Godmersham: route change

Traffic-free Pilgrims’ Way above Godmersham

Since the publication of Walking The Pilgrims’ Way in 2017 there has been reader and walker feedback as well as ongoing research.

This recently resulted in a welcome change to the path running out of Otford towards Kemsing.

As at Otford, there is a problem of an unpopular busy road at Godmersham.

The present guide points walkers along the very busy A28 main road. There is a pavement but uncared for hedges and vegetation have reduced its width in several places.

This route was chosen in order to enable pilgrims to visit Godmersham Church, which holds a fragment of Becket’s shrine, and is said to have been visited by pilgrims in past times.

It also allows for a good view of Godmersham Park known to Jane Austen.

In addition Donald Maxwell, whose 1932 The Pilgrims’ Way in Kent booklet ran to fourteen editions, thought that pilgrims would have stayed near the River Stour.

But today walkers cannot see the river let alone cool their feet in it as Maxwell suggests. They are on a main road opened in the 19th century and not the nearby lost lane which might have been used.

However, Ordnance Survey holds that the Pilgrims’ Way runs along the ridge above Godmersham long marking the way as Supposed Pilgrims’ Road. This line was supported by Hilaire Belloc who published The Old Road in 1904.

He wrote: “We looked through the mist, down the hollow glen towards the valley between walls of trees. We thought, perhaps, that a dim mark in the haze far off was the tower of the Cathedral–we could not be sure.”

He was right although it’s hard to see without a camera zoom or binoculars. The spot where this is possible on a clear day has been marked with a board erected in 2015 by St Martin-in-the-Fields Church which organises an annual pilgrimage using this route .

This possible glimpse does not at all spoil that famous ‘first view’ at Harbledown.

The case for the higher path at Godmersham, which is already part of the North Downs Way, is so strong that it already has a PW waymark. Recent surface improvement means that this path is no longer muddy for long periods.

So the higher NDW path will be adopted as the PW in future but with a diversion for those who wish to see the Jane Austen house which features on the ten pound bank note and the church.

Soakham Farm to Chilham: new directions

Follow existing directions from Boughton Aluph to Soakham Farm where the way runs downhill and through the farmyard.

Where the concrete ends keep forward to a hidden gate. A track treble bends and turns uphill before bearing left. On approaching a usually open gate (and passing an easily missed waymarked path to the right) keep forward as the path continues to climb steeply up towards Soakham Downs. Briefly there is a magnificent view to the left.

The path bends to the right to run along the edge of King’s Wood (right). In season there will be game on the path. Go through a high deer gate to reach a junction. Go right and at a fork, with Pilgrims’ Way sign, bear left. Keep to the main track as it gently descends and go left again at another fork as the way curves steeply left and right. Now the path is on a high wooded bank.

Just beyond a junction with a footpath (left) there is a NDW stone. After 0.25 miles there is a board (right) indicating a very brief view (half right) of Canterbury Cathedral. Almost 0.5 miles further on there is an original low wall deer fence.

[Only to see Godmersham Park and its church go through the gate (left) and follow the path downhill. At the bottom crosspaths, with a view of the mansion, go left for Chilham or to visit the church continue ahead between hedges, bear right for the main gateway and go right along the road for the church.

GODMERSHAM PARK mansion, featured on the £10 bank note, was built in 1732 and inherited by Jane Austen’s brother Edward Knight (with Chawton manor; see Stage 2.) Jane visited often from 1794 to 1813 and here worked on Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, which feature Godmersham, and Emma. The church has a stone plaque thought to have been part of Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury.]

The PW continues ahead. At a T-junction go right on a path which runs downhill to meet Mountain Street. This wooded lane from Godmersham Park (right beyond the high gateway) to Chilham is an old road to Canterbury running just below the “Supposed Pilgrims’ Road” which entered Chilham via the Castle. Turn left on the rough and narrow Mountain Street which becomes metalled after another junction. Beyond a hamlet there is the castle wall (left) which when built in 1728 caused the road to be again slightly diverted. A gate (left) and then a brief railing give a glimpse of the castle and lake. Keep forward at a junction past Elephant House (left) and up School Hill to the hilltop village. Opposite, at the Chilham Castle gate, is a modern sculpture of pilgrims.

The PW runs across The Square and past the White Horse Inn into the churchyard.

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