Heart of Kent
- Credit: Archant
In our fourth visit to the centre of our county in International Map Year, we look at its location close by one of England’s ancient trackways, the Pilgrim’s Way
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote (showers sweet)
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote…
…Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage
Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
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This month’s map provides a very different view of the heart of Kent, appropriate to the month and its location close by one of England’s ancient trackways. The map shows the whole length of the Pilgrim’s Way, from Winchester to Canterbury, which in Kent follows the scarp of the chalk Downs and passes close to Lenham.
Lenham is labelled as a key settlement on the route, a resting point on the journey to the city that many readers may regard as the spiritual heart of the county. For centuries pilgrims have travelled to Canterbury and its cathedral to visit the site of Thomas Becket’s murder and pray at his shrine (destroyed in 1538 by order of Henry VIII).
Maps not only provide factual information but also contribute to our ‘sense of place’, the associations and meanings we invest in the landscape. Previous examples in this series have been based on Ordnance Survey topographic maps while this example, on a postcard, is a reminder that maps come in all shapes, sizes and formats.
It certainly draws attention to the antiquity of the track, with its associated sites of historic interest; although the location of Stonehenge is an eye-catching anomaly. Maps are a common element in postcard design – a convenient way of showing the recipient where the traveller has been and what they have seen.
Lenham, at the heart of Kent, also appears in other popular representations of the route, for instance, the map in the opening sequence of Powell and Pressburger’s enigmatic film A Canterbury Tale (1944), shot on location along the Great Stour that rises by Lenham.
The Pilgrims Way or ‘Old Road’ is one of several ancient trackways that cross Britain and far pre-dates its putative use as a route of pilgrimage. The history of these trails is complex. It was once thought that they all followed major ridgelines, such as the North Downs, where the going was easier than in the wetter clay vales.
At Lenham, the Pilgrims Way follows the 150 metre contour, just beneath a steepening of the scarp of the Downs. Its location can be clearly seen from the A20 as it run directly beneath the war memorial carved into the chalk.
Another less well-known ancient route, the Greenway, follows a similar, but slightly lower route, passing through Lenham’s and several other churchyards of the spring-line settlements (such as Hollingbourne and Charing). However, according to landscape historian Oliver Rackham, other important ‘summer’ trackways may well have crossed lower lying areas, but have been lost to the plough or incorporated into more modern routes.
There is also some dispute about the origin of a single route from Winchester to Canterbury, and here maps have inevitably played their part. The direct association of the Pilgrim’s Way with the ancient track is attributed by some to Edward Renouard James, a surveyor for the Ordnance Survey, who gave it credence by writing about it in 1871 and ensuring that it was labelled as such on the OS maps of the day, which still persists.
The association was further popularised by Hilaire Belloc, who described his investigation of the route in The Old Road (1904). His book contains maps showing his conjectures on the correct alignment of the ancient track and its associations with the route of pilgrimage.
The Pilgrim’s Way through Kent is now, for much of its length, designated as a National Trail; The North Downs Way. At Lenham this path is labelled as a historic feature (OS Explorer Map: 137), indicating its ancient origins.
The North Downs Way follows the ancient track for most of its length, diverging at key points such as away from the private grounds of Chilham Park. Although the old track can still be seen on the OS map, marked as a path through the northern limb of King’s Wood, the public right of way instead turns east to follow Mountain Street and the edge of the park. Whichever twist the Old Road takes, the track remains an object of enduring fascination, running through some of Kent’s loveliest landscapes.
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Canterbury Cathedral forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that incorporates St Augustine’s Abbey (in which Canterbury Christ Church University has its main campus) and the Anglo-Saxon church of St Martin’s. w