Day15 Therouanne to Amettes – Oh Sunny Day!

<Allison> It was another short day of only 20.22km (12.6mi). For the first time in many days, the sun was shining as we started off.  Sunshine is so much more inspiring than rain; although to be fair other than the one day,  it has mostly just been on and off sprinkles. You know, just enough rain to require us to don and doff our rain gear several times during the day.  Ironically, the cool rainy days have been when we have walked the farthest.  Perhaps the rain is a motivation to hurry up and get the miles/kilometers done.

Even though we had coffee and eggs for breakfast before we ventured out, we stopped about one block down the street for croissants and coffee. Yummy! When you walk every day for long periods of time, you can justify the goodies whenever possible.  Seriously, we struggle to keep up the calorie count – I know…lucky us.

As I was walking today, I thought about all the surfaces we have walked on. Today we must have hit almost all of them. Every time I thought about changing from my awesome but completely fashion-challenged convertible pants and into shorts, we would begin walking through a field of waist high wet weeds including nettles.  France can certainly grow some healthy nettles.  So,…long pants win for the day since some sort of leg and ankle protection is needed.

We also had fun walking through a swampy wood.  It was here that we saw some suspicious signs to one side of the path. None of my French lessons included phrases like “nuclear waste dump” or “unexploded ordinance” but these signs were a bit ominous.  There were no incidents as we stayed on the marked VF path. Every day is an adventure. Honestly, the signs probably meant something more benign like, “restricted area”, but the warnings were pretty clear in  international symbols conveying “Hey You….Stay Out!”

<Mark> The only mildly interesting thing we saw – and I’m really stretching it here- were a few slag piles.  This area was the coal mining Mecca in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Artificial hills of coal slags are scattered across the landscape.  Most have reverted to nature, but their oddly unnatural shape (a steep solitary hill where the rest of the land is pretty flat) gives them away. 

Little else to record, so here is a short clip about a slag heap!

We did walk past the village of Liettres.   This village’s claim to fame is the invention of the game of Cricket.  Who knew?

Walking along each day this seems to be a regular occurrence;  little annoyances of pain that move around my body with no real effect other than to remind me that the miles are starting to accumulate.  There’s no real pain – I mean it is all real- just minor in severity.  It’s odd that it moves around, but perhaps that is just the nature of things. 

<Later>.  We’re staying at a farmhouse gite “The two lime trees”.  They serve a farmhouse dinner, so we will enjoy that this evening.   Other exciting news, another pilgrim is reportedly coming this evening.  He or she will be the first other hiker we’ve seen this trip. 

So on that subject of pain.  It’s an odd thing, but just as we ended walking yesterday I started having an intermittent sharp hip pain.  This morning it was still there.  It would randomly zap me.   “Well, this could make for an ‘interesting’ day!”, I thought.  But sure enough, after the first hour it was gone.  But by that time my left foot arch was aching.  An hour later it it was my right knee, and the next hour my left shoulder hurt. 

Our lodging for the night is at the Gite les deux Tuilles. It is a farmhouse.  They have a beautiful garden. 

This owner is retired and now raises racing pigeons…that’s right…racing pigeons.  That’s a thing. 

Anyway we viewed his prize pigeons and afterward had a delicious farm cooked meal of soup, roast pork, and vegetables with an apple tart for desert.   Sooooooo good!  Oh and we met our first fellow pilgrim.  Dominiq (left) is walking to Reims. 

A superb dinner.

Good night all!

Allison snuggled in her sleeping bag.

Day14 Wisques to Therouanne – Groovin’

When the alarm went off this morning, it was hard to get out of my cozy sleeping bag. Our night at the Abbaye was the quietest night’s sleep we have had so far, and it was wonderful. After finishing our breakfast of fresh bread and homemade jams and fresh coffee (just like there will be heaven), we walked out of the Abbaye grounds onto the VF once again.

Our steps were lively after almost a day of rest at the Abbaye. I highly recommend staying at Abbaye Notre Dame in Wisques where you will be welcomed with smiles and amazingly generous hospitality. Soeur Lucy will make you feel at home. Mark and I both agreed that we felt restored mentally, physically, and spiritually this morning. Yesterday we were dragging our feet, but today we bounce.

We walked through a land of legends. We crossed the Aa River (a favorite of French crossword writers) .

Crossing the Aa.

