Walking to Rome: Day Six on the Chaucer Way

This is the final day of our brief pilgrimage from London to Canterbury. The Chaucer Way has taken us from the most urban of places, through its suburban spread and, from there, through quaint rural villages replete with half-timbered, thatched-roof cottages and flint-walled churches before bursting once more into the cultural and spiritual city of Canterbury.

Today’s walk takes us from Faversham, a thoroughly charming town, down public footpaths. We pass greenhouses sprouting young strawberries. We cross harvested fields. We walk around the vertical, hanging gardens of hops, ready for picking, and old oast houses with their distinctive conical roofs and nun cap ventilators rotating with the wind. Once used for drying hops, most are now converted to unique residences.

Boughton Street—the name of the village—looks much as it did when those early pilgrims passed. The White Horse Inn, mentioned in Canterbury Tales, is still there as are a number of ancient half-timbered structures.

Harbledown is noteworthy as the starting point for Henry II’s barefooted pilgrimage from this village to Canterbury, his self-inflicted penance for unwittingly causing Beckett’s death in Canterbury Cathedral. For Gail and me, Harbledown is notable for St. Nicholas Church and Hospital and its handsome stone almshouses set in quiet, manicured grounds.

Just as the tower of Canterbury Cathedral appears on the horizon, our pastoral walk is disrupted by the dense, fast traffic running alongside us. Relief comes after passing through the city’s West Gate into the tight, pedestrian streets of the old city.

The cathedral is our destination for the day and our last day of walking ends with a commemorative photo of Gail and I, taken by a helpful docent. Behind us, the dramatic vertical thrust of Gothic columns rise, truncated for now by the scaffolds required for roof restoration, but no less powerful a spiritual statement.

Tomorrow, on our day of rest, we’ll explore the cathedral thoroughly. In two days, we will return once more, this being the starting point for our much grander pilgrimage to Rome