All posts by Leigh Hatts

TV Pilgrimage: Walk to Rome with Alison’s book

If you have been watching Pilgrimage: the Road to Rome on BBC2 you may be interested in reading the guide.

The Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome is the continuation of the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester or Southwark.

Alison Raju’s The Via Francigena Canterbury to Rome – Part 2 has the route being followed on television by Les Dennis, Dana, Lesley Joseph and their companions.

Like the Pilgrims’ Way guide, Alison’s book is published by Cicerone. This month there is a 20% discount here.

Otford-Kemsing ‘new’ path

St Edith at the well window in Kemsing church

Pilgrims sometimes wandered off the main route in bad weather to seek less muddy tracks. In some places it became general to take a parallel path in order to visit a holy place or accommodation such as Boxley Abbey.

It is for such reasons that the guidebook will in future advise walkers to take a new way out of Otford despite the main road being proudly called Pilgrims Way. This change will spare pilgrims the need to take a busy road without a pavement.

But it also makes sense to use the direct route through Kemsing rather than having to drop down to visit St Edith’s holy well and the lovely church with its ancient door marked by medieval pilgrim staves.

This alternative is no modern substitute but an ancient road dating from Roman times.

New directions out of Otford:

Footpath crossing railway at Otford

At the Otford pond roundabout walk over to the church.

Go down the the right, or south, side of the church and follow the path ahead.

This soon runs past roses below a long brick wall (left) to leave the churchyard at a gate. The way at once double bends before continuing east as a hedged path. Later there is a view (right) across a meadow where St Thomas Becket’s well is located on the far side.

At the end of the path go ahead only for Otford Station forecourt.

The route continues sharp right on a still enclosed path. At the next junction go left over a stile leading to the railway line. (Before crossing the track look and listen.) On the far side a passage leads to a road. Cross over to find the way continuing.

The metalled way is enclosed before running along the edge of Oxenhill Woods (right). Ignore all turnings and stay on the path which eventually joins Dynes Road.

Still keep forward to reach, after almost a mile (1.49km), St Edith’s Well at the junction of High Street and St Edith’s Road (left) by the The Bell in Kemsing.

Take the footpath north of the well to climb up to the church.

Leave the churchyard by the lychgate and turn left through a gateway. Pass a playground (left) and walk ahead over the grass expanse with trees on both sides. Pass tennis courts (right) to reach the far corner where a short woodland path leads to steps. Go left to the road which is the Pilgrims’ Way and turn right.

The PW continues ahead and over a crossroads. At a second junction there is a view of St Clere. 

Ancient route between villages of Otford and Kemsing is quieter than the higher main road



Godmersham Park GARDEN open this Sunday

Godmersham House seen from the Pilgrims’ Way

If you are walking the Pilgrims’ Way on Sunday afternoon 7 April heading for Chilham you can stop for tea at Godmersham Park.

The PW runs through the parkland and this Sunday you can also look around the formal gardens next to the mansion known to Jane Austen.

Teas and refreshments in the Orangery are in aid of the church which has a small sculpture which may have come from Canterbury’s Thomas Becket shrine.

The Heritage Centre nearby will also be open free to garden visitors.

The garden is open 1pm to 5pm; admission £5 (in aid of nursing charities and Godmersham Church).

There will be a second opening on Sunday 16 June also as part of the National Garden Scheme .

Royal Oak under new team

The Royal Oak in Southwark’s Tabard Street

Royal Oak landlords Frank Taylor and John Porteous have left after years of playing a pivotal role in the community by supporting the arts, heritage and Pilgrims’ Way.

The Royal Oak in Southwark’s Tabard Street now starts the new year with a new team.

This is the first pub out of Southwark on the Pilgrims’ Way. Its address may be Tabard  Street but the road is really the start of the original Old Kent Road trod by travellers and pilgrims to Canterbury and the continent. 

The Royal Oak, as  a Harvey’s of Lewes house, is the successor to a pilgrim inn on Tooley Street owned by Lewes Priory.

You can get a pilgrim stamp at the Royal Oak’s bar.

Harvey’s is 2017 and 2018 UK Brewer of the Year.

The new team is headed by Ryan and assistant manager Adam.

Frank is front page news in the London Drinker
Frank (centre) receiving the Greater London Pub of the Year Award ion 2012

Our Lady of Walsingham in Southwark

The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham from the Slipper Chapel in Norfolk is at St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Southwark until Saturday 23 February.

This is a rare event and the accompanying exhibition has much resonance for those interested in the Pilgrims’ Way.

Other centres of pilgrimage are highlighted including Aylesford on the PW.

Also, in a Walsingham painting by Alan Sorrell, can be seen St John Fisher and St Thomas More who we meet on the PW.