Next we walked along Brunhilde’s Way. She was a queen in the 7th century and did a lot to restore the roads. She had a famous ferocity, but met a tragic end by being dragged to death behind a horse, tied by her hair.

The Death of Brunhilde

In contrast to the ancient history, we walked past modern marvels as well. Our first up-close encounter with the modern windmills came this morning in Pays de Calais. The stiff breeze today made the morning refreshing up high on the hilltops. Shortly afterwards however, we came across this…no words can describe it, so you just have to watch the video to get an appreciation.

Well, after that “encounter” we finished up the day somewhat uneventfully. However at lunch, a moment transpired that is hard to describe. Sitting on a non-descript bench, next to a cemetery, alongside a country road, in no-where France, it struck me again. “How did we get HERE?” I mean, what in life brought us to be in this place at this moment? We both laughed at how content we were in a situation that few would understand.

But there we were, eating our dry tuna sandwich and partially shriveled green pepper on two-day-old bread, in mildly smelly clothes, on this less than pristine road-side bench. We knew instantly that some/most of our friends wouldn’t necessarily be enjoying this, but for us, it was just a wonderful moment. Pilgrims reading this – you know this feeling of contentment to which I am referring, but to others, you just have to trust me – there is real joy to be found here.

We had covered 21.79 kilometers by noon and surprised ourselves by reaching our end point for the day just 15 minutes after eating lunch. Our pace averaged 4.4 kilometers per hour which is pretty fast for us. We could have continued but the next lodging would have been just as far to walk so we called it a day.

The only lodging choice in Therouanne is the Gite Eden. What a fantastic place. The owners have a passion for helping pilgrims and love their city’s history. We learned from them that the route actually is shorter tomorrow than we’d expected. Alain, the owner of the Gite Eden, helped us book our lodging for the next evening. Just a step outside the door of the gite you can see a market and a bakery. Plus the gite itself has a washer and dryer and a well stocked kitchen. Yup, dinner tonight will be pasta cooked in the kitchen by us. Sometimes cooking for ourselves is such a luxury.

Well folks, that is it for tonight. I have several other videos to share and so much to say, but there is no WiFi here so videos are tough*. I will close with this final picture taken while our laundry was drying, and we had a few moments to explore the nearby church.

I did add a small story about Therouanne in the History Bits page.

* The strength of the Wifi sometimes prohibited the loading of video. However, once home I was able to add to several bits of additional footage.

Day13 Tournehem sur la Hem to Wisques – An Abbaye

This was supposed to be a long day, but we woke feeling a bit off (not sick or anything, but just still tired). Our packs just felt heavier today. It’s hard to explain.

Despite this, we marched on. After a couple miles, we ran across this Roman soldier. I have to admit I was momentarily depressed at how short of a distance we’d covered. It certainly felt like we accomplished more than this. Then I remembered we’d started in London and not Canterbury. It makes more sense now.


Normally when we are dragging, it is the result of poor diet, not enough water, or just plain old hunger. We both admitted the lack of water the previous day could be the culprit, but just in case we broke into some leftover snack bars and dried apricots. Well, ….nope, that didn’t help.

There was only one thing to do…find a bakery for a chocolate croissant. Just our luck, few were to be found, but eventually we did find one. And oh, what a find! They had some eclairs that were outstanding. We shared one chocolate and one cafe’ flavored one. Wow! They were so good, in fact, that we devoured them and went back for two more. I’m telling’ ya folks, one of the great joys of walking these big walks is the ability to have two cream-filled eclairs with absolutely no guilt whatsoever!!

Mr. and Mrs Longshadow, good friends from our Spanish Caminos, joined us today!

Well satisfied and a little rested, the day got better from that point. We walked through the small town of Leulinghem. As we passed the church, a man in an adjacent yard hailed Allison to tell her that the church was open. The church of Saint Maurice was simple, but nice. It had a beautiful painting of Joan of Arc on one wall made by the monks in Wisque a few miles away.

Joan of Arc

By the way, at this church we discovered a website called Openchurches.EU It lists churches that are open for viewing and a little about them.

Funny story. The church was open but had a fence-like gate over the entrance (to keep birds and other animals out). This gate was meant to be closed when you leave. Allison however pulled the gate closed – clink – latch, uh-oh. The gate was now latched from the outside and we were locked in.

