Winchester & Canterbury in Top 100

The cathedrals at the start and end of the long Pilgrims’ Way are included in the new book Europe’s 100 Best Cathedralsby Simon Jenkins.

Winchester and Canterbury are awarded four stars.

We are told that Winchester, begun by William the Conqueror, ‘was to be twice the length of the abbeys of Normandy’. The chantry chapels highlighted include Richard Fox’s which ‘was used by him for hours of daily prayer for ten years before his death in 1528’.

There is a picture of the statue by Anthony Gormley whose work is seen again when you reach Canterbury Cathedral and go down to the crypt.

This ‘is one of joys of Canterbury and the most extensive in England’ observes the author who suggests that upstairs Becket’s shrine should be recreated.

We are also told that the silvery towers beckon pilgrims to its bosom ‘as they have done for centuries’ and on arriving they find a close retaining ‘the ambience of a medieval enclave’.

In the London section there is sadly no room for Winchester’s daughter cathedral Southwark although it is centuries older than the featured St Paul’s .

Other Great Britain entries include such pilgrim cathedrals as St Davids and Salisbury where you find St Osmund. At Lincoln both St Hugh and the Lincoln Imp get a mention, the latter being the 21st century attraction which reaches out to the city and its football team.

The Pilgrims’ Way is just a first leg for those going on to Santiago de Compostela or Rome and both feature strongly.

Visiting the Abbey of Vezelay in France, Simon Jenkins walks up a hill and senses ‘the feet of millions who must have made this climb over the centuries before setting out on the long road to Santiago’.

He adds: ‘The memory is one of heat, sore feet and the beckoning cool of an ancient church.’ At Santiago he recalls an interior ‘as a haze of heat and incense’.

There is also space for Rouen which is today twinned with Southwark and like Southwark is part of the last days of Thomas Becket.

This book could tempt you beyond Canterbury.

Europe’s 100 Best Cathedrals by Simon Jenkins (Penguin Viking; £30).

St Andrew’s Boxley

The new view of the chapel building seen from the lane.

Today Tuesday 30 November is St Andrew’s Day.

It’s special in Scotland, Greece, Barbados, Amalfi and many other places.

It was once a special day at Boxley Abbey which possessed a St Andrew relic, a finger encased in silver, which was in the freestanding St Andrew’s Chapel built in 1484 about a quarter of a mile from the abbey church.

It was at a southern entry point to the abbey but only functioned as a chapel for 53 years. The abbey was dissolved in 1537 when the community had fallen to just four monks.

The chapel, after being hidden for years, can now be seen from Boarley Lane, opposite the post box near the junction with Grange Lane.

The lost chapel has been purchased by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and careful restoration is in progress.

The plan is to eventually place it on the market to raise funds for the next project.

Should we think about purchasing it to be a pilgrim hostel so once again pilgrims can stay at Boxley Abbey? An example is Refugio Gaucelmo on the Camino in Spain run by Southwark-based Confraternity of St James. Last month it celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The higher roof is the top of the chapel which has attached clergy accommodation.

On Foot to Canterbury: Ken Haigh’s pilgrimage

Ken Haigh, resident in Canada, has written an account of his walk from Winchester to Canterbury.

Those who have walked the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester will find this book an enjoyable account. So might those who come from London joining the converged way at Otford.

It is interesting that at Otford Ken chooses to take the lower path to Kemsing (as in the latest edition of the Cicerone guide) rather than the main road. This alternative is not only more pleasant and direct but also ancient and known to earlier pilgrims.

The author’s reading ahead is thorough and includes the Cicerone guide so his asides are mostly relevant. He highlights some connections usually forgotten such as early PW guidebook writer Julia Cartwright living on the Pilgrims’ Way and the Wetherspoons pub in Canterbury having a tenuous link with the PW.

Is there anything worrying in the book? it is maybe the number of times he finds a church locked. He was walking in summer before the pandemic.

It is important to get churches as well as pubs and b&bs open as soon as possible next year.

The book is a Hilary Weston WT Prize for Nonfiction finalist.

On Foot to Canterbury: A Son’s Pilgrimage by Ken Haigh (University of Alberta Press; $26.99/£20.99)

Rumwold the child saint at Boxley

A surviving wall of Boxley Abbey below the Pilgrims’ Way

For many 3 November is the day after All Souls’ Day or maybe Martin de Porres Day. However, in some calendars it is St Rumwold’s Day.

Alternative spellings include Rumwald, Rumbald and Rumbold. Rumwold is favoured by churches in Kent.

St Rumwold was born into the Mercian royal family in the 650s. The birth took place just south of Kings Sutton in Northamptonshire.

He lived for just three days during which he is reported to have spoken and even preached a sermon.

