From Canterbury to Dover: a leisurely last course in our walking banquet

I take a selfie on the road to Dover

I take a selfie on the road to Dover. The mirror helps cars, and walkers, negotiate the narrow roads.

An army marches on its stomach. Walkers do too. We found that breakfast was a key element in our daily routine. The morning of Thursday September 3rd began with breakfast at Augustines B&B in Canterbury. Over the preceding month Emmy and I had experimented with breakfast. We tried small continental breakfasts – a croissant with butter and jam, some yoghurt, and a cup of coffee or tea. We also tried the mountainous full Scottish or full English breakfast – fried eggs, fried bacon, fried mushrooms, fried potatoes, fried tomatoes, fried sausages, baked beans, buttered toast and the piece de resistence, black pudding (fried, by the way). The continental breakfast did not give us enough ballast to hold course for more than an hour or so before we had to drop anchor and eat. The full English/Scottish, on the other hand, sent us straight to the bottom of the harbour. It’s difficult to set sail from down there. So we hit on a compromise: muesli (or cornflakes) and fruit with scrambled eggs and button mushrooms. This was the tasty combination that Louise – our very attentive hostess at Augustines – served, garnished with chatter that lifted our spirits in readiness for the day ahead.

The dreaded full English breakfast. Top left: black pudding. Bottom right (under the tomato): fried spud

The dreaded full English breakfast. It’s got everything. Clockwise from top left: black pudding, bacon, egg, mushrooms, tomato, potato (under the tomato) sausage, baked beans.

The more digestible option: scrambled eggs with (in this case) oatmeal cakes and cherry tomatoes.

The more digestible option: scrambled eggs with (in this case) oatmeal cakes and cherry tomatoes.

With our stomachs comfortably laden we rejoined the Pilgrims Way in the suburbs of Canterbury. It unrolled in front of us east towards Dover. We were heading away from Canterbury Cathedral, of course, so we were walking the Pilgrims Way in the “wrong” direction. But we were also walking the North Downs Way in the right direction towards its endpoint on the coast.

We walked across many kilometres of empty, silent fields. The solitude was blissful.

We walked across many kilometres of empty, silent fields. The solitude was blissful.

Sweet, juicy blackberries picked and eaten trackside.

Sweet, juicy blackberries picked and eaten trackside.

More trackside bounty: apples for the taking.

More trackside bounty: apples for the taking.

The path took us through rich farmland. We gathered wild blackberries (juicy and sweet) and apples from trackside orchards (tart but edible). We tunnelled through fields of head-high corn and graduated into a wide-open, bare expanse of newly harvested land. Between Canterbury and Shepherdswell – our stop for the night – we must have walked at least eight kilometres over tree-less fields filled only with stubble punctuated with the occasional hedge. Fortunately the sky was hazy and a friendly breeze fanned us. For hours we enjoyed one of the greatest rewards of walking – the profound pleasure of being utterly alone.

In the village of Shepherdswell we had dinner in a tiny pub, The Bell Inn, at the side of a village green scarcely bigger than the pub. A small group of men and women, children too, and dogs, clustered at the bar which was within arm’s reach of the dining tables. I made a complimentary remark about a flea-bitten pile of hair on the floor that looked something like a spaniel. This triggered an outbreak of friendliness. The dog’s life story was told to us in great detail. In its twilight years the animal’s last pleasure was to come to the Bell Inn, sit under a bar stool and sigh heavily from time to time. How I envied it. But it was deaf and nearly blind, so when the time came to go home, its owner almost literally had to tap the creature on the shoulder. It staggered to its feet and crashed into the bar, then looked around, identified the door and zig-zagged towards it. Behaviour possibly adopted from human models.

In the Bell Inn, Shepherdswell. Two dogs kept us company as we ate at the table on the left.

In the Bell Inn, Shepherdswell. Two dogs kept us company as we ate at the table on the left. The deaf and blind spaniel is snoozing on the right. Note the little girl in her pyjamas standing at the bar (partly obscured by the gentleman in the grey suit).

Meanwhile a menu had been scratched on a small blackboard. I ordered Chicken Masala at £9.80 (a bit over twenty Australian dollars). It took some time to prepare so I was anticipating a gourmet treat. When the meal arrived the chicken was “pulled” or shredded chicken in a brown barbeque-style sauce lying on a bed of greyish rice. Cautiously I lifted a forkful to my mouth. There was not a trace of any masala taste in the chicken and the rice was hard – not quite crunchy, but hard. And yet it was an Indian dish, because it came with a big crinkly pappadam glistening with oil.

