Exploring Spirituality and Community through Pilgrimage in the Peak District

Peak Wesley Way is a new pilgrimage devised by the Peak Methodist Circuit from the Sheffield Methodist District to reconnect its chapels to the community and explore spirituality differently.

01 May 2024

In England's storied Peak District, an innovative new pilgrimage route is offering hikers the chance to experience the region's stunning landscapes while following in the footsteps of the travelling Methodist preachers who spread their faith across these hills and dales centuries ago.

The idea of a pilgrimage through the Peak District came from one of the Peak Methodist Circuit members - in the Sheffield Methodist District - as a way to use the beautiful local chapels to connect with people outside of their community.

As Alex Harrison, the Pilgrimage Manager explains, "Church is not always about going to regular Sunday services. Church is about connecting with people differently."

While not explicitly tracing any ancient holy path, the route connects a series of historic Methodist chapels, some of which have seen dwindling congregations in recent years. The Circuit Leadership Team was concerned about how long they would be able to retain them for regular worship and didn't want to see the chapels sold off for holiday lets or other uses. Instead, a plan was made to keep the church community alive.

The Peak Wesley Way, as the new long-distance trail is called, winds for around 50 miles from the town of Matlock to the start of the famous Pennine Way in the village of Edale. Both ends of the route have train stations for sustainable travel.

The route takes in both the white peak and the dark peak, the former is predominantly limestone, while the latter is gritstone. “We wanted to choose a route that got the most out of the Peak District, so it's very varied in terms of the scenery. It goes up along the famous edges, along woodland and valleys," adds Alex.

Wesley Peak Sheffield District Pilgrimage
Wesley Peak Sheffield District Pilgrimage

Each of the chapels along the route has camp beds, blankets and pillows ready for pilgrims to use. Pilgrims just need to bring personal items and sleeping bags. Each chapel also has basic kitchenette and shower facilities, including a microwave, toaster and kettle.

Pilgrims are encouraged to go out into the community and try the local pubs and cafes. Information for each place is available on the website, so pilgrims can plan or make bookings if they need to.

The circuit invested over £130,000 in preparing to launch the Peak Wesley Way, supported by a wide range of grant funders. For Alex, "The biggest investment was making some of the chapels ready – modernising to make them flexible and fit for pilgrims, local community groups and congregations, whilst maintaining their unique historic character."

The Peak Wesley Way is not a traditional pilgrimage in the sense of following in the footsteps of a particular saint's path. Alex adds, "We feel like we're following in the footsteps of people that have gone before us, spreading the word of God." The pilgrimage is seen as a way to explore spirituality and religion in different ways, while also connecting with the community and keeping the chapels in use.

Looking ahead, there are plans to extend the accessibility of the pilgrimage beyond just hiking. "We've always had the plan to introduce bike trails and alternative forms of access," says Alex.

In today's world, people are exploring spirituality and religion in different ways. The Peak Wesley Way is just one example of how communities are finding new ways to connect and explore their faith. The pilgrimage through the Peak District is a way to keep that community alive and thriving. "Church is not just a building. It's about the people and the community," concludes Alex.

For more information on the Peak Wesley Way, go here