Looking around there were several skeletons lying around and I realized this was clearly a trap. <just kidding>. Although we couldn’t reach the latch with our hands, I was able to use the strap on our hiking poles to hook around the latch and release us! It was a McGyver moment – trust me.

After escaping from certain death, we decided to call it a short day having walked only 10.7mi and stop at the town of Wisques. Wisques has both a monastery and a convent (the Abbeys of St Paul and Notre Dame). The monastery accepts only male guests. The convent accepts only female guests but it also has a separate house for couples.

So after a morning of hills and chills (the wind was strong and chilly throughout the day whenever the sun went behind a cloud or we walked in the shade), we stopped by the Abbeye Notre Dame. We seemed to have arrived at lunch time and much to our surprise we were invited to sit down and eat. The food was simple but so good.

After lunch, we were escorted to our beds for the night in a separate house. We did our arrival routine (showers and washing) and sat in the sun relaxing in the quiet of the Abbaye. It was really nice.

Our room

We attended Vespers sung in Latin by the nuns (who you could not see of course). I don’t think I’ve ever attended a vespers service. It was beautiful, but also made me sleepy.

Vespers….it’s all about the music/prayer.
Relaxing in the sun.

Following vespers we chatted with Sister Lucy and gave her a Key for the wonderful hospitality the nuns had shown us.

Sister Lucy and her Key.

Our evening ended with dinner. At lunch two lovely ladies from France had joined us. They were both spending several days at the Abbaye to find some peace in their lives. They helped as interpreters through the day, and we had some good and fun conversations. Elia and Chloe were spending today doing every thing the nuns were doing so they were very busy.

Elia and Chloe – our interpreters at the Abbaye

Day12 Guines to Tournehem sur la Hem – Friends

We had a really mixed day today.  We woke up early from our campsite and quickly packed our tent and gear, fully dressed for more rain. 

Morning Update

The path out of Guines was muddy after the previous day’s rains and our progress toward lunch at Licques was slow.  We were further slowed by the changing conditions requiring us to put on and take off layers multiple times throughout the day.  As a result, the 10mi to Licques seemed long. 

The Abby at Licques

Licques however was a pleasant surprise.  As we emerged from the woods the village Abbey (outsized by far for the small town), dominated the landscape.  The village itself sits on a hill and by the time we arrived a wind was whipping around the square like a Tasmanian Devil.  It was cold enough that I put on all my layers. 

My work colleague, Emmanuel, and his lovely wife Isabel live near Paris and drove several hours to have lunch with us, walk the afternoon with us and treat us to dinner.   It was so nice to spend the afternoon and evening with them.  Actually Isabel took a day trip to Calais while the three of us hiked – but she joined us for lunch and dinner. 

The wind died down after lunch, eventually the sun came out, and the day began to warm.  Walking with Emmanuel was fun and we all walked the same pace which was nice. 

The Via took a strange twist near the town of Audenfort.  This was one of those strange points where the path seems to make three sides of a rectangle to avoid a short section of road.  Normally we might forgo the longer path, but this time we kept true to the Via.  On this occasion it would have been smarter to do the logical thing.  The last leg of that rectangle turned out to be so overgrown it was impassable.  To avoid a long return route, we scrambled up an embankment and took a parallel path through a cornfield.  Remember, I mentioned it was windy? 

Well the whipping wind was having its way with the corn stalks, and as we passed through the field we were beaten by several of the stalks.  It didn’t hurt, but the ferocity of the beating made me laugh. 

Wondering what this is.  It’s cultivated and the “balls” at the top are about the size of a pea.  It has an equally tiny blue flower.  The stalks are the diameter of wire coat rod but the stalks are about 18” tall.  We believe it might be used as a fabric like flax.

The most beautiful site of the day was the partially rebuilt ruin of Chapelle St Louis.  It was perched atop a hill overlooking the countryside.  I think we all would had preferred to linger there longer but the day was dragging on and we needed to get to the finish line of the 20mi day and get our clothes drying. 

The Chapelle St Louis

The last mile into Tournehem sur la Hem was easily 3miles long.   That’s always the way at the end of a long walk.  But the cute village had one last treat for us.  “sur la Hem” part of the name means “on the Hem” where the Hem is a small river.   Approaching town the crossed a small bridge that clearly once held a mill.  It was a peaceful setting that was enhanced by the nearby remains of the town wall and gate

Closing note…this beer had a turkey wearing a pilgrim hat.  No idea why, but as a pilgrim I had to have it.  It was local from Licques – pretty good actually.

