The North Downs Way Again – Part 5: Kent Pilgrims’ Festival Days 3-5 (Wye To Dover)

Now that the pressure of leading my own walk was over, I could relax a bit and simply follow. Sometimes it’s nice to just be pulled along by someone else: no decisions to make, just put one foot in front of the other and enjoy the walk.

First, though, I had to get to the start of the walk, back in Wye. Camped high above Canterbury, I’d had a peaceful night beside the old apple trees. Now I had to get down into Canterbury to get a train to Wye. Luckily there is a footpath running from almost the campsite down towards Canterbury West, avoiding street walking. The path skirts the edge of the residential area and then continues through it.

I emerged a little way up the hill from Canterbury West and stopped off in Sainsburys to pick up some lunch. I also had time to grab an overpriced and undersized coffee from the little stall outside the station. A few minutes train ride got me to Wye, and a little while later Mike turned up and then Ildi, our walk leader for the next two days.

The group assembled and we set off, first walking into the centre of Wye to be issued with Pilgrim Passports and get the first stamp in them. A duck inside Wye Church too.

Then retracing our steps through Perry Court Farm and onto Boughton Lees. We popped into Boughton Aluph church, to be given (quite a long) history of the place. And another stamp.

At the church we also encountered the film crew, and had to “re-arrive” at the church for their benefit, and also walk away across the fields pursued by their drone.

Then we climbed onto the Downs and the long stretch through King’s Wood, where we took lunch. An easy drop back down and we were in Chilham early afternoon.

There was nothing for it but to go to the pub, before later catching a train the two stops back into canterbury and up to the campsite.

I was just settling down for bed when there was a bit of noise and lights shining wildly. Another party arriving to pitch on the virtually empty camp site. Bit annoyed they were so close.

The next morning, and I repeated the previous day’s routine – down the footpath to the station and get the train back out to Chilham. Here I was met at the station by a photographer, and after establishing that I was the only one arriving by train, I had to “re-arrive” at the station and pretend to be looking around trying to work out where to go.

Then onto the other Chilham pub, where the majority of the party were staying. A few more shots of the group and then it was time for bread and ale, which Ildi insisted on as a proper part of the Pilgrim experience. I played my part by helpfully finishing up the leftover ale.

We headed out of Chilham towards Old Wives Lees.

Today was a day of orchards and woodland.

…and evidence of alternative pilgrimage routes.

Lunch was taken in No Man’s Orchard, a particular favourite part of the North Downs Way for me. Then onto Bigbury Hill Fort, which was disappointing obscured by vigorous vegetation growth.

We descended into Harbledown and stopped off at St Thomas’s Well, or the Black Prince’s Well. The BP stopped off here twice – once he was cured and then later on it failed to cure him of syphilis, so he ended up in Canterbury Cathedral, where he still is. A leper hospital was founded here in 1084 as obviously a natural spring labelled as a holy well will sort that out.

Along the road to St Dunstan’s Church. Here lies the head of St Sir Thomas More, who Henry VIII had beheaded. His daughter was married to a Canterbury man, and she managed to wangle his bonce and bury it here.

Only a short walk to the West Gate.

I was pleased to see the ducking stool still there at the Weavers.

We stopped at the statue of Chaucer.

And then onto the Cathedral where Ildi had arranged a private chapel for end of journey contemplation. This involved climbing a narrow and steep stone staircase behind an innocuous wooden door.

Outside we retired to the pub before going our separate ways. In my case back up the hill to my tent.

Those people that arrived in the night, also left in the night, and were gone when I emerged from my tent for the final day. After packing up and dropping the car at Canterbury East station, I met Mike there and we walked into towards the Cathedral.

Here a few of us assembled before Faye came along. We spent a fair while faffing about inside the grounds, and even loitering inside the cathedral listening to choir practice. Eventually, the blessing on our journey took place just outside.

…at this stone, marking the start of the Pilgrimage route to Rome. (We weren’t going all the way).

First stop was St Augustine’s Abbey, before we left the city to walk along quiet country lanes towards Patrixbourne.

Then splitting from the Elham Valley Way, a long stretch paralleling the A2 towards Womenswold (Wymynswold).

We eventually stopped in Shepherdswell for lunch on the village green, about an hour behind schedule.

The afternoon was more of a march, given our schedule issue, but also reflecting relatively less of interest on that part of the walk. We stopped off at Waldershare church to claim another stamp. But apart from that it was lots of fields and woods.

A long stretch of byway got us to the A2 and the last stretch into Dover. The sun was setting as we descended into town.

We finished our walk at Maison Dieu, built in 1203 to provide accommodation for pilgrims travelling to and from the continent, later becoming a naval victualling yard, and later Dover Town Hall. It’s currently being refurbished, so we took our rest amidst covered up paintings, sheeting and the like.

And so, by the handy device of the Festival the northern loop of the North Downs Way is again completed, leaving me just the bit west of Detling/Aylesford (depending on where I treat as having got to) still to do. I calculate this is about 6 days of walking, which should fall relatively neatly into 3 chunks of 2, or 2 chunks of 3. I’ll complete these during this autumn, fitting them around other projects.

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