Pilgrimpace's Blog

a canterbury tale – 2

We woke with the ferociously noisy dawn chorus at 4.40am.  We packed our bedding and then ate first breakfast – porridge and coffee.  Fortified, we joined the Pilgrim’s Way again and made our way through Kings Wood, climbing down from the ridge into Chilham where we ate second breakfast (pork pie) and watched people driving to work (we were in no rush; our good progress the evening before meant we could take our time and enjoy the walk.



This pair by Chilham Castle were the only other pilgrims we encountered that day.

We made our way through overgrown paths and past acres of orchards in full bloom



as well as hop yards and one farm full of statics to house the fruit pickers.

Suddenly we were in the outskirts of Canterbury.  Turning off the High Street, we found the Cathedral



as I wrote last week, much of the Cathedral was closed for a Funeral, but we were able to visit the site of Thomas’s Shrine and also the Undercroft with the statue of Our Lady of Canterbury which is so palpably a place of prayer.

An interesting reflection for me is the difference between arriving in Canterbury and somewhere like Santiago in a country where there was no Reformation.  No one recognised us as pilgrims – which is not at all a complaint – although there is a great deal of pilgrim infrastructure and history still around.


After praying and lighting candles, we found a comfortable pub to celebrate our arrival, and then got the coach home.

not this time, but ...

not this time, but …

Thomas Becket

There is an excellent short introduction to St Thomas Becket by Eamon Duffy in The Guardian today here.  Why I’m making my very slow progress along the Pilgrims Way rather than any other long distance footpath.

pilgrims on the pilgrims way

Last year I wrote about pilgrim traces on the eastern section of the Pilgrims Way here.  I was not disappointed in what we encountered in this month’s section.  Indeed, for me, the journey took on more and more of the characteristics of a pilgrimage with every step I took towards Canterbury.

There were ancient traces, the most evocative being in Detling.  On this street

is a Tudor Gateway

behind which was a domus hospitur or refuge for pilgrims.  This information plaque tells all about it (click on the image to enlarge the text):

I was reminded of the ruinous medieval albergue Meenakshi and I rested outside of at Sigras on the Camino Ingles:

At tea time on our second day (and we’d been up since dawn, so it felt later) we arrived at the Vigo Inn.  This place is excellent and deserves support.  Andy and Val welcomed us with open arms and invited us to camp in their field.  They knew about the pilgrimage and valued pilgrims.


view from the tent as I went to sleep – in the morning mist meant there was no view

The route was reminiscent of the Caminos in Spain in that it goes through towns and villages on the way to Canterbury, mixed in with some beautiful walking.  On this walk through the world, there are some spectacular constructions including the Medway Bridge which has a dedicated footpath (there was a man with a big rucksack on the other side who we couldn’t catch).

For myself, there was a significant interior journey reflecting the outer one.  Much of this was to do with the continuing realisation that if I am to thrive in the ministry I live, I have to trust in and rely on God – again a deepening of hard won insights from the Camino.  On returning home, I found this quote from St Therese of Lisieux which sums so much of this up for me:

Teach us to let go of what is unnecessary.

As on the Camino I found a deepening devotion to St James, so on the Pilgrims Way I am finding a devotion to St Thomas Becket.  I am looking forward so much to the  arrival promised arrival in Canterbury Cathedral in the summer.

As readers of this blog will know, I believe that contemporary pilgrimage informs us how to live in the world we find ourselves in.  More reflections on this to follow.

pilgrims way report
May 14, 2012, 3:51 pm
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Roland and I met up at Oxted to continue the Pilgrims Way.  Last year we started in Winchester and got just under half way in 4 or 5 very enjoyable days.  Our plan was to walk to Canterbury in 17 or 18 mile stages and then to spend the rest of the week following the North Downs Way to the sea at Dover and Folkestone.

This post is a report on the walk – I’ll post something else with reflections on it as pilgrimage soon.

The weather meant our plans changed.  After two very dry years, it had been the wettest April on record and this carried on into May.  While not much drought fell on us as we walked, it rained hard at night and the ground was saturated.  There were several stages where liquid clay was deeper than walking boots and progress was under one mile an hour.  As on the Camino Ingles last October, I was extremely glad to have invested in a heavy pair of Meindl boots which meant my feet stayed dry.  I have a strong memory of one steep muddy hill where my feet were moving at great speed while I made precisely no progress up the hill.  Walking in these conditions with 20lb packs (we were camping) meant falling over a few times.  I contributed blood to the Pilgrims Way; Roland hurt his ankle badly.

We slowed down and accepted our plans would change.  We began by deciding we would be exhausted enough when we eventually reached Canterbury that the walk would end then.  However, Roland’s feet became very wet resulting in bad blisters and nails.  This combined with a bad fall meant he decided to call it a day at Charing.  I enjoyed the walk very much but returned home too. I have received enough to live out of for a while and I have the opportunity to finish off the last stage with Meenakshi in the summer.

