9.5 miles, 1 day
Nearing the final destination, pilgrims have the opportunity to explore the rich pilgrim heritage of the area which has many ancient paths walked by saints and pilgrims through the centuries. The Old Way takes its time and connects with several other pilgrim paths, but if you prefer you can head straight to the city on the broad straight track of the North Downs Way. However you arrive, we encourage you to allow time to linger in Canterbury, which is packed full of beauty, stories and pilgrim places.
Train stations in Bekesbourne, Sturry, Canterbury West and Canterbury East. For Bus services Bridge, connects to Canterbury with the no. 89 or 17, a little further along the route Littlebourne can be reached by the No.43. Taxi: The Village Taxi Company and County Cars (contact 01227 721256) both serve this leg of the Old Way. Village Taxis also do baggage transfer.
Bridge: The Pig at Bridge Place. Littlebourne: the Evenhill pub. St Mary’s Patrixbourne offers Sanctuary. Fordwich offers champing at St Mary’s Church. In Canterbury the YHA and Travelodge offer good value for money, and the Cathedral Lodge is probably best located and has disabled access. St Stephens Guest House near the station, also comes recommended.
Bridge has a couple of pubs and a village shop for groceries. At Bekesbourne, Mama Feelgood Cafe. In Fordwich, The George and Dragon may be easier to get a table than the Michelin-starred Fordwich Arms. Canterbury has a wide range of places to suit every taste and budget. You can find our favourites on the google map.
Find beautiful rich carvings and pilgrim graffiti at the doorway of St Mary’s church in Patrixbourne. The church sits on the intersection of several pilgrimage routes and is passionate about welcoming pilgrims.
The Canterbury World Heritage Site is formed of St Martins Church and St Augustine’s Abbey, along with the Cathedral, their stories just as important as Thomas Becket to Canterbury’s significance as a pilgrimage destination.
Canterbury Cathedral, magnificent in its own right, has many places for the pilgrim to honour, and we recommend the Cloister, the Martyrdom, the Antony Gormly sculpture in the crypt and the site of Thomas’s shrine, marked by a lone candle and surrounded by the miracle windows.
There are no named waymarks to follow between Bridge and Fordwich, but the Stour Valley Walk markers will take you from Fordwich to St Martins Church.
Bridge and Patrixbourne
From Bridge, head northeast towards Bifrons Park, in which you will find a lime tree that has split in such a way that you can squeeze through the divided trunk. St Mary’s Church in Patrixbourne, just beyond, offers a stone portal covered with faded mythical glory. A wonderful and compact history of the church and the surrounding land was complied for the church’s Millennium plaque, which you will find in its churchyard. An extract invites visitors to: “Look particularly for the Flemish and Swiss enamelled glass panels in the three eastern lancet windows and in the south chapel. They were collected and given by the Marchioness of Conyngham who lived in the 19th century at the large house known as Bifrons. Within the church there are several memorial plaques commemorating members of other families who resided at Bifrons.” Pilgrims can request sanctuary here.
Follow the Old Palace Road to Bekesbourne, where another huge church greets you, less than a mile later. The large house here was once the Archbishop’s Palace, where Thomas Cranmer wrote the Book of Common Prayer – from which Choral Evensong was also created. (Ian Fleming would, much later, write Octopussy in the same house.)
Next door is St Peter’s Church, which Cranmer would have frequented as he wrote that worship-changing book. Evidence of the Reformation is clear in this church: the pre-Reformation stone altar can now be seen forming part of the church floor, with the wooden one that replaced it still standing. Many stone altars were replaced with more modest, wooden ones during the Reformation. To access the church, head to the Old Palace on the opposite side of the river, where the key is kept. It’s a good idea to call ahead if you can.
Continuing beyond Bekesbourne, under an acoustic treat of a railway bridge, past orchards, meet the ruined Chapel of Well (and its holy well in the woods, a small lake). Take the path toward Howletts Animal Park – the sister to the animal park in Port Lympne in Section 32 – here you will (really!) see elephants.
Then seek out the hidden Roman road in the woods, on which St Augustine’s monks would have travelled. Delve into Trenley Woods, and find the great beech. The Trenley Beech has fine examples of “Arborglyphs”: writing or drawings carved into the bark. You’ll find plenty of lover’s initials here, following a Roman tradition: “As these letters grow, so may our love”. But the beech’s association with writing is much older than the marks you’ll find here. The very name Beech stems from the same root as our word “book”; some believe the first books were written on thin slices of the pale, clean-grained wood, but it is equally possible they were the favourite choice for book covers. If writing is wisdom made physical, what wisdom does this beech have for a pilgrim nearing the end of their journey?
