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Welcome – and thank you so much for clicking on my walking blog! I write about walking as a physical, mental and spiritual activity and hope you enjoy reading about my adventures along the way. If you click on the heading above a link to categorise the walks I have written about will appear on the right of the screen. Please also click here to subscribe to my blog. Alternatively just keep scrolling down.
You can follow my local walks in amongst other places, Harlington and St Albans, my long distance trails, such as The Ridgeway and The Pilgrims Way and walks in my spiritual home of Dorset. I hope that you find my comments helpful and can gain some inspiration to put on those walking boots and set off outside your front door. All your comments are particularly welcomed as this is a journey of discovery for me too. As Marcel Proust said “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us”.
Have fun and “Keep Trudgin…..”
Sometimes the last minute, least planned walks are the best ones – as this walk near Flitwick proved to be. I had arranged to meet a friend for a walk in the Harlington locality but been busy and not really planned anything when I found the Flitwick and District Heritage Group’s leaflet for the Two Moors Heritage Trail. A five minute train trip from Harlington took me to Flitwick Station and after grabbing a quick coffee in the town centre we wandered down to the start of the walk by the Old Flitwick Mill on Greenfield Road. Extensive works were being undertaken to it.
The traffic in Flitwick seemed unusually busy and it was great to be very quickly away from the cars and following the line of the River Flit through woods and pastures. Autumn has seemed so late this year . (I am not complaining – the day was unseasonably mild), but the trees were still hanging onto many of their leaves and although the weather was dry the ground had not yet reached that stage of being covered in the rich coloured crisp leaves which I so love.
Autumn, to me always feels like a season of memories and mellow nostalgia and I have a very special childhood memory of kicking through leaves with my Nana on Bernard’s Heath in St Albans. I will have to save that pleasure for a few more weeks when I imagine Sharpenhoe Clappers will be knee (or maybe, ankle) deep in beech leaves.
I berated myself for not having visited this area sooner. It is so near to where I live and difficult to believe that there was so much wildlife and farm animals just five minutes away from Flitwick. The highlight was the sight of a fox just peeking through the trees across the River Flit. We sat and watched each other for a good five minutes whilst I tried to get a good photograph of him. He did not seem in a hurry to be going anywhere.
This area is really very pretty. The river quite wide in places, twisting and turning and making gentle bubbling noises as I walked alongside it.
The walk continues following the site of the old Greenfield Mill and the old course of the River Flit until arriving opposite the 500 year old Church at Flitton with the de Grey mausoleum. Unfortunately the Church was locked, which was a pity because the mausoleum is said to be one of the most important in England. I will hopefully return when it is open sometime.
When walking through rural areas and pretty villages my friend and I often fantasise about living in some of the beautiful houses we pass. Again we indulged in this fantasy when walking through Flitton. I love the thatched cottages and the small terraced dwellings. The idea of living very simply is one that appeals to me and in a small dwelling I can imagine I could put into practice that William Morris saying:
We also liked some of the more modern houses that had been built with some distinctive features and character. For both of us the peace and quietness is attractive. Our conversation, however, then usually reverts to “how would we manage without a local shop?”; public transport?; train station? – and we count our blessings and are grateful for our current homes. Flitton does however still have a pub – The White Hart. – details here.
After leaving Flitton, we found ourselves in the area known as Flitton Moor, which I had not visited before. What a lovely surprise this was! There was a shelter and very interesting noticeboard giving a wealth of information about the various Wetland, Grassland, Trees, Woodland and Wildlife in this Local Nature Reserve.
The barn was named after local artist and technical illustrator Jack Crawley who had been a WW2 spitfire pilot and his story was also told in the exhibits.
I was particularly drawn to a printing of the moving writing of Clement Clifford who had lived in the area from 1915 onwards for many years giving his description of how he used to walk and fish in the area. The writing captured how a place can have a certain “spiritual quality” or indeed even a “spirit” itself. It was a fairly long piece of writing and so beautiful that I will try and obtain a copy of it. But at present internet searches have proved fruitless. In fact, I think I will probably return there with pen and paper and write out a copy. Here is just the heading.
A leaflet which was available in the shelter tells how the area used to be part of the common land extending from Maulden to Flitton. It was used for grazing and peat cutting.
Following the enclosure acts some of the land around Maulden was removed from common ownership. However, the people of Flitton resisted the enclosure and close on 200 local men threatened to riot. Apparently the intervention of the local vicar was needed to calm matters down! It does seem so strange to us nowadays to think of so many men living in the area. After enclosure in 1825 the area was drained, the river straightened and land turned over to arable usage. More recently it had been used by Silsoe College for agricultural experiments. Now it provided a wide range of habitats for a diverse selection of wildlife. However, as has been mentioned in many of my other posts…………………… I am still looking for a kingfisher!
The trail carries on to Ruxos Farm where there are the remains of a monastic grange and moat and then crosses the Maulden Road. A slightly less pretty part of the walk is traversed here over a field and turning left through part of the industrial estate before crossing back over the road and into the Site of Special Scientific Interest of Flitwick Moor. This was a pretty part of the walk across a wet woodland environment. I was surprised to read about the “famous” (!) medicinal “Flitwick Waters” which used to be produced from the springs rising here.
