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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…..”
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
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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.
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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.
To subscribe to my blog and receive posts about my local walks and journeys along National 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”
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!
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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!)…..
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I found yesterday’s walk quite hard so I was determined to take a close look at the route before I started off today. There was a long climb up Reigate Hill to start with, to get on to the North Downs’ Way but I was so grateful that my hotel was not right down in the town – I really am not sure how I would have managed that! I thought of getting a taxi to the top of the hill but the roads in Reigate were closed because a race was on and actually the walk to the top on the pavement on the main road was not too hard. I knew I had something to look forward to again during the course of today – the lovely T would be joining me. We had a long telephone conversation the night before over where he should park the car and exactly which route to walk along so that hopefully we would not miss each other and would meet half way. I also have to remember how my pilgrimage has and is impacting on other’s lives – particularly T.
This was a day of motorways (the M25, the M23 and A 23) , and railway lines near the old quarry village of Merstham – we criss-crossed major transport links several times but in between we were nearly always out walking in the countryside. If I listened hard I could hear the motorway, but I really discounted it from my hearing and concentrated on the birdsong. The route passed through Gatton Park, Reigate Hill Golf Club and skirted several woods. The millennium stones at Gatton Park were of interest. Artist Richard Kindersley carved 10 standing stones to mark the double Millennium from the birth of Christ to 2000AD. Each stone represents a 200 year segment and is inscribed with a quotation from a writer prominent in that period. The first stone starts with words from St John, In the beginning the Word was, the final stone has an extract from TS Eliot, a poet who understood so clearly the need to discover meaning in our spiritual uncertainty..
The route today was nowhere near as hilly as yesterday and only took me a few hours to walk – a nice easy day before a long trek tomorrow. I know now everytime I see one of those “viewpoint” signs on the map to be wary – because it means a climb is ahead.
But just before I got to the viewpoint at Gravelly Hill I saw someone coming in the opposite direction:……
T bought me a few further supplies (mainly more socks, energy bars and tissues – because I have a cold!) for the next week and took home some things I have realised I don’t need (a hot water bottle, several tops and some washing) and it led me to consider again simplicity and detachment. Apart from the odd conversation I have been without “news” now for nearly a week and not missed it at all. I have not got drawn into conversations about politics or the state of the world. How wonderful! I am managing without many material things. I am not eating out at the hotels and just generally picking up food on the way. Something always turns up when I need it – I have trust in that now.
The freedom of stripping away of unnecessary possessions is something I love. I really hope I can keep to this philosophy when I return home and not be influenced by the “marketing men”. On the pilgrimage I walk endlessly and travel forward and that is all that is necessary for a while. My luggage is being transferred for me and I realise that is a luxury but there is not much in my suitcase now. I wore this T shirt today because the phrase “Keep Coming Back” is important to me and shows how “stick at it……. ism” can be a good quality. Something necessary for my pilgrimage and also one of the reasons I got well. Also Mike Zito is about to set off from the States for a tour of concerts in this country – the last of which I will just catch at the end of my walk.
A stripping of possessions is not just practical things but also, anxieties, resentments, guilt . Also pleasure, popularity and success. Coming from Harlington (known for its connection to Bunyan) I wondered whether I was now ready to let the ” burden fall from my back”:
“Thus far did I come laden with my sin, Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in, Til I came hither. What a place is this? Must here be the beginning of my bliss? Must here the burden fall off from my back? Must here the strings that bound it to me crack? Blest Cross! Blest Sepulchral blest, rather, be the Man that there was put to shame for me!”
And, talking about my pilgrimage impacting on others, today was my Mum’s birthday. So sorry to have missed seeing her on it. How wonderful to have a mobile phone. Just for her, a special song……… she will understand. God Bless.
Difficult end to the day. Arrived at my accommodation and there was a typed note in the room from yesterday saying that there was no electricity. Unfortunately no hotel staff told me of this when booking in. They showed no urgency in getting an electrician out. We came to a compromise and refunded me and as I was lucky enough still to have T with me we have stayed elsewhere. My agent was very helpful throughout and I get to spend extra time with T!
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A walk today with my special friend, A, who kindly travelled down for the day to support me. Dorking to Reigate via Box Hill – pretty footpaths, lovely views and special memories. The walk was harder than I imagined it to be. I believe that this is because I took the higher, longer North Downs Way rather than the old Pilgrims’ trackway which follows a route slightly further down the escarpment and is not so hilly and slightly shorter. The North Downs Way is much better signposted which is why I took that route. However, what was shown as a nine mile route took over six hours, without many stops and I know we were walking faster than that. I will need to look closer at the route on further days. I need to remember to allow time for the journey from accommodation at the start and end of each day also.
It was fun to cross the stepping stones over the River Mole a mile or so into today’s walk and the views at the top of Box Hill were worth the climb – trusty stick came in handy again! The stones in their present form date from 1946 but took the place of stones which must have crossed the river for many years. The path for a while was under cover of yew trees and box trees – hence the name Box Hill. We passed chalk pits and lime kilns along the way.
Part of the area was being grazed by goats to keep buddleia at bay.
We met a group of ladies from Gloucestershire who were also walking the Pilgrims’ Way in stages over a few years. They were full of enthusiasm for the walking that they do together. Another long hard climb up Colley Hill afforded us some further spectacular views over the Surrey countryside all the way to the South Downs.
