Day5 Thurnham to Boughton Lees (Ashford) – Missing Ned

<musings over an English breakfast> Sitting for a late breakfast after drying all our gear. Mark is having a having a proper Full English (Sausage, Bacon, Fried Bread, Field Mushrooms, Tomaahto, Black Pudding, Egg); I’m having “Eggs Royal” which includes smoked salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise sauce over English muffins. Yum! <end musings>

Our hiking started with another series of ups and downs and ups on the Downs. There always seems to be one more up than down…did you notice that? We sure did. There was a major tragedy in the area today. Apparently Ned was lost. All the sheep were looking for him – they were VERY concerned – (inside joke…see the video).

Fields of Poppies in North Downs

The day was already going to be a strange one but in true pilgrim spirit we were really winging it today. We didn’t have a specific stopping point. We had a lot of trouble last evening finding lodging anywhere along the route – not over-booked, just nothing around. Our original plan was for three shorter (11mi each) days. But we all felt like we should do more and compress the time to Canterbury to two 16.5mi days. This would allow us a rest day in Canterbury.

Madeline flirting with this contemplative monk.

The most promising spot along the way was a pub, “The Flying Horse” in Boughton-Lees. We made it to the pub and found out that they didn’t respond because they were having internet issues. But to be safe, we’d alread booked a room in nearby Ashford and decided to taxi’d into town. Have no fear, we’ll taxi back to the Flying Horse in the morning. I’ve long since left my disappointment in a necessary “cheat” like this. It is purely the nature of things when you’re flying (or in our case walking) by the seat of your pants.

We are following in the tradition of millions who have gone before us.

Madeline unfortunately has continued to have foot issues – blisters – and she hasn’t been as comfortable as she’d like. We both know how painful it can be and we’ll both undoubtedly will have issues at some point as well.

Madeline tending to her feet. 😦

Still we are all in good spirits as we’ve plodded along the Pilgrims way. It seem odd to me somehow to be arriving already into Canterbury tomorrow. It’s a major milestone. A silly wave of “it’s going too fast” swept me this afternoon. “Silly” because we’ve just finished day 5 of 100. But such is the treasure I assign to each day on Pilgrimage. They are all so precious.

Three special acts of kindness tended to us today. First our host for breakfast couldn’t make us a take-away lunch but did give us three free-of-charge bags of crisps (chips). It was a small thing, but it was what he could offer and I could tell he wanted to do more.

Second, about midday we passed a patch of grass at a trail junction. There we found three bags of chips and a chocolate bar. These were trail angel gifts left for pilgrims. We took one of the bags of chips. I hope we can miraculously touch base with this angel someday to say Thank you.

Lastly we walked past a man called Jeff who was sitting beside the Pilgrim’s Way having a lunch. A few minutes later he overtook us and we started talking. Jeff is from New Jersey and had a nice story (see video). Jeff led us through to Broughton Lees, taking us across newly mown hay fields to the Flying Horse. He had heard about an old well inside the pub and asked the proprietor to show it to us. Jeff then spent some time with us at the pub before beginning his walk back.

Before he returned he heard us struggling to find a cab into Ashford. He gave us his phone number and invited us to call him if we got stuck. He’d come and fetch us with his own car and get us where we needed to go. So nice.

After a quick grocery store stop for food and medical supplies (blister treatment) we arrived at our lodging for the night. I’m processing the days videos – boy they are a lot of work! Haha. It has been a wonderful journey so far. My legs are heavy but Madeline informed us that were averaging 4.6k/hr which is right about where we thought we’d be at this stage. We’ve done multiple 18+ mile days in a row and are now confident in our strides.

I’m true authentic pilgrim tradition dating from the 1100’s, Allison chose pre-prepared Sushi for dinner tonight. Remember- this blog is a judgement free zone. 🙂

We hope your enjoying the blog. Thanks for all your questions and feedback. I love being in touch with the “other world” through this blog.

Day4 Wrotham to Thurnham – Ups and Downs

“Up and down the Downs through woods and fields” pretty much sums up our morning. We’d left The Bull after accepting a gift of picnic sandwiches for our lunch and we made good progress through the warming and humid day.