It is only a short walk back into the Town (Village?) centre from here where there are plenty of places to stop for refreshment if one wishes. This is an easy five mile walk; taking a couple of hours and a really pleasant way to spend part of a morning. It would be possible to extend the walk into the Georgian town of Ampthill if one wanted to visit more of the area. The terrain is flat. I would imagine that after heavy rain it would be pretty muddy but the day on which we walked was dry. Apart from the Mauden Road, there are no main roads to cross, the walk was easily accessible by public transport and the signposting was good…………… a world away from the hustle and bustle of Tescos!
I find it difficult to believe I have lived in Harlington eight years and never walked the Wood End Trail. The excellent P3 leaflet had been sitting in the study for a while and prompted by a couple of conversations with villagers and also having sight of some of the old maps of the area I decided it was time to put matters right.
This is a great two to three hour walk in the Harlington area, flat and easily accessible. However, the day I walked it there were a couple of missing footpath signs and overgrown areas and I was pleased that I had the maps and leaflet to hand. Full route details are on the leaflet (details below)
After passing Harlington Manor House, where Bunyan was interrogated by the local magistrate Francis Wingate, prior to his incarceration in Bedford Prison, I continued down Station Road. Unfortunately the footpath sign just after the bungalow on the right hand side had been broken down but I could see the gap in the hedge where it should have been and I continued across the newly ploughed field for a break in the hedge on the other side. The leaves were just starting to change to their glorious autumnal colours in the hedgerow.
I thought I could hear the sound of the River Flit as I reached the edge of the field; instead it was the buzzing of the electricity pylons! I always feel slightly spooked passing under pylons so I quickly cut through to the main A5120 road. The only unattractive part of this walk was crossing the road and it is probably not something I would have attempted with children.
However, it occurs to me that one could begin the circular walk in Westoning and avoid crossing the main road. Once over the road I walked along to the layby (another alternative parking place)and behind it found the old dairy lane. Although I could hear the M1 in the distance I managed to block the noise out of my head and quite soon found the solitude which I so enjoy. After a mile or so, and skirting the remnants of an elm hedge the pathway opens out onto a field. Over to the left is the area where the Jacobean Mansion, Wood End House, would have been situated. The Astrys owned the Wood End estate from the mid sixteenth century and lived there until 1766. Several of them made gifts to the local villages. Their mansion was reputedly destroyed in the late eighteenth century. I could see just one more modern house left in the area. Then upon turning left two further Victorian Cottages.
Just past the cottages I found my way blocked over the waymarked bridge. But it was easy to miss out the bridge and skirt around to the side of the obstacle. The bridge was covered in brambles (unfortunately I walked too late in the season for there to be any blackberries left).
After crossing the open field the walk became more sheltered as it approached Wood End, Westoning. I had often driven along the road heading towards Woburn and seen the Wood End sign but never been down that lane. One thing that I love about walking is that it gives me a whole new geographical perspective on where places are situated relative to each other. I met a horse in a fine coat in the field backing on to the Wood End houses.
After crossing the Woburn Road I joined the footpath again and crossed what the leaflet described as an “all weather racing track”. I don’t know what this is used for – maybe horses – and perhaps someone can enlighten me? There is a small spinney to negotiate here and another bridge over the River Flit before following the trackway along into Church Road Westoning. We have had such beautiful Autumn weather this year with little rain but the cows were lying down. An ominous sign of things to come perhaps?
I love this old area of Westoning and passed by St Mary Magdalene Church. Apparently this was mentioned under “Hertfordshire” in the Domesday Book. The trail continues along Church Road passing several substantial dwellings and a pretty thatched cottage and down a footpath between more modern houses but I used this point as a convenient break and went into the village to buy some provisions at the shop. It would also be a good stop off point for a pub lunch. There are two pubs in the village: The Chequers and The Bell.
Returning to the footpath I skirted around Westoning Stud Mews and enjoyed watching some horses being exercised. Just after this again the area around the footpath became overgrown. My way was blocked completely at one point but I was fortunate in being able to negotiate around the overgrown area.
After passing the Lady Astry Charity strips (the rent of which was left by Lady Astry to provide bread for widows in the area) the leaflet takes you briefly back along the lane and then follows a footpath back to Harlington Wood End. Rain was threatening (the cows were right) and so I took care crossing back over the A5120 and returned into Harlington along Westoning Road.
An enjoyable walk, although somewhat overgrown in places at this time of year. It was made much more interesting by the sight of the old maps showing how the area used to be. I felt solitude whilst walking in the fields and could almost imagine the mediaeval yeomen and sixteenth century aristocrats around me. I had not been out walking since completing my Pilgrims’ Way trek and so for me this was somewhere different to explore and stretch my legs.
Details: “Wood End Trail; Footpath Guide 3”. I obtained my copy of the leaflet from Harlington Heritage Trust. The leaflet also states that copies are available from the Parish Clerk. I cannot find a downloadable copy on the internet, but will update these notes should I become aware of one.
So I returned home to my Harlington home after walking the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury. I promised to post a few thoughts about how I felt returning and adjusting back to “normal” life and these few words are a short and temporary effort at doing that.
It is difficult to write because at present if I look back on my old blogs and pictures from a couple of weeks ago I am filled with that overwhelming sweet but sad nostalgic feeling that I get from looking at childhood pictures of my son. What a wonderful blessing he was (and is!) but how quickly did the time go. How, in so many ways, do I long to experience it all again. And yet, of course, I know that cannot be. So at present it hurts to look at the old posts, yet I know in time that I will be so glad I kept the record; both for myself and hopefully for my forthcoming grandchild to look at one day in the future – because it was quite an adventure!
