Canterbury is today’s destination, until the reformation, the focus of pilgrimage in England.
During the Middle Ages St Augustine’s Abbey stood just beyond the Cathedral and would have been almost as big. Pilgrims would have headed there to the Shrine of St Augustine. Later, St Dunstan became popular. He is the Patron Saint of Gold, Silver and Blacksmiths. According to legend he nailed a horseshoe to the devil, who agreed to never enter a house with a horseshoe above the door if Dunstan removed the one from his hoof. St Dunstan’s church is the first on the route into town. In 1170 Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in the Cathedral by knights of the King. The resulting scandal lead to Henry II doing penance by dressing in a hair shirt and walking barefoot from St Dunstan’s to the Cathedral while being whipped. This was perhaps the high point of church power in England. 365 years later things were rather different. When Henry VIII made himself Head of the Church in England the prominent scholar and chief minister Thomas More refused to swear a public oath acknowledging the King’s primacy. He and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and the King’s boyhood tutor, were sent to the Tower of London and beheaded. Their heads were displayed on spikes on London Bridge. Margaret Roper, Thomas More’s daughter, petitioned the King for the head of her father which is buried with her in the Roper vault in St Dunstan’s.
Evensong at the Cathedral is at 17.30. A statue of King Ethelbert holding the Cathedral is to the left side of the entrance door with St Augustine above him. If you take a look round the corner at the West Door you may recognise another couple of figures. Be sure to visit the undercroft, the original site of Thomas a Becket’s shrine and a lovely quiet spot for a prayer. Notice also the Cathedra (chair) of St Augustine above the High Altar. The modern shrine of St Thomas is in the church of that name 200 yards down Burgate from the main Cathedral Gate.
Directions – 11.5 miles
From the Market Place follow Market Street round into Preston Street and take this out towards the station. Pass under the railway line straight ahead and then turn left onto Preston Lane and continue to St Catherine’s church. In the far right hand corner of the churchyard take the footpath diagonally up through the houses to the main road. Turn left and cross carefully just past Salter’s Lane on the right taking this past the football ground. Take the footpath left immediately after the ground following the fence up through the field. The path turns right directly behind a boundary of black poplars up to the bridge over the motorway.
Over the motorway turn left up the track across the lane and up to the corner of another lane. Here turn left across the railway and then immediately right between the building and the railway fence. The path takes you round the building and across a field, following a hedge. Brenley Farm B&B and Bunkhouse is down the drive to the right. Across the drive go straight ahead around the trees on your right and then head for the stile in the middle of the fence followed by the one in the far corner of the field ahead. You will be able to see the church of St Peter and Paul in the distance. Take the footpaths over the fields to the church. You are at Boughton Under Blean, mentioned in the Canterbury Tales.
Pass through the Lychgate and cross the lane taking the footpath immediately opposite (up the driveway). This heads off to the right along a wood veering left across the golf course and then along a field edge to the lane at South Street. Turn left and take the footpath on the corner. The path veers to the left and then straight up and down through a wood to the road. Cross and head up the lane opposite round the corner to the footpath on the right. Head up through the wood to the road where turn left past the houses and through the wood turning right at the T Junction, along the side of a field with magnificent views over the Swale. At the gate cross the lane and follow the edge of the field opposite down into the wood. When you reach a track the path you want is almost directly over and to the left. Now follow this through the woods for a mile and a half. At the first junction keep straight ahead and at the second take the path ahead and to the left. Eventually you come out of the wood to a track where you turn right and follow what becomes a lane first sharp left then sharp right and then down and up to some houses. The footpath is on the left down a track behind them and this takes you into Chartham Hatch.
The Chapter Arms pub (currently closed) is right then left down the footpath along the edge of an orchard. From here turn left into the village then take the alleyway opposite between the houses and across a road to a recreation ground. From here we follow the North Downs Way into Canterbury. The path skirts round to the right, down through a wood and across No Man’s Orchard. Then straight ahead into another wood before emerging in open pasture at the foot of Bigbury Iron Age fort (attacked by Julius Caesar). The footpath continues through to a track where you turn right up to the road. Here turn left over the A2 and take the footpath on the right until just before a small footbridge where turn left. Now head right up the hill past the barn and then right into the gardens of the Hospital of St Nicholas, Harbledown (founded by Archbishop Lanfranc as a leper colony). Through the arch is the road where turn right for the Old Coach and Horses pub and the Church of St Michael and all Angels. Continue down the road into Canterbury and enjoy your first view of the Cathedral. When you emerge at the roundabout cross straight over onto London road which takes you to St Dunstan’s. Here turn right down through the Westgate into town. About 100 yards up on the right is Eastbridge hospital, an old pilgrim hospice. Another 100 yards further on is Mercery Lane which takes you to the Cathedral.
Canterbury is a major transport hub with regular fast trains to London and the rest of Kent.
There are a wide variety of accommodation options in town.
Canterbury is a retail centre with a full range of shops.