Author Archives: Jonathan Dutton

About Jonathan Dutton

I live with my wife Olivia and our 2 dogs, Islay and Puzzle, in a small village in Wiltshire called Winterbourne Stoke. I am walking to Rome to raise funds to repair our village church roof.

Day 1: Winterbourne Stoke to Pitton (21 km) Onward Pilgrim Soldier

‘ In the middle of the journey of our life,

I found myself astray in a dark wood,

Where the straight road had been lost sight of ‘

Dante Alghieri – Canto 1 of the Divine Comedy.

Seed planted of idea to walk to Rome after boozy Xmas lunch!

Well D-Day finally arrived after 9 months of wistful musing, bouts of frustration (as planned departure dates were postponed), renewed optimism (as new plans germinated) and a final month of frenetic activity including kit purchasing, accommodation booking and extensive training. Well actually forget the bit about extensive training as there wasn’t any apart from a knackering 40 mile walk from Winterbourne Stoke to Winchester. In all honesty, my training comprised nothing more energetic than a gentle daily stroll with our dogs, Puzzle and Islay! So I am crossing my fingers that my creaking 57 year old body is up to the rigours of the journey ahead!

This morning I woke at 5am and immediately began thinking about a strange incident which occurred a couple of months ago, the significance of which, at the time, escaped me. It concerned a bird which alighted in the church yard at St Peter’s and a strange inscription on one of it’s legs. More of that in a subsequent blog!

After an interview about my walk with Jonathan Fido of BBC Radio Wiltshire, we enjoyed a rousing service at St Peter’s, conducted by the Reverend Jonathan Plows, who has been a great help supporting and publicising my charity walk to Rome.

There were over 30 people at the service to see me off. The service included a blessing of the keys that I am taking with me to St Peter’s, an impromptu appearance by ‘Puzzle‘ our 6 month working cocker spaniel who proceeded to run riot towards the end of the service, and a stirring final hymn of ‘ He Who Would Valiant Be’ ( by John Bunyan which includes the immortal line “There’s no discouragement, Shall make him once relent, His first avowed intent, To be a Pilgrim”) which was sung with great gusto in the churchyard

The Revd Jonathan Plows

After a final mug of coffee at The Old Rectory, and a ceremonial first stamp in my Pilgrim Passport, we bade fond farewell to family, friends ‘Puzzle‘ and ‘Islay‘ and embarked on our merry way towards Pitton.

Fantastic send off

Olivia returned to The Old Rectory at the end of the day’s walk, somewhat battered and bruised. 30 minutes into the walk she tripped over a boot lace, went flying and ended up in a crumpled heap on the track above Asserton Farm with a bloodied knee. Tight ill fitting boots added insult to injury, and by the time we reached Pitton in the late afternoon, Olivia was hobbling in pain nursing a king sized blister on her foot.

Pilgrim Passport

Our route initially took us south via the Druid’s Lodge Estate, owned by the Guinness family of brewing fame. It is currently a large 2,500 acre farming estate and home to the Druid’s Lodge polo club. But a little over a 100 years ago, Druid’s Lodge was the location for a notorious racing stables known as the “Druids’ Lodge Confederacy” or the “Hermits of Salisbury Plain.”

Owned by an eclectic group of gamblers and trainers, they became the scourge of the nation’s bookmakers. The group of five was headed by Alan Percy Cunliffe, an Old Etonian whose brother was Governor of the Bank of England, and also included Irishmen Wilfred Bagwell Purefoy an aristocratic breeder and music hall investor, Edward A. Wigan, Frank Forester and Holmer Peard, a noted vet. Their betting coups became the talk of the racing fraternity, shrouded in mystery and speculation. The remoteness of the stables enabled them to train their horses in complete secrecy; any inquisitive visitors would have been noticed and given short shrift. Stable lads were locked up at night and often didn’t know the identity of the horses they were riding nor any idea of the weights they carried. They bought many horses in Ireland and developed them with Jack Fallon, also an Irishman, as trainer and later in 1906 by Tom Lewis.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cunliffe.jpeg
A caricature of of two of the confederates – Wilfred Purefoy (left) and Percy Cunliffe

They pulled off some spectacular betting coups, making them the terror of the bookmakers. Buying horses for small sums at the sales or horses that had shown little form, they built up their capabilities on the Druids’ Lodge gallops entering them in handicap races at weights that made good betting propositions. It was subsequently found that the Confederacy had cleaned up a sum of £100,000 in all, an amount which in today’s money that would be in excess of £9.5 million.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is hackler.jpg
Hackler’s Pride

Hackler’s Pride was their most successful horse in terms of winning them the money, but in the 1913 Derby, (known as “The Suffragette Derby” because leading suffragette Emily Davison was killed when she tried to grab the reins of the King’s horse Anmer) Cunliffe’s horse Aboyeur was declared the winner when Craganour was disqualified.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is finish-aboyeur-1913.jpg
1913 Derby

The 1914-18 war put an end to the Confederacy, the bookmakers breathing a sigh of relief that their nightmare was over.

After crossing the Druid’s Lodge Estate we descended into the Woodford Valley via the picture postcard villages of Upper and Middle Woodford and then via a footpath past Little Durnford Manor.

Little Durnford Manor

This part of Wiltshire, just 5 miles outside Salisbury, is positively teeming with opulent residences including Lake House, an Elizabethan mansion, currently owned by the musician Sting and his wife Trudie Styler,. This was where in the early 1990s. Sting wrote and recorded his albums Ten Summoner’s Tales and Mercury FallingFields of Gold was apparently inspired by his love of the surrounding fields and the wildflower meadow beside the house.

