Canterbury Cathedral in the rain. The “Core Four” walking team of Roger, Alex E, Alex B and Dan exit Travelodge after a surprisingly good breakfast and were excited to meet Tanager colleagues Marta, Dave (and Angela), Patrick (and Pickles) and a team from Rawlinson & Hunter led by Alex Jones waiting at the cathedral ready to go.
Our goal was to reach Charing station, just under 20 miles away. As we left Canterbury proper, the drizzle cleared and the trail opened up ahead.
The walking was good, if a bit muddy, and as the weather improved we made good time averaging 2.8 mph. Highlights were passing through Chilham Castle and it’s accompanying hamlet, picture book perfect Kent, and then meeting a group of pilgrims who were walking from St Joseph’s Church in Upminster, Essex, to Canterbury cathedral.
We stopped for a conversation and learnt that the pilgrimage has taken place for 30 years and that they spend nights in village and church halls along the way. As we left they made a generous cash donation to the Soup Kitchen!
We enjoyed lunch in a bucolic setting with a stunning view of the Kent countryside and completed our 19.5 miles late in the afternoon with a peaceful pint in the Red Lion outside Charing.
The Core Four were walking alone today. The sun came out quite early and we made great progress on the Pilgrims Way, albeit with wet feet caused by walking through wet meadows. Despite the path being a bridleway we passed through a lot of mud, but fortunately in pleasant spring sunshine.
Lunch was taken outside a lovely pub – a pilgrims rest – after 14 miles!
Evident throughout the day were the chalk cliffs above as we walked below the North Downs Way. An enjoyable end to the day was had as we crossed the M20 motorway to find our accommodation – the Village Hotel in Maidstone!
After an interesting evening in the Village Hotel, Maidstone, where the Core Four were joined by Tanager client David, we made our way to the nondescript station at Aylesford, our start point for day three. Once Tanager colleagues George, Jeremy and Olly had arrived we set off under variable skies.
Aylesford itself was a beautiful village on the outskirts of Maidstone, nestling on the river Medway and containing a Carmelite monastery and we took our daily “flag” picture in front of the beautiful, ancient bridge. Our joy at strolling through an historic and pretty village soon dissipated as we came across a sewage works and then on through new building developments along a slow-moving, muddy, meandering Medway.
Eventually we came back onto the Pilgrims Way proper which was faithfully following the North Downs way. However, unlike the majestic downs, undulating peaks tracing the ridge of chalk that extends across Kent, Sussex and Surrey, we were trudging along a bridleway of mud churned up by horses, bikes, and occasionally, motorbikes.
The day had become sunny and despite the mud we made good progress, stopping in Wrotham for lunch on the recreation ground, taking shade under trees. After making a pitstop in a local hostelry we kicked on, headed for Shoreham. Sadly, the Pilgrims Way followed minor roads for the last two hours so the walking was hard (surface) and challenging (cars). Thanks to Roger for keeping us all in good order.
Solace was found in a refreshing pint before walkers returned home and the core four headed to their accommodation.
Another interesting hotel (Donnington Manor, Sevenoaks) and the Core Four started afresh meeting Tanager colleagues, Ieuan and Susan, at Shoreham station. Shoreham turned out to be another attractive Kent village and we particularly enjoyed walking past a fine residence where the artist Samuel Palmer had lived in the early 19th century.
We stopped briefly at Lullingstone Castle for our “flag” photo and followed a fairly flat route, passing a Roman villa with a visitor centre (unlike the many Roman villas that showed on the map but were invisible, a magnificent railway bridge, stopping in Farningham to pick up some lunch before we headed, with some trepidation for the M20 and M25.
Indeed, as we passed through the much much-graffitied underpass, beneath the M25 and entered the outskirts of Dartford, it was like passing through a portal. Litter suddenly more apparent, fly-tipping (a curse in the countryside) now almost casually deposited. Our path had followed the river Darent and now it became lost in industrial parks.
After taking in Dartford’s High Street (and noticing the rather large and lonely church) we progressed through the industrial heartland of East London, finally breaking out onto salt marshes with a fine view of the QE II bridge which crosses the Thames just east of Dartford.
Our weary feet finally brought us to Erith and then on by train to Woolwich Arsenal to find our accommodation.
Finally, we are in sight of the end of our hike. Joining the Core Four today was a fine cast of walkers from EY Frank Hirth, a representative from the Tax Advisory Partnership and Tanager colleagues Kris, Jacob, Lewis, Natasha, Patrick and Jeremy.
We had decided early in our planning not to follow the Pilgrims Way all the way into London as it was a straight line walk along the A2. Instead, we chose to follow the Thames path from Erith to Southwark. We were rewarded with a fine walk, albeit on concrete (tough on already tired feet). Starting in busy, industrial Erith with its pumping station and sewage works, we walked through Crossness Nature Reserve, past Woolwich Arsenal (magnificent military buildings), round the O2 (who remembers the Millennium Dome?) pausing briefly for lunch at Greenwich and the Cutty Sark.
The end was very much in sight. Weariness was shrugged off at the thought of arriving at Southwark cathedral in a little under two hours. First, we had to collect Tanager colleagues Harshita and Davina who had made their way from the office to The Mayflower Pub (pilgrims and the USA seemed a fitting match) where they joined us for the last 1.5 miles, helpfully encouraging a tired and injured colleague who was determined to get to the end of the day’s walking.
We made Southwark cathedral a little after 4:45. Waiting for us, to our pleasant surprise, was Alan, one of the pilgrims from St Joseph’s Church, Upminster, who we had met on the Way on our first day’s walking. Our final “flag” picture is taking in bright sunshine outside Southwark cathedral.
A massive thank you to all of the team at Tanager for their support, both moral and in person on the Pilgrims Way. Congratulations to the Core Four who encountered some challenging walking conditions (mud) yet soldiered on cheerfully. It was great to be joined and supported by friends and professional contacts from Rawlinson & Hunter, EY Frank Hirth and the Tax Advisory Partnership.
Finally, thank you to all who have generously donated in support of this great cause. Alex Brown (CEO at the Soup Kitchen London) is an inspiration (we did not mention his Tuesday evening mission to attend a dinner at a Livery Company, delivering a speech and returning late) and is driven to help those less fortunate than us who seek help at the Soup Kitchen.
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