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The Athelstan Pilgrim Way is a new 100-mile walking and cycling route, linking all 36 historic churches in North Wiltshire Deanery. The route has been developed by the North Wiltshire Mission Area, a Church of England initiative in the Diocese of Bristol. The route takes in some of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the historic churches range from Bremilham, the smallest church in England, to Malmesbury Abbey, a popular visitor attraction.

The route takes its name from the first King of a united England, Athelstan, a Christian ruler who chose Malmesbury as his capital and was buried in Malmesbury Abbey after his death in 939AD. The church communities in the area continue a long tradition of Christian worship, celebrating their heritage and rural roots. As Revd Oliver Ross, the lead incumbent at Malmesbury Abbey, observes: ‘For some people, our buildings are the Good News’.

Good Friday walk, from Holy Cross Sherston to St Mary & St Ethelbert Luckington, 2022
LAUNCH EVENT with Tom Holland

30th June 2024

2pm – 3pm
Malmesbury Abbey

We’re delighted to announce that our Patron, author and broadcaster Tom Holland, will be giving a talk at our launch event, ‘On the Trail of the First King of England: Why Athelstan Deserves Pilgrims’. Tickets, priced £10, are available as part of the Athelstan1100 programme, which opens on the same weekend.

At 3.15pm in the Cloister Gardens, following Tom’s talk, there will be a walk from the Abbey to St John the Baptist, Brokenborough (30 mins each way along quiet roads). The walk is free to join, and refreshments will be provided at St John’s.

Tom writes:

It will be no secret to anyone who has listened to my podcast, ‘The Rest Is History’, that I championed Athelstan as the greatest of England’s monarchs: a man who forged it as a united kingdom, mighty in battle, a scholar, a legislator, a man convinced that he had been divinely appointed to serve his people. As the Patron for the Athelstan Pilgrim Way, I’m also delighted to champion a walking route across his kingdom of Wessex that seeks to remind us of his Christian sensibility and the religious culture of his time.


Is it possible that we are often seduced by a heritage culture of celebrating our churches simply as interesting buildings? Perhaps we need to recognise a profound theme that percolated through the time of Athelstan and the places significant to him: that of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage, and with it an embodied prayer life – both of which we know Athelstan pursued – were an expression of that profoundly felt need for spiritual succour and direction. We’ve lost something of the language for it today, but I’m excited as Patron to support this modern day endeavour to rediscover the significance, resonance and timbre of pilgrimage. Across Wiltshire field and Fosse, may following in his footsteps become pilgrimage indeed. 

The Fosse Way
Available from 30th June

Pick up your free Pilgrim Passport

And collect stamps as you go!

The Pilgrim Passport can be stamped at each church as the routes are launched (2024-2025). From 30th June, the opening routes are the Malmesbury & Upper Avon circuit, and the Gauzebrook circuit to the west. There will be 6 circular routes overall, with linking sections between them.

Walks can be started at any point along the routes and their stages can be tackled in any combination. Our printed and downloadable guides include detailed itineraries, with timings, OS Grid references, section maps, and advice for level of fitness, parking and refreshments. All routes are on public rights of way or minor roads, and all churches are open during the day (unless stated otherwise).

Where to start

Looking for a walking or cycling route between churches? Visit our free downloads here.


Questions about access? Where to contact someone about church services? Where to stay?


Would you like to give financially to support the APW? We’re grateful for all donations, big or small.

The 6 Benefices in the North Wiltshire Deanery are: Malmesbury & Upper Avon, Gauzebrook, Braydon Brook, Woodbridge, Draycot, and Upper Thames. Find out more about the Deanery’s wider ministry on the North Wiltshire Mission Area website:

The North Wiltshire Mission Area is administered by Malmesbury Abbey, Charity Number 1146631
The Abbey Office, Holloway, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 9BA

Website design by Sheona Beaumont, 2024;
Photographs by David & Anne Pope, Carole Britton, and Sheona Beaumont