Day 16 – The Pilgrims Way

I stayed overnight at Chilham and woke early to leave at about 8 am. I tried the church doors before going and found them locked, but a man appeared and said, ‘Wait there a few minutes. I’ll open up.’ He said he did this duty on his way to pick up the papers. He told me they are getting the clock repaired by the Cumbria Clock Company, which did Big Ben, and the church has to raise £48,000. I got my passport stamped.

The walk was partly on roads and partly over rolling farmland. One feature at the top of what I think was called ‘Cardiac Hill’ was a seat designed to portray the sound waves of people in the nearby village. There was also an audio button for some poetry and an explanation of the artwork. The seat had a good view but I had to press my ear to hear the audio as the wind was noisy. The seat was made from apple crates. Soon after, I went through a huge orchard area with thousands of apple crates.

I arrived at Harbledown and tried the water from St Thomas Becket’s Well. Some of the Pilgrims who went to Canterbury in medieval times went to be healed, and perhaps the well had healing powers. I arrived at Harbledown Church just as their Sunday morning service was nearing the end. I went in to enjoy the smell of incense and the last hymn. I also got my pilgrim’s passport stamped there. They invited me to the church hall for coffee and cake, and were very friendly and sent their greetings to the churches in Abingdon.

Soon after, I got a view towards the towers of Canterbury Cathedral. I stopped off at St Dunstan’s Church on the way and admired the Thomas Moore window in the Roper Chapel. The head of Sir Thomas Moore, having been spiked over London bridge, was buried in the Roper Chapel.

From there, the last part of the pilgrim way was through busy pedestrian streets to the cathedral where I got what I thought would be the last stamp. I was allowed in free as a result of the passport stamps.

I went in search of St Thomas Becket’s shrine. But just like St Swithun’s shrine at Winchester, it had been removed under the orders of King Henry VIII. Instead there was a single candle.

There were lots of stain glass windows showing people in beds being cured. Among them was a picture of pilgrims going to Canterbury. The man in front has crutches. I bought a little Becket badge as a souvenir like pilgrims used to do. Back then they would have been made in lead but not anymore.

I also visited St Martin’s Church about half a mile away. It is the oldest continually used church in the English speaking world and was founded about 580 AD. I only just got there in time as they closed at 3 pm and I got there with minutes to spare. The volunteer manning the church said it was more interesting than the cathedral. He showed me the roman walls and square door from around 400 AD, from a Roman building, that form the oldest part of the church. He also stamped by passbook with a final stamp, bigger than the Cathedral stamp.

I came home by train and bus in about 4 hours. The equivalent distance took me 16 days on foot.

Day 15 – The Pilgrims Way

My final night using Maidstone as a hub
It wasn’t a place I got to know well. On the corner of High Street as I left, I saw a plaque commemorating seven people who were burned for their faith near that Spot in 1577.

Today, with the sunshine and a seat upstairs, I enjoyed a great view from the bus. It felt like sightseeing with half-timbered buildings, village greens, churches and church barns, and a forest nature reserve.

I changed at Ashford. I aimed to get from stop L to stop J at County Square, thinking they’d be close together. I had a few minutes before the 666 bus (the one I missed yesterday after getting lost). The bus driver’s instructions for stop J weren’t clear. I found stops M and N, but not J. Eventually, with someone else’s help, I located it, but by then, I’d missed the 666 again. So, just like yesterday, I ended up taking the B bus. I then walked about a mile on a busy road to find the Pilgrim’s Way at Boughton Lees.

There, I found a beautiful open church called St.Christophers. It’s an old secular building converted into a church. Window ledges on both sides held jars of flowers, creating a pleasant aroma. The door kept swinging shut due to the wind, and unfortunately, when I left and closed it, it wouldn’t open again.

Continuing the way, I followed instructions from my guide and found the path leading to Canterbury. As I walked along a narrow path, two Germans approached me going the other way. They were confused, asking if this was the way to Canterbury. I pointed them in the right direction. They were the first people with the same destination but were on the secular North Downs Way.

The path led to another church at Boughton Aluph, which was closed. I sat on the rustic seat near the yew tree before following another path that led through a farmyard.