Day11 Wissant to Guines – Rain and Mud

Well, we awakened to a thunder storm and heavy rain. By the time we’d packed up and headed out for the day it was a steady drizzle but no downpours yet. Farewell to the sea. We won’t see you again until Italy!

Because of the rain, we took few pictures. Luckily my camera is waterproof, and we did get a little video shot.

Walking in the rain does present one danger – wet feet. We’d each brought waterproof socks. Yep, they are a thing. The waterproof socks worked perfectly, and I do recommend them. Still Allison was having some discomfort with one of her feet. One of her shoes was really uncomfortable.

History was everywhere today. At one point we climbed to a peak containing intact WWII German fortification and got to explore. It was surreal to be inside the fortification. As you might expect it was built in a strategic location and peering through the embrasure, you could easily see the sweeping coverage over the valley. It didn’t take much to just close your eyes and imagine the lives of soldiers stationed here.

And then this happened…(perhaps we’ve discovered the source of the foot discomfort)…

Walking in the rain, isn’t as bad as it sounds. We have good rain equipment except for my iPhone cord (more later). Allison and I are new enthusiasts of rain pants and waterproof socks. What great inventions they are! We stayed dry all day, and we only got uncomfortable when we had to climb “steep” hills (which made wearing the extra layers too hot) and when the rain stopped and the weather temporarily warmed.

A brief respite from the rain during lunch.

Honestly, it wasn’t bad at all…I rather enjoyed it. I felt pretty good about the equipment we’d brought. Overall we were still on a high from making it to France.

In a shocking development it poured shortly after this picture was taken.

Unfortunately 90% through the day’s walk, my phone started to die. We use it often for navigation since the signage on the VF is not excellent. There are signs, but not at every intersection. Being hunkered up in rain gear likely allowed us to miss some signs as well.

Baby-chicks in a yard

Anyway, as the battery started to die, we attempted to plug in my phone to our backup battery. However the cable must have been quite wet because we received a warning message, and the phone wouldn’t charge. Who knew that a wet phone cable could be an issue?

We had to resort to our instincts and fortunately they were good. We made it to our lodging for tonight.

By the end of the day we’d made our way to the village of Guines. Speaking of that…we found a campground that offers free camping to pilgrims. Yeah us! Not to worry, we still supported the enterprise by patronizing the restaurant on-site. It was an odd kind of place – all decorated in cartoon medieval characters. If I was to guess, the campground is used as a children’s theme adventure. Despite the odd setting the food was hearty and quite good (picture enclosed).

Our home for the night.

Our lodging tonight is our tent. This campground is what our English relatives would refer to as “posh”. The place has individual small houses to rent, a heated indoor pool, a putt putt golf course, an exercise ground, playground, and a complete laundry facility. Someone has to live the hard life. We, however, just took advantage of our small plot of grass.

Before dinner we had made a somewhat long trek back into, through and out of town to find a supermarket that sold a new charger cord. We also bought some groceries. However the extra miles after a long day really wore us out.

As I’d mentioned, we had a long day, but before we could crawl into the tent, we took advantage of the campground washing and drying machines.

The great pilgrim joy…machine washed clothes!!

The campground was nice and quiet and we had no trouble going to sleep. I’m glad that we decided to bring our tent and camping gear although I’m really unsure that it will be worth the extra weight. But it was nice to camp today. One of our few luxury items were two inflatable insulated air mattresses. We have had these for about a year and they really increase the nights comfort.

So good night all, we’ve survived our first day of rain – I’m sure there will be many more, but in general we’re pleased. It was a good day.

Day10 Dover to Wissant – Bye bye England, hello France

The morning started off bright and early at 6 am after a less-than-perfect night’s sleep. Did I mention we weren’t staying in the “best” part of town…lots of parties and shouting at all hours.

Once awake, we quickly packed up and headed off on our bikes to the ferry. The day is quite gray but it is still dry outside. The passport control at the docks went smoothly and was timely. Our only hitch was that the on-line system with which I’d purchased our tickets, allowed me to purchase passage for multiple passengers but only allowed me to indicate a bicycle for the primary passenger. When we arrived this meant we had to purchase one additional bike pass at the last minute. It was good that it didn’t take long because we barely made it onto the boat before they’d shut the gate. Whew.

