** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
Whilst the school vacations are now over, and the beaches are emptying of their devotees, the holiday season for walkers is resuming. In this issue, we pursue the thought that “holidays” derive from “holydays” or saints-days, which would have been the only breaks in the work routine for the majority in past centuries. And does the modern long distance path or trail derive in essence from the pilgrimage route, rather than, say, The Grand Tour of the C18th nobleman?
Please find herein two short articles on the most important of the English pilgrimage routes, to give food for thought on that long distance path. I am much indebted to Charles Knowelden for his article on Walsingham.
Chaucer’s Pilgrims Way
The great pilgrimage to Canterbury, arose immediately after the murder of Archbishop Thomas a’Becket in 1170.
Chaucer started to compose “The Canterbury Tales” some 200 years later, writing at a time when the pilgrimage had reached its height and had, for some, become associated partly with leisure rather than purely a form of penance.
“At Rome she hadde been, and at Boulogne,
In Galice at St James, and at Cologne,
She coulde muchel of wandering by the way…
“ (The Wife of Bath)
In C16th the shrine of Thomas a’ Becket was destroyed by Henry VIII and pilgrimages to Canterbury effectively came to an end. It is believed Chaucer started The Tales in 1387 and worked on them until his death in 1400. He planned to write 120 Tales but completed little more than 20. The Tales, rich in earthy humour, satire and politics, was one of the first literary works to be printed in everyday English.
The Pilgrims Way followed the ancient trackway that runs from Winchester to Canterbury, on a route 120 miles long, of which two thirds is still identifiable today. The old track, a trade route in prehistoric times, was both a ridge walk and a terrace-way, following the North Downs escarpment.
In modern times, Hilaire Belloc first wrote about The Pilgrims Way, in ” The Old Road” 1904. A national trail running along the North Downs escarpment was first proposed by The Ramblers’ Association, and in 1978 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Donald Coggan, officially opened the North Downs Way National Trail, 153 miles long, following the North Downs ridge between Farnham and Dover via Canterbury. At Boughton Lees the North Downs Way splits into the 57-mile Canterbury loop. Here one can either follow the loop clockwise along stretches of the ancient trackway to Dover via Canterbury and the Stour valley or one can take the loop anti-clockwise to Wye and on to via Dover via Folkestone.
The modern pilgrim may use the official guide “North Downs Way National Trail Guide” (Neil Curtis and Jim Walker, Aurum Press 2007 £12.99.), and the following Explorer sheets: 137; 138; 145; 146; 147; 148; 149; and 150.
The Way to Walsingham
Pilgrimages to Walsingham began in the Middle Ages. In those times, pilgrimages were popular and the duration could be for months or years. Pilgrims undertook these journeys to holy places to refresh or strengthen their faith, seeking to achieve a closer, more personal relationship with God.
In 1061, Lady Richeldis de Faverches, owner of Walsingham Manor, had a vision in which Mary, the mother of Jesus appeared and showed Richeldis the house in Nazareth where Gabriel had announced the news of the birth of Jesus. Mary asked Richeldis to build a replica of the house in Walsingham. The house was built, a simple wooden structure and later a priory was built around the house. It became an important place of pilgrimage, equal to Canterbury and attracted many pilgrims from all parts of the country and all levels of society, including Kings of England with their entourage. Its importance continued until the time of the dissolution of the monastries. The priory and the wooden house it contained were pulled down and the statue of Mary and the child Jesus, was destroyed.
Walsingham, no longer a place of pilgrimage, slipped back to its former self, a village in a farming community. After almost 400 years, interest in pilgrimage to Walsingham was revived in the late 19th century. The wooden house was rebuilt inside a new church and another statue of Mary and Jesus was made. The restored Slipper Chapel, so called because pilgrims removed their shoes at the Slipper Chapel before walking the last mile barefoot, is a wayside pilgrim chapel. In recent times, with large numbers of people making their pilgrimage, the road from the Slipper Chapel has become a busy road but there is also a quiet trail along a disused railway line, for those who want to walk the last mile either shod or barefoot.
In his book, “The Walsingham Way”, John Merrill re-traces the route from Ely that was used by medieval pilgrims. It is 70 miles in duration, and runs across fens, through towns and villages – Brandon, Weeting, Cranwich, Swaffham, Castle Acre and Sculthorpe – with numerous ancient churches, wayside crosses, chapels, castles and ruined monasteries.
Walsingham and Great Snoring
Map – Explorer 251 (previously 24)
After a visit to Walsingham, a circular walk of some 5 miles, passing through Great Snoring, may also be enjoyed.
Go S from Little Walsingham, along the main street (B1105) towards Fakenham. Turn left at an isolated lodge onto an unsurfaced lane leading through mixed woodland, later mature oak trees. Reach the top of the hill at a wide green lane, and turn right at a fork. The lane leads to the county road at Great Snoring.
Turn left, passing the former rectory, and continue through the village to the main road. Go straight across, passing Top Farm, and after 100yd, turn left along a footpath. Pass behind a farm then turn right, leaving the buildings, along a broad track, fenced both sides. Over a stile, the route continues NNE following field edges, and reaching a road at Hill House Farm, where turn left to return to Little Walsingham.
The route may be extended by making an attractive circuit around the village of Great Snoring.
