Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? I listened to a documentary on the radio the other day and they were discussing pilgrimages – The Hajj (to Mecca) and The Camino de Santiago (in northern Spain), among others.

This made me wonder whether I had ever undertaken any pilgrimages. I decided that I had, kind of.

The one that first came to mind was a pilgrimage to Scotland I made for my 40th birthday.  Scotland is where my mum’s forebears came from and I had always hankered to visit. I decided it would be an ideal place to celebrate that significant birthday because I had been to a friend’s 40th  the year before and another mate had arranged one of those Strip-O-Grams for him. Considering there were mums and aunties present it was a little inappropriate, to say the least.

Anyway, I didn’t want the same thing happening at my 40th so I decided to go as far away as possible – Culloden, just outside Inverness, to be exact. This was something of a pilgrimage because it included a visit to the site of the famous Battle of Culloden, which I’d been interested in ever since seeing Peter Watkins’ 1964 docudrama about this tragic battle in which the British defeated and slaughtered the highland clans under Bonnie Prince Charlie.

A pilgrimage needs to be a journey that has some spiritual or moral significance and I think that fitted the bill.

I would count a visit to the famous Abbey Road studios in London and a stroll across the famous pedestrian crossing outside (the one featured on the cover of The Beatles album Abbey Road ) as another pilgrimage, of sorts.

I consider the trek my wife and I took many moons ago on in Nepal another pilgrimage and the one that involved the most actual walking. Real pilgrimages seem to involve going on foot.

We spent 12 days trudging in the Himalayas and high in an alpine valley near the border with Tibet we reached our ultimate destination, the hamlet of Kyanjin Gompa, where we visited and paid homage to the local Tibetan lama who lived not far from a glacier.

During our brief audience with him he told me how much he admired my sunglasses and I got the hint but didn’t want to part with them. Anyway, I promised to send him a pair as soon as I got home and I did although I never knew whether he got them or not. Yak mail is notoriously unreliable.

That was a pilgrimage, wasn’t it?

There have been others of varying degrees of significance but I’m wondering now if there’s something I have missed. I haven’t been to The Vatican yet so I should put that on the list and I would also like to make a pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal. I did think about the Camino de Santiago but that’s around 800kms. Yikes. I suppose I could drive it. Does that count?



I’m sure you would be bored to sobs if I recounted the highlights of my recent overseas holiday. I might regale you with the disasters instead?

It all began on the flight to Hong Kong, sitting next to the Russian version of a complete yobbo. This bloke was talking loudly on his mobile phone as we were taxiing for take-off. I threatened to call the cabin crew but he protested: “I am just calling my wife in Moscow.”

“Mate, I don’t care if you’re calling Vladimir bloody Putin, turn your phone off!” I insisted. He relented and then told his mates what a dickhead I was – I may not speak Russian but I got the gist. Then he proceeded to inhale nine cans of beer and 32 of those little packets of peanuts (I counted them) they give you on airplanes.

As we descended into Honkers he tried to make another phone call and I went ballistic so he waited until we were taxiing to the terminal to make his call, which was still against regulations. My wife and son sat in the row behind looking bemused.

In Hong Kong things went largely to plan and I think I may have actually had had less meltdowns than I normally do on vacation.

There was, however, that awful moment at the Macau Ferry terminal when I realised I had left my credit card with reception back at the hotel. After much effing and blinding I was able to get a cab to fetch it and we still made the ferry.

In Macau we were taken on a tour of the old city and I can’t remember ever being so hot. Our guide seemed to ignore my pleas for a drinks break and I got so overheated my eyeballs were perspiring.

When our host took us to a seaside Portuguese restaurant for lunch I managed one sardine and when a plate piled high with pork arrived it was all I could do not to vomit onto my placemat.

I recovered in time for the ride back to Kowloon on a jetfoil ferry. It wasn’t until we were in our seats that we realised the number 3 typhoon signal had been hoisted but by then it was too late. For the first half hour it was like being on the spin cycle in a washing machine.

After recovering from that ordeal we were treated to a banquet at Spring Moon restaurant at The Peninsula, Hong Kong’s swankiest hotel which is still there, thankfully, despite my son’s best efforts to burn the joint down.

When he went to the loo our boy tossed his napkin onto a candle without realising it. My wife and I were chatting and sipping Pu-erh tea when we noticed staff running towards us in panic.

By this stage the napkin was well alight and smoke was rising from the table but luckily they got it out before the fire alarm or sprinklers started up.

I could tell you about the good stuff too but that wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, would it?

Phil Brown