At the top of the hill, I was about to open a gate when a group of BMX motorbikers approached from the other side. They seemed friendly, and I let them pass through.

It was soon my turn to get confused. I had to cross a large field with crops planted on the guidebook’s footpath. I backtracked and walked all the way around the field. It had high fences and I was glad to find an exit. Today the walk felt more fiddly and there was no chance of getting into a fine meditative state.

I walked for a mile or so on a narrow path by a busy road with views across the Stour river.

At Godmersham, I found another church, which was open. I stamped my continuation pass sheet. I searched for a supposed relief picture of Thomas Becket, but couldn’t find it. There was only a photograph of one, so perhaps it had been removed. However, I did see a pilgrim tile similar to the one in Canterbury (possibly a reproduction).

Next to the river, I sat for a while in the churchyard before continuing my journey. The path followed what used to be the old Canterbury Road, running alongside a country
estate with a high wall and avenue of trees.

The path then led through a high gate into the grounds of Godmersham Park, and continued along a track that became Mountain Street, eventually ending in Chilham, where I’m staying tonight. It has lovely old buildings, and a carving of pilgrims.

From my window, I can see trees with pink blossom, filling the frames, as I type this one fingered on my phone. Tomorrow will be the last day and I’ll reach Canterbury, God willing. But it is the journey I enjoy not getting there.

Day 14 – The Pilgrims Way

  • I took the 10X bus to Harrietsham this morning. The windows were grimy with rain, so it was difficult to tell where we were, but with the help of Google Maps, I got off at the right stop, Church Lane. And I walked up to the church.

Four or five people were cutting the grass. I found that the church door was open, so I went in and had a look around. No pilgrims stamp. There wasn’t even a visitor’s book at first glance. The donation device was not attached. I found lots of piled books and one of them was the visitor’s book. I pulled it out, put it on the desk, and signed it. The previous person to sign had been in 2023. On leaving the church, a man with a clipboard said, ‘Oh, you’ve been looking around, have you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, just been in the church.’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s not really open, it’s only open so the boys can use the facilities if they need.’

I decided to cut a corner to get back on the Pilgrim’s Way. Unfortunately, by doing that, I missed the statue of a monk on a seat, called ‘Pilgrim Resting.’

The Way was sometimes a road and other times a mud track, running along the hillside. it was windy, and I came to a place they’d planted 2000 trees for the Millennium. The trees provided good shelter and made the wind more atmospheric.

Above Lenham, a chalk cross was carved into the hillside. It had been done in 1922 as a war memorial for Lenham.

I carried on walking, and had lunch when I felt hungry. A ferret like animal, brown with white face, drank from a puddle. I had some olives, which again fell over in the bag even though I’d taken precautions. So I had an oily bag again. I couldn’t find the cucumber and lettuce I thought I had in there. And I noticed someone else had left some litter around, and so I ate the olives and then was about to set off when I thought, um, maybe I should pick up the litter even if it isn’t mine. So I stabbed it with my stick and found this cucumber and lettuce inside. It was mine. I don’t know what that goes to prove.

I carried on walking, on and on and on, the sun chasing cloud shadows across the fields. I sang some choruses. I thought about the pilgrims in the past and whether they went to Canterbury because of Jesus or because of Thomas Becket. Or Both? On and on and on, sometimes being mindful and aware of the Spring, at other times daydreaming.

I passed a few people. There was a lady coming the other way just after I’d been through a particularly flooded bit and I said, ‘It’s a bit muddy there,’ and she said, pointing behind her, ‘And there’. I saw a young lady leading a Shetland pony. Then a man with a dog carrying a poo bag who laughed when I said hello, and then two young men overtook me running. They skated about over the mud as they ran by.

I decided not to go down to Charing, because it was quite a long walk today. 11 miles minimum, and I didn’t want too many diversions. But my legs weren’t feeling too bad. Sun was out some of the time and it was windy all of the time.

Only at Westwell, did I decide to cut down to the village, down a footpath through young leafy crops. The church had a steeple; most of them have towers. And it was open and had a stamp, so I put the first stamp on my overflow card.

From that church, I remember the floral Millennium window. And a slogan on a banner, ‘Love God, Serve Community, Grow Church’. They had an Alpha course and trip hazards, several extension leads.