Chicken masala, English country style.

Chicken masala, English country style.

The lady who had cooked the dinner emerged from the kitchen combing her hair and adjusting her horn-rimmed glasses.

“Everything all right?” she said stopping at our table and looking down at my plate with unmistakable pride.

“Mmmm, delicious,” I said. And indeed within minutes the chicken masala had disappeared, chased into my alimentary canal by a pint of cider. To be honest, once I had got over the initial shock and redefined the meal as not chicken masala but gastronomic Spakfilla, I quite enjoyed it. Walking does that for you… it gives you the gift of hunger, and the hungrier you are the less liable you are to quibble over little details like flavour and authenticity. What a relief to be free of all that and just eat.

The following day was our last day of walking. We faced a downhill stretch of just twelve kilometres into Dover. The weather was warm, hazy and still. The walking was easy, mostly through farmland and stands of straggly trees. As we neared Dover the North Downs Way joined with a tree-shaded branch of Watling Street, the old Roman road that, almost 2,000 years ago, reached from Dover into the interior of the Roman province of Britannia. Today the segment we trod is no more than a track with none of the Roman paving stones still evident. We could hear a whispering roar just beyond the skyline and as we neared Dover it became insistent and intrusive. It was the sound of heavy traffic on the A2 highway, the asphalt Watling Street of the twenty-first century that carries much of Britain’s trade to and fro across the Channel through Dover’s busy ferry terminal.

Dover Castle above the Victorian villas of Dover city. Our B&B was a similar building in the same street.

Dover Castle above the Victorian villas of Dover city. Our B&B was a similar building in the same street.

After dropping our backpacks at our B&B accommodation on Maison Dieu Street we headed for the waterfront. Dover city has little of the hyper-buzz of the terminal. In fact – just between you and me – Dover feels dispirited, even a bit seedy. We stood in front of the dingy Good Luck Chinese Restaurant debating whether to dine there. We decided its name was probably a warning to prospective diners and moved on. But, as we discovered the following day, Dover is redeemed many times over by the medieval castle on the brow of the hill high above the city. There is much to see there. The castle’s tall central keep, called The Great Tower, was built by Henry II in the late years of the twelfth century. Today it houses a truly remarkable and very accurate re-creation of the royal chambers of the time, including a blazing open fire and the king’s bed.

One of the beautifully restored royal chambers in Dover Castle.

One of the beautifully restored twelfth century royal chambers in Dover Castle.

On the Dover waterfront, within sight of the famous White Cliffs, we found the official endpoint of the North Downs Way etched into a stone paver. We were pleased to have arrived, but a faint sea breeze of regret also ruffled our hair. Emmy and I walk because we enjoy it. We don’t push ourselves hard, we have no big targets, we don’t talk much, we like resting almost as much as moving. But when we walk, every step brings the anticipation of something new, maybe something unexpected, maybe something challenging, and always (sorry… usually) something enjoyable.

Walking is something you can do on your own, in your own way, in your own time, and without too much fuss. And when you stop after a day’s walking – after the aches and pains, frustrations and fatigue have ebbed away – you get that fabled high, that mild sense of well-being that can last for days. We like that.

On the Dover waterfront I reach the endpoint of the North Downs Way.

On the Dover waterfront we reach the endpoint of the North Downs Way.

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The emptiness at the end: we spend a day in Canterbury

Canterbury Cathedral's main tower seen from a neighbouring narrow street.

Canterbury Cathedral’s main tower seen from a neighbouring narrow street.

It was still raining as we walked into the pilgrim city of Canterbury through its medieval West Gate. Canterbury is not a big city (it has a permanent population of around 50,000 which rises to around 80,000 during university term time) so it didn’t take us more than fifteen minutes to stroll through its narrow streets to the city centre. But in the space of that fifteen minutes a miracle happened. The rain-filled clouds that had sagged above us all day – in fact for the previous two days – suddenly shrank away to the edge of the sky. We walked through Christchurch Gate into the yard of Canterbury Cathedral and stopped in astonishment. The ancient building was glowing tall, spiky and golden in a flood of warm sunlight pouring over it from a clear blue mid-afternoon sky.