Several things were not mentioned in my posts (and I will in time go back and amend them slightly, because I would like to expand them, and turn them into a book – my posts were just a precis of all I experienced). Most importantly that there were two occasions in particular when I got badly lost. I did not write this at the time because I knew that there were people back home worried about me. But on both occasions (one of which involved me walking an additional five miles), someone turned up to show me the way. At one stage I did know where I was (a long way off trail!) and I found myself on a road it was dangerous to walk along, so I flagged a lady down – her home happened to back onto the North Downs Way, so she gave me a lift back to safety. I did not tell her a lot about myself but amazingly she happened to tune in to the “Ramblings” programme and recognised me as the lady she had assisted and tracked me down and e mailed me. I was then able to thank her again properly!
I have for five years had faith in something “out there” much more powerful than myself, that I choose to call God. This pilgrimage has increased my faith a millionfold . Everytime I needed help someone turned up; I met people who told me inspirational stories and passed messages on to me; I met people I was able to listen to and talk to and hopefully inspire and help as well.
I felt a strong sense of history and that I really was travelling along old paths and in others’ footsteps (this has so far stayed with me); so has the strong sense and connection to the power of Nature. It may sound silly, but what complete joy and freedom I felt those days I was singing with the birds. I am much more comfortable in my own skin and in the nicest possible way, really do not care what others think of me, providing I am trying to progress spiritually. I feel more “authentic”.
On several occasions I was outside of what I thought was my comfort zone – crossing the Medway Bridge; negotiating fields of cattle alone; flagging a lady down; asking proprietors for help with Wi Fi and using different keys in different locks; facing dark woods alone; telling someone I had broken their curtain rail; I couldn’t get the bath water out the bath in another place; some navigating without a map! – but each time I faced the fear and got through it and that has increased my confidence no end.
I have noticed a difference in the passing of time. The days are going much quicker at home. I think that is because I was living very much in the present moment in my own company, whilst walking. The meditative quality of walking, particularly alone, day after day, concentrating on the route and all my surroundings and experiences really did take me to a state of connection. It is a wonderful way to live.
So at present I have trust, faith, lack of fear, and an increased physical fitness! I pray never to lose these (well, maybe the fitness a bit!). I think I am still processing some of the experience and I am certainly changed. It will be interesting to revisit these thoughts in another six months. I am sure that another adventure awaits but I have yet to feel led to the appropriate challenge. Despite the nostalgic feelings described above, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to mark my five years of recovery, to raise some money for Mencap and to have a wonderful home and husband to come back to in this beautiful village. Blackberry crumble in the oven!
I started the final day of this gratitude pilgrimage of walking the Pilgrims’ Way very early. I wanted to make the most of every second of this day.
A few miles out of Wye, I soon entered the 5,000 acre Kings Wood. Pilgrims would have congregated together before entering the wood so they could pass through the place in company as it was notorious for robbers and vagabonds. Today I was alone but for several roe deer and some pheasants. Until I smelt a delicious smell of cooking. It was coming from some lads who had cycled up from Wye.
Through gaps in the trees I had glorious views over Godmersham Park (where Jane Austen spent a lot of time – many of her novels are said to be inspired by “society” life here). I could see the Georgian Mansion in the distance. And then finally the moment I had heard about and been waiting for…….
A long, long way in the distance, but there it was, the place I had spent almost the last two weeks walking towards. You can just see it through a gap in the trees on the left.
This was my first “moment” of a very emotional day. Just as I was putting the tissue back in my pocket I received a phone call from a lady who calls me regularly and it reminded me what a blessing recovery is for both myself and others.
Hard on to the pretty village of Chilham. I didn’t have time to look closely at its castle and mansion and just took a quick picture by the statue.
And on up to Old Wives Lees. I had read the names of these villages many times over and it was great to finally pass through them.
The Pilgrims’ Way went on past the early Iron Age hill fort of Bigbury Camp, I reached Chartham Hatch and finally Harbledown. This was nicknamed “Bob-up-and-down” in Chaucer’s “Manciple’s Tale Prologue”……”Ther stant a litel toun Which that y-clepped is Bobbe-up-and-down, Under the Blee in Caunterbury weye.”
I had been making good time and somehow didn’t want to enter back into “reality”. I found myself walking up a lane right alongside the noisy A2. I realised then how close I was to Canterbury and stopped to appreciate the lane and birdsong and the leaves beneath my feet. Almost two weeks had passed since the start of the walk – although the weather had been so summery it was now definitely Autumn; I had witnessed the changing of the seasons at firsthand. The noise of the road didn’t bother me. I switched off and took in the ground beneath me.
And so, to leave the rural landscape I had been immersed in for so long and start to enter the built up area of Canterbury through St Dunstan’s. There is so much history to read around The Well of St Thomas, the leper hospital, and the church of St Nicholas on approaching Canterbury and also Canterbury itself that there is not space to post about it here. I would recommend C J Wright’s Book “A guide to the Pilgrims’Way and North Downs’ Way” . Just as I was walking along the approach road to the centre of the City, who should pull up alongside me but T offering me a lift (he had made good time from Harlington). I declined the offer!
I went into St Dunstan’s Church and stayed a while and prayed. I took off my socks and boots.
Walking the last half mile to the Cathedral I was oblivious of the people around. I turned down Mercery Lane, saw the Cathedral Gate and sobbed in Gratitude.
