June 3, 2018
Sunday morning, June 3 was the first and only sunrise I saw while on this pilgrimage to Canterbury. It had been daylight as early as 4:15 am but the sunrise had been hidden under the gray skies. This morning I saw red and gold streaks through the eastern window of the hotel room. It was my warning that this was going to be a clear, hot day.
By the time the luggage was picked it up it was 9 am and we were walking down the street away from the Conningbrook Hotel and towards Canterbury. We had come “off” the trail to get to the hotel, now the trick was to pick up the trail without having to backtrack too far and then head east to Canterbury avoiding the heavy traffic on the direct route of Canterbury Road.
On our way out of Kennington we passed by the Eastwell Towers (built in 1848) – the original entrance to the Eastwell Estate, which I believe we walked through the day before. The original country house was built for Sir Thomas Moyle between 1540 and 1550. One of the men employed on the estate was the bricklayer Richard Plantagenet, who claimed to be an illegitimate son of Richard III. Through the years the estate was a part of and visited by royalty. Today it is a magnificent hotel surrounded by cultivated farm land.
Right after the little village of Boughton Lees, we saw the split between the Pilgrims Way and the North Downs Way. The Pilgrims Way went to Canterbury and the North Downs Way bypassed Canterbury and went east to Dover on the coast.
About a mile later, we see the sign:
For awhile we are spared from the heat by the shade of the trail. About 10:30 we cross this field and walk up this not so very steep hill and I know I am a goner. I am hot, my legs are refusing to lift my body. The only thing that kept me from desperation is when we got to the top, Brian was just as over heated and we were both needing the shade to cool down. Under the shade in the last photo below I took my back pack off and laid across the path to feel the coolness of the earth only to have to quickly move when I heard the sound of motor cycles coming down the narrow path straight at me. You have got to be kidding, off-roading on the Pilgrims Way? It wouldn’t be the last that we would see and hear motorcycles on this day.
The trail opens up to pastures large and small connected by “kissing gates” and footpaths. Some of the gates had to be climbed over which was sometimes challenging with my short hot legs (hot like in temperature).
This sign lets us know we are 5 miles from Chilham, which we believed was half way.
We go through a grove of yew trees. What is a yew tree? I never knew until I read about them on this trip and we saw them everywhere.
Yew trees have long been associated with churchyards and there are at least 500 churchyards in England which contain yew trees older than the building itself. It is not clear why, but it has been suggested that yew trees were planted on the graves of plague victims to protect and purify the dead, but also that graveyards were inaccessible to cows, which would die if they ate the leaves.
Yew trees were used as symbols of immortality, but also seen as omens of doom. For many centuries it was the custom for yew branches to be carried on Palm Sunday and at funerals. In Ireland it was said that the yew was ‘the coffin of the vine’, as wine barrels were made of yew staves.
The yew tree was held sacred by the Druids in pre-Christian times. They no doubt observed the tree’s qualities of longevity and regeneration (drooping branches of old yew trees can root and form new trunks where they touch the ground), and the yew came to symbolize death and resurrection in Celtic culture. They will also have been familiar with the toxicity of the tree’s needles in particular, which can prove fatal, and which may have further contributed to its connections with death. Shakespeare too was familiar with these qualities when he had Macbeth concoct a poisonous brew which included “slips of yew, silvered in the moon’s eclipse”.
The yew’s toxicity has somewhat limited its practical uses to humans, though a homoeopathic tincture is made of young shoots and the berry flesh to treat a variety of ailments including cystitis, headache and neuralgia. The very hard, close-grained wood was used in furniture making, but yew wood is probably best known as the material from which the medieval English longbows were made and used to such devastating effect during the Hundred Years War. The Scots too used yew longbows and Robert the Bruce ordered bows to be made from the sacred yews at Ardchattan Priory in Argyll, which were then used during the Scots’ victorious battle at Bannockburn in 1314.
The shape of the wondering branches and knotted wood can look frightful when blowing in the wind even to the modern mind.
We are welcoming the shade and come out of the yew forest into the King’s Woods. These woods were considered dangerous during the medieval pilgrimages, filled with robbers and trouble makers and are mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
It was near here in medieval times that pilgrims would see the Canterbury Cathedral for the first time but we could not see it.
By now we are hot and tired, knowing we are getting closer to Chilham and are only half way to Canterbury. It was 2 pm when we walked into Chilham. We stopped in a pub for cold drinks and a snack (Coke or Pepsi for Brian and ice water with lemon for me). That cold water was the best thing I had tasted in hours and refreshed me and lifted my spirits. We took a one hour break in the pub and then another half of an hour walking around the unique village of Chilham. This village with its stunning fifteenth century square of black and white timbered buildings has been chosen as a film location movies such as by Top Gear (2011), Emma (2009) and Miss Marple – The Moving Finger (2005).
We left the village of Chilham at 3 pm. We had left the trail to go into the village and now we had to pick up the trail again into Canterbury and avoid the cars. Brian pulled out his big guns to find our way, paper map and digital.
As we left Chilham we began walking back up into the hills. Within a half hour of leaving I had lost all the momentum that the “break” had given me and every step uphill became a struggle. There were many hills (some quite steep) between Chilham and Canterbury.
Although I am beat up and weary I can’t help but feel the cooling temperature and slight breeze. I also notice as we go through “No Man’s Orchard” (a community orchard) that we are going downhill more than up, a chance for my legs to get some rest. There are many trails in this recreation area and we are having a hard time finding “our trail” with the sign of the acorn.
In the shady woods of the orchard we run into a friendly Irishman that tells us how to follow the path into Canterbury. I am filled with hope when I see this sign:
On this path we find a sign about “Bigbury Camp” – It is hard to read the photo, but basically recent excavations of the area reveal a hill fort here is believed to be the site of Julius Caesar’s first battle in 54 BC as he led his forces in the Roman invasion of Britain.
Now I know I can make it. One more mile . . . . and it is “mostly” downhill. The Irishman promised me so.
One moment we are walking in a wooded residential street and the next moment we are in the city of Canterbury walking on a sidewalk along the busy A2050 roadway. We get our first sight of the Cathedral over roof tops.
The Irishman also warned us that the GPS was very spotty in the city of Canterbury. Brian found it so, as we walked up and down streets and strange neighborhoods trying to find our hostel. I just shuffled my feet behind him. It was an anti-climactic entrance into Canterbury but I was too tired to care. We finally found Kipps and were welcomed into the hostel by a kind and friendly young man.
The pilgrimage was not complete yet; it would have to wait until tomorrow when we would go to the Cathedral. It was 7 pm.