Having returned up the hill, I took a while to be sure about the route. When I found the way, there were some lovely rolling green fields. Then a ruined church and a large lake.

At the lake, I saw these two women with their two children, throwing in a big weight on a string, fishing? The children smiled at me. There was a big sign, ‘Private no fishing.’

I then didn’t look at my guidebook properly, went the wrong way round the lake and added another mile or so to the route.

So I ended the day confused and flustered and I got a bus that went through most of the estates in Ashford before getting to Ashford International Station where I caught the train for Maidstone. The stations now all had memories from the Pilgrim’s Way. It was interesting to see the Lenham white cross from a distance.


Day 13 – The Pilgrims Way

There were four churches on the route today. The first was at Boxley. When I went in through the front door, I found myself in a tiny Norman church that has been turned into a porch. They had refreshments for pilgrims. The main church had lots of flower decorations after Easter. It also had “HOPE” written in huge letters at the front.

Although, the Pilgrims’ Way continued as a small road, my guidebook took me along parallel footpaths for the first part of the day. Round the churchyard where there was a tree growing into the wall. Then, through some trees where I was overtaken by two boys and their mum, all hand in hand. One of the boys said, “I hope you’re having a nice walk,” very politely. They left me behind because they were going faster. Also the route directions were not straightforward and I kept rechecking.

The first obstacle was a dual carriage way. I climbed some steps up to it, then walked along and came to a footbridge with a picture of a dancer on the side. A girl of 9 called Jade and her grandma were killed there in the year 2000. There had been two previous deaths of elderly people there. So, the community clubbed together and built the bridge.

The bridge took me to Detling whose church was closed. I carried on from there along a narrow path. When it opened up, I found myself crossing two large fields planted with new vines with protective plastic sheaths. Skylarks twittered over my head.

Then, I came to the next church in Thurnham. Also closed. So no stamp. But a lovely display of daffodils beside the path.

After another footpath and a picturesque double oast house, I rejoined the Pilgrims’ Way. It meandered from side to side, and rolled up and down. The hedgerows were fresh with Spring flowers: dandelions mostly, but also white and red dead-nettle, celandine, wild garlic, and shepherd’s purse. Bumblebees hovered about. The hedges were coming into leaf or blossom. And there was lots of birdsong. Not many cars either. So not bad.

I walked on and on without any change of route until I got to Hollingbourne where there was another oast house. Someone congratulated me on the walk and asked how I was getting on.

The church was open, and I got a stamp to complete my passport of 24 stamps. I’ll need a continuation sheet now as there’s no room left for Canterbury Cathedral.

My leg felt a bit better today but I thought I wouldn’t push it too much. Also I saw there was a bus going back to Maidstone in about a quarter of an hour. So, I sat on a seat and took off my plastic trousers and my support bandages. The bus went through Leeds. Not Leeds, Yorkshire, but Leeds of Leeds Castle.

Day 12 – The Pilgrim’s Way

Today’s walk was unlike any other on the Pilgrim’s Way. It began at a promontory over the winding River Medway. Across the river, was a sandy / muddy shore with reeds. Beside me, a long flight of steps led down to where there was once a ferry.

A large new bridge over the Medway took me to Peter’s Village. The village wasn’t in my outdated 2018 guidebook, and a lot of new housing had sprung up along the riverbank. Unsure if the route had changed significantly, I pressed on.

Consulting Google Maps, I discovered another version of the Pilgrim’s Way which seemed to cross the river at nearby Snodland where there used to be another ferry. My guidebook offered one version, perhaps the revised standard version, while the original authorised version was no longer possible.

I left a road to take a bridleway that looked correct. Unfortunately, the path beyond was blocked by a large pile of dumped asbestos in two spots, taking up most of the width.

Moving past that obstacle, I soon came upon a deserted church called St Mary’s at Burham. The village moved and when they built a new church further up, this one was closed. Surprisingly, it was open for visitors and well-maintained by volunteers. The interior was whitewashed with plain glass windows. Although services are no longer held here, it had a peaceful puritan atmosphere. Floor memorials from the 1700s were still in an unworn condition.

