Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Victoria Wilson

Michaela Strachan on how Pilgrimage helped her deal with loss

Pilgrimage North Wales Michaela Strachan.

Few know more about the great outdoors than Michaela Strachan, best known for hosting Springwatch, where she travels the UK bringing us stories on the natural world and its many different species. On Good Friday, the intrepid explorer joins six other celebrities from all faiths and walks of life in BBC Two's Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales.

The three-part series follows presenter Michaela and her fellow "pilgrims": reality TV star Spencer Matthews, actor Tom Rosenthal, comedian Eshaan Akbar, TV personality Christine McGuinness, The Traitors’ Amanda Lovett and broadcaster Sonali Shah as they journey along a 220km route that "embraces early Christian Celtic saints", finishing up at the fabled"‘Island of 20,000 saints", Bardsey Island, North Wales.

"We were all on a different journey, my journey was coping with loss," says Michaela, 57. "I'd had a really heartbreaking year last year with lots of people very close to me passing away including my best friend. Pilgrimage was my journey of being able to process that grief."

Here, Michaela tells us more about her walk on the wild side and why she’ll always have faith in Mother Nature…

How did you prepare for the pilgrimage?

"I live by Table Mountain in South Africa, so our social life is hiking. To prepare for Wales, I bought "The Pilgrim’s Way Walking" Guide Book, I watched YouTube videos and, the week before, friends invited me on a three-day hike. I felt emotionally fragile but it put me in the right frame of mind for taking on the pilgrimage."

Michaela with her fellow pilgrims: Christine McGuiness, Eshaan Akbar, Sonali Shah, Tom Rosenthal, Spencer Matthews and Amanda Lovett. (Image credit: BBC)

How would you describe your faith?

"I don't belong to an organised religion but if some people believe it helps them get through this often complex, complicated and confusing life, good for them. I find huge comfort and life’s 'answers' in Mother Nature; through acknowledging the fact we're one of many species within the natural world. That’s my main faith."

How did you find teaming up with other celebrities from all faiths and walks of life?

"I was intrigued about walking with people from different backgrounds and having deep conversations. I think all religions should be taught in schools, so we can respect and understand people better. None of us knew much about Sonali’s religion of Jainism and one person — no names mentioned — didn't really know much about Jesus!"

And they're off: Michaela and the pilgrims with bags packed ready to go. (Image credit: BBC)

What was your role within the group?

"I’d say I was the hiking leader, alongside Spencer. I'm certainly not comparing myself fitness-wise to Spencer; he’s about to do a 30-day marathon, so he’s super-fit. But I’m not someone that’s good with ‘faffing’; I just like to get on with things and keep moving forward."

All smiles: Spencer leads the group on their voyage of self-discovery. (Image credit: BBC)

Did the pilgrimage allow you to process your loss, particularly of your best friend?

"Definitely. I found taking two weeks out of your life to process grief through walking and talking to be extremely cathartic. I’d literally come straight from my best friend’s funeral to doing the pilgrimage, so it was still so raw. She had breast cancer, the same diagnosis that I’d been given, two years prior. I miss her greatly."

There’s a moment in the series where you become very tearful — what prompted that?

"We each had to take a pebble from a beach and write on it; either something you're trying to let go of or about somebody you were saying goodbye to. As I was writing, I could feel my eyes prickle then I really started to sob. I wasn’t comfortable breaking down on camera but it was very emotional."

Sounds tough…

"We all had different challenges on this trip. Amanda’s was the physical side of it, mine was the emotional side, Eshaan’s was the drop toilet! Recently diagnosed with autism, Christine had challenges every day just from being with us. But there were funny moments, too, mainly involving Tom, Eshaan and Spencer — they’re just hilarious."

What did you learn about yourself on the journey? 

"I discovered more about others than myself. While on the hike, I watched Christine's documentary Unmasking My Autism and Spencer's film Finding Michael, both incredible stories. I also watched The Traitors for the first time and became obsessed -—though I realised Amanda's not nearly as sweet as she pretends to be! Would I be a Traitor or a Faithful? Oh, I’m terrible at keeping secrets, so I’d be a useless traitor."

On top of the world: Michaela says the pilgrimage was a cathartic experience. (Image credit: BBC)

In the series, the pilgrims learn about the 'thin place', a physical place where heaven touches earth. Where was your thin place?

"My thin place was at the top of Mount Snowdon. Mountains are my place to go for peace; it’s my meditation. Following this route reminded me of how stunning that part of the country is and it’s made me want to explore more of the coastline."

Do you think your knowledge of the natural world helped on this show?

"People expect me to know everything about everything and I don't; I’ve fallen into wildlife telly really, so I'm very happy to put my hands up and say I'm not an expert. I’m the enthusiast, Chris Packham [Michaela’s Springwatch co-host] is the expert - he’ll remember the inside leg measurement of a pigeon. I just about remember what the bird’s called!"

Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales starts on Good Friday at 9pm on BBC Two.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.