Note that there are many paths within these woods, and it is easy to get lost here! Stick to the maps provided, and you should be able to navigate your way through. These paths also can become very muddy in the winter months – tread carefully!
Soon after the woods comes Fordwich, with its furtive Lady Well, a once central holy well that is now covered and culverted.
Find the Church of St Mary’s where the River Stour flows. This is the river on which the Caen stones of Canterbury Cathedral were transported. Fordwich is England’s smallest town, and it has one of the oldest town halls, in which Shakespeare once played – or so the locals say. Fordwich Town Hall was built in 1544, and is still used for the town’s council meetings.
Walk west via Canterbury Golf Course into the dark woods. Pass Reed Pond, Christchurch Priory’s 12th century water supply. It is easy to get lost here, so close to the end of your pilgrimage – and the ground underfoot can also be quite muddy. Follow the Stour Valley Walk waymarks, and if you are not using smart navigation, you may find these directions handy as there are lots of little turnings not marked on the maps:
After the pond, take the left fork and continue on straight, going over the gravel hump. Curve left with the path away from the right fork, then turn right and go downhill at the Stour Valley Walk waymark. Continue straight past the next Stour Valley Walk sign, then fork left uphill, curving round to the left. Continue on this path until you reach the edge of the woodland, and exit via the old iron stile. Cross Military Road onto the path opposite, and stay straight on until you reach the Conduit House ruins and then St Martins Church.
When the woods becomes suburbia, pass St Augustine’s Conduit House, where spring waters were once brought together and blessed before they were sent on to the cathedral.
Then arrive at St Martin’s, the oldest church in the English-speaking world, with some remaining Roman brickwork in the south wall. St Martin’s was once the private chapel of Queen Bertha of Kent, who came to England in the 6th century to marry the pagan King Æthelbert. The king allowed his new wife to practice her Christian religion by renovating a ruined church that the Venerable Bede lists as having been in use during the Roman period. Saint Augustine, the first Bishop of Canterbury – often considered as the founder of the English church – arrived in England after Bertha had established St Martin’s. In many ways, we might see Queen Bertha as laying down the foundations for Saint Augustine’s later work (indeed her daughter Ethelburga married King Edwin, king of what we now know as Northumbria, effectively Christianising the pagan north). Bertha’s influence contributed to the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England – hence her canonisation.
At the front of the church is the spring that might have been the source of the water that baptised King Æthhelbert, who converted to Christianity during his reign. From the churchyard you have a sightline through to St Augustine’s Abbey and then the cathedral beyond. Continue to St Augustine’s Abbey, an English Heritage property that is definitely worth paying the fee to enter. This was the primary holy place in Canterbury before the Reformation, the re-birth of Christianity in Britain began here. Many of the Archbishops and Anglo-Saxon kings were buried here before their tombs and the shrine of St Augustine were destroyed.
From here, aim for the spires of the cathedral. Pass through the walkway – Lady Wootton’s Green – and view the Queningate, named for Queen Bertha who passed through here on her way to St Martins. Follow the walls to the left, then turn right and follow Burgate until you reach the Welcome Centre next to the iconic Christ Church gate.
Within the cathedral, there is a great deal to encounter. Circumambulate first, and go slowly here. Evensong is a service to aim for. On the north side of the cathedral you will find a recreation of the monastic herb garden. There are dozens of medieval herbs here, from the familiar, such as Rosemary, to the less familiar, such as Betony. All of them possess healing qualities or associations. These are best experienced not by picking, but by rubbing a leaf between thumb and finger, and taking in the strong scent. Rosemary is particularly symbolic of remembrance. Your sense of smell is so strongly tied to memory, you may wish to reflect on what parts of your journey you would like to stay with you, and take those memories away riding on the scents you discover here.
Within Canterbury city, there is much to see. Highlights include Canterbury Roman Museum and Canterbury Museum, which reveal the city’s ancient heritage. Dane John mound, a former Roman burial mound, castle motte and ornamental memorial can be climbed. Walk around the medieval/Roman walls, and visit the pre-Norman church of St Mildred’s. Greyfriars’ Chapel is the oldest Franciscan chapel in England, and has the River Stour flowing underneath it. On the high street is Eastbridge Pilgrim Hospital. St Peter’s Church is one of the six medieval churches still in use within the city. Abbot’s Mill, Westgate Gardens and St Gregory’s are ancient and peaceful green spaces from which to consider the journey you have taken. You may wish to follow the Canterbury Circular Route, Or just relax by the river. You have come far enough. Rest well pilgrim, and have a safe journey home.
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