Of course there are annoying, cynical academic types who will say this was not a miracle. Britain’s weather is very changeable and what happened was a routine meteorological event. It had nothng whatever to do with our arrival. Religion, they will say, is an alchemy of symbols and rhetoric that can transform the mundane, the trivial, the impossible, not to mention the downright bleedin’ obvious, into a mind-blowing miracle.

We arrive in steady rain at the medieval West Gate of Canterbury city...

We arrive in steady rain at the medieval West Gate of Canterbury city…

... and fifteen minutes later, Canterbury Cathedral bathed in sunshine against a blue sky. A miracle, just for us.

… and fifteen minutes later, Canterbury Cathedral bathed in sunshine against a blue sky. A miracle, just for us.

But what do they know? The pilgrim sees with the sharp vision of hope, the rationalist sees with the narrow, picky vision of evidence-based science clouded by an excess of data, cushioned by the comforts of hindsight, and aware that scientific “truth” is never final, perfect or uncontestable.

In the spirit of imperfect scientific enquiry I decided to attend the daily ritual of Evensong. So towards half-past five that afternoon Emmy and I entered the cathedral and stood on the gleaming flagstone floor looking up open-mouthed at the vast vault above us. The tourists had been cleared out and a resonant silence filled the airy interior. We went up several wide stone steps into what is called “the quire.” Here several rows of dark wooden pews lay lengthways on either side of the stone floor. They were slightly raked one behind the other like seats at a tennis court. Vergers in long, swinging black robes paced up and down solemnly ushering worshippers to their seats. We opened a little wooden gate at the end of one pew, squeezed in and took our seats in carefully nurtured silence. Around 100 people were in attendance.

The Quire in Canterbury Cathedral where Evensong is held, with ranks of pews left and right.

The Quire where Evensong is held, with ranks of pews facing each other left and right, and the lectern for scripture readings bottom centre.

A river of mellow organ music flowed gently into the quire in intricate melodious eddies. We couldn’t see the pipes or the organist, the music was just there, part of the ambience. At precisely 5.30 everyone stood up and twelve all-male choristers (in a bizarre touch they are officially called “lay clerks”) filed in wearing long white smocks with split sleeves draped over black full-length cassocks. The procession forked into two groups of six, each entering a pew that faced the other across the floor. A priest – a woman – welcomed visitors and extended a special word of welcome to newly arrived pilgrims.

The Evensong service got under way with a contrapuntal “responsory” in which the two halves of the choir spoke musically to each other. The bass, baritone, tenor and counter-tenor (falsetto) voices danced slowly and delicately around one another in an elaborate, gravely beautiful musical gavotte. This was followed by versicles intoned by a choir member in a high, half-spoken half-sung monotone and responses intoned in similar style but with extended contrapuntal elaboration by the rest of the choir. The cathedral itself seemed to sing an ethereal third line of counterpoint in the faint resonances it sent back from its walls and windows.

O Lord, open thou our lips.
And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Then came the first reading, the opening verses of Psalm 14.

The fool hath said in his heart “There is no God.”

I sat up and paid attention. This was getting personal.

They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. No not one. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. But they had all turned aside, they had all been totally corrupted. There is not one that doeth good, no, not one.

I suppose I should have been chastened by these tough-love words, so obviously true in my case. But I was not humble enough. Inwardly I nodded, but outwardly I looked as indifferent as I could and returned to enjoyment of the music. The choir of Canterbury Cathedral is deservedly world famous. The disciplined passion of its singing is striking. Its gentle surges and passages of repose are beautifully modulated. Everything is balanced, pure, harmonious and serene. The singers are artists of the highest order.

Evensong ended with the normal Anglican-Catholic confession of faith (which I allowed to pass by me completely of course) and the singing of Nunc Dimittis (Now go forth), a simple and powerful dismissal that encapsulates the spirit of Christianity as it rose in Palestine two thousand years ago.

***

The following day Emmy and I returned to the cathedral to have a good look around inside and out. Again we stood transfixed in the long hall of the nave. Far above us the stone ribs of the walls bent inwards on either side and splayed like palm fronds to intertwine in an ornate pattern of criss-cross curves and circles down the length of the ceiling. Between the trunks of stone embedded in the walls, narrow stained glass windows cast glittering glances of bright blue and red light into the bower-like space of the nave.

