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!”
Here is a full index of my post of my Gratitude Walk along the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury
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