Feeling the urge to embrace the pilgrim spirit, I started singing ‘To be a Pilgrim.’ But upon hearing voices, I stopped. The voices came from people working nearby, not within the churchyard itself. So much for being valiant!!!

Following the paved and sometimes flooded bridleway, I walked past farmland on one side. The other side offered a curious mix of landscapes – horse pasture, an industrial area with a chemical plant, a solar farm and giant battery facility, and a water treatment works. For stretches, the land was flooded and it seemed the river was near, but I wouldn’t see the Medway again until I reached Aylesford.

Before Aylesford, I came across Aylesford Priory. It houses a priory and a handful of friars, with plenty of accommodation for retreats, conferences, and even the occasional funeral (which I witnessed on my way out). The priory has a large alter area, half indoors and half outdoors, with numerous outdoor benches that could seat large crowds for mass.

Inside a priory chapel, I lit a three day candle for £5. Dedicated to my mum after her recent 90th birthday. She is a Carmelite like the priory.

The priory has a long peace garden with flowers on both sides and tiles with the word “peace” written in hundreds of languages. Following that, I explored the rosary garden with some impressive pottery Stations of the Cross.

After collecting a pilgrims stamp at the reception, I crossed an ancient bridge over the Medway (no longer used for traffic) and took a picture of the picturesque town.

The train station turned out to be another three-quarters to a mile away and I was limping. My Achilles was quite sore, but with some rest, I’m hopeful for another walk tomorrow.

Day 11 – The Pilgrim’s Way

I caught a train and bus to get back to Wrotham where I left off yesterday. While waiting at the station, I heard an announcement about a train strike on the day I planned to return home. This means I need to adjust my schedule.

The bus was late, and people around me mentioned these buses didn’t always turn up due to staffing issues. Thankfully, it arrived about ten minutes behind schedule.

The path initially crossed the M20 motorway. Thankfully, my single lane road, still called Pilgrim’s Way, was not near the M20 for long. Here, rapeseed was in flower in some fields. A footpath paralleled the lane and had a good view across the Medway valley, and up into the hills. I spotted some goldfinches flitting about and after a couple of miles sat down and soaked up the sun (and snacked on some open olives and tomato before they made a mess of my haversack.)

As I continued, the road became a muddy track through a woodland area. There, I encountered a rather unpleasant sight – a fox carcass crawling with bluebottles. The smell was sweet and strong. The bluebottles took off like the spine evaporating

Reaching a point where a church was visible, I considered stopping for a visit. Although it was a half-mile detour, I decided to go for it. The path leading down was a change from the hedged tracks I’d been following most of the day. This section felt more open.

Upon reaching the church, I saw a couple of men cutting the grass. I tried the door, but it seemed stuck. Disappointed, I was about to head back when I remembered a mention of a famous person buried in the churchyard according to my guidebook. Determined to find something for my half mile detour, I ask one of the men. He kindly pointed me towards the grave hidden beneath a yew tree. He said it used to be even more concealed! It was the grave of the artist, Graham Sutherland, who lived nearby.

I gave the church door another try, and this time, it opened! The interior was quite amazing, boasting a high pulpit with a crown-like structure above it. I discovered this pulpit had been in Westminster Abbey for some years before being relocated here. The old-fashioned pews with opening and closing doors added interest. They even sold Pilgrim’s jam at the back (although I couldn’t take any with me).

Following the tradition mentioned on a brass plaque by the door, I offered a prayer for the church and its minister before leaving. I got a stamp in my passport. What a turnaround from a seemingly closed church!

The path continued with another climb across a ploughed field to a lane. There, a postbox – elaborately decorated with yarn for Easter – was being examined by a dad and three youngsters. I didn’t see many people on the path.

Back on the track, I reached White Horse Wood. While the picture in my guidebook showed a path with a beautiful arch of trees in full leaf, it wasn’t quite as complete yet. Worse was to come with the sight of chopped timber throughout the area. A sign explained it was due to Ash dieback disease. It is a real heartbreaker. Seeing all those fallen trees. Ash trees would have been there for medieval pilgrims, and now they are gone.

The cleared trees provided easier glimpses across the Medway valley as I continued. Finally, I reached the town of Upper Halling, perched on a white cliff. The descent to Lower Halling was next to a fenced off quarry. I got the train from there back to Maidstone.