The main nave of Canterbury Cathedral. To give you an idea of its dimensions, the tiny figure standing bottom-centre is Emmy.

The main nave of Canterbury Cathedral. To give you an idea of its dimensions, the tiny figure standing in the aisle before the altar is Emmy.

Readers of this blog will recall that several times I have complained about the misuse of churches to put a gloss of Christian respectability, even piety, on the lives of those who have participated in military murder, especially in wars of imperial aggression. (See Glazgeh: the friendly city and Santiago, killer of Muslims). Canterbury Cathedral is no different. One wall tablet commemorates eight local military personnel who were killed in the 1914 Battle of the Falkland Islands against a German sea squadron. In typical fashion their deaths are dedicated “to the glory of God”. Another commemorates the life of Major Simon Willard who, in the seventeenth century colony of New England (North America) “was made commander-in-chief of the British Forces against the hostile Indian tribes.”

Even an imperial war in southeast Asia is commemorated in this tablet.

An imperial war in distant Southeast Asia and another in South Africa are commemorated in this tablet.

I suppose you can argue that by condemning these violations of basic Christian teachings I am judging the people and events of history by values that were not current at the time. This would not be true. Nothing is more basic to Christianity at whatever time in its history than “You shall not murder” and “Love your enemies.” Christian pacifists (i.e. those who try to live by the values taught by Jesus Christ) have always been present at all times in history, but they have been ignored, or treated with contempt or ruthlessly eliminated by the hypocrites of mainstream “Christianity”. Saint Augustine (354 – 430) exhausted much of his considerable brain-power thinking up justifications for war and his thinking has been influential. Even today, as many protest at religious justifications for war and religious excuses for murder, the Augustinian nexus between the “Christian” establishment and the waging of war remains unbreakably strong.

Much of Canterbury Cathedral’s allure down the ages comes from the events of 1170 when its archbishop Thomas Becket was assassinated inside the cathedral by agents of King Henry II. Today the gory details of the murder are told with special relish. By my count we heard three times during our visit that an assassin’s sword lopped off the top of Becket’s skull leaving his brain exposed. Apparently Becket was still alive at this moment, but one of the assassins then dashed the archbishop’s head against the floor scattering his brains and blood over the flagstones. Visitors can stand at the exact spot where this happened, as I did, but I was examining the floor so closely I forgot to take a photo.

Within two years of his death Becket had been appointed a saint and his grave in the apse of the cathedral became a popular place of pilgrimage. But 350 years later King Henry VIII changed that. In his campaign to purge the Catholic faith and the Pope’s authority from England he ordered that Becket’s remains be dug up, his bones pulverised and the tomb destroyed. In later centuries, with the decline of religious bigotry, pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral resumed.

The absent tomb of Saint Thomas Becket, marked by a single candle in an empty space.

The absent tomb of Saint Thomas Becket, marked by a single candle in an empty space.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 2nd I reached the end point of the English Camino. The spot where Thomas Becket’s tomb once stood – now called Trinity Chapel at the far end of the cathedral – is marked by a single candle standing on the floor at the centre of an empty space. There are no remains, there is no tomb. As I stood there a small crowd of pilgrims pressed around me.

“There is nothing here,” one whispered. “It is empty, like Christ’s tomb.”

Faith creates its own reality. If the tomb had still been there it would have been seen as proof of Becket’s sanctity and the truths he stood for. But for some, apparently, its eerie absence under the cathedral apse is even more convincing, even though all that remains of Becket now is a mirage of stories. Perhaps (I am hoping) some pilgrims may ask themselves whether Canterbury Cathedral’s final emptiness – the absence at the heart of its magnificence – tells us something useful about the character of religious faith.

***

As Emmy and I walked the streets of Canterbury city we couldn’t help but notice the pervasiveness of Chaucer and pilgrimage in the city’s place names. We walked past another final destination in the pilgrimage of life, a retirement home for ladies and gentlemen called Pilgrims Lodge (at number 10-12 Pilgrims Way).

A rest home for elderly ladies and gentlemen at the end of life's pilgrimage: Pilgrim Lodge on Pilgrims Way.

A retirement home for elderly ladies and gentlemen at the end of life’s pilgrimage: Pilgrims Lodge on Pilgrims Way.

“Perfect for us,” I exclaimed. “Let’s go in and check it out. Maybe we can make a booking.”

