How to navigate a route

Pilgrim guide





How to navigate a routeHow to navigate a route

Be a pilgrim – for free

Sign up to our mailing list, download routes and be part of our community.

Be a Pilgrim

Become a Giving Pilgrim

Upgrade to support the movement.

Learn more

Get Started

All great journeys begin with a single step

Start your journey

Get Started

All great journeys begin with a single step

Start your journey

How to navigate a pilgrimage route

Routes are so important: they guide pilgrims on the best path via holistic places toward a wonderful destination.

It is usually not enough to rely on way-marking on the ground. Little discs on wooden poles every few hundred metres are easily missed, and a footpath can be quickly confused with a well-used animal track. So navigation – taking personal responsibility for knowing where you are and which way to go – is vital. This can be via digital or paper maps, but we recommend digital, for reasons explained below.

Download a Walking Navigation App

There are a number of apps offering offline digital map navigation for smartphones. For the gold standard of mapping, we recommend apps that incorporate Ordnance Survey maps. The best of these is OutdoorActive, which will require a subscription of £24.99 per year, which allows you to browse the latest 1:25 and 1:50 maps (and larger scales too) for all of Britain, and import the GPX routes files from our website into the app (although only the route tracks, not the individual waypoints). It also has a SatNav-style voice guidance system for each route, and it also has audio guides integrated into the routes to introduce you to particular places in more detail, activated by the GPS, so your phone tells you where to go without needing to look at it.

You can also download KML files from the Google Maps on our website too which work with some applications. By subscribing, you will always have the latest OS Maps on your phone. You can search for locations, and draw and edit your own routes. Ordnance Survey also has its own official OS Maps website and app, but the app is not as feature-rich as OutdoorActive, and we find slightly harder to use.

There is another called Guru Maps, which uses Open Street Map maps – these show public footpaths, and are in some ways more detailed than OS Maps and constantly updated by the general public, but they are not as beautiful as Ordnance Survey maps and again don’t have all the features of OutdoorActive. You can download Guru Maps app for Apple iOS and Google Android here. Guru is free to download, but there’s a subscription to the Pro version if you download more than 15 routes. British Pilgrimage Trust Pilgrims get 30% off the Pro yearly subscription.

There is also a cheaper app called OsmAnd.

For Apple iOS on iPhones

Click for OutdoorActive app’s GPX instructions here. Guru Maps app step-by-step image-led instructions here. OS Maps and OsmAnd will also have their own instructions.

For Google Android on Android Smartphones

Go to the Google Play Store and search for ‘OutdoorActive’, ‘Guru Maps’, ‘OS Maps’ or ‘OsmAnd’. Install whichever app you choose, although we recommend OutdoorActive. And then follow their online instructions, e.g. these instructions for Guru Maps app.

How to load a GPX route from the BPT website

For downloading the GPX file, which will draw the route for you onto your mapping app, follow steps 1-5 in the iPhone guide displayed below.

Then, for Android, follow the steps under sub-menu ‘Importing KML/KPZ/GPX files’ for the Guru Maps app, and for Apple iOS, here.

  1. Go to a route page.
  2. Tap the ‘Download route file’ button.
  3. You will be directed to our website’s ‘Download Routes’ page.
  4. You need to fill in the form asking you various questions.
  5. Then once you have clicked the button ‘Send GPX to my email' button, go to your phone’s email browser, and open the ‘Your GPX Downloads’ email and click on one of the files, or press and hold finger on file icon to reveal pop-up menu in Step 6.
  6. If the file opens with GPX text displays, click the tray icon in top right corner and then find the mapping app you have downloaded onto your phone in order to open the file. You may need to click the ‘More’ tab and scroll down to the find your app.
  7. For clear step-by-step instructions for importing GPXs into OutdoorActive or Guru Maps click here for Apple iOS and here for Google Android, and for OS Maps, here.

For OS Maps, NB: clicking the tab ‘Offline Maps’ does not show your routes, even if they are imported – instead you must click ‘Routes’.

Click the More... button above the main route image and click Download route file
Or, click Download route file in the sidebar of the route's page

Complete the survey to answer a few questions and then enter your email address to receive the route file as an attachment to an email
Go to your phone’s email browser or email app, and open the ‘Your GPX Downloads’ email and click on one of the files, or press and hold finger on file icon to reveal pop-up menu in Step 6.