Parking bikes on a ferry apparently doesn’t happen every day. I am not sure the crew knew what to do with our bikes when we arrived. But we made it onboard. Next we headed upstairs for our breakfast. This reminds me of the ferry crossing I took as a child to travel to PEI.

Betcha medieval pilgrims didn’t get a full breakfast on their crossings…but we did.

“When we arrived in France ….”

I ask all our readers to stop here for a moment and consider all the obstacles in place that made the phrase above almost incomprehensible just a month ago. If there is ever hard evidence of my good friend Gerhard’s motto “Nichts ist Zufall” (nothing is random), consider this:

1) We had to each get results from 5 consecutive Covid PCR tests each within 24hrs after taking them. That’s 10 opportunities for “something” to go wrong.

2) All our flights, busses and trains and boats had to run on time.

3) In the 10 days since arriving in the UK, France had to lift its PCR test restrictions (there were no indications this was even in the cards).

4) France had to resist Germany’s call for tighter UK travel restrictions AND resist the urge to “retaliate” when the UK singled them out for tighter restrictions – almost unheard of.

5) We had to find bikes for sale after learning that the ferry would no longer accept foot traffic.

6). The one PCR test that got delayed ended up not mattering because France dropped their restrictions.

7) The one PCR test that got lost ended up not mattering because we took the chance for a 5day early release test.

8). I could go on ,…

But somehow we are in France.

Disembarking from the ferry was a real treat. We were directed to lead the way ahead of all the cars. I think the real goal was just get us out of the way. A pace-truck lead us out of the docking area. I think this must be because “Tourists smushed by cars leaving the Dover Ferry” probably makes for a bad headline.

Riding our bikes through the streets of Calais heading toward the center of town was an adventure. We found the Calais cathedral where we anticipated receiving our first stamp in France. But it did not open until 14:00 so we were not waiting around for that stamp. Next up we rode to the tourist office where we did receive a stamp in our pilgrim’s passport and they kindly took our bikes to donate to charity. You will all be shocked that our next stop was to purchase a chocolate pastry and a demi-baguette. The last chore was to find the local grocery to complete our lunch options.

Walking along the boardwalk in Calais was surreal but beautiful. Lots of open space, sandy beaches, a cool breeze, and togetherness. The coastline changed to cliffs fairly quickly with open fields and cows all around. Yes, I was actually glad to see cows and no sheep all day.

We left the shore for a brief trip up and inland as the Via Francigena climbed to the summit know as Le Blanch Nez (the white Nose). The sky alternated from blue to a misty white and the monument know as the Dover Patrol (commemorating the French and British patrols of WWI ) went in and out of view.

After peaking the “summit” and through the afternoon we passed relics of the Atlantic Wall – the German defensive system designed to make an allied landing difficult. To see the remains of these fortifications so intact was a chilling reminder of what a peaceful life I’ve lived.

The day ended as most days. The last kilometers into town always seem the longest. But we made it to our lodging in the touristy seaside village of Wissant (well worth a visit if you have the chance). We did the “shower and clothes washing thing” and walked about 10ft from our hotel for dinner.

And what a dinner it was. Of course being a seaside town we had to choose seafood and both dishes were tasty.

But the real star of the evening was dessert. Sorry England…France does desserts better – no offense.

We ended our evening with a quick stroll. There was a small carnival in town and we walked quickly through it and then had a romantic walk to the beach. It was a nice way to end the day.

Day 9 Dover to Dover – A Day of prep

Our bikes

Today began with us making quite a list of things to do. First we walked to a barber shop where we picked up two bikes we had purchased online. We needed these, not because we’ve decided to ride to Rome but because the ship to Calais has temporarily suspended foot traffic. It does allow bicycles. This seems strange to us, but those are the rules and you can’t fight them. Our alternative was to take a train back to London, then to Paris, then to Lille and then to Calais. That alternative would cost more and would take up an entire day. So buying bikes it was.

Apparently it is true one never forgets how to ride a bike but I’ve never ridden while wearing a backpack. It should be easy enough I guess.

The two helpful employees at the tourist information center in Dover assisted us with printing out the forms required to enter France. We will need these to board the ferry in the morning. Most of the required information was electronic. One form however required a real signature. The website did not provide an electronic means to do so. Old fashioned paper was the answer. These all seem to be related to Covid so if your traveling in a “normal” year perhaps you will avoid this hassle.

