“More than rivers and more than mountain chains, roads have moulded the political groups of men…. letters, customs, community of language and idea, have followed the Road, because humanity, which is the matter of religion, must also follow the road it has made. Architecture follows it, commerce, of course, all information: it is even so with the poor thin philosophies, each in its little day drifts, for choice, down a road.” -- Hilaire Belloc, The Old Road

Morning, day one

We set out eagerly for our first day of walking, though not eager to leave Rochester behind. The day before we had travelled by train from London to Rochester, and we had found it to be a fascinating place. It is an old Roman fort town, evident from the suffix 'chester' which comes from the Latin word 'castra' meaning camp. Among other claims to fame, it was the favorite town of Charles Dickens, who based many of his stories on people and places he knew there. When we arrived we discovered to our dismay that we had just missed the annual Dickens festival.

Rochester Castle

Rochester Cathedral, founded in 604 A.D.

This day was to be our longest-- fourteen miles-- and, as we soon discovered, our soggiest day on the trail. Not long after we set off, we caught sight of some of the trademark scenes of the Kentish countryside. The weald (Anglo-Saxon for 'woody country') is the area between the North and South Downs. No picture can truly capture its enchanting beauty, but you will see many of our attempts to do so along the way. The other ubiquitous sight is of the hop house, a small barn with a distinctive top, a cowl, which turns with the wind and allows freshly harvested hops to dry before being used as an ingredient in Kentish ales.

Farm with oast houses

Mid-morning we came upon one of the highlights of the North Downs Way, one that the people in their cars flying by on the nearby road seemed not to know even existed. Though Kit's Coty House is essentially a few stones stacked together, it is one of the Medway megaliths-- Neolithic barrows, or burial chambers, found at intervals all around England. The date of the megaliths is not known for sure, but most estimate it was built between 4200 and 3000 B.C. to house the remains of a king. We spent a while with the sarsen stones, as they are also called, standing with them in the open, green field overlooking the Medway Valley. Without another soul, except the grazing cattle, in sight, we had the power and grandeur of the old stones all to ourselves.

Kit's Coty House

It is not hard to imagine medieval pilgrims (or Roman soldiers, for that matter) standing in awe of the same site themselves, only a few steps from Watling Street.

Next our path took us a bit off the ancient trackway as we made a rather steep ascent into the White Horse Wood, named for the White Horse Stone found there. It is another of the Medway megaliths, less striking in appearance and apparently moved from its original location, since no evidence of a barrow exists. (We had to double back on the trail to find the stone at all!) The White Horse Rampant is the symbol of Kent (see its flag below), which apparently dates back to the earliest Saxon conquerors, Horsa and Hengest.

The flag of Kent
The flag of Kent

Before noon we came to Harp Farm and, to our surprise, were instructed to walk through farm property and past the families of sheep enjoying their lunches.

Sheep at Harp Farm

We crossed a road and had to wade through mud up to our ankles to go on through the farmer's fields. The sticky feeling of mud flooding our already damp shoes lent us some solidarity with the medieval pilgrims, who would have had only cloth shoes, if even that!


Ana stopping to see the view

After emerging from our wooded walk onto a busy highway, where Derek had warned us we'd better be careful or we might "end up on a bonnet" (the hood of a car, we think), we stopped for our well-earned sack lunch. Before setting off again, we thought we'd better have a cup of tea at the local pub.


Our walk that afternoon avoiding us some of the most hauntingly beautiful vistas we encountered. We hardly needed our imaginations to feel like we were walking prehistoric trackway, used by animals and hunters long before the Romans had heard of Britannia.


CanterburyPilgrimage2008_059.JPG CanterburyPilgrimage2008_061.JPG

At last we passed through our final "kissing gate" of the day near Thurnham Castle, and from there made our descent to the Black Horse Inn. It was our very own Tabard, and we certainly had plenty of tales to share over supper, at the end of our first day's journey.

Almost there!


Sarah in the Black Horse Restaurant, with dried hops hanging on the wall behind

Continue to On the Road, Day Two