I think we walked around 50 to 55 miles.  It was tough but good walking through beautiful scenery.  There is not a huge amount of infrastructure, particularly in terms of campsites, but there are reasonably frequent pubs and the trail descends into towns and villages when the chalk ridge is cut by rivers.  There is wonderful wildlife.  It is the time for spring wild flowers; we heard owls, foxes and wild boar.  It was quiet.  We passed a few day walkers and were passed by one or two people walking distance but with much lighter, non-camping packs.

We mainly camped at night.  A lack of people around to ask meant wild camping a couple of times – although going to bed and getting up with the light at this time of year meant we were ready for bed by mid afternoon!  We camped one night at the excellent Vigo Inn (named by a landlord who bought it with his prize from the Battle of Vigo) and a need to get dry meant walking into Chatham to stay at Medway Youth Hostel for a night.

medway youth hostel

After drying out and getting some sleep, I’m really anticipating finishing off the pilgrimage to Canterbury.  But there’s the important task first of mining the experience.

continuing the pilgrims way
May 12, 2012, 2:31 pm
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Just back, earlier than planned, from the Pilgrim’s Way.  An exhilarating, joyful, profound, difficult, exhausting few days walking with Roland from where we left off last year (posts from last year here).  Reports and reflection to come once I’ve rested, but here are some photographs:




On the Pilgrims’ Way, I found this small piece of glass embedded in the path.

It reminded us instantly of the stylized scallop shell symbol for the Camino de Santiago used in so much signage and publicity.

This photo is from the first week of the Camino de Levante and was taken recently by my friend John who is currently walking this route.  I am interested to see what he makes of it as it was my first Camino while he has walked many.  He has posted on it on his blog here.  I am drinking in his words and photos, often with a tear in my eye as I re-live my own experiences of such an intense and important time.  I am fascinated by the differences in the landscape due to the season; my memories are of brown stubble, he is walking through such greenness.  I am glad though that I did not meet other pilgrims giving up – that first week for me was hard enough.



the pilgrims’ way – pilgrim traces

The route we took was from Winchester towards Canterbury.  We got about half way, running out of time when we reached Oxted.  We’ll return there next year to finish the walk.

The Pilgrim’s Way runs from the Shrine of St Swithun to that of St Thomas a Becket.  There is some controversy over where the original route was, and indeed over whether there was ever a Pilgrims’ Way.  Hilaire Belloc tried to trace it in detail in The Old Road.  We decided it was best to avoid the busy roads, following the St Swithun’s Way from Winchester to Farnham (good strip maps and instructions available from Hampshire County Council here) and then joining the North Downs Way.

We found pilgrimage traces old and new.  When you pick up your wayfarers dole at St Cross Hospital in Winchester, there is a special register for pilgrims.  St Mary’s Church in Bentley has ancient crosses scratched into its pillars, supposedly by pilgrims:

Nearing the remarkable Watts Memorial Chapel, these crosses were set over the path:

Our paths were marked by pilgrim symbols.  The St Swithuns Way sign was a scallop shell.  Later we found this fellow, a good reminder of pilgrimage:

on the pilgrims’ way
May 21, 2011, 12:47 pm
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relaxing into walking

the hills keeping us honest

the sweet tang of wild strawberries

watercress beds

beech woods

on the outskirts of Guildford, a house ‘Pilgrim’s Corner’ opposite ‘Narnia’

the Proustian moment of strong tea, brewed outside, in a red plastic mug

fording the River Mole

a fox and cubs crossing the path in front

a peregrine

Roman snails – and woods full of ramsons

finding bivouac sites; the best is here, under yews, with Roland lighting the Kelly Kettle for breakfast coffee and porridge

running low on water; the National Trust refreshment site was all locked up.  They had left water in tubs for dogs.  One of these emptied into a bottle for boiling.  But a stockbroker-belt golf course meaning we couldn’t bivi where we’d hoped, so finding a pub –  a pint and clean water

no dog’s milk

climbing the steep steps up Box Hill.  the pub at the top was – bizarrely – a country and western bar.  not serving pints – but you could have two halves

the joy of chalk downlands

the pilgrims’ way
May 17, 2011, 4:41 pm
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I’m back from a few days walking the first half of the Pilgrims Way from Winchester towards Canterbury with Roland.  We walked somewhere between 75 and 80 miles, bivouacking and staying in hostels, before we ran out of time.  I’ll post a reflection when I get time in the next few days – during which I will tell you about the dog water.

I saw this question on the web today:

For those of you who are walkers, do you feel yourselves to be pilgrims or travellers?