After returning to our lodging with our bikes, we headed out for breakfast which became brunch since it was already after 10 am. We ate at the Beano restaurant which serves breakfast all day plus other food choices. This eatery came as a recommendation from a taxi driver who we chatted with on the street. Note to self, always follow the local people’s advice! We found “great food and a cheap price” – which was exactly what we were searching for.

The White Cliffs of Dover

Early in the afternoon we decided to stop for a glass of wine after touring the visitor’s center. The visitor’s center houses 3 levels of a museum. Each floor houses one of three interesting, if disassociated, exhibits.

  1. The History of Dover
  2. The Miracle of Dunkirk
  3. The Recovery of a Bronze Age Boat

Our nerdy side was satisfied for a little bit if time. Next came that glass of wine I mentioned. To be truthful we bought a bottle of wine because that is a better deal and we needed to spend the last of our British pounds as well. What a way to do so! We saved the remaining for dinner. Our little visit to the cafe was only spoiled by the expert aim of a passing seagull – yep, splat, right on my shoulder.


That’s really it. It was a walk-around day as we had to wait for the ferry in the morning. Little else to report. But we were full of anticipation. A whole new country awaited in the morning. A long continent to cross was ahead of us.

Our ferries for tomorrow

Tomorrow morning will be eventful as we cross the channel into France. One of the white buildings in the photo is our flat for the night. It may look swanky but I promise you it isn’t.

Dover Castle
Pebble beaches

Day8 Canterbury To Dover … the Via Francigena begins.

Allison resting at lunch in Shepherdswell

Well, today is our first day on the Via Francigena.

Because all the lodging at the midway point of Shepherdswell (Siebertswold) were either full or no longer in operation, we had to convert the first two short legs into one long leg of 21.3mi. So…we are sore and tired this evening as I write this entry from the port city of Dover England.

But first is the account of our day…

We woke to thunder and rain in the forecast. The forecast, however, varied dramatically depending on which service you trusted. One said cloudy but decreasing chances of rain; the other said thunder and even hail from 70-90% chance.

So we had our hotel breakfast and then packed everything into waterproof bags and stuffed them in our backpacks*.

Heavy Continental

Next we donned our full rain gear (rain pants, rain jacket, waterproof socks etc). We said our goodbyes to Madeline and stepped out into a drizzle and under rumbling skies.

Ready for rain

It was fun to be walking in full rain regalia for the first time, but it quickly got too warm. The rain tapered off after the first mile or two and we packed up the rain jackets.

The trail between Canterbury and Dover is clearly less travelled than earlier sections. It is marked well enough I suppose, but we never would have made it without GPS or a good map. At points we even reverted to dead reckoning when the proposed path took us diagonally across a newly plowed field. The tractor, I suppose, had obliterated any signs of the footpath. Folks, I’m not talking about a 2acre field here but an enormous one that took us about 15min to cross. (See video). Other times we were in chest-high hay, the path all but obscured in a sea of waving sheaves.

They got much bigger than this!

It was odd to be walking without Madeline. She’d quickly become a part of our routine. But the length of the day and the terrain would have made it very hard for her damaged toes.

We passed the cute church at Womenswold but it was closed and we couldn’t find the keys that were described as available. As a result we didn’t get a pilgrim stamp there.

We made it to the mid way point that is typically the end of the first stage, Shepherdswell, and stopped there on a shaded bench on the village green.

Shepherdswell is the perfect tiny village. The village green sits right in the center of town with the church across the street, the pub and inn across the green from the church, and a few small businesses. But what made it perfect was listening to a wedding service taking place while we ate lunch. Mark really wanted to be able to get a pilgrim’s stamp there but we could not crash the wedding ceremony. So far, no stamps for the day.

Near Ethorne we left a brightly lit field and entered into some gloomy woods. As our eyes adjusted do the dark we found and odd site. In the overgrow grass was a tall tombstone. It stopped us in our tracks because it was such a surprise to see. A few steps farther through the tall grass we found others and then many others. Clearly we were in a graveyard but the darkness of the wood and the unkept grass made it eerie. Soon enough an old parish church came into view.

We had been thinking that it was a shame to have allowed the gravesite to be become so unkept. But then we saw a sign on the parish church board said that the gravesites were being intentionally left overgrown for a season to establish some environmental purpose and would be tended at the end of the summer.