This remarkable claim did not impress Norman bishops who did little to promote the feast day.

However, 3 November was always a red letter day on the PW at Boxley Abbey where there was a St Rumwold statue which is said to have proved suddenly heavy if a sinner tried to lift it.

Another important date at the abbey was St Andrew’s Day at the end of month when a relic was displayed.

**Boxley Abbey remains, below the parallel vineyard path, are not open to the public although the surviving long barn can be seen from the PW.

King Alfred’s day

King Alfred in Trinity Church Square in Southwark

Alfred the Great died on 26 October 899 and the anniversary is marked annually in Common Worship.

The church calendar entry is Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons, Scholar, 899.

Alfred is buried in St Bartholomew’s churchyard at Hyde Abbey next to the Pilgrims’ Way on the edge of Winchester.

His statue dominates Winchester’s main street.

A much older statue of Alfred is found in Southwark which the King founded as a fortified place in 880.

Winchester’s King Alfred statue by Hamo Thornycroft was erected in 1901 following the millennium of his death in 1899.

Boxley’s vineyard harvest

The main pilgrim path running through the new vineyard at Boxley.

This month grapes have been harvested for the first time at Boxley.

Vine planting began in the spring of 2019 at the 388 acre Boarley and Abbey Farms to create England’s largest vineyard.

The age old diversion to a parallel path still taken by pilgrims at Boxley, originally to visit the now lost Boxley Abbey, now runs through a vast vineyard.

The surprise vineyard is a welcome improvement and even the path now appears less muddy than in previous times after rain. There is also new clear signage.

The farm has become part of Chapel Down winery of Small Hythe near Tenterden.

Boxley Abbey ran a brewery until the dissolution of the monastery 1537 but may also have had vines as did the monks at Hollingbourne a little further along the Pilgrims’ Way.

The vineyard is behind The King’s Arms in Boxley. The footpath emerges by the telephone box to continue past the church opposite.

Leaves: Southwark to Winchester

Leaves in Southwark Cathedral last Sunday

Peter Walker’s art installation The Leaves of the Trees is made up of 5,000 steel leaves with the word HOPE on each one. The impression is of autumn leaves fallen from the trees and scattered by the wind.

This reflective memorial to the effects of the pandemic was seen before the high altar and great screen of Southwark Cathedral over several weeks up to last Sunday.

Now pilgrims leaving from Winchester will find the same leaves before the cathedral’s high altar and great screen which inspired Southwark’s. The installation will remain until All Souls Day Tuesday 2 November.

The leaves are turning brown as they lie in Southwark Cathedral and now Winchester Cathedral.
The first leaves laid in Winchester Cathedral as the installation was being put in place on Tuesday.
Work in progress on Tuesday morning in Winchester Cathedral.

Concern over Hampshire incinerator near PW

Concern is being expressed in the Wey Valley area and nearby Alton in Hampshire over a proposed multi-million-pound incinerator near the Pilgrims’ Way.

The possible impact on visitors including walkers along the Pilgrims’ Way was highlighted during Thursday’s BBC South Today programme.

No Wey campaigners are calling for the plan to be decided by the Secretary of State ‘because of the serious long-term impact its potential approval would have on nationally important issues such as climate change’.

The planning application by Veolia is due to be considered by Hampshire County Council this autumn.

The incinerator, being called a waste-to-energy plant, with 260 foot chimneys would be visible to the south as you walk between Holybourne and Upper Froyle.

The site is less than half a mile away between the A31 and the railway.

The Final Review of Environmental Statement takes issue with the applicant by highlighting the potential impact on the Pilgrims’ Way, known locally as St Swithuns’ Way.

‘The proposal will significantly affect visual tranquillity from St Swithun’s Way,’ writes Fiona Sharman of Indigo Landscape Architects in a report for Hampshire County Council.

‘I would also consider that the scale of the proposal would evidently detract from one’s appreciation of key characteristics such as the ‘distinct flat valley’ landform as the proposal would be out of scale with the small scale valley characteristics in which it sits.’

AYLESFORD: Little Gem reopens

Door opened again

The Little Gem pub in Aylesford has quietly reopened after being closed for ten years.

The tiny building dates from 1106 which is fourteen years before the birth of Thomas Becket. Prior to becoming a pub in 1968 it was a cafe. It is now Kent’s smallest pub.

Today the PW almost passes the door as it turns up Mount Pleasant from the church.

Maidstone brewer Goacher’s stepped in to save the pub which according to the Kent Messenger has ‘no pool table, no darts, no fairy lights, no jukebox, no TV screen, no games, and above all, no pretension at all’.

The inglenook fireplace is ready for a log fire in winter.

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts