St Thomas Becket Day at Canterbury: Friday 29 December

St Thomas A Becket pub sign, based on Canterbury window, at Rock Island  in Old Kent Road

On the fifth Day of Christmas 847 years ago Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.

This Friday 29 December the anniversary will be kept with a special evensong at 3.15pm.

Becket died as Vespers was starting.

So during sung evensong at Canterbury Cathedral there is a procession to the Martyrdom where a few lines from TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral are read. Afterwards the procession continues to the crypt where Becket’s body was first laid.

His eventual shrine upstairs became the object of the great pilgrimage along the Pilgrims’ Way.

Vespers is sung in the crypt at 8pm by Canterbury’s Roman Catholic Church.

The day begins 12 hours earlier with an Anglican Eucharist for St Thomas Becket Day at the Altar of Sword’s Point on the martyrdom site in the north transept.

A chance to look at the Kelmscott Chaucer

In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Canterbury

This appears on the first page of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer published in 1896 by the Kelmscott Press.

The 87 wood-cut illustrations are by Edward Burne-Jones.

Folio Society facsimile edition is available for visitors to leaf through as part of the May Morris: Art & Life exhibition at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.

May’s father William Morris founded the Kelmscott Press and his Kelmscott Chaucer was published just a year after Julia Cartwright’s book The Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester to Canterbury appeared.

Both were part of the rediscovery of Chaucer and the ancient road which gathered interest during the 20th century.

The exhibition at the William Morris Gallery (Forest Road, London E17 4PP) is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am – 5pm; admission free.

Kelmscott Chaucer

Morning mini pilgrimage

Old Kent Road mural

With pilgrimage expert Marion Marples I shall be leading a Saturday morning mini pilgrimage from Southwark to the Old Kent Road on 21 October.

It will be a walk from Southwark Cathedral attempting to go in the steps of Geoffrey Chaucer, and many others, a couple of miles into Old Kent Road.

We shall look at the site of the Tabard Inn, call at St George the Martyr to get a pilgrim stamp and hear about its history, and then down to the Thomas A Becket pub for another stamp and a chance for refreshment for those who want it.

On the way we can think of links with places further down the route into Kent.

After the Thomas A Becket those still with energy can walk a little further to the old Civic Centre in Peckham to view the murals which includes medieval pilgrims on the same route.

The walk is on Saturday 21 October starting in Southwark Cathedral at 9.45am, after the 9.15am Eucharist.

Tickets £5 from Eventbrite and Cathedral Shop.

Cathedral Cottage b&b in Winchester

View from Cathedral Cottage garden

Needing overnight accommodation in Winchester for a quick visit I stayed at Cathedral Cottage where pilgrims sometimes spend a first night.

This bed and breakfast is in the Winchester city centre. The cathedral wall runs along the bottom of the garden from where there is a view of the cathedral.

A special attraction is an en-suite double room in the garden (£95). You can see the stars through the roof light.

The freshly cooked breakfast is taken at a large table back in the main house’s kitchen overlooking the garden or, in summer, on the terrace.

This is a non smoking and non credit card household. I was greeted by family member Richard who later served breakfast.

Cathedral Cottage, 19 Colebrook Street SO23 9LH; 01962 878975.

Red Lion joins pilgrim passport chain

The Red Lion is open all day

The Red Lion on Shooters Hill is at the end of your first day out of London.

It is almost certain to be open when you arrive. In  addition to real ale and food you can now ask for a stamp to be added to your pilgrim passport.

A Red Lion stamp on a passport

The milestone outside Christ Church opposite says that it’s 8 miles from London Bridge where you started in Southwark Cathedral.

There is  handy shop next to the Victorian pub which makes this spot on the western side of the hill the natural focus and finish.

If you want to end on top there is The Bull 400 yards further up for another drink.

  • Burgers at The Red Lion are served with healthy sweet potato chips. There is also a vegetarian version.
Last view of London from the Pilgrims’ Way outside The Red Lion

Thomas A’ Becket now stamping pilgrim passports

St Thomas pub sign

The Thomas A Becket in Old Kent Road from today has its own stamp for marking pilgrim passports.

The famous pub building, opposite Tesco, is now Rock Island at Thomas A Becket and is open 12 noon to 12 midnight.

After Southwark Cathedral, where you can obtain a pilgrim passport in the shop, this is the first main stop on the pilgrim route to Canterbury.

Here at the Old Kent Road crossroads known as St Thomas A Watering pilgrims on horseback used to pause to water their horse in the stream running across the road.

The pub sign is a reproduction of a 13th-century glass image of Thomas Becket in a Canterbury Cathedral window.

The Thomas A Becket pub was reopened earlier this year as Rock Island bar & grill serving burgers and pizzas from noon to midnight.

This was Geoffrey Chaucer’s first stop in his book The Canterbury Tales but some walkers also stop briefly first at St George the Martyr Church in Borough High Street where a stamp is also available.

Rock Island’s own stamp
Rock Island at Thomas A Becket in Old Kent Road

Box Hill grape harvest

Passing through Denbies vineyard on the Pilgrims’ Way you may notice that grape picking has started.

The first day was Thursday 7 September which is the earliest in the estate’s history.

Concerns about a late frost and a hot June followed by poor weather have proved unfounded. “The quality is quite outstanding,” says  Denbies CEO Christopher White.

Denbies lies below Box Hill with south facing slopes enjoying a micro climate.

Accommodation for walkers is available at The Farmhouse.

Water bottles have arrived in Borough Market


Borough Market water bottles

You need several vital items for your walk from Southwark in London to Canterbury.

Your pilgrim passport and the guide book can both be obtained from Southwark Cathedral shop.

And you should not forget to carry water.

Your water bottle can be filled free from water taps and fountains in Borough Market which you will pass through on leaving the cathedral.

The Market is phasing out the sale of water in single-use plastic bottles and now selling a lightweight refillable water bottle made from recycled plastic for £2. Perfect for a pilgrimage walk.

Try the market office behind one of the prominent taps.

Free water tap and fountain outside Market office

Fill your water bottle free at Borough Market

Drinking fountains with two streams of water, for drinking or filling a bottle, are being installed in Borough Market.

Borough Market is alongside Southwark Cathedral so the new amenity will be ideal for Canterbury bound pilgrims starting out from the cathedral.

At present you must bring your own bottle although it is planned to have reusable water bottles on sale later this year.

One of the taps on a new freestanding pillar can be found outside the Market Office near the main gateway.

Doorkins the Cathedral Cat

What should you do at Southwark Cathedral when setting out on your walk to Canterbury?

Get your passport from the shop; buy postcards for your friends; look at figures on the great screen behind the high altar and find St Thomas Becket and St Swithun; say a prayer and light a candle.

And of course look out for Doorkins the cathedral cat.

A delightful book called Doorkins the Cathedral Cat is being launched on Sunday 20 August at 12.30pm in the churchyard. All are welcome to enjoy coffee, sparkling wine and cat themed biscuits.

Author Lisa Gutwein and illustrator Rowan Ambrose will be signing copies.

Will Doorkins, often seen walking through the cathedral ignoring a sermon, attend her own party?

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts