Sunday, 21 April 2019

In the footsteps of pilgrims...

I've been captivated by the recent short series following the route of the Via Francigena pilgrimage. Not because of the 'celebs' that feature (didn't know who half of them were and wasn't overly interested whether they had any kind of spiritual epiphany!) but because of a combination of a fascination with Italy and the idea of centuries of people treading the same path. The televised group completed the Italian stretch of the pilgrimage, from the Swiss Alps down through Italy to Rome. I hadn't realised until I started looking at it that, in fact, the route stretches 1800km from Canterbury to Rome. Thats a 3 month trek. So whilst there is a bit of me that would love to take that sort of time and undertake the physical and mental challenge, in reality I can't imaging ever being able to do so. But I am tempted to have an aim in mind, at some point, to do the route in sections and complete the 3 week Italian stretch - particularly as I am learning Italian at the moment so maybe, just maybe, I might have got to grips with the basics of the language by then!

With the prospect of a 4 day bank holiday weekend on my own and the forecast of good weather, on a whim I decided to head for Kent and do the Canterbury to Dover bit. I lived in Kent for a couple of years as a small child but had very little memory of it and although I must have been to Canterbury couldn't remember it at all.

I headed down mid afternoon on Friday, having plucked a late booking off the internet for a room at the Rose and Crown, in a village called Elham about 8 miles out of Canterbury. Always feels a bit of a lottery booking accommodation online (I have had a mixed bag over the years!) so I wasn't expecting much really. So imagine my surprise when I was shown into this room...!



Lovely spacious room, decent sized en-suite and the best eggs Benedict I think I have ever had the next morning!

I woke early so got up and had a wander round the village before breakfast. Blue, blue skies and pretty streets with views across the Kent Downs made me wonder why I have never felt inclined to walk here before.



After my delicious breakfast, a short drive to Canterbury and this was my first view over the city, across Dane John Gardens towards the cathedral in the distance...


And at the Christchurch gate from the cathedral on Burgate the signpost to Rome...



Even at 10.30 in the morning the sun was very warm and it felt like a midsummer's day. But as I left the city boundaries the countryside was a reminder that it is still quite early in the year - bright, fresh greenery still opening on the trees and hedgerows, bluebells just beginning to open...



 

I'm not sure I completely followed the official Via Francigena route, rather stupidly I didn't take a map so I ended following roads for the most part. Some of them pretty little tree-lined lanes, others much less pretty A roads! 


The countryside was beautiful. Very 'English' somehow. Although not obvious in the photos, there is quite a bit of up and down, with undulating rolling hills stretching as far as the eye can see.


This was my spot for a rest and a bit of lunch, about halfway, 9 miles to go...


At one point I joined a stretch of the North Downs Way...


...and for a little while, picked up the official way marks again!



The last few miles into Dover were a bit tedious - my feet were hot and sore after 18 miles, much of it on tarmac - so it was a boost to see the castle appear...


...closely followed by water, coffee and spicy, cinnamon bread pudding!


It was a short train ride back to Canterbury, then a wander round the cathedral grounds in the early evening light...




My last minute booking for last night was less impressive - tiny room, no breakfast and nearly twice the price! But, to be honest, after walking 23 miles in total I was just ready for a bed!


This morning it was beautiful again and, although my feet were suffering a bit, I wanted to walk round the city, starting with the tranquility of the riverside walk through Westfield Gardens...




I wondered how old this amazing gnarled tree is...


Gorgeous spring flowers...


The cathedral spires are striking as you approach. This was from The Friars, in front of the Marlowe theatre...


There are a number of sculptures outside the theatre, including this rather forbidding mask...



There is a real sense of history about Canterbury. So many ancient buildings, many in the centre of the town now home to the usual medley of shops and cafes, others not much more than ruins with lovely open spaces around them. But I had a sense that there is another side to Canterbury too. So many of those open spaces are daubed with graffiti, even on these beautiful walls and all over the seats in Greyfriars Gardens, formerly the home of a 13th Century Franciscan friary. I know graffiti can be artistic in its own right but this felt destructive and disrespectful to the history of these spaces. 




Before heading back to Norfolk, I thought I'd drive through the countryside to the village I lived in years ago. I was a bit taken aback by the flood of memories - I recognised the road and the house we lived in instantly, although it all looked slightly smaller than I remembered (why does childhood memory do that?!). But the field at the end of the cut-de-sac looked just the same, I can remember getting scratched ankles in the stubble there. I remembered being stung on the sole of my foot by a wasp after it flew into my flip flop whilst I was on a space hopper! I remembered our cat having a litter of kittens in the garage. But oddly, I had absolutely no recollection of this view from the village hall and park...


Lots of time for reflection. Lovely to have some warm sunshine to accompany it.
S x

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