Section 13b of the Pilgrims’ Way national trail. 8.2 miles (13.2 kilometres). May, warm and sunny. With son and silly dog.
I am back in the beautiful old village of Charing in Kent. Not many villages can claim to have an eighth century historical site and an archbishop’s 13th century palace built on it but all is not well here. There has been a crime.
Some lousy toerag has stolen the pilgrims’ stamp from the nave of St. Peter and St. Paul’s church Charing. They have suggested we photograph it but to be honest vicar, I can’t put that in my passport although technically I could if I printed it very small and cut it out.
I think very briefly about cutting the photo of the stamp out of the photocopy and stealing it but decide this would be neither funny nor clever. I imagine the vicar is fed up enough already. Besides, I have no scissors.
The stamp notwithstanding, I am back on the PW with my lovely son and stupid dog and very soon we are back under the trees and the dappled light and shade of the North Downs Way. Above my head there are light aircraft from the nearby airfield; at eye level I’m watching a beautiful coppery red dragonfly and listening to the incessant drone of my son complaining about various aspects of his attire but mostly about the dog pulling. Perhaps I am destined to have no tranquility today, not even in this lushest of green swaddling blankets.
We did not have an early start, who needs one on a warm sunny Saturday when there’s no rush to be back, so as usual we find ourselves looking for a bench to eat packed lunch shortly after we have set off. We find one with a beautiful view of Kentish vineyards and after food the hangriness subsides and we start to all get along a little better.
To visit the next church we have to leave the tree tunnel and find ourselves on a very cool white chalk path which winds through the weetabix towards the church of St Mary Westwell, accompanied by the pleasing sound of skylarks burbling in the long grass. It is most delightful, and we smile a lot. I smile a lot more when I get inside the church. It has some excellent medieval graffiti, the most fun thing to look for and a hobby I strongly recommend.
I’m left wondering if Thomas Taylor and John Gruer were idle choirboys, what game were people playing while bored in church, and who the splendid caricature is, probably the vicar. Incidentally a Thomas Gruer died of plague in Westwell in 1582. His relatives waited several days before going in his house in case it was still plague-ridden, and in this providential gap thieves broke in and stole all his belongings. This graffiti may well have been done by his great great grandson, and I think we may also have found the ancestors of the Charing stamp thief.
At Westwell village there is one of the most floriferous hawthorns I’ve ever come across, this year has been a great one for hawthorn although I don’t know what it presages. You can barely see any leaves and the smell wafts gentle sweet vanilla along the road. Snow has settled on this patch of Kent which even the sun can’t melt. As if to counterpoint it, a red admiral comes by to investigate, but I’m too busy gawking at it and trying to chase it to get the picture of it landing on the snow. Before too long we are back on the PW path.
Again we leave the shade of the trees and cross the carefully managed estate of Eastwell, where there are signs trying to deflect you from the path. Clearly the spa hotel would rather not have walkers tramping through their grounds but access is access so they have no choice and we stick to our route. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the wellness spa with its expensive organic treatments and the gallons of chemicals with warning symbols we watch the farmer pouring into his enormo-sprayer on the land surrounding it. In the days when lovely son was tiny I would sometimes go to Ironmonger Row spa on cheap days. The room I liked best had no fancy sweat, steam and shiver treatments, but it was quiet and had beds and blankets. I would essentially pay £26 to go to sleep. All parents of young children will know what excellent value for money this represents.
All about us the crops are growing up, as young ones do, and I remember a similar walk with lovely son and Monseigneur Doggle last July on the PW, through fields of golden wheat and I am transported back to the start of the pilgrimage. As much as these fields paint the English countryside in green and gold it is the rough and wild ones I like best, with their promise of hares and glow worms. I love a glow worm.
Near Perry Court farm we have an important decision to make. We can carry on for another 7 miles, or we can cross the field to the farm and tea shop with its wide selection of cakes and freshly picked strawberries and get the train home. I don’t know how you go about making these kind of momentous decisions, but I have a general rule which serves me well: I pretend that I really want to carry on, and then blame the dog. You know what, he really does look like he’s getting tired, and he has such a big fur coat on. Maybe it’s best if we go find somewhere to stop so he can have water. Oh look, a tea shop, now that is convenient.
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More 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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