‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.’
Richard III Act 5 Scene IV – William Shakespeare
Today was an early start so that I could fit in an appointment in Chilham and make it to Canterbury in good time to look around the town and Cathedral.
I made my way back onto the PW via Westwell to Eastwell Park which stood at the end of an impressive tree lined avenue.
As I walked through the grounds I got chatting to Paul ( a groundsman) and ‘Creepy’ from the estate security team. The previous day a group of 80 pilgrims from Southwark who were on a pilgrimage to Canterbury over the Bank Holiday weekend, had been feted with tea and cakes. I had come a day too late they joked!
I was more interested in locating the memorial to Richard Plantaganet in the graveyard of the ruins of St Mary’s Church. Creepy escorted me back down the drive and ushered me into the graveyard where I located the memorial to Richard Plantaganet. The inscription read:
Reputed to be the tomb of Richard Plantaganet December 1550.
And therein lies a tale! Richard Plantaganet is reputed to have been the illegitimate son of King Richard III who lost his life at Bosworth Field in 1485 and has recently been discovered to have been buried beneath a car park on Leicester.
The tale is that Richard was brought up without knowing his parents but was boarded with a schoolmaster who taught him Latin, a sign of someone being educated according to his status.
One day he was taken to the battlefield at Bosworth where the king embraced him and told him he was his son.
After the king was killed in battle, his son fled and ended up at Eastwell, working as a gardener and bricklayer for Sir Thomas Moyle, the lord of the manor.
It is thought he lived an inconspicuous life because people claiming to be descendants of the royal family were executed during the reign of the Tudors. Parish records suggest Richard was 81 when he died in 1550 – an extraordinary age for somebody in the 16th century to live to!
As I walked through woodland towards Chilham, I mulled over all the fascinating places I had visited, the interesting people I had met, the happy unforeseen chance encounters that had occurred and the many miles I had walked since leaving Winterbourne Stoke with Olivia just 10 days ago.
By my rough reckoning, I’d averaged 20 miles a day. By historical standards, not too shabby – Roman legionaries would routinely march 15 miles a day, although they were also wearing heavy armour and sandals and walking on rough muddy roads. Hmm. Maybe my daily achievements weren’t so impressive after all.
And then of course there was King Harold’s army which, in the course of 10 days, marched 180 miles from Sussex to York, fought and defeated a Viking army at Stamford Bridge and then, with barely time to draw a breath, marched 180 miles back south in 4 days to fight the Norman army at Hastings. That equated to a staggering 35 miles a day and firmly put my own efforts in the shade!
As I neared Chilham I came across an interesting information board which commemorated the annual pilgrimages to Canterbury of walkers supporting The Connection Charity. Based in St Martin’s in London, the charity was established to help London’s homeless rebuild their lives. I was reminded of the fact that the charity is just around the corner from the memorial, in St Martins-in-the-Fields, to Edith Cavell who was shot by the Germans for spying in 1915. She happens to be Olivia’s ( nee Cavell-Northam) cousin!
My walk to Rome was inspired by Harry Bucknall’s travelogue ‘Like a Tramp, like a Pilgrim – on foot across Europe to Rome’. In the book, Harry recounts an amusing episode when he dropped in to Chilham Castle to stay with Theresa Wheeler, the owner. Sadly Theresa and Stuart died recently and Chilham Castle has been sold to a mystery buyer for £15m!
So dropping in to Chilham Castle wasn’t really an option but I did the next best thing – I dropped in to see the brother of a friend who lives in a lovely Queen Anne vicarage behind the Church.
As I knocked on the door, I was greeted by a boisterous Vizla called ‘Chica’ followed by Anthony and his Dutch wife. ‘You’d better not leave your boots and hat by the door Jonathan’ I was advised. ‘ Chica’ will make off with them and bury them somewhere’. I followed their advice and carefully placed my kit behind the door to the cellar!
Anthony and his wife kindly made me some coffee and offered to cook me a poached egg to ‘keep the wolf from the door’ and sustain me until I reached Canterbury.
Anthony had had a fascinating life. Born in Argentina, his family had been involved in the building and running of the Argentinian railway network at a time when there was an extensive British community in the Argentine.
As I sat eating my poached egg on toast, Anthony regaled me with amusing anecdotes of his childhood growing up in Argentina ( he narrowly avoided conscription into the Argentine army during the Falklands Conflict!) as well as giving me a fascinating overview of the founding of the Argentine Republic by Simon Bolivar and the exotically named Bernardo O’Higgins.
I mentioned that I had once travelled around Argentina and Chile during a trip which involved the attempted ascent of Mount Aconcagua in 1996 – the first of many interesting connections we shared!
Since retiring from a career as a barrister representing the Home Office, Anthony had turned his attention to theology and bee keeping, a hobby shared by my grandmother who kept bees on Bodmin Moor in the 1930s and learnt her craft from the legendary Brother Adam at Buckfast Abbey. ‘Ah yes, Brother Adam’, Anthony smiled and added mischievously ‘ Of course his bees were imported from Italy. My bees are quite different – many of them are the progeny of a large swarm which I rescued from the tower of the church here in Chilham. They are extremely productive – last year I harvested over 60 jars of honey from their hives!”.
On the final stretch to Canterbury I did finally spot a hop field. However, the majority of the landscape was dominated by acres and acres of apple orchards. Kent is still ‘The Garden of England’, although the apples and hops aren’t picked by students like me anymore! At Chartham Hatch there was a village of standing caravans for migrant seasonal workers from Eastern Europe. I only saw one chap chatting away on his phone. What impact Brexit has had on fruit picking operations in the area I was unable to ascertain, but it is unlikely to have been positive.
As I approached Canterbury I passed the iron age hill fort at Bigbury, the scene of Julius Caesar’s first major battle with the native British after his invasion in 55BC. This part of England has a lot of history attached to it – on Sunday I passed the spot where the Romans had crossed the river Medway during their successful invasion of Britain in 43 AD.
There was time to visit one final church before reaching Canterbury Cathedral – the Church of St Dunstan where the head of St Thomas More is buried and from whence King Henry II crawled on his knees in penance to Canterbury Cathedral to atone for the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. All of this interesting information was imparted by the curate, Jenny Walpole, whom I encountered as I left St Dunstan’s. ‘Good luck with your walk to Rome’ she said as I headed off on the final few yards of my pilgrimage to Becket’s shrine.
And so I finally reached Canterbury Cathedral and made my way to the spot where Becket was savagely murdered by four knights who hacked his skull to smithereens as he emerged from Mass on the evening of 29 December 1170. It was strangely moving to stand in silent contemplation, commemorating the past and wondering how far I would get on my own pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome along the Via Francigena. It seemed like the end of the beginning and the beginning of another journey.
As the old Korean proverb goes, the journey of a thousand leagues, begins with a single step.