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.>

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.


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.