I was very fortunate to arrive in time for Evensong, which I attended with T. I felt very privileged to be sitting so near to the Choir. The music was beautiful. I was mentioned by name at the start of the service, which I had not expected. The general hymn which was sung was “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, forgive our foolish ways”. This is the hymn which Pearl, our organist at St Mary’s Harlington played at my request when I first took Holy Communion. (T tells me that when he arrived the busker outside the Cathedral was singing “Desperado” by “The Eagles” (the words to which I had stuck up on my bedroom wall as a teenager)).
After the service Canon Clare (who I had met before) took me to Chapel of Our Lady Undercroft. We chatted about the pilgrimage and prayed together. I felt incredibly humbled and privileged.
And so it finished. I haven’t quoted Hardy yet (except on the “Ramblings” programme !) and I am rather obsessed with him! So it must be about time:
“Well, it came to an end; Quite silently – stopped without a jerk; Better close no prevision could lend; Working out as One planned it should work, Ere it came to an end.” (T Hardy)
And it seemed fitting to end with this:
“The people who are in the mad rush today, increasing their wants, senselessly suppose that they are enhancing their importance and real knowledge. A day will come when they will exclaim: “What have we been doing?” One after another many civilizations have risen, flourished, declined and disappeared, and in spite of their big boast of human progress, I am inclined to ask: “To what end all this? What’s the purpose? Darwin’s contemporary, Wallace, has said that despite the various discoveries and inventions during the last fifty years the moral height of man hasn’t increased even an inch. Tolstoy has said the same thing. Jesus, Buddha, Prophet Mohammed, all have said the same thing”. Mahatma Gandhi.
During the next week I will be posting my reflections on my pilgrimage and how I have adapted back into daily life. To anyone who has not yet sponsored me and wishes to do so can I please remind you of my Just Giving link (click here). The Mencap Summer Club is wonderful fun for the children, helps the parents and gives great experience to the teenage volunteers. I have been so privileged to do just a little to raise some money for this charity.
I thank everyone who has read my posts, commented on them, phoned me, sent me texts, walked with me, given me gifts, donated to Mencap, to Derek Bright of Walk Awhile (my guardian angel for the last two weeks), to James for his technical expertise, to those who have remembered me in their prayers – you have all carried me. God Bless you all xx
For Trevor: My Heart, My Soul and My Blood. Thank you. x
To subscribe to my blog and read about my walks along local footpaths and treks along long-distance trails please click here and add your e mail details in the box on the right. Alternatively, please “like” my Facebook Page: Jackie McAll “About the Journey”.
Day 13 of Walking the Pilgrims’ Way – how very strange. How blessed to have made it this far. All those months of preparation, training, looking at the maps, walks with friends, booking the package and each day of nearly the last two weeks looking at the map of the day ahead and then just putting one foot in front of the other. The day was long but as each day has been rewarding. The North Downs Way and Pilgrims’ Way mostly run together for this walk. I left Lenham very early in the morning, from the inn, in which apparently Queen Anne once stayed. I passed the Lenham Cross cut into the turf, commemorating those who fell in the two World Wars.
I also passed a large unusual snail (I had read about some in the locality and remember posing a question to Canon Clare on “Ramblings” about them.) I also passed a man with gun, but I didn’t ask questions or take photos!
This pilgrimage has been for me a form of escape. I have not been completely cut off from friends and family and the modern world but I have certainly moved to a state where I am living much more simply. I know (what I had always suspected) that I really do not need many material things. I walked along taking in the scenery, hearing the birdsong, relishing every moment that I have left walking. I passed above the village of Charing fairly early and took a detour down to see the remains of another Bishops Palace.
During the pilgrimage I have felt spiritually close to nature, God and the Universe. I now feel near to Canterbury -reminders of pilgrimage were coming thick and fast.
I still have 14 more miles left to walk tomorrow and more to experience and explore. Elliott (who was mentioned in connection with the Millenium Stones right back on day seven said in “Little Gidding”:
“We shall not cease from exploration; And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started; And know the place for the first time; Through the unknown remembered gate; When the last of earth left to discover is that which was the beginning. At the source of the longest river the voice of the hidden waterfall and the children of the apple-tree; Not known, because not looked for but heard, half-heard, in the stillness between the waves of the sea”.
My main memory of the landscape of the Pilgrims’ Way will be miles of quiet, tree-lined lanes as the one below.
The miles today were long and went through few villages. I passed few people. It was just me and nature. The ruins of St Mary’s Church in Eastwell were just off the track close by Eastwell Park’s lake.
I recalled H’s comment about “nature’s avenues” as I walked through one planted by man. Also today for the first time since entering Kent, I finally found an apple orchard.
I have walked to give gratitude, expressed gratitude, meditated on gratitude. I love this quote from Johananes A Gaertner – “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enable gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch heaven”.
I have mentioned Bunyan in an earlier post and laying down of one’s burdens. I was reminded of that again today when I made friends with the ultimate beast of burden.
Somewhere along the way I also met a local vicar, who is “trudging the same road” as myself. As he said “You would think that there is some kind of Higher Power behind all this, wouldn’t you?”
After crossing the Great Stour I arrived gratefully at Wye. Hopefully to rest well for the long day ahead tomorrow
So far as it is possible to plan anything I will not be posting tomorrow night, save a quick word to say I am at Canterbury Cathedral. I will wish to spend the evening quietly with T. I am not sure whether I will make Evensong because on a Sunday it is at 3.15 not 5.30 and I do not wish to rush my last day. I will take my time with the walk and no doubt will arrive when I am meant to. I will, however, go to morning prayer on Monday – exactly in the same way in which I did two weeks ago in Winchester Cathedral. I will post in a few days time about my journey on day 14 but I am aware that my journey is not over. As Canon Clare said on the “Ramblings” programme on Radio 4 – the end of a pilgrimage is just the beginning……………………
Tonight one of my favourite hymns.