Serene morning

After crossing the Medway (at Peter’s Bridge – irony), a major obstacle for both ancient and medieval pilgrims, we took a shortcut that avoided yet another trip up the Downs but carried us along major roads. It was harrowing! The cars were zooming past in close proximity. However I did find that if I stuck my hiking pole out a few inches cars gave me a wide berth. I think some odd thought process goes through a driver’s mind – “Ah, there is a hiker. Hikers are soft. I’ll try not to hit him, but I can get pretty close without too much damage.” vs “Oh wow, that hiker has his pole sticking out into the road. That could scratch my car! I better move way over.”

Willow branch fencing
The first chalk cliffs we spied

At a divided highway we really needed to get of onto a side path but none were available and we had a precarious 10 minutes of hugging the nettle infested hedges as cars flew by. Actually most of the cars slowed and moved over as best they could to give us some room….most.

Enjoying the view from the Downs

An opening appeared and we quickly dodged into a field that just happened to be a vineyard. Finding a bit of shade we stopped to enjoy our lunch. I had been give a hearty brie sandwich and Allison a ham sandwich. As is our habit, Allison and I swapped lunches halfway through.

Four miles from our evening destination, thunderstorm clouds began appearing. Three miles away we saw rain in the distance. Two miles away the skies let loose but we trudged-on like true pilgrims. Actually we had few options. One mile from our destination we scampered into the Cock Horse Pub – drowned rats coming in from a storm.

<musings from inside the pub> The Cock Horse is a typical English pub. It has a white plaster exterior and inside the floor has 8 or 9 steps all less than 2in high. The bar is well stocked and the proprietor stands behind the taps and despite our appearance welcomes us in. Instantly the oak floor, stained with hundreds of years of life, is soaked by 3 pilgrims.

We ordered two bitter lemons (lemonade to us Yanks) and tap water. Despite our drenching we were thirsty from the days walking.

In the corner is a young family having dinner; in the other are two friends chatting over a beer. The latter strike up a conversation with us, curious what we were doing walking in a storm like this. Like most people, these two were shocked to hear Rome as our destination – at first disbelieving us, next thinking they’d misheard and finally staring slack-jawed at the thought. Honestly, I still feel that way too sometimes. <end musings>

The rain started to ease up, and assured that we only had a mile to go, we said farewell to the Cock Horse. No sooner had we thrown on our soaked packs and stepped outside when the skies let loose with round two. We hesitated, and I think we all thought about going back inside, – but we just couldn’t. Not only did we want to get to our lodging up ahead, but we just couldn’t soak the floors of the pub a second time.

So on we plodded down a small a lane. The oncoming traffic tried miss the puddles and thus avoid splashing us with muddy water, but it was impossible. With each car that passed another sheet of dirty storm water lifted itself from the road and coated us again. Not that it mattered. You can only get 100% wet. The storm had brought a chill to the air. At first it was welcome. There’s few things worse than wearing rain jacket in the heat. But in that last mile it got just a little chilly.

Needless to say, we made it safe and sound. We’ve all showered and our room is filled with clothes and packs hanging from every conceivable object. Life remains good.

Day3 Dartford to Wrotham – Rivers and Downs

The River Darent

What a beautiful morning following the River Darent through small villages and peaceful meadows. THIS is more like it.

First a catch up story from last night. The proprietress at The Fulwich gave us a nice gift. Our rooms were so hot from the days sun. We have asked if she had any fans available. “I do, she replied, but they are not assembled.” We were able to assemble them we replied and we’d do so after dinner.

After our rather extravagant dinner at the Turkish restaurant Efes, we came back to the Fulwich to find our host had gone ahead and assembled the fans herself. What a kind act and it made all the difference in cooling the room and allowing us to sleep.

4miles in….time for some breakfast!

The kindness didn’t stop last night. We stopped for coffee and a breakfast Turners Cafe at South Darenth. It was great timing for a good coffee and breakfast fare. But with our packing back up we accidentally left without paying our bill. Miles later this fact occurred to me and we immediately phoned them to apologize and arrange a payment over the phone. “Not to worry” they replied, consider it our gift to you on your long walk. Yet another blessing.

We took a detour into Eynsford for a pilgrim stamp at a local shop and enjoyed watching the children play in the water near a beautiful old bridge. At Eynsford we ran across a beautiful old church with an arched brick entry way lined with fir trees. The entrance to the church was of particular beauty…particularly to a woodworker like me.