Parish of the Month: Hardwick
Some 600ha of clay land, ca 50-70m above sea level comprise this small parish, which was owned by the Abbot of Ely since 991. Detailed accounts of 1251 exist of a moated manor house, owned by the Bishop of Ely. The Bishops of Ely were forced to relinquish the parish to the crown in 1600, after which it passed to a series of private landowners.
The parish boundary with Toft was finalised in 1815, and its open fields were inclosed in 1837. In 1088, there was a population of only 11; the census of 1901 revealed 112 residents; now an expanding village, the population had reached ca 2500 by 1996.
The original village grew where the N – S through route crossed two separate branches of The Portway, here running E – W from Coton to Bourn, and which are now footpaths and bridleways. The church stands just N of the more northerly of these junctions, at the SW corner of what was once a much larger green, enclosed 1806. The building dates from the C14th, and is believed to occupy the site of a benedictine priory.
The ancient Hardwick Wood (an SSSI), now managed by the Wildlife Trust, was then called “Bradeleh Wood”, as described in the Ely Coucher book, 1251. Today, it is delightful in the spring with successions of violets, celandines, oxlips, primroses, bluebells, early purple orchid, red campion and wild garlic, and in this season for its Autumn colours and interesting fungi. The canopy comprises oak and ash, with hazel, privet, dogwood, spindle and wayfaring bushes beneath.
The woodland flora have been studied by naturalists for some 200 years, and there are said to be 160 species of flowering plants and ferns, and also mosses and liverworts.
Hardwick has 5 public rights of way, all in generally good order, but somewhat given to mud in Winter.
East of High Street, Footpaths 2 and 3 and Bridleway 4 form a convenient “dog-walking” loop of about 1 mile. Footpath 3 continues on the line of the ancient “Port Way”, almost meeting across Long Road with the Whitwell Way into Coton. As well as the rights of way, there is a permissive path, running N from Footpath 2, at TL 382 586, up the parish boundary to meet the “old” Cambridge – St Neots Road at TL 385595. It runs up a field boundary, and was in rather long grass when last seen. Use of this path combined with rights of way allows a circuit around the parish, as illustrated in a display map on the village green.
West of High Street, there is a short dead-end path from the green to the church & childrens playground. The Port Way runs W from the S edge of the village over towards Hardwick Wood. From here, a network of paths run S to Toft, or further W to Caldecote, and Bourn beyond. This is the heartland of the South Cambridgeshire Clay Belt.
New Footbridge over the A 428
Walkers in Cambridgeshire are rejoicing in the new big blue footbridge over the A428 at Hardwick. This bridge, which as well as steps, has ramps for wheelchairs, pushchairs etc, allows safe passage from Dry Drayton Church, some 1.5 miles along Footpath 17, to Hardwick. The route is along field-edges, mostly pleasant grassy paths beside a stream, although we have recently complained of the nettles in the first field behind Dry Drayton Church.
Try this linear route:
Bar Hill to Cambridge, 10 miles
Explorer Sheet: 209, 225
Frequent buses run from Emmanuel Street in Cambridge to Tesco, Bar Hill. Use the signed route to the Bar Hill Library, then follow pathways S through the village to the perimenter road, where pick up the footpath/cycleway to Dry Drayton. Rest a while on the seat by the green, then go through the churchyard, to follow the waymarked route to the new bridge over the A428.
Follow the village street to Hardwick church, seat-on-the-green and pub “The Blue Lion”, where a further rest stop may be called for! Cross the road from the church, and shortly find the signed footpath (no.2) starting E down a passage between gardens. Follow this clear path across fields, to a junction of paths near the quaintly named “Starve Goose Plantation”.
Here continue ahead (E) on the bridleway to Long Road. Turn left, mindful of fast traffic, and resume E along Whitwell Way, to Coton. Again there is a church, green and seat, but the pub here is now a rather smart restaurant. From the recreation ground, follow the tarmac path over the M11, and back to Cambridge.
A Cautionary Tale…
As Footpath Secretaries for the Ramblers’ Association, covering the South Cambs Parishes, Roger & I frequently report to the County Council problems which may constitute a hazard to walkers. Such hazards might be:
An awkward or damaged stile;
A missing bridge;
A broken bridge (or more often missing slats, or damaged handrail);
An electric fence;
Surface obstructions (eg heaps of rubble, wire or broken glass);
Dangerous dogs, horses, even geese.
Most often, we report these obstructions, having ourselves passed over, under or across them without damage to self, presumably being aware of the hazard, and taking due care. Occasionally we wonder if we are over-assiduous in reporting, since sometimes the Council’s reaction is merely “noted”.
However, on 4 October, last, Roger met with an accident on an obstructed path. We were not in South Cambs, we were with two friends near Red Hill Farm, near Wilburton, East Cambs, on a recreational walk. The path (actually in Stretham Parish, no 18) runs N from the A10, along Red Hill Drove, does a dog-leg by the farm, and reaches the road on the outskirts of Wilburton. There are two locked gates obstructing this path, which it was necessary to climb. On the more northerly one, Roger slipped on the metal rungs and crashed to the ground. There are no broken bones, but a massively bruised right shoulder. After a week, he is able to hold a tea-cup in his right hand. We have told the County Council.
No, I do not think we cry “wolf” re path obstructions and hazards. We hope something will be done about this one soon.
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Cantab 43 © Janet Moreton, 2007