Lake House & owner

Sadly we were on a tight schedule and didn’t have the time to drop in and see Sting and Trudie. We did, however, pass through Stratford sub Castle, a small village nestled below the site of the ancient hillfort of Sarum and its rather magnificent church of St Lawrence, which seemed disproportionately large in relation to the small village.

Church of St Lawrence, Stratford sub Castle.

And therein lies a tale connected to one of the most illustrious families in British Parliamentary history, one of the most corrupt and infamous rotten boroughs in the country and possibly the world’s largest diamond! As we walked past the church we came to Mawarden Court, the childhood home of William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham and English Prime Minister from 1766-1768.

Blue plaque commemorating Thomas Pitt outside Mawarden Court

William Pitt’s grandfather was a chap called Thomas Pitt, who has gone down in history with the soubriquet ‘Diamond’ Pitt. It was he who financed the lavish expansion of the Church of St Lawrence in 1713 with the proceeds of the sale of the world’s largest diamond! While working for the East India Company as the Governor of Madras, in 1701 he purchased a 410 carat diamond from an English sea captain, who had stolen it from the servant of a local ruler.

Pitt bought the diamond for 48,000 pagodas or £20,400, and sent it back to England in 1702 concealed inside his eldest son, Robert’s shoe. For two years from 1704–1706, the famous London jeweller, Harris, worked away cutting a 141 carat (28.2 g) cushion brilliant from the rough stone. Several secondary stones were produced from the cut that were sold to Peter the Great of Russia. After many attempts to sell it to various European royals, including Louis XIV of France, Pitt and his sons went with the diamond to Calais in 1717. With John Law acting as agent, it was sold that year to the French regent, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, for £135,000, becoming one of the crown jewels of France. Today, “Le Régent”, as it came to be known, remains in the French Royal Treasury at the Louvre, where it has been on display since 1887. It is arguably the most beautiful and purest diamond in the world.

For the Pitt family, their interest in Mawarden (which was once the Vicarage) lay in Old Sarum. As a defunct medieval borough, it retained the right to send two members to Parliament, although, by the 17th century, nobody was actually living there. Votes were cast by the absentee tenants of burgage plots, appointed by the lord of the manor. For this reason, it was the most notorious rotten borough in the kingdom.

Mawarden Court

We reached Salisbury at around 3pm and made a bee line for the Cathedral to acquire my first bona fide stamp in my Pilgrim Passport. Or so I thought! Sadly the Cathedral was closed to visitors (including pilgrims) we were informed in no uncertain terms by a chap who claimed to be the verger. This was something of a disappointment but there was little we could about it. It looks like I’ll have to wait a bit longer for that first bona fide pilgrim stamp!

Salisbury Cathedral

We followed the Clarendon Way towards Winchester passing by the ruins of the Clarendon Palace, owned by the King of England in the early middle ages when it was the site of the largest deer park in the country. There are now just a few scattered stones as well as a rather incongruous flock of llamas which are used to keep the vegetation under control.

Olivia and Llamas at Clarendon Palace

Clarendon Palace was the scene of two important events during the reign of King Henry II. The first event was the Constitutions of Clarendon in 1164 which attempted to restrict the privileges of the English clergy, a move that was fiercely resisted by Archbishop Thomas Becket and ultimately led to his murder in 1170 after Henry’s intemperate outburst ,“Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” , was answered by four knights who rode to Canterbury and hacked Becket to death in Canterbury Cathedral as he presided over Vespers on the 29th December 1170. The other event connected to Clarendon Palace was the Assize of Clarendon in 1166 which was the first attempt by a Norman king to formulate criminal law and procedure.

Our destination for the day was the small village of Pitton which we reached at 5pm. On arrival we were surprised to find that a massive party was taking place in the field behind the village hall. We passed a bemused looking youth with what appeared to be a large python casually draped around his shoulders ambling towards the picnic area. Had word of my pilgrimage spread to Pitton? Had an impromptu welcome party been prepared for us? Sadly not – inquiries suggested that it was the Pitton Carnival Picnic, replete with jazz band , cocktail bar and bouncy castle.

Pitton Carnival Picnic

Tempting though it was to gate crash the Carnival Picnic for a well earned pint, we had made the elementary schoolboy error of not bringing any cash with us! Needless to say, the bar and the ice cream van were ‘cash only’. So we stoically walked back past the merry village revellers to reach our final destination – the White Hill Farm Caravan Site. Ah well, I am sure there will be other opportunities to savour local hospitality over the next 7 weeks and foster “l’entente cordiale”. But for this evening I am forsaking the delights of the Pitton Carnival Picnic in favour of a less sybaritic night under canvas and a hearty MRE ( meal ready to eat) consisting of a chicken burrito and sticky toffee pudding – (a far cry from the stodgy compo rations I dimly remember from floundering around Salisbury Plain in freezing weather on CCF exercises in the late 70s!)


As Napoleon once famously said – “c’est la soupe qui fait la soldat”. – which roughly translates as “An army (or in my case a pilgrim soldier) marches on its stomach!

Day 2: Pitton to Winchester (35 km) From the ridiculous to the sublime.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun

John Keats – To Autumn

One of the many treats of going on a 1,500 mile charity walk, is that it takes you out of your normal routine. It’s not every day that I can sit outside a tent cradling a mess tin brimming with korean spicy noodles, contemplating the day ahead!