For a full index of my posts about my Gratitude Walk along the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury please click here.
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Today I continued walking and met a friend (or two) – thank you Gary and Daniel, cyclists from Rainham (?), for taking the photo. I journeyed from Thurnham to Lenham. The way took me along the usual footpaths, holloways and trackways. Initially I climbed up to the ruins of the twelfth century Thurnham Castle.
This scenery, terrain and the trackways are becoming familiar now; the views were spectacular and there was that slight nip in the early morning air that always makes me think of a fresh, clear, unblemished day.
The way passed through fields where the last of the wild marjoram and other wild flowers were still just in bloom.
I had been warned today about the steps – and there were lots of them. It was wonderful though, whilst climbing some steps through a wooded area I received a phone call from a lady I speak to regularly and I was thinking generally about “steps” and moving through and on with life and at the top I emerged to the most beautiful sunshine and glorious view.
Pilgrimage brings together the body and the soul. The physical act of walking and the discomforts of the earthly body counterbalance with the quietening of the mind and the inner journey. I have a couple of sore toes now – not blisters, corns, I think – but they are well wrapped up in various assortments of micropore and padding and I seem to be surviving. The more I walk the more my mind chatter stops and I find myself living in the moment. Serenity is mine from simply following the path. I have stopped looking at the clock, following an “ETA”, I am just going with the flow.
I met a lady from Israel, Sarah; she was sitting on a log eating her sandwiches and she is walking around the country in stages. I agreed with her when she said that walking was really the best way to get to know a country. Like myself – she was walking alone. I posted about “fear” (click here) before the walk. I am being carried – of that I have no doubt. I am surrounded by the prayers of others and carried through my own prayer. Dorothy Thompson said “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live in every experience, painful or joyous, to live in gratitude for every moment, to live abundantly”.
Just after passing a home made “Pilgrims Way” sign I quite quickly reached Hollingbourne. I had the time to have a wander around here and take a “selfie” in the reflection on the Church door.
All Saints Church, Hollingbourne is another Church that particularly welcomes pilgrims.
I have now been walking for twelve days and at sometime during the course of the day, or maybe yesterday, something changed. I feel at a threshold, having lost my former identity and not yet having moved to a new one. My old life seems a world away. Fears, anger and resentments gone. It all sounds rather grand and I can’t indulge in complicated theories, but I certainly feel different………….. and rather nice! Physically I am now becoming very tired but spiritually I feel open and refreshed. Walking every day is like a repetitive prayer and I plod on. I seem to be experiencing incidences of deja vu quite a bit – something that hasn’t happened to me in a long while. Nothing major or scary but I just keep getting the feeling that I have been here before and I know what will happen next.
I had heard about the bench just outside Harrietsham and I duly took advantage of it for a rest. The words say “Pilgrim bound with staff and faith, rest thy bones”.
I am so aware now that I am getting closer and closer to Canterbury. Mentions of “pilgrims” came at several places along the way.
After the bench it was only a few miles walking in glorious weather with signs of Autumn all around to reach Lenham, where I was staying for the night. I sang in joy for the last few miles (no-one was around!) – a selection from among others “We plough the fields and scatter”, “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic”, “Don’t sit under the Apple Tree”, “It’s in his kiss” – don’t ask me to justify the selection! I was just singing in glorious gratitude.
Again, I arrived early enough in Lenham to have time to have a good look around. Looks a lovely village – a bakers, greengrocers, tea rooms, fish and chip shop, library – all rather lovely. An easy and delightful day’s walking, giving me some strength to save for the last two days. Off to the chippie now – haven’t passed one of those since day 1 in Alresford (Helen!)
“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy” – Rabbi Abraham Hendel
I will sign off tonight with another musician that T and I have seen live many times. She tells the story of how she once lived with someone who used the phrase “Keep it Simple” and was trying to live his life in that way – so she wrote this song. I think that the last two days may be a long trek – but one step at a time I will keep it simple. I will get there when I am meant to.
For a full index of my post of my Gratitude Walk along the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury please click here.
To subscribe to my blog and receive further posts about my rambles on local footpaths and treks along long-distance trails please click here and add your e mail details in the box on the right. Alternatively, please “like” my Facebook Page: Jackie McAll “About the Journey”
Having crossed the Medway yesterday I continued with my gratitude walk along the Pilgrim’s Way. It was a day away from the City and towns and back to the countryside and small villages. A day with some spectacular views, reminders of pilgrims and ancient monuments.
I have been thinking about the difficulties of pilgrimage. Sometimes it is hard. Walking day after day long distances is challenging (fatigue and boredom can set in as well as the sore feet and aching back). Unexpected obstacles can be faced along the way. On day 7, a footpath over the M23 was shut, but luckily I had a map and the diversion was short. I changed accommodation one day, but all was resolved satisfactorily. Several times I have lost my way (but always found it again!). Again I can see pilgrimage as an analogy for life – sometimes life is hard, full of compromises and changes. Sometimes we can take action. Sometimes not. What I would love to learn is which is which! Switching things around to a positive attitude and worshipping with thankfulness helps but sometimes we have to work to a point of acceptance of what we don’t like. Sometimes there is pain that needs to be expressed and worked through. One of my daily prayers is:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”.
