Pilgrim’s progress: Tourism drive promoting region’s ecclesiastical roots to cash in on religious history

Buildings such as St Ninian are set to boost the Lothian economy

Buildings such as St Ninian are set to boost the Lothian economy

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EDINBURGH’S rich religious history is set to be heavily promoted by a major new initiative expected to draw thousands of so-called pilgrim tourists to the area.

The move to boost faith tourism will see the Capital’s most famous ecclesiastical places mapped out on routes celebrating saints Margaret, Ninian and Cuthbert.

It is hoped backpackers, wealthy US tourists and Scandinavians – the groups identified as being the most likely to book pilgrimage-style tourism – will flock to the area.

Two of the six routes to be launched Scotland-wide take in locations from Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral to the world-famous Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian.

Devised by Dr Brian Fraser, director of Scotland’s Churches Trust, it is expected they will appeal to a worldwide audience and pump millions into the Lothian economy.

He said: “The journeys are an ancient concept with a modern twist and part of a global movement we’re seeing towards pilgrimage tourism. It’s already quite active in France, Spain and Scandinavia with them developing routes, so we thought ‘why not in Scotland?’

“You have all these folk going to Lourdes but we have a fantastic spiritual heritage and ancient buildings here which we should be promoting.

“Our market is not just for church members. It could appeal to backpackers in search of something spiritual, or retired people with an interest in ancient 
buildings.”

The organisation, which involves all Scotland’s Christian denominations, took the idea to Scottish Enterprise and was given funding to develop six pilot routes. The journeys, which appear on the website Pilgrim Journeys, can be broken down into stages that are designed to be completed on foot or by road.

Points of interest are explained in detail so visitors can learn the history of the various landmarks.

St Margaret’s journey starts at St Margaret’s Chapel at Edinburgh Castle before working out to the Forth, Queensferry, Dunfermline and St Andrews, on a route stretching 132 miles.

St Cuthbert’s path takes visitors on a 222-mile journey following the Roman route south to Dalkeith, Eskbank, on to Newbattle Abbey and stopping at the medieval churches of Borthwick and Crichton.

Fans of The Da Vinci Code can follow St Ninian’s path to Rosslyn Chapel, where European Christianity meets Celtic traditions in a cornucopia of sacred legend.

Figures released by the World Tourism Organisation show an estimated 300 to 330 million pilgrims visit the world’s key religious sites every year.

The project is backed by VisitScotland and Historic Scotland.

A VisitScotland spokesman said: “Religion and spirituality are linked closely with Scotland’s history and culture and, with visitors looking for a more authentic experience while on holiday, we are in an excellent position to capitalise on the millions of pounds that religious tourism is potentially worth to Scotland.”

A Historic Scotland spokeswoman said: “These inaugural Pilgrim Ways are the ideal way to connect with Edinburgh and the east’s rich religious heritage through the numerous churches, sacred places and pilgrim routes across the region. The wealth of local spiritual history make it ideally placed to attract new and existing visitors to these journeys.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com