My Old Way Pilgrimage to Canterbury


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May 6th 2019
Published: June 10th 2019
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As explained in my blog Planning my Ancestral Investigations in Devon the purpose of my trip to England was twofold; firstly, to discover my maternal ancestry in Devon and secondly to walk the last few miles of the Old Way Pilgrimage to Canterbury. This blog covers the second of these two purposes.

1 - 5 May 2019 Wednesday through Sunday. I arrived on a flight from Denver to Heathrow at about noon and was met by nephew Jeremy. We had just a few minutes before he had to return to London for a meeting. We had coffee and talked about his and Nadine's forthcoming trip to Chile and Easter Island and my plans for my time in England. He has accepted an assistant professorship in Economics at Bristol University in the fall, and his wife Nadine, who is a doctor, will be assigned to a NHS hospital in the area. Then we were off, with me to Exeter in my rental car. I spent these five days doing ancestry research and visiting the towns, manors, and churches where my ancestors lived which I have recounted in my blog at FInding a Mystery In My Devon Ancestry. That blog ends with my visit to Wells.

6 - 8 May 2019 Monday through Wednesday. As I had a couple days before I had to return the rental car, so I decided to contact old friends in Bath and reminisce in the Cotswolds where I traveled many times with my family. I drove from Wells to Bath, to my friends Robin and Rhona's home, only to discover based upon a pile of mail in their vestibule, that they were out of town. I wrote on the envelop of a larger piece of junk mail that I had stopped by. A couple days later I heard from Robin via email and Rhona on Facebook (neither means of communication which I had before) that I just missed them as they were on vacation in Scotland. When Linda and I visit Scotland to research her ancestors, we will make sure that our plans include some time with them.

I continued to Chippenham, at the southern end of the Cotswolds, for the night. In the morning I drove the back roads through many quaint villages to Bourton-on-the-Water, where I stopped for lunch at a tea shop. I decided that all I wanted was their chocolate cheesecake; I didn't need the extra calories of a meal! After walking around this beautiful village, I continued to my hotel in Chipping Campden, only to discover it was a couple miles away in a neighboring village. The hotel itself was a quaint inn restored with modern conveniences while preserving the past. I soon learned that I was only six miles from Stratford-on-Avon, so enquired what was playing at the Shakespeare Theater and were there seats available. Taming of the Shrew was playing and seats were available!

So I drove to Stratford, bought tickets, and then toured the town. I wanted to see the White Swan Inn where Linda and I stayed in 1975...such wonderful memories! After a quick dinner I proceeded to the theater. I always expect some innovation in a Shakespeare play. This time rather than the father trying to get his oldest daughter married off, it was the mother trying to get her oldest son married off. Since Shakespeare's words are not changed in any innovation, the oldest son's name remained Kate. At times I was confused, but the play was hilarious. Getting back to my hotel in the dark on narrow roads was an adventure.

I had to return the rental car by 1 PM, so headed out early. At Heathrow I returned the car and caught the Tube to London-St. Pancras Station. When I returned from Kent, I would be staying at a nearby hotel. I had arranged with them to store my carry-on bag. All I would be taking on my pilgrimage in Kent would be my day pack with one change of clothes. This done, I ate a quick lunch and caught the train to Ashford where I checked into a B&B.

I then walked to the church to see if I could find the grave of another ancestor, Sir Henry Stafford Northcote, Baron of Exeter, who was Governor-General of Australia where he was sworn in in 1904, and died in Ashford in 1911. As he and his wife were without children, his title became extinct. I couldn't find anything and the church was closed. Oh well. Then I walked to what the owner of the B&B told me was the best Thai restaurant in town. I arrived early, but was admitted by the Thai cooks after they heard me speaking Thai. We shared stories of life in Thailand. They had been in England for 20 years, but before that worked at the Royal Cliff Hotel in Pattaya. I asked the chef to cook me his favorite dish; not on the menu. It was delicious!

9 May 2019 Thursday. Today my pilgrimage began with a short train ride to Sandling, the closest transportation hub with the Old Way. The weather was sunny with scattered clouds as I began my walk. After a couple hours, the skies darkened and soon the heavens opened up with driving rain and hail. I took shelter under a tree and was soon joined by a herd of sheep. I tried to hitchhike, but no one would stop. Then I added my hands clasped in prayer, and a kind businessman immediately stopped. He was on his way to the next town where I planned to have lunch. But when I told him that my destination for the day was Elham, just a couple miles further, he took me there to the Abbot's Fireside Inn. I thanked him for the ride and dashed into the inn where I ensconced myself in a highbacked chair next to a roaring fireplace. Molly, the owners' dog occupied the other seat. The lunch special for seniors was half off for a half portion, which hit the spot. The inn is very historical...built in 1451 and reputedly where Charles II hid in the chimney, where I was sitting, fleeing Cromwell's Roundheads on his way to exile. My bedroom is supposedly where the Duke of Wellington slept on his way to the Battle of Waterloo. The room also had a priest hole, a hiding place for Catholic priests. I spent the afternoon enjoying the ambiance of the inn, rather than the deluge outside. For dinner I had high tea with scones and clotted cream...very English.