The morning didn’t get off to the best of starts when I emerged bleary eyed (a combine harvester had been active half the night in the adjoining field!) from my tent and headed over to the shower facilities which consisted of a couple of cubicles with a menacing looking nozzle jutting out from the wall above a rusty silver button. I optimistically pressed the latter and was met with a torrent of freezing water in my face! It was a rude wake up call I definitely didn’t need. I decided that a freezing shower at 6am in the morning wasn’t worth the risk of contracting double pneumonia and beat a hasty retreat back to my tent!

Spicy cheese ramyon noodles probably aren’t everybody’s idea of the perfect breakfast! I’ve been eating them on a regular basis for the last 30 years, from the time I was a research analyst based in South Korea, responsible for writing research reports on the company (Nongshim) that makes Shin Ramyon noodles. From eating them on freezing winter nights in Seoul with a bottle of the local hooch (soju) to serving them with Taimen to Mongolian nomads near the Russian border in Hovsgol province, I am a self confessed Shin Ramyon noodle addict. The good news is that you don’t have to buy them from South Korea by mail order anymore – even my local Tesco store in Amesbury stocks them nowadays!

There was a definite feeling that autumn was in the air as I headed out of Pitton under leaden skies. Olivia and I ate our first blackberries of the year on Sunday, harvested from a bush on a south facing wall in Laverstock.

I always like a quirky signs and there were a couple in West Winterslow that raised a smile!

Sadly the doors of neither the Church of All Saints at West Winterslow nor St Mary’s Church Broughton weren’t open for private worship this morning.

All Saints, West Winterslow

I contented myself with admiring the dovecote in the churchyard of St Mary’s, the original of which was reputed to have been given to the church in the 14th century by King Richard III.

In the Middle Ages dovecotes were a sign of social status as pigeons were a valuable source of meat, particularly in winter.

Dovecote at St Mary’s, Broughton

It’s not every village that can boast a monumental dovecote in their churchyard, hence the fact that the dovecote occupies pride of place on Broughton village green!

Broughton village green.

I met a lovely lady just outside Broughton walking her 3 dogs. She asked if I was walking far, and seemed quite taken aback when I replied that I was embarking on a 1,600 mile charity walk to Rome! “I wish I had some money on me”, she said, “because I’d really like to donate something to help”. The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me.

The Clarendon Way crosses the River Test at Houghton. Most walkers probably don’t attach much significance to this stretch of chalk stream. But if you are a dry fly fishing aficionado (as I am) then the words ” River Test” and ” Houghton” go together like champagne and caviar. The River Test is the country’s preeminent chalk stream and Houghton is the country’s pre-eminent fishing club.

The River Test at Houghton

Founded in 1823, the Houghton Fishing Club (HFC) is the oldest private fishing club in the world. The club has exclusive fishing rights to 13 miles of the River Test near Stockbridge. Money can’t buy you membership of the HFC. The current elected membership is restricted to 25, and includes the likes of Lord Tanlaw, Lord Tryon and the Duke of Northumberland. And the President of the club? Well that is none other than HRH Prince Charles for whom there is a changing area especially reserved. The 13 miles of fishing are valued at £600 a foot! It probably means that the trout that are caught on the Houghton beat of the Test are worth more than their weight in gold!

Farley Mount is the highest point in Hampshire but the major point of interest is not a trig point but a monument which is dedicated to a horse called ‘ Beware Chalk Pit’.

Beware Chalk Pit Memorial, Farley Mount

The impressive pagoda-like monument commemorates a horse owned by Paulet St John, the 3rd Earl of Bolingbroke which plunged into a chalk pit while its owner was out hunting in 1733. The horse and rider were survived their misadventure, and the following year the horse was entered in a race and given the name ‘ Beware Chalk Pit”. Needless to say Beware Chalk Pit carried his owner to victory and a memorial was erected in its honour by its grateful owner when the trusty steed died.

Beware Chalk Pit Memorial

At around 4pm the sun finally came out from behind the clouds as I descended from Oliver’s Battery into Winchester. I dropped off at the Abbey of St Cross and was given a pilgrim’s dole – a mug of beer and a crust of bread. The Hospital of St Cross has maintained this tradition for helping wayfarers since their foundation in 1136. It’s also the origin of the term, ‘to be on the dole’.

Hospital of St Cross.

From St Cross I walked along the banks of the River Itchen, (where as a boy at WinColl I spent far too much time trout fishing rather than studying!) towards Winchester College. Over 200 years ago, the poet John Keats had trodden the same path when he spent time in Winchester in 1819. It was his most productive year as a poet as he worked on ‘Lamia’, ‘Otho the Great’ and ‘Hyperion’. “The air is worth sixpence a pint” he told a friend. He took regular walks in the water meadows beside the Itchen and wrote his beautiful ode ‘To Autumn’ after walking through the meadows to St Cross. 2 years later he died of fever in Rome, almost 200 years ago to the day.

My final port of call for the day was the cloisters at Winchester College where I wanted to pay my respects to a school contemporary of mine called Christopher Gray, a brilliant student who became a priest after a distinguished academic career at Oxford. He had an annoying habit at school of winning pretty much every school prize that was on offer. After leaving Oxford he had become a priest and spent a year looking after handicapped people at the L’Arche community in France, where he discovered his flair for learning living languages – in addition to Latin, Greek and Hebrew, French and German he was fluent in at least 5 Slavic languages including Czech and Rumanian.

