East & West Peckham Pilgrimage Trail – 7 miles, 1 day. This route takes pilgrims on a journey to two ancient churches in West and East Peckham, linked by an old sunken lane which passes a 14th-century Manor House which belonged to the Knights Hospitallers and was used by them as a resting place for pilgrims. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public but you can see it quite clearly from the trail. The pilgrimage also enjoys one of the finest views in Kent from St Michael’s. The route is designed to be enjoyable for all ages and can be done at a pace to suit walkers of all abilities.
The East & West Peckham Pilgrimage Trail is a walk designed to be enjoyed by all and takes place in the beautiful Kent countryside. It aims to be a relaxing and accessible walk sharing the history of our respective villages with you.
This circular 7 miles Trail moves between the churches of East and West Peckham. The route has been marked with way markers on gates and posts. The trail ambles along ancient footpaths, by- ways and quiet country roads, and on the way embraces one of the finest views in Kent. It includes visits to 3 wonderful churches, and the hospitality of two excellent country pubs. The Trail runs mainly across gentle countryside with a short climb to St Michael’s Church. It can be started and finished at any of the 3 churches.
Begin the Trail by visiting Holy Trinity Church, in Bush Road, East Peckham. There is free parking in the lay-by opposite the church. The church has toilet facilities inside. This Grade 2 Listed Victorian Church was built in 1841 to recognize the move of the majority of East Peckham’s residents from the location of the old village on the hill by St Michael’s Church, to the arable land on the Medway plain. This explanation answers the often asked conundrum of: “Why does East Peckham lie to the South of West Peckham?” East Peckham is now a combination of 9 hamlets, one of which is the site of the old village.
The village became synonymous in the 19th and 20th Centuries for the growing of hops and this can be verified by the number of oasts you will pass on the Trail. It is the location of the old Whitbread Hop Farm, which hosted the largest collection of oast houses in the world and today contains a museum on the history of hops and its pickers. For a sleepy village it comes as a surprise to find out that the UK’s first speeding ticket was issued here in 1896 to a Walter Arnold who was caught by the local police officer, on his bike, doing 8 mph when the speed limit was 2 mph. He was fined a shilling, plus costs!
After visiting the church walk northwards along Bush Lane and in half a mile you will come to one of East Peckham’s hidden gems – the dog-friendly, Bush, Blackbird and Thrush public house.
‘The Bush’, as it is known locally, dates from the early 1800’s and is owned by the Kentish Brewers, Shepherd Neame. It serves a range of their beers and offers an attractive food menu to visitors for its bar and restaurant. It has extensive gardens which host a monthly classic car rally and has a ‘Bat & Trap’ court. This ball game is played mainly in Kent normally by pub regulars.
Continue along Bush Lane to the ‘T’ Junction at the hamlet of Peckham Bush and turn right.
This pub was called: ‘The Fountain’ and closed in 1975. It is now a private house and its past can be evidenced in the retention of the old pub’s glazed windows.
Almost immediately turn left, by the old pub sign and go up the track. Keep straight on through a pedestrian gate, where the track turns left. The footpath enters an orchard after 100 yards. Keep straight ahead for another 100 yards until the footpath hits a track. Turn right and walk up the track keeping the large green packing shed on your left- hand side.
You will come to Bells Farm Road, turn left and after 100 yards turn right onto a private road and public footpath. This footpath forms part of the Weald Way, which runs from Beachy Head to Gravesend, via West Peckham and you will now follow this part of the Way.
After quarter of a mile, by a small pond and large oast house, the track turns to the left. Follow this track for a hundred yards and then follow the track turning right, and which is marked ‘WW’ (Weald Way). After 200 yards the track runs between two copses. Keep straight ahead and after 100 yards follow the footpath to the left crossing a field towards a white house in the distance.
The poly tunnels you will pass here are used to grow strawberries with the farmer’s most famous customer being the Wimbledon tennis championships. You will come to the A26 Tonbridge Road , go through a pedestrian gate and onto the road verge. Looking right you can see, on the other side of the road, the signed footpath entering the area of a fish farm. Cross the road and walk along the footpath, which skirts a number of fish ponds owned by Hadlow College.
After quarter of a mile the footpath enters a farmed field. The footpath crosses the field diagonally to a gate which leads onto another field. Turn right on entering the field and follow the edge of the field to the top right hand corner. Go through the gate into another field with a footpath crossing the field diagonally to a track leading up to West Peckham.