It took just a single glance from Emmy – no more than a nano-second – and yet another of my brilliant ideas was shot down in flames.

Walking the English Camino

One of the small icons guiding walkers along the Pilgrim Way to Canterbury.

One of the small icons guiding walkers along the Pilgrim Way to Canterbury.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is the first substantial work of literature in English, although most speakers of English today need a translation or paraphrase to understand it. Written late in the 14th century, it was immediately popular. One hundred years after it was written it was among the very first works to be mass-produced (on a modest scale) using the new technology of printing. It has remained a widely-read classic of English literature into the present. Basically it is a collection of stories told by a group of pilgrims as they travel the Pilgrims Way from London to the holy tomb of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral about 90 kilometres to the south east.

The prologue to the Canterbury Tales describes the pilgrims as they assemble at the Tabard Inn in Southwark on the south bank of the Thames near London Bridge. More than 600 years later, on August 22nd 2015, Emmy and I dismounted from our donkeys in front of a smoke-filled hostelry in Southwark near London Bridge. The innkeeper appeared in the doorway accompanied by a mouth-watering aroma of roast goose and barley ale. I greeted him politely.

“I bid thee good morrow, master,” I said doffing my cap and bowing low as Emmy modestly primped her wimple.

Hmmm… let me rewrite that.

Emmy and I disembarked from a train at London Bridge tube station and made the short walk to our rented apartment in Southwark, just minutes from London Bridge and the high-tech landmark of The Shard. Graham, the owner, greeted us and explained the 100-channel TV set and the high-speed Wi-Fi. He recommended some nearby Spanish and Italian restaurants and listed the supermarkets where we could buy pre-cooked, plastic-wrapped meals.

A week later, having been catapulted out of London by train, we stood in a narrow lane in the village of Cuxton, six kilometres west of the regional centre of Rochester. We were facing the very modest entrance to the eastern half of the North Downs Way, a path that would partly piggy-back on the Pilgrims Way and take us to Thomas Becket’s holy tomb.

The unpretentious

The unpretentious “kissing gate” at the start of the eastern half of the North Downs Way in Cuxton, near Rochester. Note the way markers nailed to the post on the right. We’re heading in the right direction.

The pilgrim road to Canterbury fell into disuse after King Henry VIII launched an assault on the Catholic Church, its monasteries and its pilgrimage traditions in 1537. But it didn’t disappear altogether. Much of it was taken over for general transport purposes and later became asphalt highway. That’s why it is no longer possible to walk the entire length of the pilgrim path. It is simply too dangerous for pedestrians to mix it with modern traffic. Where possible the North Downs Way follows the old pilgrim path (or certain threads of the path), but whenever the path becomes highway walkers have to veer away from it and tramp over other ancient public trails and footpaths that lie like a cobweb over the rural landscape of England.

Emmy walks into the light as we head for Saint Thomas Becket's resting place in Canterbury.

Emmy walks into the light as we head towards Saint Thomas Becket’s resting place in Canterbury.

After an hour’s walking through open fields and canyons of woodland under a warm overcast sky we drew breath at the enormous, multi-lane complex of four bridges that span the Medway River at Rochester. Chaucer’s pilgrims would have crossed the Medway at this point too, possibly spurring their frightened horses over the stone bridge that was completed there in 1391.

From the Medway Bridge we set sail across the gently surging hills of Kent. Near the village of Blue Bell Hill, southeast of Rochester, we connected for the first time with the Pilgrims Way. Its broad flat surface offered welcome relief from the narrow track we had been treading. We stepped on and off the Way repeatedly as we headed towards Canterbury.

The wide,flat Pilgrims Way, a welcome sight for walkers who've been tramping rougher tracks.

The wide,flat Pilgrims Way, a welcome sight for walkers who’ve been tramping rougher tracks.

The modern iconography of pilgrimage at the Black Horse Inn in Thurnham.

The modern iconography of pilgrimage at the Black Horse Inn in Thurnham.

Everywhere there were reminders of the region’s pilgrim history. Some trackside icons pointing the way to Canterbury depicted a pilgrim wearing a cassock and brandishing a walking staff. Near the village of Harrietsham we came across a whimsical, life-size wooden carving of a pilgrim monk resting thoughtfully on a bench at the trackside. Medieval pilgrimage was a motif at the Black Horse Inn, our accommodation for the night in the hamlet of Thurnham about twenty-two kilometres from Cuxton. The inn’s cramped central room with its low ceilings, open fire-place, awkward nooks and crannies and crooked age-blackened beams was built in the thirteenth century. Dense strings of dried hops hung from the ceiling, a traditional decoration that is renewed from year to year. Perhaps medieval pilgrims in their grimy cassocks and straw-padded sandals had ducked their heads beneath this same bushy canopy.