In 1992, after training for the priesthood at Mirfield in Yorkshire, he became a curate at St Jude’s Church, Cantril Farm, in Liverpool. Cantril Farm is a 1960s housing estate with one of the highest unemployment rates in England; the community there was under siege, with high levels of drug use, crime and violence.

Christopher knew the limits of a priest, but within those limits he exercised a sacrificial ministry, especially working with young people who had no connection with the Church. He did not see himself as doing the work of a social worker but felt strongly that the Church is responsible for giving meaning to the lives of those that present them to her.

His life was tragically cut short aged 32 in 1996 when he was savagely stabbed to death 5 times with ax5 inch knife outside his vicarage in Anfield, Liverpool by Peter Storey, a vagrant he had befriended and lent money to. Destined for great things, his life is commemorated with a simple Latin inscription in the college cloisters.

As a theologian, Christopher had written a number of pieces on the role of a priest one of which included the following strangely prophetic passage:

The supreme act of the shepherd is to lay down his life for the sheep . . . [Priests are called to be] people who grow to be like Christ in their faithful service of their flocks; even to the point of sacrificing their own lives.’

Memorial to Christopher Gray

As I returned from the cloisters, I passed the school chapel and Chamber and Flint Courts, where both my father and myself had spent so much of our youth at WinColl. Ghosts from the past came flooding back, memories of attending daily morning chapel before heading round the corner for lessons in Flint Court.

With thoughts of Chris Gray and my father fresh in my mind, after checking in to the Wessex Mercure Hotel, I headed over to the Cathedral to attend Choral Evensong. Listening to the choir sing the final anthem ‘ The Lord is my Shepherd’ I couldn’t help but dwell on the life of Christopher Gray and the ultimate sacrifice he made for his religious beliefs.

From spicy noodles to choral evensong in Winchester Cathedral. It really was a case of ‘ from the ridiculous to the sublime’ I thought to myself as I immersed my throbbing feet into the bath and dimly wondered what surprises tomorrow’s journey would bring.

Day 4: Alton to Compton (32 km) Hop springs eternal

The hop that swings so lightly
The hop that shines so brightly
Shall still be cherished rightly
By all good men and true.

Hop picking poem – anonymous

The day got off to a slightly disappointing start when I awoke to find that my washing had failed to dry overnight! Thankfully I have brought a sufficient quantity of safety pins to attach them to my rucksack. I must just that I remember to hide them away before I meet the Revd Julian Hubbard at Compton this afternoon. It is what I believe is called, airing one’s dirty laundry in public!

The bathroom radiator wasn’t on!

Today there are just 56 farms in England which produce hops, but 150 years ago the countryside between Alton and Compton was festooned with hop fields.

19th century hop pickers from Alton

As a university undergraduate I used to spend the last month of the long vac working on a hop farm in Kent near Cranbrook. It was back breaking work for the month of September from dawn to dusk with a group of fellow students and a family from Croydon who came hopping every year with their grandfather – originally from the East End of London he could remember the time when a Messerschmitt 109 fighter had strafed the hop pickers in the fields during the Battle Of Britain in 1940 before the German fighter plane had been shot down by a Spitfire. Talking to him about his experiences ‘hopping’ was like reliving history. So hops and hop farming hold a special place in my heart and I was on the look out for vestiges of hop farming on my route from Alton to Compton.

In 1867 Alton was the scene of a gruesome crime ( yes another one!) which involved a murder on a local hop farm and provides the origin of the expression ‘ Sweet Fanny Adams’.

Fanny Adams  was an eight-year-old English girl who was murdered by solicitor’s clerk Frederick Baker on 24 August 1867 in Alton. The murder itself was extraordinarily brutal and caused a national outcry in the United Kingdom. Fanny was abducted by Baker and taken into a hop garden near her home. She was then brutally murdered and her body cut into several pieces; some parts were never found.

Fanny Adam’s aged 7.

I searched high and low for vestiges of the regions hop farming heritage and did eventually manage to identify a converted hop kiln near Farnham.

However, for most of the day’s walk there were precious little evidence that hops were currently being grown in the area. In fact I saw more solar farms than hop fields on my walk today!

Solar farm outside Farnham

Finally, however, as I reached the village of Puttenham outside Guidford, I found some hops being grown, reintroduced to the area in 2018 in response to demand for the ‘Fuggle’ variety of hop from the UK craft brewing industry.

Hops being grown near Puttenham

Highlights of the day included seeing an isolated oak tree on a ridge near Bentley. As I stood transfixed by its beauty, a lissom blonde jogger in an orange top and leotards appeared from nowhere and exclaimed “Beautiful isn’t it. I love that tree” as she sped past.

Lone oak tree in a field

At the village of Froyle I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of opulent houses in the village. There was a definite whiff of stockbroker belt money emanating from the village.

Froyle House

At the church in Bentley I came across a 350 year old yew tree propped up in the church yard that must have alive when Jane Austen’s brother Henry became the church’s curate in 1824.

350 year old yew tree in Bentley church yard.

So far the flora en route has been a tad disappointing. The odd toadflax, wild mallow and field scabious in field margins. The lime trees shedding their leaves in front of Winchester Cathedral reminded me that Autumn is on the way! Maybe that is the reason.

Wild flowers in a field outside Alton

I managed to acquire a pilgrim stamp at Puttenham church. It was humbling to think that the 12th century Norman archway above the entrance would have been standing when Becket was murdered in 1170.

Puttenham church.