Church at Shoreham

The next stage toward Otford took us past a beautiful lavender field bursting with color. The beauty was only disrupted by the growing heat. We’re well into Kent now and this huge agricultural region is covered in hops, wheat, rape, corn, in addition to garlic and lavender.


We met a wonderful couple as we left a Roman Villa historical site. They chatted with us a bit and told us about their adventure. See the video below.

Judith and Paul’s Story

Lunch at Otford was a nice break; I have to admit I have been feeling the heat today. The pack seems heavy; I mean, it is heavy and has grown since we’ve left since I’m carrying the food supply. It’s what we do and I’m sure that’s not the issue, it is just the heat today, and Day 3 is always tough.

Signs likely not found in the USA

After Otford everything changes. The route we’ve been taking joins the north Downs Way and makes a steep climb up to the Downs. Gone are the villages and you on a series of hills and pasture land. The soil changes to chalk and temperature goes down about 1 degree… but at least there is a nice breeze.

A major change as we join the North Downs Way “follow the acorn”
The view from the Downs
“Cart Pony”
Martin: Proprietor of The Bull- awesome dinner. Mushroom Tagliatelle recommended with a wine suggested by this owner/sommelier.

Today was long – 19.4 miles and my feet felt it. The heat created some minor chafing issues but easily managed. The shower tonight felt exceptionally wonderful. We ended in Wrotham (pronounced Root-em) at a lovely pub – The Bull – and treated ourselves to a nice dinner.

May I introduced you to a “friend”…actually an enemy… the Stinging Nettle. Although we have them in the US they aren’t common in NC where I live. In the UK however they are prolific. They give you a sharp sting when touched and the sting lasts about 7min. It’s painful but not overly so.

Unfortunately we have to walk through fields of these sometimes. Ouch!

The Nettle
Our path is right through these nasties!

Ok. So we’re staying in a pretty nice place tonight, but we’re still pilgrims.

Our nice four poster bed with drying laundry hung from the testers.

Well that’s it for today. Thanks, in summary, enjoy my first attempt at a collage video. Tell me what you think.

Day2 Woolwich to Dartford – Commons

Yesterday we completed 1/100th of our entire pilgrimage! It’s not much of a milestone but it is a milestone nonetheless, because every journey must have a start.

After a fabulous night’s sleep in the Travel Lodge in Woolwich we hit the sidewalk/pavement at 7:15 am. This takes some getting used to for someone who prefers a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Winding our way through the city streets alternating with some nice shady wooded areas, and commons* was a pleasant change from the fast fading London bustle.

We eventually found ourselves following a trail along the river marsh area to our left. Unfortunately a very ugly industrial area was on our right so basically, we just kept looking to the left!

Our last view of the Thames at Low Tide

Click here for a cool 3D image of our last view of the Thames

The day felt hot and muggy to us. I can only imagine how poor Madeline felt. It seems to be an unwritten rule that when we decide to begin a pilgrimage the temperatures must take a drastic rise. That makes all our friends want to come hike with us, right?!

Old Post Box

Currently we are enjoying a beer and juice in the Tiger pub in the little town of Dartford. Pub life is a beautiful thing in England. I love that the locals are cheering-on formula one races.

For us we are just enjoying the cool air inside and out of the sun. We are finally cooling down.

The proprietress at our lodging is just wonderful. She is fun to chat with and very helpful. Our rooms are little, but wonderfully clean plus a mini fridge and microwave. These may sound like simple things but part of being a pilgrim is living simply. Small unexpected things like these when you’ve booked very economical lodging is a treat. This, The Fulwich is an economical price pub/hotel that we’d highly recommend for someone satisfied with simplicity.

A very boring shot…but this is what we do!

How to summarize today? Well, honestly it wasn’t the best of days in terms of scenery or history, but even the mundane is part of pilgrimage. The woods and commons were nice and the few times in the afternoon that we found shade were wonderful. For example, we sat under a tree adjacent to a shopping center adjacent to a busy road for lunch…but it was nice because of the shade, a nice breeze, and lunch. Simple pleasures.

The Fulwich, our Bed for the Night

Tomorrow will be a tougher day. We have to cover over 18miles to Wrotham. We plan on an early 6am start to help beat the heat but we will still end up walking well into the afternoon regardless.

* a Common is an open grassy area that is reserved for the public. Originally these were “common” areas whereon anyone could graze their sheep.