As you cross this field, pause and look up into the open sky. It was here in these skies in the summer of 1940 that the Battle of Britain was fought by young men flying out of nearby West Malling and Biggin Hill. It is worth remembering on this pilgrimage the 1500 aircrew who died in the battle and reflecting on how much we owe to ‘The Few’.
On reaching the road, turn left into West Peckham and visit the ancient church of St Dunstan’s. This beautiful Saxon church is Grade I listed, recorded in the Domesday book and is in regular use. It is named after one of the most popular of English saints and who was, in AD 960, made Archbishop of Canterbury. It is a lovely church to visit and to read of its great history and see its unique features, including the fine ‘Geary’ pew in its North chapel. This ornate structure is modelled on the stern of a naval frigate, (similar to HMS Victory), in honour of Admiral Sir Frances Geary who lived at the nearby Manor House, Oxonhoath.
A short distance from the church is West Peckham’s beautiful village green and its hostelry, ‘The Swan on the Green’, which dates from 1526. It is today a gastro pub with its own micro-brewery. Sitting outside ‘The Swan’ on a summer’s day watching cricket on the green is one of life’s great pleasures. In fact this is one of the first cricket pitches dating back over 200 years.
Leaving the Swan retrace your steps back to the track you entered the village on. Continue straight ahead on the road for 200 yards until you see a By Way sign to the right. Go down this track which is part of the Greensand Way and which runs from Haslemere in Surrey to Hamstreet in Kent. The track runs down the side of Duke’s Place, a 14th Century Grade 1 Listed Manor House, which was originally a preceptory belonging to the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. This order was originally instituted for the protection of pilgrims to Jerusalem as far back as 612 AD.
The track you are on is a great example of an ancient and sunken track (it can be rather muddy) leading to a ford, with stepping stones before heading uphill back to the main A26 road.
Upon reaching the A26 look across the road to the right and you can see the footpath continue, as a sunken track uphill to Seven Mile Lane. Follow the footpath up to Seven Mile Lane. Go through the gate and, with care, cross the road to the lane beyond. Follow the lane uphill and bear to the right at the top and proceed to the front of St Michael’s Church, which has one of the most magnificent views in Kent and it is a great spot to stop for a picnic.
St Michael’s Church (pictured as main photo for this webpage) is recorded in the Domesday book and its North wall of the nave and chancel date back to the 12th Century. The church was declared redundant in 1973 and is now preserved by the Churches Conservation Trust and is open daily from 10am to 4pm. The Friends of St Michael’s play an active part in maintaining use of the church and annual services are still held there.
From St Michael’s, and the return back to Holy Trinity Church, cross the graveyard to its South East corner and then follow the footpath down to Roydon Hall Road. On reaching the road, turn right and Roydon Hall, a 16th Century Elizabethan Manor House, can be glimpsed on your left hand side.
Roydon Hall was in the 1960s a centre for Transcental Meditation led by Maharishi Yoga. Local folklore says that the Beatles, who in that era were interested in meditation, stopped at the Centre in 1967 whilst recording their film, Magical Mystery Tour, at nearby Kings Hill.
Follow the road downhill to its junction with Seven Mile Lane.
This busy road was once the route taken annually by East Enders walking to work in the hop fields and orchards. A little imagination and you can see the families and children walking with horses and carts and pushing prams and barrows complete with their worldly goods. Many of the local families are descendants of these workers who settled in the area.
Cross the road and then follow the footpath across a field, bearing left in the next field, before following the footpath into another field. Keep to the right-hand edge of this field to a gap in the hedge where the footpath continues. Walk along the track past Peckham Place before retracing your footsteps back to Bells Farm Road. Turn left and follow the road down to its junction with Martin’s Lane, bear right into Bullen Lane and take the next left, Bush Lane passing the The Bush, Blackbird and Thrush before retracing your steps back to Holy Trinity Church.
Map: OS Landranger 188
Useful postcodes: Holy Trinity Church TN12 5LH, St Dunstan’s Church ME18 5JL, St Michael’s Church TN12 5NG
This Pilgrim’s Trail is designed by the East & West Peckham Parish Churches. If you would like to show support for the maintenance of our churches then any contribution made via the alms boxes of the churches you visit would be most welcome.