Passing Farnham Castle brought back memories of attending an induction course there with HSBC before going out to work in Dubai in 1986. It seems like a lifetime ago! I believe it is a wedding venue nowadays.

Farnham Castle

The best bit of the day was saved for last. Prior to embarking on my walk, I had contacted several churches on my route to see whether they would be willing to accommodate me on my walk. One of the first to reply and offer me a bed for the night was the Revd Julian Hubbard, the rector of Compton near Guildford. So, late in the afternoon, we met outside his magnificent Grade 1 star Church of St Nicholas and he proudly gave me a tour of the stunning church which is undoubtedly one of the finest Norman churches in the south of England.

Its Saxon tower alone would make the church special, but what makes it both unique and mysterious is its two storey sanctuary, possibly unique in the UK.

Two storey sanctuary in Compton Church

The nave is adorned with early medieval wall paintings in the shape of lozenges. The carvings on the arches in the nave are intricate and incredibly well preserved. Carved from clunch limestone they almost look as though they were made yesterday. Another beautiful feature Julian pointed out is a stained glass window commemorating the death of a parishioner aged 26 in Italy during WW2. Golden Orioles ( nowadays hardly seen in the UK), a hare and a fox are all beautifully depicted. All in all the church is in immaculate condition and its almost impossible to believe that it dates back nearly 900 years.

It was a huge treat being welcomed in to Julian’s home and to meet his family. Upon arrival I took my boots off, slumped into a sofa and spent an enjoyable hour watching the cricket on Sky TV as well as chatting about Julian’s time as Rector of Jesus College Oxford and Canon of Christ Church Oxford, his time in Israel and his experiences of walking the Sentier de Saint Jacques from Le Puy as well as the Spanish Camino. Julian rounded off the evening by cooking up a delicious curry for supper.

I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome and a better end to the day.

Day 5: Compton to Dorking (24 km) Reconnections

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:

Sonnet 30 – William Shakespeare

It was a short day but a full one in every sense – full of sights and sounds and poignant memories.

We were joined for breakfast at Julian’s by an old beagling friend, Richard Hemingway, who lives in the same road as Julian and knows him well. It’s a small world!

Richard Hemingway and the Revd Julian Hubbard.

Richard is a font of knowledge on flora and fauna, local history and religion. During the hour of the walk that he joined me for, we discussed everything from hunting to the mistranslation of the Greek phrase ‘metanoia’ as ‘Repentance’ rather than ‘Adopting a new mindset’ in the authorised King James translation of the Bible as well as the defeat of the Cornish rebellion in 1497 on the ridge above Guildford. Sadly Richard had to leave me as we entered Guildford.

I suspect that Richard’s departure was cunningly designed to avoid gut busting hill climbs, the first of which involved the ascent of Saint Martha’s Hill, also known as Martyr’s Hill after Thomas Becket. The hill rises 570 feet and gives a wonderful panoramic view over 7 counties.

John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, who lived in Guildford, is said to have derived the idea of “The Hill of Difficulty” from the path leading from nearby Chilworth Manor to Saint Martha’s Church. Having slogged up it, I can see how he got his inspiration!

Saint Martha’s Church

One of the features of this section of the Pilgrims’ Way is the extremely sandy soil – at times it almost felt as though I was walking through sand dunes and around the next corner the sea would appear!

Pilgrims Way near Guildford

I made good progress along the greensand ridge outside Guildford and descended into the picture postcard village of Shere, long thought of as one of the prettiest villages in England.

Photo of Shere in 1938

Sadly I couldn’t linger long in the village as I had a midday lunch appointment with old friends James and Sarah Hutton at Netley House, an imposing National Trust house visible from miles away.

Netley House from afar.

It was great to catch up with James and his wife Sarah and reminisce about our time together at Oxford and chart the progress of our lives over the last 40 years. James has run a successful business from Netley House and specialises in the conservation and restoration of historic buildings.

James and Sarah Hutton

I have always been intrigued by the ‘rot hounds’ that James uses to detect rot in historic buildings and was interested to read an article about them in the national press which appeared a few years ago, the content of which is appended below.

Two ‘useless’ dogs who were abandoned by their owners are now saving some of Britain’s most historic homes after being hired by the National Trust to sniff out dry rot.

Labradors Sam and Wilson have been specially trained to alert surveyors to damage which is invisible to the human eye in stately homes.

The so-called ‘rot hounds’ have already saved conservationists hundreds of thousands of pounds by leading them to the early signs of dry rot at National Trust properties.

The labradors are the only two professional dry rot sniffers in Britain and happily carry out their work in return for chocolate rewards

James Hutton at work with a rot hound

James’s wife Sarah is a priest who is active in the Surrey Hills district and regaled us over lunch with a number of interesting anecdotes including be8ng lead down the labyrinthine coridoors of the Vatican by Swiss Guards for a private an audience with the Pope! If I make it to Rome, I’ll hopefully be picking up my Pilgrim’s certificate from the Vatican!

After a delicious lunch, James bade me farewell and showed me a short cut from the back of his house up a path to rejoin the Pilgrims’ Way.

I was back on familiar territory, having spent much of my childhood living not far away near the small village of Headley, nestled on the North Downs near Box Hill.

I passed the pilgrim church on Ranmore Common (sadly closed to visitors) and descended through Denbies vineyard towards West Humble. Denbies is one of the largest vineyards in England and is situated on a spot where grapes have been grown since Roman times.

Denbies Vineyard.

‘Surrey Gold’is one of their most popular wines made with a blend of Muller-Thurgau and Reichensteiner grapes and particularly good with cheese and spicy Asian dishes!