For this special occasion, St George’s Cathedral has on show its little ‘Holy House’, or chest, containing the relics of four saints including St Thomas Becket.

St George’s Cathedral is opposite the Imperial War Museum.

Our Lady of Walsingham in St George’s Cathedral on Thursday night
Holy House contains Thomas Becket relic

St Valentine: Southwark is the romantic place to be

John Gower resting on his books in Southwark Cathedral

The best place to be with resonance on St Valentine’s Day must be Southwark Cathedral.

It has the splendid tomb of John Gower who was one of the first, if not the first, to write a love poem associating mating birds with 14 February.

His friend Geoffrey Chaucer, who knew Southwark well, wrote about love and birds in Parlement of Foules but was he inspired by Gower?

It’s not clear who was first.

Chaucer refers to ‘seint valentynes day of the parlement of briddes’ at the very end of The Canterbury Tales.

Appropriately, John Gower in the cathedral is today wearing a lovely red dress.

If you are starting your pilgrimage this morning you should include him in your list of what to look at before leaving Southwark.

But if you are leaving from Winchester Cathedral you could pause as you pass through nearby Hyde Abbey where St Valentine’s head was an attraction for over four hundred years until 1539.

Romantic classics

Tonight’s Valentine’s Piano Recital by candlelight at 7.30pm in Southwark Cathedral includes Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and other romantic classic. Tickets from £15.

OXTED Rector becomes Bishop

Andrew Ramsey, Rector of Oxted on the PW, is today to be made a Bishop.

Oxted in Surrey is on the Winchester to Canterbury PW route but his consecration as bishop takes place at Southwark Cathedral which is the start of the London route.

Oxted means place of the oaks so the parish has given its former rector an oak ramshorn crook as a bishop’s pastoral staff

Dr Ramsey will serve as Bishop of Ramsbury in the Salisbury Diocese.

Yews on the PW

The churchyard at Bentley in Hampshire has a remarkable yew canopy making visitors stoop.

Bentley does not find a place in Tony Hall’s The Immortal Yew book but the one in Ichen Abbas churchyard does.

Tony makes two interesting observations. One is that John Hughes, the last person to be hanged for stealing horse, is buried nearby. This was 1825 and the vicar promised to place his body under the ancient tree.

The other is that the lovely ’12th-century’ Hampshire church is really Victorian. The original may have been built in 1092. But today’s church is fully carpeted.

Hilaire Belloc, who walked the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester in 1899, thought that yew trees were significant markers.

St Thomas Becket

Canterbury Cathedral seen from Archbishop’s Palace

This year St Thomas Becket Day falls at the weekend.

Saturday 29 December, the fifth day of Christmas, is the anniversary of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s murder in 1170.

At Canterbury Cathedral the day begins at 8am with the Eucharist celebrated at the Altar of the Sword’s Point on the martyrdom site.

Festal Holy Communion for the Martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury is at 12.30pm.

At 3.15 pm Plainsong Choral Evensong includes a procession and dramatic readings from TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Thomas Becket died during the singing of Vespers and this Saturday Vespers is in the crypt at 8pm.

The Thomas Becket Eucharist on Saturday at Southwark Cathedral is at 9.15am, Winchester Cathedral at 9.30am and Rochester Cathedral at 9am.

And of course there are many other celebrations including those at Mottola in Italy and Layana in Spain where Becket is the patron saint.

Meanwhile, at 2.30pm BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting version of The Canterbury Tales supposedly staged by the inhabitants of Ambridge.

A pub sign on the Pilgrims’ Way copied from a Canterbury Cathedral window


St Thomas Becket’s birthday

St Thomas Becket window at Southwark Cathedral

Friday 21 December is St Thomas Becket’s birthday.

He was was baptised Thomas because his birth was on the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle. The naming after Thomas was always a matter of great importance  to the archbishop. 

The apostle is now remembered on 3 July rather than in Advent.

Thomas Becket was  born in Cheapside on  a site now occupied by Mercers’ Hall.

But what year was he born in?

Some historians claim that it was 1118 which would make today the 900th anniversary of the birth. 

But others suggest that it was 1120 which makes 2020 into an even more significant anniversary year.

2020 will be the 850th anniversary of Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170 and the 800th anniversary of the Translation of Thomas Becket’s body from the Canterbury Cathedral crypt to his shrine at the cathedral’s east end.

So it looks as if the key dates during the 2020 anniversary year will be Tuesday 7 July (Translation); Thursday 10 December (last visit to Southwark Cathedral); Monday 21 December (birthday) and Tuesday 29 December (martyrdom).

Canterbury Cathedral and Southwark Cathedral will be announcing special 2020 events shortly.