The Pilgrims' Way
To Canterbury from Winchester and London
By Leigh Hatts
This guidebook describes an ancient pilgrimage route in southern England from Winchester in Hampshire, or Southwark, London to Canterbury, a 138 mile walk through wood and farmland, with views across the Weald. Divided into stages of about 10 miles, with route summary and information on public transport, accommodation and places of interest.
SeasonsMedieval pilgrims were hardy and often undertook the walk in winter but summer and autumn offer the chance of seeing hops, hillside vineyards, lavender fields and orchards bursting with growth.
CentresWinchester, Alton, Farnham, Guildford, London, Dartford and Rochester, with plenty of accommodation and easy transport on the two routes.
DifficultyThe first pilgrims always sought the easiest route so while there are unavoidable rises in ground and sometimes steep hills there are also long flat stretches. No special equipment is required beyond a water bottle and sandwiches in case progress is slower than expected. The ancient rutted path can be partly flooded in wet winter months.
Must SeeThe Pilgrims' Way is often along a shelf on the side rather than the top of the North Downs but still high enough for long views. The downs are broken by valleys marked by chapels, castles and river crossings.
This guidebook details the Pilgrims' Way, an historic pilgrimage route to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, home of the shrine of the martyred archbishop, St Thomas Becket. The route is described both from Winchester in Hampshire (138 miles) and London's Southwark Cathedral (90¼ miles), with an optional spur to Rochester Cathedral.
With relatively easy walking on ancient byways, the route from Winchester is presented in 15 stages of 5-14 miles: it can be comfortably completed in under a fortnight. It follows a major chalk ridge through scenic countryside, taking in characterful towns and villages and historic churches. The route from Southwark is described in 10 stages and includes a visit to the ruined Lesnes Abbey.
Detailed route description is accompanied by 1:50,000 OS mapping, advice on making the most of a trip and information on the historical background to the pilgrimage, key historical figures and local points of interest. Accommodation listings and details of facilities and transport links can be found in the appendices.
Pilgrimages to Becket's shrine began within a few years of the his death in 1170, although Canterbury was a popular destination even before this time due to the nearby shrine of St Augustine. The route has featured in literature, drama and film, and forms the setting for Geoffrey Chaucer's famous Middle English work, The Canterbury Tales.
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Leigh Hatts has been walking the Thames towpath and exploring the river and Docklands since 1981, when he worked on the feasibility study that resulted in the decision to establish the route as a National Trail. He worked as a reporter with the walkers’ magazine TGO and as arts correspondent of the Catholic Herald. He is co-founder of Bankside Press.View author profile
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