Journeys end in lovers meeting
Twelfth Night Act 2 Scene 3 – William Shakespeare
In some strange way, I feel that my journey to St Peter’s Rome will only really start in earnest, if and when I make it across the Channel to Calais. Until then, it is a bit of a teddy bear’s picnic. So I fully intend to enjoy my last couple of days on these shores and give my feet a bit of a holiday over the next couple of days!
One of the major worries over the last few weeks, has been whether I will be able to cross from Dover to Calais on the P&O Ferry. Foot passengers have not been allowed on Dover-Calais ferries for the last 18 months. Paradoxically, however, foot passengers with bikes are allowed on ferries. Don’t ask me the logic of this regulation or why foot passengers are still allowed on ferries from Newhaven to Dieppe.
So the challenge is on to locate and buy a serviceable and cheap (£10?) bike in Dover before Friday morning when I am hoping to make the crossing from Dover to Calais! As Brian Franklin, my pilgrim neighbour from Shrewton, shrewdly observed, ‘Pilgrims always find a way’.
I stayed last night in a youth hostel. Start as you mean to go on as I am planning to stay in a lot of pilgrim hostels between now and Rome. I suspect,however, that the Canterbury youth hostel is in a different league to anything I will stay in over the coming months! The place is immaculate and youth hostels are more like 3 star hotels nowadays than when I used to frequent them in various parts of the UK in the 70s and 80s!
The last time I remember staying in a British youth hostel was in the summer of 1985. I’d gone off backpacking and fishing in the Highlands and ended up in a youth hostel in Crianlarich near Fort William. It was the weekend of Live Aid and the entire youth hostel of 60 odd people were glued to the TV! Then the hostel manager poked his head round the door of the TV room and asked if there was somebody called Jonathan Dutton in the room as there was an urgent phone call! It was my parents on the line – they’d received a phone college from Oxford telling them that I had to be back in Oxford within 48 hours to attend a viva voce oral exam in front of 12 Oxford dons to determine my degree level. If I failed to turn up, I wouldn’t be awarded a degree!
I packed my rucksack and was out of the hostel within 15 minutes hoping that British rail weren’t on strike, that I could get back to Oxford in time and that in the 8 weeks that had elapsed since sitting my finals exams, I could still remember the intricacies and nachinations of 10th century Byzantine politics!
As I wandered through the centre of Canterbury I was struck by how depressed a d dystopian the whole place looked. Rough sleepers crowded the shop doorways and there were countless shops with closing down sales and vacant premises. The disappearance of European tourists and language students due to Covid appears to have had a devastating impact on the city.
Fortified with a sausage bacon bap and coffee from Gregg’s, I visited St Augustine’s Abbey. Well it didn’t open until 10am, so I only got to view the ruins from the outside.
For many, St Augustine’s Abbey is the birthplace of English christianity. The Abbey was founded in 598AD by Augustine who had arrived in England at Pope Gregory I’s behest the previous year from Rome to convert the pagan Kentish king Ethelbert (whose wife Bertha was a Christian).
The newly founded Abbey provided a residence for Augustine and his fellow monks as well as becoming a burial place for abbots, archbishops, and kings of Kent. Of course there are those that believe that Glastonbury Abbey ( founded by Joseph of Arimathea in the first century AD, was the first Christian community on these islands, but that’s another story as they say!
As I passed the first VF signs on the path to Patrixbourne, I really felt that my walk had just begun. 1,800 km to Rome a sign informed me opposite St Martin’s church, the oldest church in the English speaking world!
Patrixbourne is on four pilgrim routes and is the first church pilgrims would have reached as they headed out of Canterbury on the VF, Pauline the churchwarden informed me shortly after I had bumped into her opening up the church with an enormous key! They get 2-3 pilgrims coming through each week which helped explain the array of pilgrim staves I noticed in the church doorway propped up against the wall.
The highly ornate Norman church entrance is one of the finest in Kent, testimony to the wealth of the local Norman landowner who was called Patric and originally hailed from Lalande-Patry in the Calvados region of France.
The beautiful stained glass windows (15th and 16th century) were another feature of the church. Apparently it was the custom for the family of the bride to pay for their installation in the church when they got married.
At Shepherdswell I sat on the village green and ate my lunch in front of the church and pub ruminating on the charming plaque in the church entrance inscribed with the words “here may the weary find rest and the strong be renewed”. Words of encouragement for weary pilgrims on the first stage of the VF to Rome.
As I made my way towards my destination for the day (the home of churchwarden Mike Pascall and his wife Stella) I crossed the village playing field and saw what at first I thought was a small horse – it certainly moved like a horse, but closer inspection revealed that it was a dog, or to be more precise, a Borzoi. It’s not often that I bump into a Borzoi so I was intrigued, and so struck up conversation with its owner, Mike.
Mike informed me that he had not one but two Borzois! ‘Vsoshka’ which apparently means dragonfly in Russian and ‘Lenin’ who was asleep in the back of his car. Borzois are also known as Russian wolf hounds. I have never seen one in the flesh before although I vaguely remember one featuring in ‘Cousin Teresa’ a short story by HH Munro (aka ‘Saki’). According to Mike there are only two other Borzois that he is aware of in this part of Kent!
And so it was that I finally reached Mike and Stella’s house and was welcomed with a mug of coffee and a luxurious warm bubble bath. Heaven!
Mike is one of the churchwardens at Shepherdswell and has many strings to his bow.
Besides the church, he is a keen walker, enters vintage ploughing competitions, has done a lot of beating on neighbouring estates ( where he has met various members of the Royal Family including the Queen on a number of occasions!) and is a keen local historian, having lived in the area all his life. But most important string to his bow ( at least as far as I was concerned) is the fact that he used to be the harbour master at Dover, a post now held by his nephew. So if there is one person who could pull the right strings to get me onto the Dover to Calais as a foot passenger or ‘footy’, it is Mike! It looks like I could have hit the proverbial jackpot particularly as he has just managed to source a bike for me from a friend!