After a coffee at a café on at the top of Reigate Hill called Junction 8 (after the nearby M25 motorway) it was a steep climb down the hill to my hotel (with thoughts of the climb back up tomorrow!) I took comfort from the view and mileage marker at the top of Reigate Hill – however, the mileage shown does not take into account distances to accommodation. I was so pleased to spend time with a long-standing friend and grateful for all those years of friendship. (I can’t believe I forgot to ask someone to take our picture – but here is one from around 40 years ago!
From On Friendship
…”And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
The first step of each morning is important to me. It is a new beginning and a sign of hope for the day ahead. I read somewhere that the love of morning is a measure of good health. That makes sense to me – I remember when I was very ill, each day I woke up with a feeling of dread that I would have to go through the whole business of living another day again. I am so grateful that life is not like that now.
I was thinking today about the passing of time generally and along this pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is really a metaphor for life’s journey. It has become apparent already after only walking for nearly a week that the summer has drawn to a close and autumn is here. I remember when I walked this section for the “Ramblings” Radio 4 programme several months ago, Clare Balding mentioning that the blackberries would be ripe by the time I walked the stretch in September and she was right. Signs of autumn were all around today. The extreme heat of the last few days has past, cleared by yesterday’s storm and a kind of soft mellowness is in the air
September always seems like a time for new beginnings – probably because of going back to school with a clean, new pencil case, felt tips that worked and pristine books. My son was born in September and that is always a special memory for me. But it is also a time of farewells. My friend joined me for the walk this morning and we said goodbye for a while at the end, God-willing to meet again soon. My Nana passed away in September – so it is a time of sadness, but fond memories as well. It is easy to reflect on the passing of time when out in the open air and watching nature from day to day. Probably only one song to fit the bill this evening:
Cherish every moment. God Bless.
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Which path to take?
Well I made a prophetic statement in yesterday’s post on Day 4 of walking the Pilgrims’ Way! Today I found myself at a crossroads (metaphorically, if not literally). The hot weather finally broke last night with a violent thunderstorm. Checking the local forecast it said that another thunderstorm was due for around midday today. I am used to walking in heavy rain but I was not happy about being out on the Downs on my own in a thunderstorm. So I had to make a decision – whether to take a fifteen minute train journey to avoid the worst of the projected weather or to stick with my pride and put myself in what I thought maybe a dangerous situation. Would the train journey be “cheating”? A fault of mine is to be obstinate and maybe too scrupulous, so, I concluded that this challenge had been presented to me for my growth and I went with the train journey. As it happened the thunderstorm did not take place where I was but I still think I did the right thing. I am sure that the pilgrims, drovers and other backpackers would chose their route and mode of transport according to the circumstances.
On walking in town
My walking today has been in and around Dorking. I still wore my walking clothes, rucksack and scallop shell – they seem second nature to me now. Walking around a commercial environment I did feel somewhat removed. One difference in walking in a town is the uneven rhythm. Out in the countryside I soon settle to a good walking pace – the sort of pace that seems to fit in well with singing certain songs. Around the streets one has to avoid bumping into people. They do not make eye contact and say “hello” the way in which people in the rural environment do. I feel subversive, set apart, like I do not belong to this world at present. If I was to exchange greetings with them in the street, I am sure they would think I was mad. But then, I’m not really sure how much that matters at present! When really in the rhythm of walking social conventions do not seem to matter. My status and secular responsibilities have gone for a while.
The Old Road
Arriving at my hotel earlier today has also given me time to dip into some of the books my tour agent from Walk Awhile has kindly lent me. I really feel quite humbled to be holding in my hand a copy of Belloc’s “The Old Road“, first published in 1904. Many have said that it is the earliest account of the Pilgrims’ Way although he calls it the Pilgrims’ Road or The Way. But nine years before him a Mrs Ady (Julia Cartwright) wrote of the old trackway from Winchester to Canterbury. I also have a copy of her book to explore. The copy of the Belloc book has a stamp inside saying “Holy Trinity Girls’ School” (1921).
I have been reading where Belloc writes about the route around this Dorking area. He discusses losing the track at Dorking Lime Works and then it’s reappearance, “clearly enough marked, along the lower slope of Box Hill” (the way I will take tomorrow). After his discussion he says “This we left for the dawn of the next day; and so went down into Dorking to sleep” – and so will I! I am in a super hotel, “The White Horse”. An Eighteenth Century coaching Inn with beams and nooks and crannies – where I am sure that many, many travellers have spent the night.
I am glad that I spent the time in a town today because it has made me realise how after only a few days pilgrimage I have changed.
Am I a pilgrim yet? As with most things it depends upon the definition of the word. I am certainly a pilgrim in my mind. I have switched off from day to day concerns. I know the Everton result from the other night and am starting to think that maybe Lukaku may have been worth the money and I check the weather but other than that do not really know what has been going on in the world. I am almost a third of the way on my journey. Lao Tzu said “the further you go, the less you know”. I wonder.
How air conditioning fans can be used to dry clothes; trains; the ability to be flexible and alter plans; books; my reliable luggage transfer; the power of nature as evidenced in the lightening storm; shelter in a safe place; my laptop and wifi (so actually I am not that removed from the modern world yet); my physical health; lovely supportive texts from friends and T (I am so blessed); comments on my blog; my waterproof trousers that I bought on a market in Ryde ten years ago are still waterproof; a bath tonight; licorice allsorts; serenity.
Tomorrow – Day 6 of Walking the Pilgrims’ Way
A special friend of mine is making the trip down here to walk with me tomorrow – I am so looking forward to it
And, music for tonight………………. It just had to be done really……….. (and my feet certainly DO fit in my bed!)
For a full Index of my posts on Walking the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury please click here
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