My walk today was not long but took in a couple of hills that I had hoped to avoid! I missed a turning somewhere and ended up on the heights of the Downs when I did not mean to……….. but the views were grand! On Blue Bell hill there was a memorial to the crew of an air ambulance which crashed here several years ago. Sometimes we just expect the emergency services to be there when needed and we do not remember that they are often putting their lives at risk. The memorial also reminded me of the memorial on Reigate Hill I had passed to the crew of a WW2 USA plane which also crashed into the hill.
I have put below a picture of the terrain for one hill climb. (Laura Nyro – just a little private message for T!)
A more challenging day was needed to remind me of challenges in life and how I have always been held and that everything passes. A reminder that there will no doubt be further obstacles along the way. And mistakes will be made. But that is OK – we can always begin again.
I had to walk, but I had no responsibilities other than that. I passed some beautiful and very interesting places and learned a lot. This area of Kent is known as Kent’s Stonehenge and I passed Neolithic burial chambers at Kit’s Coty House and Little Kit’s Coty House .I missed the White Horse Stone, probably at a similar time I went uphill by mistake! But despite the mistakes there was no need to turn back. The limitless monotony of step after step and the simple discipline of just keeping moving forward allowed me detachment from other thoughts. In fact I have realised that for several days now my head has been very quiet. There are no lingering resentments. There is no fear. The walking today was beginning to open me up to new states. It was a universal motion forward; an endless prayer.
“Does the road wind up hill all the way? Yes, to the very end;
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting place? A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face? You cannot miss that Inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? They will not keep you standing at the door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? Of labour you shall find the sun.
Will there by beds for me and all who seek? Yes, beds for all who come”.
(Rossetti “Up Hill”)
Half way through my walk I dropped down into Boxley, a pretty village with Tennyson connections. This was the only one of the churches that I passed today that was open (and that was for a school visit). It was sad that I could not see inside the others. This is the only section of the Pilgrims’ Way where that seems to have been the case. My “Pilgrim Passport” has not got many stamps on it. Only a couple of the churches have had stamps available.
The Pilgrims’ Way took on its familiar guise of footpaths and holloways and I eventually reached my resting place right on the Pilgrims’ Way at Thurnham for the night. I have a relatively easy walking day tomorrow and then what looks on the map as a more challenging trek along to Canterbury on Saturday and Sunday.
And…. a little musical treat for me tonight. As I walked around some riding stables I captured this beauty and was reminded of one of the things on my “aspirations list” for this year that I have not achieved yet. I was also reminded of my favourite childhood record.
For a full index of my posts about my Gratitude Walk along the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury please click here.
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I spent the morning of this glorious Autumn day in the countryside talking and singing to robins, squirrels and pheasants. I didn’t pass another human being but the wildlife made for pleasant company. The young pheasants were very energetic and I couldn’t get a photo of one, so T sent me this one of Basil, our regular visitor back in Harlington!
I took the Pilgrims’ Way rather than the North Downs Way again and there was a part where I wanted to go which my map did not cover. I spent yesterday evening searching the internet for old maps of the area because I was sure that two bridleways I could see on the maps that I had would meet. I found enough evidence to trust my intuition; kept an eye on where the sun was in the sky for direction and set out, with hope. I was just on the phone talking to a dear friend, when a sign appeared on my right: “The Pilgrims’ Way”! All was well.
The way crossed neat newly ploughed fields and wandered along holloways. When in this environment it is not difficult to imagine the pilgrims travelling the route.
I continued along The Way and eventually got my first view of the River Medway which I knew I needed to cross at some stage.
Crossing the Medway
There is much debate (which has been much better expressed by others than I can do) as to where the pilgrims crossed the Medway on their way to Canterbury. I would recommend Derek Bright’s book for a thorough account. The route I took was to follow the North Downs Way/Pilgrims’ Way right up to the M2 junction and cross the river on the modern Medway Bridge near Rochester. Personally, if I was a pilgrim on horse all those years ago I would cross the river further south if possible – it seems a long way to walk up the Medway and then down again tomorrow but maybe they wished to visit Rochester and I was lucky that I was able to do that as well today.
So noon time bought back an old fear of heights – but yes! It has really gone. Six years ago I couldn’t get on a plane without being tranquilised in some form or another, but now my fear of heights has been removed! I didn’t even have to sing songs out loud to get me across! I crossed the Medway, alongside a train, cars and one random cyclist. The view from the middle of the Medway Bridge was stunning looking into Rochester. Walking over the bridge took me into a completely different environment from that of the rural landscape I had been travelling not long before.
Just the other side of the river is a place called Borstal. I met Danny , wearing the hat which his mum bought back from Goa and photographed him by the sign of the street where he was born. He kindly explained to me the local history of the area and all about the first schools for young offenders which were erected there. The name “Borstal” then stuck.
I arrived early at my destination so had time to visit the Cathedral and Castle. It was interesting to see the Pilgrim Steps in the Cathedral at Rochester.
John, a dear man I knew from school (and now Facebook) who for health reasons is not longer able to take long walks said last night that he wished he could travel on my shoulder. I hope that my posts and pictures enable him to do that. I lit a candle for him in the Cathedral. I also stayed and prayed for peace for him and with thanks that I had been bought this far safely.