Surrey Gold

Denbies benefits from a geography that is very similar to the Champagne district of France.  And as such, much of their production is a sparkling wine produced using the same method as champagne (which curiously enough was a technique invented in the UK).  

From a good harvest, Denbies can produce up to 400,000 bottles of wine, about 10% of all the wine produced in the UK and they have around 20 grape varieties, including the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes necessary for producing a champagne type sparkling wine.

Mark Eastwood had kindly offered to put me up for the night at his home in Dorking. He also kindly gave me a lift to Headley which gave me the opportunity to visit my parent’s memorial headstones in Headley churchyard. It was the first time since their memorial service that I had visited the graveyard. 10 years have passed and yet not a day goes by when I don’t remember them.

À la recherche du temps perdu.

St Mary’s Church, Headley

Day 6: Dorking to Tatsfield (36 km) Stepping Stones to Tatsfield

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Endymion – John Keats

Mark Easton and his partner gave me a lovely stay at their house in Dorking. We stayed up chatting until well past 10pm! Mark sent me on moy way with another ‘Full English’ – my fourth of the week!

The day started by crossing the iconic Stepping Stones across the River Mole in the lee of Box Hill. As a child I can remember being brought to Box Hill on frequent occasions and the thrill of walking across the stepping stones. I imagined the stones had been there since time immemorial. It was slightly sobering to have these childhood images subsequently destroyef by the discovery that they were laid out in 1946 by the then Home Secretary who lived in nearby Dorking!

Stepping stones across the River Mole near Box Hill.

The path up Box Hill passes the Burford Bridge Hotel, the place where Keats stayed in 1817 while he completed the final 500 lines of his epic poem ‘Endymion’. At that time it was called the Fox and Hounds. Keats had been bored and distracted by London life and ( according to his biographer Andrew Motion) had been invigorated by the beautiful surroundings at Box Hill.

Burford Bridge Hotel

The hotel has fond memories for me growing up 5 miles away at Headley. On baking hot summer days my mother used to take me to the hotel to use their swimming pool, which was open to the public. Happy days.

Walking up Box Hill first thing in the morning isn’t for the faint hearted even if you’ve benefitted from ‘the full English’! However, the views are spectacular. It’s not entirely surprising that Box Hill has been a magnet for stir crazy visitors from London during lockdown. Local resident Mark, with whom I stayed the previous night, suggested that so many people had congregated at Box Hill during the last 18 months that it had effectively become off limits to local residents.

The most interesting feature of the morning’s walk were the hearthstone mines at Colley Hill just north of Reigate. Colley Hill lies on the Greensand beds which stretch across the North Downs east of Farnham to the Kent Weald. The chalky soil from this area was used as a cleaning product in the ninetenth and twentieth centuries, hence why it was called hearthstone.

From 1890 hearthstone was mined from Colley Hill in 13-25 kg blocks and then transported by horses to mills where it was crushed and then transported to London by train. The mine also produced stone powder in popular brands such as ‘Panda’, ‘Osowhite’ and ‘Snowdrift’. The heyday of the mines was in the 1920s when a carriage a day would transport hearthstone to London. The mine suffered damage from a doodle bug bomb in 1944 and was eventually closed down in 1961.

Hearthstone step powder

I never cease to be amazed by people’s generosity. At Merstham Cricket Club I stopped to chat with the Club Vice President – an Irishman called Mike Griffins. No sooner had heard about my walk to Rome than he fished out £10 from his pocket and thrust it into my hand before beckoning a father and his two children to also come and join him. The father also offered to sponsor me £10!

The church at Merstham was sadly closed ( a common occurrence on the PW this week) which meant that when I reached Chaldon I didn’t bother to make a one mile diversion to view the church and the 13th century purgatorial wall painting of a drunk pilgrim in case the church was also closed.

Purgatorial wall painting at Chaldon church.

By mid afternoon I was getting slightly bored of following the official route (which was quite desultory and comprised long stretches of woodland with restricted views) so decided to go ‘off piste’ in order to reach my final destination for the day at Tatsfield in good time.

Some of my friends have long held the view that these ‘off piste’ moments are possibly linked to Aspergers! I’m not convinced, having recently done an online test for Aspergers which suggested I was in the median quartile (v low risk) for this condition. I think I am just easily distracted and that my ‘off piste’ moments may owe more to my Briggs Myers personality type (‘Adventurer’) rather than a congenital inability to focus on the here and now!

Anyways some heavy tarmac slogging meant that I was able to get to Tatsfield church shortly after 5pm where I was met by my host for the night, the Rev’d Vince Short.

St Mary’s Tatsfield

I must confess that, prior to embarking on my walk, I had never heard of Tatsfield. However, as the Rev’d Vince Short explained, the church and village have an interesting history. At 244 metres above sea level, St Mary’s Tatsfield is one of the highest and smallest churches in Surrey. Until recently the church and village used to regularly get snowed in during the winter. And the first recorded rector of Tatsfield? None other than one William de Dutton, possibly a distant relative!

Tatsfield village pond

After a short tour of Tatsfield village ( pop 1,800) which includes a charming village pond, bistro pub, tea room and post office, it was back to the Rectory for a hot bath and a delicious supper of lasagne ( 2 helpings) and crumble prepared by Vince’s wife Veronica.

Vince is very much a rock and roll vicar – he regularly plays his guitar in the local pub as well as in church. The congregation at the weekly Sunday service, regularly exceeds 35 which isn’t bad for a church with seating capacity for 60 or so.

