales coast path.

Embarking on a two-week journey by foot and bus, the seven celebrity pilgrims commence their 220km odyssey at Flint Castle, situated on the banks of the Dee Estuary. From there, they follow the coastal path, passing through Greenfield Valley en route to the official commencement of the pilgrim way.

Throughout their expedition, the pilgrims will encounter arduous trails and ascents as they traverse North Wales, navigating the foothills of awe-inspiring mountain ranges and scaling Yr Wyddfa, better known as Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales. Carrying their own backpacks, the pilgrims will lodge in modest accommodations ranging from caravans to climbers’ huts, all while indulging in an eco-retreat nestled within an ancient oak forest and a Buddhist meditation centre.

Their journey culminates at Bardsey Island, or Ynys Enlli, dubbed the ‘isle of currents’. Historically revered by early Christian monks and hermits, Bardsey was believed to mark the end of the world, where the boundary between heaven and earth blurred, promising resurrection. However, crossing the treacherous Bardsey Sound poses a formidable challenge. Will the celebrities overcome this perilous passage to successfully complete their transformative pilgrimage?

Reflecting on their decision to embark on this spiritual quest, the celebrity pilgrims shared their motivations:

Spencer Matthews, 35

“A pilgrimage is when you walk and sleep on church floors and eat dead rats and stuff, which I’m looking forward to. I’d be pretty low in the faith knowledge bracket, but I’m on a quest to broaden my knowledge and religious horizons. I’m an open mind, an open book. I want to learn about different faiths, cultures and religions and develop a firm understanding of my faith and how it can potentially play a larger role in my life.”

Christine McGuinness, 35

“Since my autism diagnosis, it’s really made me want to grab opportunities with both hands. I want to say yes to more things, things that I would always say no to, because I find socialising quite awkward. I don’t really like being pushed out of my comfort zone , but I’m realising more and more that I want to live, I want to do more things, I want to have good memories, I want to make friends, I want to learn more about other people, and the only way I can do that is by pushing myself a bit.”

Michaela Strachan, 57

“I think this pilgrimage is going to be really good for me. These days we all tend to live busy, complicated lives, and what I love about walking, is all you’ve got to think about is putting one foot in front of the other. I find it very cathartic, it’s my form of meditation. There’s a simplicity to just walking. Walking, thinking, taking time to connect with nature. I guess that’s my form of spiritual engagement.”

Amanda Lovett, 56

“They say that if you go on a pilgrimage, there’s a hope that by the end of it there will have been some sort of realisation, so I’m looking forward to finding mine! I do have a strong Catholic faith. I still pray, and I believe there’s an afterlife, but I’m excited to explore other people’s faiths and religions and how they view life. I’ve always been the mum, the gran, the worker, and I sort of forgot about me. I’ve done school runs for 32 years, and I’ve found my time now. I’m looking forward to learning about myself, digging deep and processing and seeing how I’ll evolve in the future.”

Eshaan Akbar, 39

“Why am I doing this pilgrimage? I’ll be honest, I think it’ll be fun, believe it or not. I’m not a great fan of walking without a purpose, I don’t like hikes, I don’t like going up and down different types of terrain, I don’t like sleeping in uncomfortable situations. My immigrant parents worked way too hard for me to start fetishizing poverty by choosing to make my life too difficult. I’m really looking forward to the experience but I can’t promise that I won’t moan for most of it.”

Sonali Shah, 43

“It felt like the opportunity of going on a pilgrimage like this came at the right time in my life. I grew up in a liberal Jain, East African Indian household in North-West London, where faith, race and culture were very intertwined. While I have always been comfortable with who I am and the way I live, in recent years, with my kids asking more questions, I realised that using the word agnostic hasn’t been quite right. I was also curious about what, if anything, I could add to the party as someone who was born into a faith that many people have never heard of.”

Tom Rosenthal, 36

“I’ve always been interested by anybody with any thoughts as to what it is we are all doing here. It’s fairly confusing and if I spend all my time watching Arsenal and the The Traitors I’m never going to find out. Dedicating myself to a pilgrimage for two weeks is a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon my spirituality and to make a TV show my grandmother will actually enjoy watching.”

Now into its sixth series, the critically acclaimed Pilgrimage series has previously been described as “The BBC’s best religious programming innovation” (Sunday Times), “thought provoking journey of faith” (Sun TV Mag), “heart-warming and uplifting TV” (TV Times), “gentle, thoughtful telly” (Radio Times) and “enlightening” (Daily Mail). A firm fixture in the BBC Easter schedule, The Herald added: “There are many traditions associated with Easter, and Pilgrimage is fast becoming one of them.”

Daisy Scalchi, BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics for television, says: “Pilgrimage is a series like no other; getting into the heart and soul of who we are and what makes life meaningful. All 7 pilgrims embraced the journey wholeheartedly, with extraordinary honesty and generosity towards one another. It’s inspiring, and thought-provoking, to watch.”

Caroline Matthews, Executive Producer and CEO, CTVC says: “This is one of the strongest series we’ve ever made – the pilgrims immersed themselves fully in the experience with extraordinary results. I echo what Christine said “Pilgrimage has been insane!”

Pilgrimage: The Road to Wild Wales (w/t) (3 x 60 minutes) is a CTVC production and has been commissioned by Daisy Scalchi, BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics for television. The series is Executive Produced by CTVC’s Caroline Matthews and Michele Kurland and Series Produced by Toni Williamson.