Section 10: 10 miles (16 kilometres), I don’t care what the book says, there’s no way it’s 7.25, my gps said 10.2. October, sun, clouds, light rain, I had it all.
It’s pronounced Root ’em. There’s no reason you would know it’s not Wroth-am, I certainly didn’t. Also, it’s Hauling, not Hal-ing. Illogical language. Also you may not know it’s a mile and a half from the train station that bears its name, Borough Green and Root ’em and the walk is uphill. I left my house on an autumn morning, cold with spitting rain, with fleece and raincoat, so of course now Shovell and I struggle, sweating, up the hill because the sun is now beating down and I resemble a boil in the bag TV dinner.
Having partially disrobed we cross the M26 and the M20 and cross a busy roundabout, with a one-for-sorrow magpie, I’m eventually back on the PW, wondering frankly why do I bother, when the path opens itself up to me again. And I’m reminded this is why I bother, for the beautiful undulating land of Kent under a deep blue sky.
Today is Saturday so I don’t have it to myself, but there are just a few people around, dog walkers, strollers, amblers and ramblers.
The hills are gentle enough, and when I come to an enclosed path I see proper hedge laying has been happening, and there are plenty of different species of tree in there. Hooper’s Law says the age of a hedge is equal to the number of different tree species in a 100ft length times 100. Either that’s a little generous, or the hedgerows in Kent are ancient.
There are even clumps of field poppies in the stubble, much later than expected, and a buzzard trailing the clouds. The path follows above the road, over grassy pasture and into coppiced woodland, I’m keeping my eye out for the wild service tree which is usually only found in old woods. Before long I see the weather vane of Trottiscliffe church below and a sign affixed to Pilgrim House decides for me whether to visit. A field edged with bedraggled sunflowers slowly, drunkenly turning to seed leads me down the hill.
I’m delighted to see Trottiscliffe church has some pilgrims’ marks on the inner doorway, but they are wearing away and a little hard to make out.
Shovell and I bag the stamp and eat lunch in the churchyard as the rain begins to splotter the box tomb I am sitting on, among the mosses and lichens.
As I make my way back up the hill it is then I see a waymarker for Coldrum Long barrow. There’s no indication of how far it is but there’s no way i’m missing a long barrow. Turns out it’s 15 minutes to visit the Medway’s best preserved early neolithic barrow (almost 4000 BCE).
It’s a little disordered, stones have been moved and part of it was quarried away but it is still a barrow with a commanding view, the resting place of around 20 men women and children. It would have looked down over forest or plains when it was in use, a place of interment and the theatre of ritual. There are three kids playing there when I visit, I think it is they who have left an offering of feathers. Children can see thin places better than we can, places where you can walk in this world and another in time.
As I leave I can’t help scanning the ploughed field edge for hoards. The only thing I detect is an overpowering smell of dung. When I climb back up to Whitehorse Wood I see a black horse and a brown horse, but no white horse. Shovell, awed by the antiquity of the barrow, behaves himself (for once). It’s now a long straight path through the edge of the wood with plenty of mushrooms to steal my time and attention.
I pass some fields that are the strangest rainbow colours I’ve ever seen. I can’t understand why, there’s nothing unusual growing, just grass and stubble. Maybe there is some kind of nitrogen deficiency up here on the chalk soil, or perhaps it’s weedkiller. Even so it looks beautiful, the next few fields are all the same and the colours are hallucinatory. I wonder if I’ve accidentally ingested some fungi, and I keep an eye out for magic mushrooms.
When I emerge from the tree tunnel onto the edge of the Medway towns the landscape starts to become industrial, with factory towers belching into the air and vast concrete bridges in the distance spanning the Medway. I’m excited for the Medway, now I know there are several neolithic sites on the other side and I love an industrial landscape.
Here the PW is disputed, pilgrims used to either cross the river at Halling or ford it at Snodland: the book takes you up to Halling, the GPX would have me cross the bridge lower down at Snodland. I decide to go with the book as I fancy the walk back down along the river Medway on the next section. As I trek to the end of today’s section to visit the church, the street is named Pilgrims Way for a time. I can see I’ve made the right choice for the end of my walk. Sadly the church is locked up and the ferry is long gone, all that is left is the name.
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Other walks on the Pilgrims Way
I use The Pilgrims Way by Leigh Hatts as a guidebook, it’s pretty much essential for this walk. You can buy it here or from good independent bookshops.
I also use a GPX file imported from British Pilgrimage Trust into the Ordnance Survey app. It is available from their website and occasionally differs from the book.
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