Still the setting was apocalyptic. We took a moment to look at a few of the stones. One near the church entrance was particularly interesting for two reasons. The first was the inscription on the grave marker below. The second was the angle of the tree just above the grave i.e. horizontal trunk hovering inches above the headstone as if to keep it from rising!

A sad story.

Along the way we love to stop and chat with people we encounter. And today we were blessed to meet Nigel and Diane who are farmers. They enjoyed telling us that many years ago the Archbishop of Canterbury came to walk the Via Francigena trail. In preparation, the town had to spruced the trail up. Diane said it has never looked as good since. And Nigel jokingly added that even the grass was mowed because no one wanted the bishops’s cloak to get wet or dirty while he was walking. We had to say goodbye as we still had several miles to go or at least 4 miles.

Diane and Nigel

Finally, after cresting a little hill we could see Dover Castle. Dover is a steep city and after a long day it was a painful a downhill entry. To make life more interesting we had a little trouble finding our place of lodging at East Cliffs Road, Dover. We had to knock on a door to ask for assistance. The woman who came outside to help was not completely in touch with reality and wanted to know if we were reporters. My honest streak took hold and I said “no”. But I wonder what her reaction would have been if I said “oh yes”. She did point us in the correct direction. Another local couple helped us out by explaining that there were actually two East Cliffs Drives – an inner and an outer – who knew. Anyway, just around the corner the road continued and our place of lodging was just 3 buildings down.

Climbing the steeps steps up to our room was pretty much torture to our aching body parts. Our host Narata was very kind. She is from Lesotho and was sweet enough to wash our laundry for us. We will have to hang dry but that is better than smelly clothes. The little blessings are certainly adding up.

I know this is getting to be a long post but the evening just ended with a bang. Narata just knocked on the door brining up our twice spun clothes. She was also carrying tea service including some chocolate cake she had made. She said, “I know what it is like to be a pilgrim. I wanted to do something for you like I always wished for.” – Wow. Mind blown.

Narata’s Gift. I’m almost without words.

* For this pilgrimage neither of us brought pack covers. We’ve found they just don’t work well. If you are interested in what gear we brought with us, check out our Gear Review below:

Day7 Canterbury to Canterbury – Rest Day

Today is a rest day. This was always in our plan but it feels pretty luxurious to take a rest day this soon. Then again, resting on the seventh day is also quite appropriate. It’s just not something that the EU visa time limits will allow once we hit France*.

Today we have a few items on the schedule, laundry, cathedral tour, Evensong and touring in general. The purpose of the day however, is to stay off of our feet for as long as possible.

In the end we postponed laundry day, and basically spent all day at the Cathedral instead. After a heavy Continental breakfast with toast, fruit, cereal, jam, Nutella etc., we went for a paid tour of the Cathedral-proper (entry was free, but the tour had a charge).

Afterwards, we took some time to shop for a few things (improved inserts for one of our pairs of shoes, soap, etc) as well as lunch supplies. We consumed our lunch and popped back to the Cathedral for our fourth and final official blessing. This one marks the start of the Via Francigena.

For those that think that we’ve gone overboard with these “blessings”, you may well be right. All I can say is that each one has been special in some way. In addition to being a gift offered to us, we have been introduced to several wonderful people, and we have chosen to be participants, and not just observers, in history.

After this gift, we walked around for a bit before attending an Evensong service. These music-focused services are beautiful and ancient. I’ll not attempt to describe them here. They are plentiful to see online if you are interested. In fact, Canterbury Cathedral broadcasts theirs on line if you are interested:

(ref: )

Madeline and Allison at the VF marker in Canterbury

We ended the evening with a dinner and a decision – mainly driven by the lack of available accommodations and weather considerations – to forgo the intermediate stop at Shepherdswell and walk straight through to Dover tomorrow. It will be a tough day.

Because our ferry is already booked, we can’t leave Dover any earlier and will have another rest day in Dover. I’m afraid we’re going to lose our “edge” with all these rest days.

Anyway, good night all.