There was an amazing thirteenth century wall painting about the wheel of fortune. This depicted all those centuries ago how the search to acquire wealth and status did not bring happiness. The same message we are still continuing to learn today. “Just remember all that glitters is not gold” – as the modern band in the clip below sing.
I also was able to see Rochester Castle. The Castle and the Cathedral are almost next to each other – I suppose that there are valid historical reasons for this (the Castle, I read, built to defend Watling Street) – but an interesting juxtaposition between somewhere that I associate with battles and wars and somewhere which I associate with peace and harmony.
What is a road?
This beautiful day has been so varied it has set me thinking about roads and modes of transport. I am walking the way followed by Neolithic man, old drovers, medieval pilgrims, other people over the years right up to the Victorian pilgrimists and modern backpackers and other walkers like myself having it slightly easier with a luggage transfer package.
H Belloc in the book “The Old Road” in 1904 was one of those who questioned and checked details of The Way. He reminded his readers that a Road is a primal thing. It would be strange not to have trackways. Old Roads evoke romantic feelings . Even the names such as Watling Street or Ermine Street, – can bring to mind nostalgic feelings. The Pilgrims’ Way sounds romantic. Shirley du Boulay felt that “pilgrimage is closer to poetry than to cartography”. I agree with this but as a lover of maps I have enjoyed the close examination of them I have been making during this trek.
What matters is just following the path. I have now walked through woodlands – dense and open, across newly ploughed and recently harvested fields, playing fields, alleyways on modern housing estates, quiet lanes, metalled cobbled roads, across chalk and sand,. soft rabbit nibbled turf and hard rutted trackways, golf courses and stepping stones; through hot blazing sun and heavy rain; early morning promise and towards the end of day. And what happens is that I just keep going. Despite the tiredness and lethargy which is hitting me now the path is always ahead and yes, I “keep trudging”. Just a short aside here – I often use the word “trudging”. I use it not to be a hard, boring slog but in a slightly different meaning – “to walk with expectation” – an optimistic outlook towards the future. Hence the term “trudging the Road of Happy Destiny”.
I am aware that time is passing on. The more I walk, the more I feel removed from day to day life. I am starting to wonder how I will feel when I get to Canterbury. When I “Reach my Goal”! Will I be relieved, ecstatic, joyful, annoyed at the other people there? How will I feel on returning home?
Had to stick a bit of Royal Southern Brotherhood playing tonight. T and I have seen them so many times now. I have a picture of me with Cyril Neville in my hallway. I am so grateful to have met several wonderful musicians but that is the picture I am most honoured to have taken. I truly believe that that man has a beautiful soul. All their music is full of energy and spirituality in their own way. There are loads of good positive lyrics in this track. Just love the phrase “Keep your eye on the donut and not on the hole!”
For a full index of my posts about my Gratitude walk from Winchester to Canterbury please click here.
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This day of walking the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury has been fun and fulfilling. I have seen my first oasthouses and definitely feel that I am in Kent and getting closer to Canterbury. I had an early breakfast and quickly reached Otford. Here I passed over the River Darent. Shortly after this I crossed the main road at what must surely be the prettiest roundabout in the country – with its own duckhouse and pond.
I took a slight detour to pass by the remains of Archbishop Wareham’s palace (one of a string of palaces as stopping off points for Archbishops on their journeys many years ago).
I also went inside The Church of St Bartholomew . I have been so fortunate that so many beautiful churches have been open along the way. As per yesterday, where possible I kept to the old Pilgrim route as marked on the map diverting to the North Downs’ Way where the two merged.
The village of Kemsing was interesting. My tour agent lent me the guidebook “A guide to The Pilgrims’ Way and North Downs Way” by Christopher John Wright and I have been looking out for some of the places he particularly mentions. I passed by St Edith’s well – the waters here reputed to cure eye conditions and saw the famous crinkle-crankle wall. Again such a beautiful Kent village. Very quiet, even though not that far from the motorway.
Some of the glass in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Kemsing is reputed to be the oldest glass in the country. Had I stuck purely to the North Downs Way I would have missed these sights.
The Pilgrims’ Way took lanes rather like yesterday (Day 8 of Walking the Pilgrims’ Way) bordered by banks lined with hedges and trees. Shortly after passing the Stuart mansion of St Clere , the route joined with the North Downs Way and led onto Wrotham. Although it was shut for re-wiring works I am so glad that I visited the Church of St George . The walk through tower was interesting.
Apparently it was provided so that the Sunday procession before Mass in Medieval times could circle the church without leaving consecretated ground (because the road was there in the way, before the Church was built). My plans continued to go slightly awry. The pub I was going to stop at for lunch had been converted into a house! However, It was a little early for lunch anyway and I picked up some snacks along the way.
As is always seeming to be the case the route got a bit hillier with the North Downs Way and I could see ahead views towards the Medway Valley. I passed another “Pilgrims’ House” before diverting off route to Trottiscliffe. What a wonderful place this is. I met some other walkers out for a trip on a lady’s birthday (sorry I have forgotten your name), but their generous husbands Roger and James made a contribution to the Mencap Leighton Buzzard fund . I will pay the donation into my Just Giving Page when I get home (the internet connection in the accommodation tonight is not very good and I am having trouble posting this). We did a joint “selfie” and e mailed it to me. I haven’t received it yet, so it may be the trouble with the internet here. Hopefully it will make its way through the airwaves!!