Day 10 – The Pilgrim’s Way

I’m back on the Pilgrim’s Way. I took a break back in November, and restarted the journey today, on the first of April, which also happens to be Easter Monday. I restarted from Otford, which is near where I ended last time, and ended today at Wrotham.

Today, I walked about ten miles, with only six miles being on the Pilgrim’s Way itself. I had to walk to and from the Pilgrim’s Way.

Otford has a traffic roundabout with a duck pond in the middle, surrounded by a green verge. They have some big ducks, and there’s a duck house in the middle. Unfortunately, both the church and Sally’s Cake Emporium were closed, which were the two places I hoped to get a passport stamp for restarting the pilgrimage.

Leaving Otford, I got onto a road called Pilgrim’s Way East, where the North Downs Way separates after a short while. The road had no pavements and was fairly busy with cars, so I put on a hi-vis jacket for safety. After a couple of miles, I reached the village of Kemsing and took a diversion to see a lovely church with a wooden rood screen and bright alter. I left my name in the visitor’s book and got a passport stamp, and saw there’s someone else walking the way ahead of me.

The sun came out, and I sat on a bench and enjoyed the churchyard, with bird song and a tree snowy with blossom, despite traffic noise from a major road not far away.

From there, I took a footpath that led me back to the road, now called Pilgrims Way, which had become single track and was less busy.

It started raining, and my bag got wet, which seeped onto the book I’m reading, but it wasn’t too serious. The road vered off to the right and the Pilgrims Way then followed the North Downs Way ahead. I passed a couple of horses and then a family pushing a buggy, but it was very muddy. The family joked they regretted not bringing their off-road buggy.

I left the way at Wrotham, where I visited St. George’s church, which had a flag flying over the tower, a castle-like tower. Inside were lots of memorial brasses on the flagstones and a large Easter Garden display with figures. A man came to close the church and said that I was lucky to find it open because if it hadn’t been raining, he would have closed it earlier.

After that, I walked a mile or so to the station to catch a train to Maidstone, where I’m staying. Maidstone is a good hub as I can easily reach other places, and it’s fairly cheap. Overall, it was a good day despite feeling a bit sore in my ankle and knee. I met some friendly people, particularly in Wrotham.

Earthquake in Japan

The evening grew cold in the coldest of months.
They climbed hand in hand up unequal stairs
and lay beneath rafters, disturbed by small tremors –
never anticipating a big one.
All the years living above
uneven floors, lovers in their slow decline
with creaks echoed in their dreams.

The night grew darker, and clutching his gown,
he staggered out into an alleyway,
a sleepwalking figure who only
awoke when he couldn’t go back,
when he coughed back dust
clouds of plaster and wood.

The morning grew bright. Twisted beams
smouldered in ashes. The house lay
broken and burnt. “There!” he said.
A sniffer dog pawed at the rubble
where the building had been,
but not deep enough yet.

(written for Abingdon Share a poem – February 2024 – Theme – Catastrophe)

How Mist Falls

How mist falls on the football field,
wipes out the trees and bushes,
blots out the clubhouse
and the far-end goal.
The game is over:
the foul shouts,
sharp whistle,
mud thighs
have gone.

A great-tit chinks insistently.
A car door thuds. The throb
from a diesel engine rises:
the last of the away team
takes their spoil. No way
back. We scored first.
They scored twice.
They’ve taken

(written for Abingdon Share a poem – January 2024 theme – cold)

Looking Smug

I wanted to keep on the shepherd
dressing gown and banded tea towel
and be seen like that in the album,
not in my Sunday best like Rob
with his jacket and his covenantor badge
or Chris with her bow and pink tartan dress.

Rob discarded Joseph readily.
Chris cast aside the angel.
Rob’s hand on her shoulder
like the best of friends
for once, caught with their eyes closed.
‘How smug!’ I thought.

There would have been room –
off-centre as they stand, by the fence.
I was looking out from behind the curtain
with a feeling of -, a feeling of –
it’s coming back as I look at the picture again –
after the tears. At least I was not smug.

(written for Abingdon Share a Poem December 2023 – theme childhood)