10 May 2019 Friday. I awoke to bright sunshine and scattered clouds...a perfect day for walking the Old Way. I enjoyed the Abbot's Fireside Inn so much that I arranged with the owners to stay another night rather than at their inn in Barham. They even offered to pick me up in Barham and bring me back.

After a full English breakfast I was off. The Old Way is not marked yet, but when it is next year it will link existing hiking paths, which in this case was the Wye Valley Trail. The walk was very pleasant through beautiful countryside. The valley is also full of history. This is where Julius Caesar first battled the Britons in his invasion, and the Black Prince marched in victory returning from Crecy and Poitier, as did King Henry V en route from Agincourt. Here Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves, King John met Isabelle of Angoileme, and King Charles met Henrietta Maria of France. A valley of battle and love.

After a couple hours walking I was descending a hill. This is when I really needed my walking stick to help slow me down. Instead, I fell into deep soft grass (without sheep droppings); not like the rocky path coming down the Alto de Perdon on my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage where I was bloodied and sprained my ankle. I just laid there looking at the blue sky and fluffy clouds seeing if any looked like a an animal or whatever. I guess I'm not as imaginative as when I was a child. After fifteen minutes or so I sat up, felt woozy, so rehydrated from my water bottle. As I continued to walk, I noticed the dark clouds rolling in. I didn't want to repeat my experience from yesterday, so at the next farmhouse I knocked on the door to see if the occupant could call the inn to arrange my ride back. She instead offered to take me herself! Another example of the gracious help offered my so many people. As we arrived at the Abbot's Fireside Inn, the rain started to fall. I sat by the fireside, and had another delicious lunch. I spent the afternoon talking to people, resting and enjoying the ambiance. Again, I had High Tea for supper. I could get used to this. This is the way to walk a pilgrimage!

11 May 2019 Saturday. I awoke to dark skies which threatened rain. I took my time getting ready as I had decided to take the 10:20 AM bus to Canterbury. I enjoyed the full English breakfast and then caught the bus, arriving in Canterbury an hour later. I walked to my hotel next to Canterbury Cathedral gate. After checking in and having a light lunch, I stopped at the cathedral visitor information to ask what was available for pilgrims other than free entry. The Old Way still doesn't have a passport for stamps, so they insisted in stamping my official passport with the cathedral stamp. I wanted a pilgrims blessing, but was told that all rectors were busy getting ready for the Evensong at 4 PM which would be a farewell for the Bishop of Dover. I walked around the outside of the cathedral, recalling the many memories I had of our family visiting when our children were young. I took a picture of the starting point for the 1800 km Via Francigena pilgrim route to Rome, which I briefly walked with my son last September (see My Via Francigena - Reflections on my final pilgrimage) and the statute of a horse that commemorated the 6 million horses that died on the battlefront in World War I. I then joined the Evensong service. The Archbishop of Canterbury was there, along with many local dignitaries, to wish the Bishop and his wife a fond farewell. After the service the bishop, who was an avid gardener, gave each guest a pack of flower seeds. I'm hoping Linda can get them to grow in the difficult environment of high country Colorado.

12 May 2019 Sunday. I spent the glorious morning walking around the historic center and walls of Canterbury, had lunch and then caught the train to London. I reconnected with my carry on bag, but revolted at my assignment of a fourth floor room with steep steps and no railings. They gave me a basement room instead. Other than the location across the street from the St. Pancras station and access to the Tube, and the breakfast offered by Eastern European cooks who taught me some Slavic words, the hotel is nothing to write about.

13 May 2019 Monday. My first stop on the way to the British Museum was a laundromat to wash everything except the clothes on my back. I could pick them up after 3 PM. I continued my walk through Russell Square to the museum, arriving as it opened. I learned that the ancestry manuscripts had been transferred to the British Library, so I took this opportunity to see some of the exhibits. I was the first and only person in the room that housed the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon; others having been diverted by the Rosetta Stone and Egyptian displays on along the way. I then proceeded to the British Library, right near my hotel.

There I applied for and received a library card (I now have a British Library card!), checked in my coat, and proceeded to the manuscript reading room. I told them the manuscript numbers and was told to check back in an hour. An hour later I was handed two thick volumes. I thought it would take hours thumbing through each page to find my ancestors. I lucked out when the Northcott name was just a couple pages in. A quick perusal showed the information appeared consistent with my tree. My Northcott ancestry search was coming to an end.

