Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God
The Baptist Herald and Friend of Africa – William Carey
I was sad to say good bye to Vince and Veronica Short. They were incredibly kind, highly entertaining and were also a mine of information about the history of Tatsfield.
As I left Tatsfield Church I noticed the inscription ‘Attempt Great Things for God’ carved into a wooden arch above the church lychgate which had been donated by a parishioner.
There were some fantastic views south from the Downs over Chevening House, which is used as a weekend retreat by the Foreign Secretary.
I must have been paying too much attention to the views and not enough to my location, when mid morning I got slightly lost and ended up on the perimeter fence of an MOD property!
The last time I remember crawling under perimeter fencing was when, as an Oxford undergraduate whipper-in with the Christ Church and Farley Hill Beagles in the mid 1980s, our pack of hounds had pursued a hare onto the US Airbase at Upper Heyford. With the hounds threatening to run amok on the airfield, we had had little choice but to pursue them. Rather surprisingly there was a gap in the perimeter fencing through which we were able to gain access to the airfield.
As we were rounding up hounds, a number of startled US airforce personnel appeared and a rather frosty stand off occurred as we attempted to explain our presence, clad in green hunting jackets, white breeches, with hunting crops and 20 couple of beagles! Eventually tempers were calmed and we were escorted off the base in high dudgeon.
We subsequently learnt that the US Airforce guys were rather jumpy due to the imminent arrival of President Gorbachev for a top level summit with Margaret Thatcher!
Having decided that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to try and get over the barbed wire MOD perimeter fence, I eventually came across an elderly local couple who directed me back on to the PW (Pikgrims’ Way) and I descended to the hamlet of Dunton Green. As I passed the Donnington Manor Hotel ( formerly a 15th century half timbered manor house), it was almost as though I had stepped back in time and been transported to Asia!
I reached Otford at lunch time, a small village with a lot of history! In 1016 it was the scene of a bloody battle between the Viking army of King Canute ( the chap who tried to turn back the sea) and the Saxon King Edmund Ironsides. The Viking army were roundly defeated and the Otford ran red with Viking blood.
The High Street was dominated by an Elizabethan house called ‘Pickmoss’ with a jet tied frontage, close studding and oriel windows that are typical of the period.
Otford also boasted a large tannery which operated for 200 years from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Dog poo, pigeon droppings, urine, oak bark and animal brains were all used to remove hair from the pig hides according to the informative notice board in the High St!
Leaving Otford I came across an old stone mile post which indicated that it was 65 miles to Dover as the crow flies. A quick calculation suggested that by the end of the day I would have walked 129 miles from Winterbourne Stoke!
As I headed towards the small village of Kemsing, I had one of those strange serendipitous encounters that sometimes make me think are down to more than pure “chance”. For some unknown reason I’d impulsively stopped for lunch in a charity shop cafe at Otford. Had I not done so and earlier lost my bearings by the MOD perimeter fence, then the encounter on the hillside outside Kemsing would never have taken place.
As I descended the steep slope towards Kemsing, I sighted from afar an elderly couple slowly crossing a ploughed field far below me. As they neared me, for some unknown reason I decided to approach them and strike up conversation. I asked them if they were local. It transpired that they were. When I divulged that I was walking to Rome on a pilgrimage, their interest was clearly piqued.
The couple were called Michael and Jessica. Michael revealed that he was originally from Northumberland where his grandfather had been a vicar near Morpeth. Michael enquired whether I would be staying at the Friars ( aka the Carmelite Priory at Aylesford) The ecclesiastical connection had been established!
We fell into conversation – I mentioned that I used to visit Northumberland with my father to fish for sea trout on the River Coquet at Rothbury, had been beagling in Northumberland on many occasions and once walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall in a long Bank holiday weekend.
As the conversation evolved it emerged that by an incredible coincidence I had been at school with one of their cousins!
I reached Kemsing during mid afternoon. According to local legend, the knights who murdered Becket rode through the village on their way to Canterbury. The church is reputed to be haunted by a devout knight on armour who appears on 29 December ( the day Becket was murdered), and kneels to pray at the altar before vanishing for another year.
True or not, what is less debatable is the fact that the village was visited by pilgrims whose staves made indentations in the 13th century church door.
My destination for the evening was the picturesque village of Wrotham.
I took the liberty of looking around the 10th century church dedicated to St George, which was not only open but also had a pilgrim stamp available for use. Without any doubt, the interior of the church, the organ, pulpit, monumental grasses and vaulted ceiling were the most impressive I had encountered on the walk so far.
And so finally I made it to my accomodation for the night – the Bull Hotel, where an inn has been on the site since 1280 when the Old Palace next door was still used by Archbishops travelling to and from Canterbury. Indeed Becket us supposed to have stayed a night in the palace at Wrotham on his final return from London, less than a fortnight before his murder.