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'I found out my beliefs were much deeper than I'd realised'

The seven stars of BBC Two's Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago talk to Gemma Dunn about their experiences of Spain's ancient path

Strip celebrities of their everyday comforts and it's bound to make good TV. But add in two weeks of gruelling hikes and things start to get a little more interesting. Far from your run-of-the-mill reality set-up, BBC Two's new three-part travelogue series, Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago, invites seven famous faces to live as modern-day pilgrims as they set out on the famous Camino de Santiago.

With just over a fortnight to tackle this ancient path, actor Neil Morrissey, entertainer Debbie McGee, comedian Ed Byrne, singer Heather Small, Rev Kate Bottley, journalist Raphael Rowe and TV presenter JJ Chalmers journey through France and northern Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the shrine of St James.

The group - made up of a variety of faiths and beliefs - will live simply, staying in traditional hostels and carrying everything they need on their backs.

But will this spiritual journey change the way they think about themselves and their faith?

The results are in.

Neil Morrissey (55)

What were you hoping to experience on the pilgrimage?

I was looking forward to seeing new surroundings. I hadn't been to Galicia before, so was looking forward to seeing the area.

Did your journey impact on your own beliefs about faith?

Not really. If anything, it compounded my own humanism and atheism.

But I can recognise the sense of achievement people on the pilgrimage trail must feel.

Ed Byrne (45)

What were you hoping to experience on the pilgrimage?

I was looking forward to a decent walk. I'm a big fan of hiking, so I was looking forward to a bit of scenery.

What was the most surprising thing you learned?

There was one evening when myself, JJ and Neil made dinner for everyone. And, while we were chopping the spuds, Neil told us about his childhood. I knew he grew up in care, but I didn't realise just how rough his upbringing was.

Heather Small (53)

What were you hoping to experience on the pilgrimage?

I was just open and I always wanted to do a pilgrimage, so when I got the chance I thought I would learn something.

Did your journey impact on your own beliefs about faith?

I was a believer before I set off, but this trip made me realise my faith and beliefs were much stronger than I had realised.

Debbie McGee (59)

What were you hoping to experience on the pilgrimage?

I wanted to find out what previous pilgrims had found so enlightening.

What was the most surprising thing you learned?

I could rough it with more ease than I would have expected.

Rev Kate Bottley (43)

What were you hoping to experience on the trip?

I was hoping to meet great people, have conversations and find out more about myself.

Did your journey impact on your own beliefs about faith?

I was hoping to find a revelation, some sort of home on the Camino. But I didn't find it in the walk, I found it in the people next to me.

Raphael Rowe (49)

What were you hoping to experience on the pilgrimage?

I wanted to experience a challenge like I've never encountered before. The physical and mental ask of walking the Camino provides just that, and the restrictions, in terms of belongings and accommodation, made the adventure an exciting and bonding experience.

What was the most surprising thing you learned?

I was scared of what I might pick up along the way, religiously. But I was surprised. Okay, I didn't go into the chapels, or the churches, but I wasn't as fearful of discovering why people are so faithful or religious.

JJ Chalmers (29)

What were you hoping to experience on the pilgrimage?

It was an opportunity to go on an adventure. I've learned in life you say 'yes' and find out what the question is later - that's got me into the best and worst situations of my life, but it's got me into being here right now.

Did your journey impact on your own beliefs about faith?

It didn't change my beliefs, but if anything it confirmed to me that I will never be sure of what I truly believe - and that's all right.

Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago, BBC Two, Friday, 9pm

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