At 7 PM I joined a walking tour of Jack the Ripper's East End. The guide was very entertaining, with pictures of the original scenes and post mortem pictures of the prostitute victims. I declined to look at the latter pictures. Only one site is in the original building as the whole East End is being rebuilt.

14 May 2019 Tuesday. My first stop was the half price ticket kiosk at Leicester Square. Tickets were available for most shows. Based upon rave recommendations from other theater goers, I bought a ticket for the comedy "The Play That Goes Wrong" for the evening.

On the way to the National Gallery, I came across the National Portrait Gallery. I stopped to ask whether they had any portraits by James Northcote. They had three, but the portraits were in storage. I could ask for them to be taken out of storage, but this would take a month.

I continued to the National Gallery, which was just around the corner. I recalled how I kept my children from becoming bored by playing "I Spy with my Little Eye" something in a picture. As I didn't have the time or inclination to see everything I spent my time with the Impressionists.

I then continued along Whitehall St to the Horse Guards, where I was almost bitten by the horse...or was I being kissed?

I continued to Downing St where the current occupant of #10 was about to move out with the encouragement of her party members. I also encouraged her to move by joining the protestors. They were grateful for American suppport! She left shortly after escorted by her security detail. I didn't see her as the windows of her car were blackened.

Every building at Westminster, include the Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben are being restored. This is where I caught the river bus to Greenwich. I had never been there so didn't want to miss it this time. The cruise to Greenwich was picturesque with the Tower of London and Tower Bridge being favorite attractions.

Upon arrival at Greenwich I had lunch at an Italian restaurant and then strolled around looking for the line separating the Western Hemisphere from the Eastern Hemisphere. Apparently, it is imaginary; only observable on my cell phone GPS where the longitude coordinates are 00-00-000. So I took a double decker red bus back to London...check!

That evening I enjoyed the play.

15 May 2019 Wednesday. And thus ends my time in England! I got to Gatwick early so I could get a good seat...with Basic Economy airfare seats are assigned at check-in. I then people watched until it was time to board my flight to JFK. People watching at airports is so fun! My son-in-law Evan picked me up and drove me to his home in Connecticut, arriving at 10 PM.

16 - 20 May Thursday through Monday. I had an enjoyable time with daughter Rosanna, Evan, and my two grandsons, Connor and Logan. We toured quaint New England towns with Rosanna showing me the areas in Ridgefield where they want to but a house. We spent time at the Darien beach, but that was cut short by rain. Rosanna took me to New London CT where I wanted to talk to someone in their historical society. Linda's nine times great grandfather was Robert Douglas, a son of Sir Robert Douglas, Ninth Earl of Morton in Scotland, who came to New England in 1640 and settled in New London. I thought I might get a head start on researching Linda's ancestors, but they were closed. We then had lunch at a nice seafood restaurant (an early Fathers Day present) in Mystic before returning home.

21 May 2019 Tuesday. Rosanna dropped me off at La Guardia for my flight to Colorado Springs where Linda and dog Bonnie met me. Linda and I had Wednesday together before she left Thursday for a three week visit to New Castle PA for her Mom's 90th birthday and then CT to celebrate grandson Logan's first birthday. That is a long time apart. From now one I hope we can separate our trips while one of us has to stay home to take care of the pets.


Additional photos below
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11th June 2019

Love it
I always look forward to reading your blogs here. You're living a fascinating life. Each time I read one I feel as though I'm experiencing new history in the making.
12th June 2019

History being made...
Thanks for reading and commenting. I also look forward to reading about your latest BMW purchase and tours of Europe!
11th June 2019
Me protesting outside of 10 Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister

Our Bob protesting Brexit in London
What will you be doing next Bob...always an inspiration. I've posted this in "Demonstrations & Protests" thread in the Photography Forum. Check it out. Priceless.
12th June 2019
Me protesting outside of 10 Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister

Photography Forum
This is the first I've heard of it! And me being a Moderator! Thanks.
12th June 2019

Pilgrimage
Glad you are having a great time. Life is short and you need to explore wonderful places and roots. Fascinating trip.
12th June 2019

Pilgrimage
Traveling with goals and purpose can be so rewarding. Loved the hitchhiking story and fireside photos.
12th June 2019

Fascinating trip
What a fascinating trip Bob. How amazing to visit those places your ancestors lived.
18th June 2019
The Old Way

We are hiking for a week this summer
We are actually hiking for a week this summer. We will start in Canterbury and walk towards Rome. We will stop hiking somewhere in northern France. Perhaps we will continue the hike som other year. We are hiking because we enjoy it. /Ake
19th June 2019
The Old Way

Hijing for two weeks...
Sounds like a great plan!
30th June 2019

Pilgrimage and Old England
I love reading your writings on my country, as seen as a tourist. It really is a beautiful country. I very much like your way of doing a pilgrimage also, probably the way I would do it as well. I too believe the horse tried to kiss you, not bite! 😊

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