Section 11: 5 miles (8 kilometres). October, dry and sunny. Solo with Mr Dog
I had hopes for this stage along the river. It marks the border between west and east Kent and follows the slow and muddy River Medway. But it’s an odd little uncared for section. So far I’ve had holloways and woods, pastures and villages but sometimes you hope for something new. It’s not that those hopes weren’t realised, but it wasn’t what I expected. It feels entirely lost and forgotten.
It starts at the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace on Ferry Lane, Halling, first built in 1077. There’s very little left to see although much of it is underground. Here is where I should be getting a ferry, then crossing the marshes to Burham. I can even see the ferryman’s steps. I could wait but no one will come.
After 600 years the ferry finally stopped crossing the water in 1964. Instead I have to navigate a dreadful section through a suburban estate and along a new bypass. Shovell loathes this kind of fast moving traffic.
There’s a good view of the river Medway as you walk over the new Peters Bridge. On the other side I’m soon funnelled into a housing development, an entire new town is being built and the book’s instructions make no sense. Clearly this used to be a rural backwater. I can see enticing unpaths off into the hills and down to the marshes. But it’s a straight line to disused Burham church which now sits incongruously next to building equipment and lorries.
I feel I need sanctuary so I go through the wild churchyard. The church is now redundant but is being preserved. I take a good look for medieval graffiti. One day I’ll do a post about the stuff I have found over the years. There are some interesting marks by the door, in the same position as at Trottiscliffe church so I’ve asked my graffiti expert what he makes of it. There’s no stamp, needless to say. The churchyard path leads to the spot by the river where the ferry would have arrived.
The path turns away from the road. It makes a change to be walking alongside a disused brickworks and a solar farm with gigantic pylons striding into the distance, a change that perhaps not everyone will embrace. I don’t think this section will any awards for beauty but it has an unsettling presence. The waymark instructions say things like ‘bends left by a Danger Deep Water notice’ and ‘the path widens to pass through a sewage farm’.
The sewage farm is pungent, but the birds and insects seem to love it, there are loads. Then from the sewage farm service path I look to my right and there are thatched roofs, I’ve reached the carmelite priory, The Friars. It dates from the 13th century and even has a tea shop.
But either the nuns or god don’t like dogs and Shovell isn’t even allowed in the grounds, let alone the tea shop (with outdoor seating!) 15 metres away. A better sign by far than ‘no dogs’, and the nuns are missing a trick here, would be “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters (inside are the cakes)”. That’s what I and Revelations would go for, except of course I’d let dogs in. And sorcerors, the sexually immoral, the murderers and idolaters, i.e. most of the sort of people who frequent tea shops.
So instead I head up to the church (no stamp and no dogs here either) and finally see the Medway again. We cross over a gorgeous packhorse bridge dating from 1250 which we linger on and lean over. They can’t take that away from us just because we have 6 legs between us.
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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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