Rev’d Vince and Veronica Short

Over supper Vince and Veronica entertained me with stories from the parish including one related to Tatsfield’s most infamous resident – the British diplomat-turned-traitor Donald Maclean who fled Tatsfield on May 25, 1951 after he had been tipped off that MI5 knew he was a Russian spy.

Maclean caught a ferry to the continent with fellow spy Guy Burgess – their disappearance sparking a massive manhunt and furore.

Their deception wasn’t confirmed until five years later when the former senior Foreign Office diplomat and Burgess surfaced in Moscow at a press conference.

According to local newspaper reports, 30 bullets as well as coded documents found in the attic of Donald Maclean’s house in Tatsfield when it was sold in 2017! Mrs Rhule ventured up into the loft she noticed a cut in the wooden flooring. She pulled away a piece of wood and found the bullets in the space below. Analysis suggests that the bullets are 70 years old!

Sue Rhule holding 30 bullets she discovered in the home of Donald Maclean in Tatsfield.

Local gossip also suggests that the BBC knew that there was a radio transmitter in Donald Maclean’s house in Tatsfield which he used to transmit information to his Soviet handlers in Moscow!

The BBC set up a radio transmitting station in Tatsfield in 1929 which played an important role in World War 2 ( Biggin Hill Airfield, which played such a crucial role during the Battle if Britain in 1940 is nearby) .

Tatsfield’s work continued during the Cold War. Signals from Sputnik 1were received at Tatsfield in October 1957, and the station also monitored transmissions from subsequent Soviet space missions. In July 1958 it picked up signals from the US Explorer 4 satellite. The station was finally closed in 1974.

So the sleepy village of Tatsfield played a critical role during the Cold War, something I would never have discovered had the Rev’d Vince Short and his wife Veronica not kindly offered to put me up for the night on my walk!

Pilgrim stamp from Tatsfield

Day 7: Tatsfield to Wrotham (29 km) A “chance” encounter and other strange happenings….

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.

Chevening House

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!

MOD – keep out!

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!

RAF Upper Heyford

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!

Donnington Manor Hotel

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.

Pickmoss House

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!

Local history!

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!

Mile post outside Otford

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!

Aylesford Priory aka ‘The Friars”

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!

Michael and Jessica

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.

St Mary’s Kemsing

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.

Day 8: Wrotham to Aylesford via Rochester (34 km) Walking on sunshine and diet coke

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

The Windhover – Gerard Manley Hopkins

What ended up as probably the most satisfying day of the walk so far, didn’t get off to a particularly promising start.

I had enjoyed a fitful night’s sleep the previous night, as the sound proofing in the rooms of the 14th century Bull Hotel left a lot to be desired. For much of the night there was a cacophony of noise from passing traffic on the road outside, creaking floor boards from the floor above, and discordant singing from the downstairs bar, where a female crooner was serenading a wedding group!

Having a shave and a shower also proved somewhat challenging. The shower had definitely seen better days and emitted a trickle of lukewarm water while the hand basin looked as though it had been designed for a doll’s house!

Basin in my room!

Breakfast was a rather trying experience. The morose looking lady who was taking orders, seemed completely distracted from the task at hand. I had to repeat my request for coffee and brown toast, not once, not twice, but three times! The lady, who was supposed to be serving me, spent the majority of time chatting away with a similarly doleful looking colleague, with both of them periodically gleefully announcing that a guest had already checked out and wouldn’t therefore be troubling them for breakfast. That is what you get nowadays for £115 a night in a UK hotel at the weekend!

The restaurant walls were covered with World War 2 memorabilia commemorating the Battle of Britain, which all looked slightly incongruous. I noticed on arrival that there was even an OS map at reception with the precise location of all the bombs and doodle bugs that had landed in the area during the War!

Having checked out of the Bull Hotel, I was heading up the hill in the direction of Trottiscliffe when I suddenly realised that something was missing – my staff! I sprinted back to the hotel to retrieve it. One upshot of this mishap was that I discovered that I can run for considerable distances carrying my rucksack. This could prove useful once I cross the Channel should I be accosted by savage dogs or disgruntled locals!

The morning passed uneventfully apart from a slightly disconcerting detour through a place called Vigo Village that suddenly appeared from nowhere and consisted of endless blocks of identical looking houses laid out in a grid like pattern. It felt like entering a maze! The one person I did encounter (a jogger wearing earphones) didn’t have a clue how to get out of the place and onto a road/footpath to my next destination, Halling.

Having turned to the GPS app on my phone as a last resort, I did eventually manage to navigate my way back onto the PW and find my way to Halling.

Whitehorse Wood

I met an old chap in a fleece in the convenience stores at Halling who claimed to have walked every major long distance path in the UK. Offa’s Dyke and the Cleveland Way were his favourites. I told him I was walking to Rome. ” I’d love to join you” he said, ” but I’m getting a bit too old for that sort of thing nowadays”.

The church of St John the Baptist in Halling was closed, despite it being Sunday. In contrast there was a steady stream of arrivals at the 5 Bells pub opposite for lunch.

As I sat on a bench outside the church eating my lunch, a battered Ford Focus sped past and a tattooed youth shouted out of the window at me “GET A LIFE!”

Crossing the Medway after lunch, I noticed a Samaritans sign on the bridge. ‘Talk to us, we’ll listen’ it said. I paused for a while and thought about the closed church at Halling.