Day 1 London to Woolwich – The Thames

“The Thames is liquid history”

John Burns

Well we did it, we’ve finally begun. We are on Pilgrimage.

We were in no hurry to leave this morning. A final ritual remained before I felt I could leave on this journey.

The route from London to Canterbury is know by many names, but it is most commonly called Becket’s way (see History Bits). The route became the top pilgrimage route to Canterbury and was immortalized by Chaucer in “The Canterbury Tales”. The pilgrims in this epic start their journey at Southwark Cathedral on the south bank of the Thames River….and so should we.

So we arranged to attend another Eucharist service and we were offered another pilgrims blessing. We also received our second Stamp. Those that have offered us these blessings, at our home church Revo, St Paul’s, and Southwark likely don’t realize how much they mean to us. We are so grateful.

Canon Andrew Zihni offering us a pilgrim blessing at Southwark
Canon Andrew Zihni
Southwark is a true Pilgrimage Cathedral in its Architecture (ask me if interested).

Then off we went in the growing heat of the day; our first step was documented as is now our tradition.

Literally our first step.
Madeline and Allison

The route today was bathed in the influence and history of the Thames River. The dockyards of the mighty British Empire, the HMS Belfast, the launch point of the Mayflower, the Cutty Sark Clipper ship and Prime Meridian of the world at Greenwich all lie along the banks of the river known as the “Artery of the Empire”.

For 70% of the day we zig-zagged along the Thames Path, only occasionally blocked by construction or commercial enterprise. The River was alive with ships, tourist boats and pleasure craft; the sound of seagulls competing with the industrial noises of this living city of London.

Even though the day was hot (by English standards) we were well enough in shade to make the walk pleasant. Walking however was difficult only because of the combined effect of two weeks at home without hiking, and a week in quarantine. I’m glad this was a short day.

We stopped for a picnic lunch in the shade of a Catholic Church steps after stopping in a market for some supplies. The “hit” of my lunch was a guacamole condiment. That stuff was quite good and had a little kick to it.

Lunch

After lunch we only had a bit of walking left before we arrived at our hotel for the night, still in the London suburb Woolwich. Next began the routine which will be repeated without a break for most of this trek (shower, wash clothes, hang them out to dry, head off for a beer or wine and dinner). More on that at another time.

A reward at day’s end.

Well, that’s it. It was a beautiful day and an excellent start. Getting to know my cousin Madeline and of course spending time with my wife is precious. Actually starting this journey after 3 years of planning is surreal.

I am happy.

Day0 Quarantine to London – Negative is Positive

Buckle your seatbelts … this will be a long post.

Well let’s start out with the great news this morning that both our Day5 Covid tests came back negative and we are officially released from quarantine. Yay!

That means that this morning we boarded a bus for London Victoria. On the agenda included a few bits and bobs (Underground to our hotel to drop of bags, etc) and a short walk to St Paul’s Cathedral to make an unofficial start to our pilgrimage. (more later).

Bus to London

The weather is sunny and warm this morning and other than my back (which is acting up again) we are in good spirits but eager to get going. As I write we are still on the bus to London. It’s a 2-3/4hr ride, the last part of a quarantine-extended arrival to our first hotel.

I guess because I’ve been to London many times it doesn’t feel strange or exciting to be here. In some ways I’m used to it. It’s a wonderful city, full of history and art; it is very much alive and thriving; but it’s also almost too familiar. Still as we drive past the Fullers brewery and Cadbury chocolate adverts, trains and brick homes stained with vestiges of old coal soot, memories of past adventures fill my mind. … I’m in England.

Row Houses

<Later> Our first order of business after dropping our bags off at the Hotel was to head to St Paul’s Cathedral. Why? Well somehow it seems right. It seems fitting to start our experience (if not our actual walk) with a visit to St Paul’s London knowing that we will end at St Peter’s Rome.

The symbol of St Paul are the crossed swords. As a Citizen of Rome he was entitled to a more civilized martyrdom and was, by tradition, executed by beheading. The crossed keys, as I’ve already written are the symbol of Peter and thus Rome. So we will be walking from cross to cross as it were. Probably just me, but I find that kind of neat.

