A young boy is going out to sea for the first time. In the dawn light he and his father set off in ‘Pilgrim,’ the boat his great-grandfather built when he returned home from the war. The boy’s initial fear gradually abates, gone completely when a pod of dolphins come to play. His earlier fear is replaced by bravery and peace and love for the sea, the sky and the loving companionship of his father. Throughout the book there is a sense of family history and continuity, with links to the war service of past families, when the boat moves along in the water passing places with wartime names, Lone Pine, a reference to the WW1 Gallipoli campaign, and to Alamein, in the WW2 location of North Africa.
The illustrations are particularly striking with lino cuts framed in a black border and centred across double page spreads. These draw the reader into each scene. The artwork is atmospheric, established initially by the cover and the endpapers and contributing an almost spiritual sense to the active quietness of the early morning, as the water ripples out behind the boat and creatures are observed going about their day. Each page includes a smaller postage stamp size lino cut with various images including a medal, a feather, and woodworking tools. These contribute to aspects of the story.
The word ‘pilgrim’ is defined at the start of the book as ‘one who journeys esp long distance to some sacred place’.’ Here we see the boy travelling on his own pilgrimage to sea and back with his father and experiencing feelings of fear, bravery and a sense of peace. The story is a reflection and reminder of the journeys his predecessors may have taken to places such as Lone Pine and Alamein and that all pilgrims need courage and the support of their loved ones.