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Friday, March 27, 2020 8:58am ET by  


Interview with Adrian Chiles about Pilgrimage: The Trip to Istanbul

Coming to BBC Two on Friday 27 March

Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?

I’m always interested in faith, or lack thereof, and I liked the idea of the route. I was quite relaxed talking about faith, and I thought there'd be interesting things to learn about that, and discussions to have.

Have you ever taken part in anything like this before?

I’ve been to plenty of places of worship and done stuff on the theme of faith but no actual pilgrimage.

Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage? What did you do?

I read a short history of the Ottoman Empire

Have you ever walked this far before?

Many times; I do a lot of walking.

Did you find it challenging? 

There were a couple of strenuous days walking but it was relatively easy apart from that. The hard bit was packing and repacking my rucksack - organisation isn’t my strong suit. And sleeping with Dom had its challenges.

Tell me about your experience on the series?

It was a slog at times, physically and emotionally, but I learnt a fair bit about my attitude to faith. You can have profound thoughts at the time and think, this is life-changing, then you forget all about them. A simple thing, actually, was just how profound it was guiding Amar here, who was a brilliant athlete. He was the fastest walker. I was tripping up on stones more than he was. But as much as I rate myself as good with words, I just didn't have the vocabulary to adequately describe what was around me, be it something mundane, a city, or be it the countryside. It was harder when it was beautiful, because you thought: "I can't do this beauty justice with words."

What was your highlight?

There was a great peak in Bulgaria. It was a joy to be with Mim on that one. He’d never been up a mountain before. And there was a lunch with a load of Serbian priests which was pretty special but I drank too much plum brandy and memories are a bit hazy.

What was the hardest part?

The faith aspects I struggled with. I’m generally in favour of religion, as long as its practised moderately, tolerantly and with the milk of human kindness in full flow around it. Sadly the waypoints on this route mostly featured scenes of destruction wreaked in the name of one religion or another.

Are you affiliated to any religion?

Yes, Roman Catholic. I’m always practising.

Has the experience changed you in any way? 

Yes, I want to walk more and see more places.

Did you find the experience showed you how a diverse group can get on together through tolerance and friendship?

Well, I found I've got more in common with a liberal Muslim, Mim, for example, than I would probably have with a conservative Roman Catholic. It's where you are on that spectrum. Jesus said, the meek shall inherit the earth. But the meek have got very poor PR, because normally, when you get religious people on, you normally get the headbangers on. Nobody's interested in the mild ones. Us seven were all mild people, in religious terms, or irreligious terms, if you like. And I thought that might lack something when it came to the programme going out, because we lacked a headbanger. We lacked somebody who was dead set in their ways. Islam is the only way to god, or Christianity is the only way to god. Judaism is. We didn't have any of that, and I thought it might make it a bit meek, but in fact, I think the beauty of it is the meekness of it.

Have you stayed in touch with the other pilgrims?

Yes, on WhatsApp and I’m in touch regularly with Dom and Pauline.

Describe your feelings/emotions when you reached the end of the pilgrimage and arrived in Istanbul...

Relief, I suppose. It was a long time away. We went out on a high with the Sufis. Simply unforgettable.

Would you do it again? 

For me walking is more about solitude and peace so not sure if pilgrimaging is really for me.

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