* For US Citizens there is a 90day VISA limit for a stay within Schengen countries. The UK is not within the Schengen region so any time here in England doesn’t count toward the 90days. Switzerland, although it is not part of the EU, is part of Schengen, so once we board the ferry for France, the clock starts. Making the voyage across the continent in 90 days is do-able, but it won’t be easy. We will have some long days and rest days will be few and far between. But we also have several options to shorten the trip if necessary. We can make days longer, we can cut out some longer sections in favor of a “shortcut”. We can take a ferry across Lac Leman in Switzerland in lieu of walking around the lake. We can take a bus or train if needed. And finally, other than a personal challenge, we have no mandate to make it all the way to Rome in the first place. We could always stop short and pick up the trail some other year. It is all just too far in the future to be too concerned about.

Day6 Boughton Lee’s to Canterbury – Becket

What a beautiful day. The weather was dryer and just a bit cooler. The fact that we will arrive in Canterbury after a short 12mi walk also makes me feel happy. Better yet, we have a rest day planned there. And to top it all off, we will get to wash our clothes in a proper washing machine. Oh, the simple joys of pilgrim life.

Worn this morning to keep my ever growing coiffure dry.

As we started off from the Flying Horse, we walked through a wheat field of which I couldn’t stop taking pictures. The morning light and the sun played with the field in such a way that I just wanted to soak that moment in. I looked up after a bit and could barely see Allison and Madeline up ahead in the distance. I guess this moment was just for me. It was glorious.

<Allison> The first village we encountered was Chilham. There is even a castle here! Yes, you guessed it , Chilham Castle. The castle is actually privately owned and it’s for sale. Sorry, the price is no where near something that anyone I have ever known could afford. The village however was beautiful and quaint and friendly.

Just reflecting on our trip together -near Chilham

The next village we entered had a beautiful church and and a friendly lady to chat with She kindly showed us around Saint Mary’s church in Charlton. After she heard about our adventure, I think she was almost ready to pack her bags and travel with us. She promised to ask for prayers for us in the church’s newsletter. I thought that was really sweet.

<Mark> The walk toward Canterbury was serene. For the latter half of the day we walked alongside the River Stour. It was crystal clear and flowing along in a very British way; fast, but not overly so, gentle but purposeful.

<Allison> For lunch we found a sweet place by a lake in a grassy shaded field. We ate with the ducks who keep begging for food. It was a perfect spot, and the temperatures at mid day were actually enjoyable for the first time since we started hiking in England. Heat waves seem to follow us.

<Mark> We walked past a drake and a pen and seven signets along the Stour. We also met a nice couple on a bridge in Charlton just before Canterbury.

<Allison> Today’s hike was a short one at about 13 miles. Having a cooler day, plus a short one in mileage, was perfect! We made it into Canterbury!!!

The point we’re the North Downs way splits. One route to Dover and one to Canterbury.

<Mark> As we approached the city, all sorts of signs emerged to indicate this city’s Roman and Pilgrim past. History “popped”, as it were, and we felt the excitement of approaching a milestone.

<Allison> And the first thing we did was get our pilgrim passports stamped. Doing so has the side benefit of free-entry into the Cathedral. Being a pilgrim has side-benefits. So we will come back tomorrow for another official pilgrim blessing and to tour. Our next pitstop was to find a place to get a cold drink.

<Mark> A cold drink was excellent. But more memorable were Martin and his friend. These two gentlemen had already spent some significant time at the bar before we’d arrived. Martin was of particular interest to me. He was an Irishman by birth and had a good soul. He had had a recent tragedies in his family’s lives and seemed quite devastated by it. He seemed truly touched by the gift of a key and promised it would be treasured.

His friend was younger but also had had a tough childhood. Upon receiving his key, he told me no one had ever given him anything. He also seemed genuinely happy to have our simple gift.

Attempting to find our lodging turned out to be more difficult than we anticipated. We were actually following directions via google maps. But as we all know, the Google maps app is not infallible. A local gentleman heard us chatting while on his walk home. He interrupted his walk and led us to the entrance of our hotel. I am thankful for small blessings today.

Well I’m closing this blog entry at nearly 1am and I’ve made the decision to greatly scale back the entries. You’re all probably tired of reading all this content anyway. But for my own sanity and to enable me to function. I have to stop this.

I’ll still post, but it will be less content. The video compilations etc will have to wait for post-pilgrimage editing. I’m glad I did it through Canterbury at least. I’ll post one last compilation below.

<post Via note: Although I did scale back efforts, I also got a bit better at it and learned some tricks to speed up the uploads. As a result I was able to upload better video content later during the pilgrimage.>