After the delights and surprises of Aylesford priory, today we rejoin the Pilgrim’s Way and immerse ourselves in the life of the walk.
Something that becomes very obvious as you explore the Augustine Camino is the many layered history over which you are walking. Just above Aylesford there are the remains of two stone age long barrows, Kit’s Coty and Little Kit’s Coty. King Ethelbert of Kent would likely have been buried in a long barrow had he not been baptised by Augustine. They remind us of the pre-christian history of the Pilgrim’s Way which may have formed part of a trackway for neolithic pilgrims to Stonehenge (ref. Derek Bright – The Pilgrim’s Way).
En route are the ruins of Boxley Abbey. This was part of the great flowering of Cistercian monasticism in the twelfth century which gave us such gems as Fountains, Rievaulx and Tintern. The monks led an austere existence of prayer and manual work in self sufficient communities. Modern Cistercians include the Trappists at Chimay in Belgium who earn their living from the proceeds of their famous beer. During the dissolution of the monasteries Boxley was involved in a scandal regarding a crucifix called the Rood of Grace. This had a figure of Christ which was moved using a system of wires and levers. It was displayed in Maidstone market as a fraud and later smashed to pieces. Had the great traditions of pilgrimage and monasticism been reduced to this? Or were Henry VIII’s henchmen inventing scandals to cover their own greed?
Directions – 10 miles
Head out of the Friars, crossing the lane and turning right into the village. The Parish church of Saint’s Peter and Paul (original name of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury) is on your left. Take the steps down to the road and turn left again. After 50 yards you will see a lane on your right leading to the old bridge (built around 1250). Now continue along the High Street taking the left hand turn out of town on Rochester Road. At the edge of town take a right into Pratling Street and continue round the corner past a row of houses on your left. Straight ahead is a track which passes up the right hand side of a garden, alongside a hedge and stream to Great Cossington farm. Pass between the buildings and round to the right past the garden and then straight across the fields to the side of a dual carriageway. A little down to the right is a footbridge across the main road.
Tyland Barn Wildlife centre is immediately on your left. Head straight ahead across the junction and down the lane to Abbey Farm. Take the lane straight ahead. It is worth walking to the end of the lane to see the remains of Boxley Abbey. Now return and take the footpath up the side of a terrace of cottages. The path follows the medieval wall of the Abbey. Where the wall turns sharp right head up across the field to the road. Cross the bridge across the High Speed railway and take the path immediately on your right, following the path down and then round to the left along the edge of a copse. Here you will meet a track which you take to the right into Boxley. The King’s Arms makes a convenient stop for lunch. The church of St Mary and all Saints is opposite.
Take the path which runs along the left hand side of the churchyard and continues through the fields to Harple Lane in Detling. Here turn left and then right at the top of the hill. There is a footbridge to your left which leads into the heart of the village. Turn left after the bridge where you will find the Cock Horse Inn. Our route takes us past the pub and to the right, down to the church of St Martin (the name of the church in Canterbury already in use by Queen Bertha when Augustine arrived). Where the road turns to the right for St Martin’s there is a footpath on the left marked by an Acorn.
This heads across the fields to St Mary the Virgin in Thurnham. Just to the left up the lane beyond St Mary’s is the Black Horse Inn, a good place to stay the night. Alternatively you can continue along the lane for another few hundred yards before taking a footpath on the left which leads diagonally up the downs to Cold Blow Lane. The farm is left up the lane another 300 yards.
There is accommodation at the Black Horse Inn Thurnham as well as camping fields at Cold Blow Farm.
There is a regular bus service connecting Aylesford to Rochester and Maidstone as well as a station with slow services to Strood, Maidstone and London.
A mile and a half down the hill from Thurnham is Bearsted station with hourly services to Maidstone.
There is a small grocery store and post office in Detling just past the Cock Horse Inn