Crossing the Medway

For hundreds of years there used to be a ferry which connected Halling to Wouldham on the opposite bank of the Medway, but it closed in 1963. Pilgrims would have crossed the Medway from Halling to Snodland. The last ferryman, who was called Mr Stephens, said he was glad to be made redundant after having worked 18 hour days for over 30 years!

The village of Wouldham on the banks of the Medway comprised a row of two up two down workers cottages.

Car in Wouldham High St – may struggle to pass its MOT!

The Peters portland cement works, which were the largest in the world in the early 20th century, supplied most of the work in the area.The company founder lived at nearby Wouldham Hall. At their peak in the early 20th century, Peters Cement employed over a 1,000 people and operated over 80 barges. The new housing development I passed enroute to Wouldham is called Peters Village.

Peter’s Cement

I popped in to the Church of All Saints, Wouldham where I got chatting to Martin, the clock winder, and Mike, the Rector.

All Saints Church, Wouldham

Martin offered to give me a tour of the clock. It was installed in 1899 to mark Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1897 and paid for by the Peters family. The Derbyshire firm which installed the clock, still exist and service the clock once a year.

Martin the clock winder and Mike the Rector

Having climbed up a narrow circular stone staircase, Mike showed me how the clock operated. It only loses 4 minutes a week, which is pretty impressive. There are also 6 bells in the belfry and an active team of bellringers.

The 1899 clock

Mike, the Rector, kindly gave me a tour of the church once he had stamped my pilgrim passport. The church was originally Saxon and dates back to 1058. Mike showed me the last surviving bit of the Saxon church – a teardrop window, one of only a few surviving in this country. He showed me the way to the path along the Medway to Rochester and bade me a safe journey.

En route to Rochester along the Medway

Rochester Castle boasts the tallest Norman keep in the country. Built in 1127, in 1215 the castle was seized by rebel baronsxand endured an epic siege by King John garrisoned by rebel barons, the castle endured an epic siege by King John.

Rochester Castle

Having first undermined the outer wall, John used the fat of 40 pigs to fire a mine under the keep, bringing its southern corner crashing down. Even then the defenders held on, until they were eventually starved out after resisting for two months.

As I passed the moat of Rochester castle on my way to the Cathedral, I noticed a brass plaque commemorating the last ‘ Justice Tree’ in the county – the ‘justice’ being meted out by the Court Leet – and consisting in the most serious cases of hanging on the gallows or Justice Tree ( Also known as the ‘Grief Tree’, the ‘Gallows Tree’, the ‘Justice Tree’ or simply ‘The Tree’.) On the 3rd February 1820 the last public hanging took place in Rochester – that of a busking bagpipe player Duncan Livingstone who murdered his 10yr old assistant. His body is interred under the castle walls.

Site of last Justice Tree in Kent

I managed to make it into Rochester Cathedral (founded in 604AD by St Augustine who reintroduced Christianity to these shores) by the skin of my teeth – they were closing to tourists for the 3.30pm choral evensong service.

I had a quick look around and left to find some replenishment and also look at the Gordon Hotel which I’d booked but then cancelled when the owner told me that they no longer did breakfast for guests. ( WHAT? NO BREAKFAST???) Clearly they aren’t targetting the ravenous pilgrim market.

Rochester almost seems like a giant Dickens theme park. In the high street I noticed a ‘Little Dorrit’ sweet shop, an ‘Oliver Twist’ bakery and a pub which claimed to be the last place that was mentioned in Edwin Drood.

I’d jettisoned my water in the morning in order to increase my speed and make it to Rochester and back to Aylesford in time for evening prayers at the Carmelite Priory at 6.30pm. With the mercury hitting 70 degrees, I was feeling pretty parched. Having necked a 2 litre bottle of diet coke I legged it back towards Aylesford along the banks of the Medway.

Fuelled by diet coke induced caffeine rush, I managed to make it back to Aylesford in record time, locate my quarters after flagging down a Carmelite monk called Father Jed. On arrival at the Priory I’d noticed a large crowd of Indians emerge from the chapel in a state of high animation. I asked Father Jed about them. ‘ They are on a youth pilgrimage from Gillingham”, he told me. “We get a lot of Indians coming to the Priory”, he added.

Aylesford Priory

Evensong was a simple affair. There were only 4 monks in attendance including Father Jed, clad in the brown hooded vestment of the Carmelite order of friars. The service was conducted in plain song and lasted just 20 minutes. Besides me there were only two other attendees. I could hear seagulls squawking in the distance as the monks melodiously intoned the Lord’s Prayer. It had been a long day, but a rewarding one, sparked in large part by the previous day’s chance encounter and the suggestion that I should spend a night at the ‘Friars’ with the Carmelite monks of Aylesford Priory.

The chapel

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

Day 10: Charing to Canterbury (28 km) Canterbury Tales – Plantaganets, Argentine railways and Edith Cavell.

‘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.

Eastwell Park

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!

Paul and Creepy

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.

Memorial to Richard Plantaganet

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!

Olivia and her father in front of the Edith Cavell memorial

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.

The Old Vicarage Chilham

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

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!”.

Hop field near Chilham

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.

Jenny Walpole – Curate of St Dunstan’s

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.

Day 11: Canterbury to Shepherdswell (20 km) Pinch, punch!

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.

Shops opposite the Cathedral

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.

St Augustine’s Abbey

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.

Pauline the churchwarden of Patrixbourne church.

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.

Plaque in the entrance to Shepherdswell church.

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!

Mike, Stella and ‘bike’