If you see this when you tap on the email attachment, click the tray icon in top right corner and then find the mapping app you have downloaded onto your phone in order to open the file. You may need to click the ‘More’ tab and scroll down to the find your app.
Digital Mapping

The fastest growing form of British pilgrimage mapping navigation is digital. That is because most people in the UK carry a smartphone, and most smartphones contain a GPS chip, and have apps to store maps offline, making your phone into a map that tells you where you are!

Imagine how pilgrims of the past dreamed of such a thing – it is Harry Potterishly good! And because the GPS chip works separately to the other parts of the phone, you don’t need mobile or data signal, and GPS still works fine almost everywhere – except caves, deep valleys, and certain churches (although for extreme mist-prone mountain walking you may need to combine with paper maps and compass as a backup).

The only peril is power. Watch the battery, as constantly checking your location is pretty draining. Best practice is to carry an external battery pack, and to turn your ‘cellular data’ setting off, because you don’t need 3G/4G/WiFi/Bluetooth to navigate via GPS (surprising as that is).

Even if you turn your phone onto Airplane Mode, the GPS still works, but the most convenient power-saving solution is to turn off WiFi and Bluetooth, leaving Cellular Data on, because then you can still receive phone calls but won’t receive notifications. And if you do run out of power, head for the pub or nearest church spire which should have electrical sockets for charging.

Some folks worry that smartphone mapping removes the freedom of pilgrim navigation – the sense of being able to roam innocently and get lost when needed. Others worry they will spend all their time looking at their phone. But we claim the very opposite. Knowing you can always find the path lets you roam off it with greater freedom. You can get lost in the woods, always knowing you can find your way back. And because the GPS chip and offline maps mean that you don’t need to be buzzed by your notifications, you can limit the use of your phone to just navigation and not be distracted by it.

Paper Maps

The most-recently traditional way to navigate is using paper sheet maps, produced by Ordnance Survey (OS). These are simply excellent maps. Buying (or borrowing) them, pondering them, and learning to use them is a worthwhile journey of its own. Maps are artworks, ink on wood-pulp, giving you an eagle’s view of the land. A compass helps a lot too. If you want to maintain this paper tradition of maps, get reading! Practice is essential. There are various navigation courses available, but nothing beats trying and getting lost.

To use paper maps, you will need all the individual maps required for the route you are following. In the 1:50,000 scale (the pink ‘Landranger’) each map costs £8. This scale is good enough to walk with, but has limitations – no marking of field margins, no marking of holy wells and springs, and no marking of the smaller paths. But in their favour, each Landranger map covers a wide area, so for a long route you will carry considerably fewer maps.

The 1:25,000 scale maps are twice as good! They show holy wells and springs, as well as field margins. These orange ‘Explorer’ maps cover a smaller area, so you need to carry more, or find new ones more frequently. But their information is much clearer and more detailed. Each map costs around £9. OS updates these maps yearly, to take into account new roads, diverted footpaths and closed pubs. So it is always worth getting the newest maps possible. Don’t rely on charity shop ones from the 1970s.

Using paper maps to navigate the pilgrimage routes described on this website is a manual task. You will have to copy them out by hand. Even if a pilgrim route is already marked on the OS map, it is always a good exercise to go over the whole thing slowly. Look carefully at the route markings on this website, and copy them in soft pencil onto your own paper maps. We have provided clear and accurate routes on the OS 1:50,000 scale, and also on Google satellite maps.

Using paper maps allows you to get a sense of the landscape in a very wide context. But be careful: if it rains, the details will get soggy,  and if it’s windy, you’ll certainly experience interference. You’ll find a plastic map protector a crucial addition…

Mix and Match

You may like to use computer and paper mapping: a compromise. You can import the GPX files from this website, then print out the routes in A4 pages. This could save lots of money, and prevent you from carrying maps for places you aren’t going to. You could also potentially laminate each A4 printout using office equipment, to make them wind and water proof.

Even if you wish to carry full paper maps, having access to OS Maps Online will allow you to go over the GPX routes provided by this website visualised on the newest 1:25,000 maps. This will give you a greater understanding of the route you will be walking. Familiarising yourself with the route before you walk it means you can worry less about navigation once you are on the path, and engage more with the land and holy places you encounter.

Further reading

Get started

All great journeys begin with a single step

Start your journey