Why would anyone without faith walk the Camino?

... If you’re a celeb looking for a gig, it’s an opportunity to be on the telly

Neil Morrissey, Ed Byrne, Debbie McGee, Raphael Rowe, JJ Chalmers, the Rev Kate Bottley and Heather Small. Photograph: Brigid McFall

Neil Morrissey, Ed Byrne, Debbie McGee, Raphael Rowe, JJ Chalmers, the Rev Kate Bottley and Heather Small. Photograph: Brigid McFall

 

Now, how’s this for superior goading? “Kate has left the role that made her famous,” says a benevolent voice over on Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago (BBC Two, Friday, 9pm): “reviewing TV programmes from the comfort of her living room”.

Anyone unfamiliar with Kate Bottley, a priest in the Church of England, might imagine that she abandoned TV criticism for the priesthood, an increasingly obvious career path. But Bottley was ordained before she was a regular on Gogglebox.

Instead, she is now walking it like she talks it, one of seven people “in the public eye” conscripted to follow the 800km Camino de Santiago on foot, putting her faith to the test. Still, you can’t help but wonder what she would have made of the show.

Besides Heather Smalls, of M People, Bottley is one of few participants moving on up this Spanish pilgrimage route on apparently religious grounds. “I’m channelling my inner woman of steel,” says Vicar Trendy, “smashing the patriarchy with every step”.

The patriarchy, however, will not feel quite so rattled to see her some time later, breathless, volubly unhappy and complaining about the lack of a van, while making an extraordinary confession: “I didn’t actually think we’d be doing it.” If Bottley assumes that spiritually inclined reality TV is a scam, what kind of advertisement does she make for organised religion?

Why would anyone without faith undertake all this god-awful walking, she wonders, heathen to both fresh air and exercise. It’s a good question, to which other participants supply answers with varying levels of conviction: Neil Morrissey, a very lapsed Catholic, seeks a connection; the journalist Raphael Rowe, wrongfully imprisoned for 12 years, is hostile towards the symbolism of churches; and though the always engaging, bitterly agnostic comedian Ed Byrne just likes a good walk – perhaps the only pilgrim who does – he recognises the mission early as an exercise in group therapy.

A more persuasive answer still, for seven people in the public eye, is the opportunity to stay on television, in which their faith never wavers. You might turn your back on it, but TV is always ready to forgive you. Seeing is believing.