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:
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.
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.
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.
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).