The next big event is one you will see repeated literally hundreds of times. Those of you that have been on the Camino will understand the emotion and impact of this moment. But at St Paul’s we received our first Stamp on our Pilgrim Credential. This beautifully clean and empty book will slowly get filled with stamps from Gites, Tourist Info Booths, Churches and Albergos as we March south. If you want to know more about the Credential etc, check out the History bits page.

Becoming Part of History

We arrived at St Paul’s in time for a Eucharist service and the Anglican priest (Chaplain Giles) called us forward just before the end of the service to recognize us and offer a pilgrims blessing. It was pretty surreal to stand there under the dome of St Paul’s and experience that, I must say.

After a bite to eat (we were pretty hungry) we swung back to the hotel to check in. And then made a quick purchase at an outdoor store (stopper for Allison’s hiking pole).

So here we are, winding down our Via Francigena Day0. Wow!

10 Cases

We had a nice seafood dinner near Covent Garden and then headed back to the hotel to crash and get ready for the start of our Via.

Margot at Parsons

Are you Ready? After all this build up are you ready to start on a pilgrimage? Are you tired of all the preliminaries. Well we are. Let’s GO!

The Thames

Quarantine Day5 – Early Release Test

Just a short update…

Today we completed our 5th day of quarantine and became eligible to take advantage of the Day5 Early Release Scheme. Madeline drove us into town (the first time we’ve been out of her home and back garden) for the administered Swab. The results are expected between 3am and 8am tomorrow.

Allison at the Day5 administration pharmacy.

In expectation of a negative result, we’ve booked our bus ticket to London for the morning. The excitement is mounting.

Tonight we’re being treated to a proper Fish and Chips dinner. The excitement is mounting for this as well!

As I said, just a quick post today. Tomorrow should be an eventful day!

Quarantine Day4 – Looking forward

www.gaiagps.com/public/bXUlUOkRUuOHaAQJcnCdwzLH

I’m just trying this out so, let’s see what happens. This link is our intended route out of London for Day 1 of our pilgrimage.

It departs from Southwark (pronounced Suthuck) and travels along the Thames past the Tower of London and tower Bridge among other wonderful iconic sites. Next you’ll see the path turning briefly away at Greenwich where we will cross into the Eastern Hemisphere. From there we make our way a bit further East ending in the suburbs of Woolwich.

It’s a short day to kick off a very long walk.

But mainly I’m just trying this Gaia link out to see how it looks on the blog. 🙂

Mark

Quarantine Day3 – Walking in place

Allison’s thoughts

Today is Tuesday and day 3 of our required down time. I am sure you are wondering what we do to entertain ourselves.

Besides completing crossword and sudoku puzzles, route planning for our hike, eating and sleeping, we do exercise. But creativity is key! So here is little clip of what has become one of our daily habits.

We really had to find a way to stay in shape! Aaaaaand Action:

Mark is getting really good at plotting our journey too. The GPS map of one of walks should give you some idea of what we’re going through. It’s kind of funny.

Quarantine Day2 – Life In Quarantine

Well, just a brief report about life in quarantine.

We spent days 1 and 2 of quarantine getting used to our surrounds and being quite pampered by my 2nd cousin Madeline and her husband Mark who are hosting us. Because of the isolation rules we feel a little helpless at times and wish we could do more to help.

Madeline’s Neighbor has an interesting shrub.
It’s a bottle brush plant.

We’ve attempted to do a few hundred laps around the back garden and Allison spent some time making a game of it as we walked in multiple patterns one afternoon and then hand in hand the next. It’s been quiet and fun in that regard.

We did have the opportunity to be part of the hype – albeit virtually – of the England v Italy European Cup Championship. Disappointingly, the Three Lions club weren’t victorious but they played a good match and the game went into and through extra time and was finally settled by free kicks.

Today I was given a much requested assignment. Mark asked if I could design and build a workbench for his shop. This, of course, was eagerly agreed to and now with the design drawn up I’m looking forward to building something.

In the meantime Allison and I (mostly Allison) have gotten some lodging research completed for the first few stages in France.

Allison being productive in planning

Last of all, we took and posted our mandatory Day2 Covid swabs. These mark the beginning of the end of our quarantine. Assuming these are negative we would only await a similar result from the Day5 early-release test.

So, there’s our report. Thanks for following along and being patient. Know that we are as eager as you (likely more so) to get moving and get the quarantine faze over and done with.

More later…likely as we await or get our Day5 tests or perhaps an update on the workbench to pass the time.