The thirteenth century interior of the Black Horse Inn with dried hops decorating its ceiling beams.

The thirteenth century interior of the Black Horse Inn with dried hops decorating its ceiling beams.

As I tucked in to my tasty dinner of slow-cooked lamb shank and minty mashed potatoes an unwelcome echo from The Canterbury Tales turned up in my head. It came from the knight’s tale.

“The world is nothing but a thoroughfare of woe down which we all pass as pilgrims…” said the Knight.
“That’s why we are all here,” said the Franklin, interrupting the knight.
“The whole world is an inn,” our Host said. “And the end of the journey is always the same.”
“God give us grace and a good death.” This was the Reeve, crossing himself.
“Amen to that,” the Knight replied.

I didn’t echo the Amen. Rather I turned my attention to the dessert of sticky date pudding and whipped cream. Too much reading can make you gloomy.

***

The following morning dawned dim and rainy. I tried to be cheerful. Again my mind darted back to The Canterbury Tales. I recalled its upbeat opening lines…

“When the soft sweet showers of April reach the roots of all things, refreshing the parched earth, nourishing every sapling and every seedling, then humankind rises up in joy and expectation. […] This is the season for travellers. That is why good folk then long to go on pilgrimage. They journey to strange shores and cities, seeking solace among the shrines of the saints. Here in England many make their way to Canterbury and the tomb of the holy blissful martyr Thomas.”

An hour later I was cursing Geoffrey Chaucer, the madness of religious pilgrimage and the sheer unpleasantness of walking in Britain’s summer. I skidded down a mud-lubricated trough that someone – probably a bright-eyed hiking fanatic – had labelled a “path”. A path? It was a water-filled rut. Thick slimy hamburger-patties of dirt stuck themselves to the bottom of my boots as the “path” made vertical zig-zags over steep rain-sodden ridges. I looked at Emmy and noticed a film of mud creeping up her water-proof leggings. I was no better. An unscheduled wallow in a mini-bog had left dirt all over my leggings, backpack, and even through my hair. Already I sensed I was in for one of the most trying days of walking I would ever experience.

a rain zombie haunts the Pilgrim Way just east of Thurnham.

A rain zombie haunts the Pilgrim Way just east of Thurnham.

Emmy disappears into the misty rain as we struggle towards Charing.

Emmy disappears into the misty rain as we struggle towards Charing.

As the morning passed the rain thickened. Mist crowded in on us. Kent’s fabled “outstanding natural beauty” retreated, became blurred, and eventually disappeared altogether behind a veil of mist. At times we were walking through a grey-white tunnel where the only reality was foot before foot, plus ghostly branches and the struggle to stay upright. A break for lunch brought little relief. Somehow the rainproof cover over my backpack had disappeared, probably torn off by branches during a stooping detour around a mud hole. My backpack was limp with water and my sandwiches were too. But I ate them and felt better. The walk was indeed (as Chaucer’s knight put it) “a thoroughfare of woe” but after sandwiches and a mouthful of chocolate the woe was pretty bearable. And the rain had started to ease.

Hmmm... after a day of walking through steady rain, this headline is not much consolation.

Hmmm… after a day of walking through steady rain, this headline is not much consolation.

Nevertheless it was a long, tough day. As we trudged into the Bowl Hill Inn outside the town of Charing more than six hours had passed with just seventeen kilometres to show for it. In the bar the day’s newspaper lay draped across a stool. A jumbo-size headline on the front page proclaimed “Twenty minute walk each day adds seven years to your life.”

“Yes,” I thought, “and six hours on England’s Camino – if it’s raining – can dramatically reduce your interest in that extra seven years.”

I contemplate the downside of pilgrimage along England's Camino.

I contemplate the downside of pilgrimage along England’s Camino. Apparently my medieval alter-ego had similar doubts.

** The quotes from The Canterbury Tales come (with a few tweaks) from Peter Ackroyd’s wonderful prose paraphrase The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer translated and adapted (Penguin 2009).