They suggested I visit Trottiscliffe Church and I am so glad I did. Another “pilgrim” church; The Church of St Peter and St Paul. The leaflet in the Church said that there were old markings which were presumed to have been made on the archway by the entrance door, supposedly by pilgrims many years before. In front of the Church was another wonderful wall – this time with crosses in it. It fell into disrepair a while ago and a local craftsman rebuilt it.
Finally today just off of my route I had time to visit the Coldrum Stones. An ancient Neolithic long barrow burial place. Just like when I visited Waylands’ Smithy when I walked the Ridgeway National Trail last year, I always find coming across these sights in the middle of nowhere very humbling and also peaceful. It looked from the decorations in a nearby tree that some other people had been celebrating here.
I was wondering today having passed so many churches that if, as I believe, God is everywhere, all around and inside of us, then why do we go to special places to try to find “him”? What is the pull of a holy place? I always feel a stronger spiritual connection when I am outside in nature, away from people. Yet, I can see and feel the spirit of God moving in other people as well – just as when I received the donations today. It is ,however, much harder at some times to recognise this Spirit than others. But it is important to me that I do not limit my search for God to places of beauty where he can easily be recognized.
The story of the shrine of Thomas Becket is here. It has no particular relevance to me, any more than any other shrine. But this route has personal relevance because of the starting place at Winchester and because it is a route that so many have trudged before. Somehow, the fact that thousands of others have done this and worshipped at Canterbury makes it feel more important. As Christian said in “Pilgrims’ Progress” – “There also you shall meet with thousands and ten thousands that have gone before us to that place” – what a thought is that! I have heard described the act of pilgrimage itself as “a spatial prayer”, and with each step I take this makes more sense to me.
This pilgrimage is as all pilgrimages “about the journey” – the places with spiritual significance I pass on route, the things I learn and the people I meet – as much as the final destination. Each day I have tried to feel and express gratitude to the people I meet. Brother Ramon said “Unless God is to be found within their own experiences, such pilgrimage is useless.
Some appropriate evening music………………T and I were privileged to see Eric Bibb play at the Stables in Wavendon last year – if you ever get the chance to see him……… GO!
For a full index to my posts about my Gratitude Walk along the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury please click here
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Excellent weather for walking the Pilgrims’ Way today. The route from Winchester to Canterbury follows the line of the St Swithuns’ Way from Winchester up to Farnham and I covered this on days one, day two and day three of my trek. At Farnham it joins the North Downs’ Way and heads East. Sometimes the North Downs’ Way runs along the line of the Pilgrims’ Way and sometimes it is higher up the escarpment. It is however, much better signposted. Today I had a choice whether to stick mostly to the higher signposted North Downs’ Way or the flatter, not well-signposted (so far as I could see) older track of the Pilgrims’ Way. I decided to rely on my map reading skills. Thank you Dad, all those holidays driving across Europe with the map spread out on the bonnet showing me how far we had to go and those times you explained to me what contour lines were for and the different sorts of church steeples have all paid off. I do seem to be able to read a map reasonably well.
It was a great walk. For some reason whilst in Surrey I did not feel so much like a “pilgrim” but today reminders of the old journeyers began to appear again. One of the lanes was called “The Pilgrims’ Way” (couldn’t go wrong there, then), I passed two “Pilgrim Farms” and a “Pilgrim House”.
On crossing the B2024 I moved from Surrey into Kent. No apple orchards as yet, but plenty of grapes!
The lanes were quiet with little traffic, just a few cyclists. I met no other walkers. For much of the route the M25 was close by, but although I could just about see it if I looked hard through the hedges until the end of the walk when I crossed it I noticed no noise at all.
It was interesting when I reached Chevening Park. There are several old estates on the traditional pilgrims’ route where the direct track had to be diverted when grand houses were built and the landowners didn’t want people walking through their land. Chevening (owned at various times by the Government and the Crown ; it is the Foreign Secretary’s official residence at present – but not following the news I have no idea who that is now!!) was one such place; there has been no way through since 1792. I had to take a fair diversion around it, but it wasn’t really a problem. I looked at the wall surrounding it and it did cause me to meditate about how we as people and as a society build walls around ourselves and others. And despite all the growth we hopefully go through in our personal relationships and all that history has taught us we continue to do so. To protect ourselves – is how we justify it. I will leave that one with you to ponder!
St Botolph Church in Chevening is a delight. St Botolph was known as a wayfarer’s saint and this was recognised in the Church.
I am grateful to be staying in superb accommodation tonight. In fact my room is almost too high tech for me! There are lights in the cupboards and really posh air conditioning. Shiny steel knobs, switches and buttons! ………. and strangely, a Buddha in the gardens!
Actually I have had to learn a lot of IT skills writing this blog and that has been good for me. Once I had to text my son to help remotely with an IT problem but apart from that I have managed to master WI FI in each different hotel, working out what cable to connect to what each night, charging things up, downloading, uploading, whatever and it has increased my independence. How fortunate to have the best of both worlds – the beautiful countryside and the technology to be able to share it with those unable to be out walking. I am so grateful of my privileged position in being able to do this gratitude walk and my health and all my senses to be able to appreciate the beauty around me.
Talking of gratitude to my Dad, and also talking of St Botolph (and on my way to Becket’s shrine)………….. I thought I’d continue with my DJ bit (thanks Fi for the text!) and play a song that he knows all the words to! He taught me about Billy Minter, too. ( Come On City!)…..
For a full index of my posts about walking the Pilgrims’ Way please click here.
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