Day 9: Aylesford to Charing (33 km) A day when not a lot happened and I mused on the abstruse!

Who, or why, or which, or what, Is the Akond of SWAT?

The Akond of Swat – Edward Lear

I found myself reciting the first few verses of Edward Lear’s famous poem ‘The Akond of Swat’ as I woke up this morning and pondered the question, who are the Order of Carmelite Friars and why do they have a Priory in the middle of Kent?

Aylesford Priory

The Carmelites are one of the four great mendicant orders of the Roman Catholic church. Founded in the Crusader States near Mount Carmel in 1155, they first came to Aylesford in 1242. As with other mendicant orders like the Franciscans, their primary purpose is to care for the poor and downtrodden in society.

According to the info on their website: ‘

Prayer is at the core of the Carmelite spirit. To grow in friendship with God, to experience God’s love, to ponder the mystery and wonder of life, to search for meaning – all encompass the contemplative dimension of Carmelite life.

Adam Kossowski mosaics at Aylesford Priory

In the solitude of prayer, we experience the compassion of God which enables us to live in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. This experience makes ministry possible. It empowers us to “suffer with” and respond to those in deed. It also enables us to be patient with and forgiving towards each other.

The chapel at Aylesford Priory.

How Carmelites serve is not set in stone. As friars, we respond to the needs of the Church in a variety of ways. Today we can be found in parishes, schools, retreat houses, on campuses, in hospitals, in prisons, in both rural and urban settings.

What we do today, we may not have done in the past. The same holds true for the future. Depending on the need, Carmelites will respond – continually following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

As I was leaving the Priory I encountered a large gaggle of people parading a portrait of Jesus Christ and heading towards the main chapel. The Indians from Gillingham were not amongst them, but I did overhear some very animated Irish voices chatting away in the throng.

Procession at Aylesford Priory

And after that, well to be totally honest, nothing massively interesting happened during the day which was overcast with leaden skies and a constant threat of rain in the air.

Consequently there was a lot of time to ponder abstruse subjects such as the identity of the Akond of Swat!

I did pass quite a few oast houses during the day, which definitely reminded me that I was in Kent as did the familiar greeting I was given by a number of passers by – “youarightthen

Oast House near Aylesford.

But as for hop fields, much to my disappointment, there was neither sight nor sound of them. In contrast I saw a large number of vineyards during the day.

Vineyards near Harrietsham

For most of the day I stuck to the original path that the pilgrims would have taken on their way to Canterbury in the time of Chaucer.

The pub signs were a constant reminder that I was on the original pilgrim route. I passed the Black Horse Inn at Thurnham and dropped in to the Dirty Habit pub at Hollingbourne for a pint of diet Pepsi.

The Black Horse Inn Thurnham

The Dirty Habit pub was once called the Pilgrims Rest. The present name is derived from the clothing of monks who worked the monastic farmland and vineyards.

The pub was packed with people enjoying the Bank Holiday and there was barely standing room at the bar for me to drink my Pepsi!

The Dirty Habit pub at Hollingbourne

At Lenham, en route to Charing, I came across a large cross cut into the hillside which commemorates those from the village who died in World War 1 and 2.

I finally made it to Charing at around 4.30pm and nipped in to the church, which amazingly was open and had a pilgrim stamp for my passport. Charing was a day’s ride from Canterbury for pilgrims in the middle ages. The Bishop’s Palace in the village was one of Becket’s favourite stop overs en route to Canterbury. Charing was also a pilgrimage site in it’s own right – it displayed the block on which John the Baptist was beheaded. The relic was brought back from the Holy Land by Richard I after Becket’s murder. It survived the Reformation only to be lost in a fire in 1590!

St Peter and St Paul’s Church Charing.

For those of you who are wondering if there is any connection between the village of Charing and Charing Cross in London, the answer is yes. Both are derived from the old English word ‘cerring’ for a bend in the road or river.

My final destination was the Premiere Inn at Ashford North which involved a 30 minute walk along the busy A30. Never was a warm bath more welcome particularly as the room and facilities at the Aylesford Priory had been a bit disappointing. The communal loo didn’t flush properly, there was no hot water in the communal shower, a notice in my room advised that on no account should I drink the water from the tap and at breakfast my attempt to obtain a second sausage was rebuffed with the remark ‘ Those two sausages are reserved for two other guests.’

I think I will enjoy my supper at the Premiere Inn this evening!

Postscript – the Akond of Swat

Who, or why, or which, or what, Is the Akond of SWAT?
Is he tall or short, or dark or fair? or SQUAT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he sit on a stool or a sofa or a chair,

Is he wise or foolish, young or old? or HOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he drink his soup and his coffee cold,

Does he sing or whistle, jabber or talk,or TROT,
The Akond of Swat?

And when riding abroad does he gallop or walk

Does he wear a turban, a fez, or a hat? or COT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he sleep on a mattress, a bed, or a mat,

When he writes a copy in round-hand size,with a DOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he cross his T’s and finish his I’s

Can he write a letter concisely clear or BLOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Without a speck or a smudge or smear

Do his people like him extremely well? or PLOT,
At the Akond of Swat?

Or do they, whenever they can, rebel,

If he catches them then, either old or young,
or shot,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he have them chopped in pieces or hung,

Do his people prig in the lanes or park?
O the Akond of Swat!

Or even at times, when days are dark,

Does he study the wants of his own dominion?
a JOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Or doesn’t he care for public opinion

To amuse his mind do his people show him
or WHAT,
For the Akond of Swat?

Pictures, or any one’s last new poem,

At night if he suddenly screams and wakes,
or a LOT,
For the Akond of Swat?

Do they bring him only a few small cakes,

Does he live on turnips, tea, or tripe? or a DOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he like his shawl to be marked with a stripe,

Does he like to lie on his back in a boat SHALLOTT,
The Akond of Swat?

Like the lady who lived in that isle remote,

Is he quiet, or always making a fuss? or a SCOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Is his stewart a Swiss or a Swede or Russ,

Does like to sit by the calm blue wave? or a GROTT,
The Akond of Swat?Or to sleep and snore in a dark green cave,

Does he drink small beer from a silver jug? or a POT.
The Akond of Swat?

Or a bowl? or a glass? or a cup? or a mug?

Does he beat his wife with a gold-topped pipe, or ROT,
The Akond of Swat?

When she let the gooseberries grow too ripe,

Does he wear a white tie when he dines with friends,
or a KNOT,
The Akond of Swat?

And tie it neat in a bow with ends,

Does he like new cream, and hate mince-pies?
or NOT,
The Akond of Swat?

When he looks at the sun does he wink his eyes,

Does he teach his subjects to roast and bake?
in a YACHT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he sail about on an inland lake

Some one, or nobody, knows I wot
Who or which or why or what

Is the Akond of Swat?

People often ask what I do when I am walking. Do I listen to music, sing songs, listen to books? The answer is none of these! I usually just think and observe and on long days ( like today) when not a lot is happening, I like to meditate and muse on life’s mysteries, like the Akond of Swat!

Funnily enough the Akond of Swat was in fact a real person – the ruler ( or Akond) of the Swat Valley ( in NW Pakistan, which I happened to travel through in 1990 while on an 8 week journey along the Silk Road from Agra and Rajasthan across the Kunjerab pass into Xingjiang Province and across central China to Beijing via ( amongst many other places) the Swat Valley!

Swat Valley Pakistan

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