Home to Canterbury

We leave late in the evening, after spending more than a long time preparing. It feels very good, very promising, to be finally out and walking.

We head toward Canterbury, following the country lanes into town,and our planned footpath routes disappear in the dark. So we go other ways.

On the edge of town, we visit a friend, who has a farm and plays a fine accordion. We make music, eat blueberry jam, and then sleep in his hay-barn.

Rising early, Canterbury is soon under our feet, and we meet Alaric, our technical wizard pal, who ritually puts this website online. The day is glorious, full of good meetings and surprise kindness. Canterbury is always a fine place to be, and this is no exception.

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We busk in a sunny street, and meet lots of fine folk, including a Malawian pop star. A bunch of UKC drama students ask to film us, and ask intense questions about our political viewpoints. It is an odd meeting; one of them is genuinely surprised that our sign, and our backpacks and staffs, are not just props carried for marketing, to craft a better illusion: “What, so you’re actually walking to Wales then?”

We later visit the Cathedral, sing by the altar, and then say farewell to local friends. We encounter various small difficulties, even at this early stage, mainly due to our physical unreadiness, but we know we will get daily stronger.

The next morning, we leave town, and walk to the woods, to spend our first night in a beautiful place.

It is already dark when we leave home, far later in the day than we’d planned. There’s no calm moment before leaving; all is a blur of last-minute fine detail, and deep brisk farewells. We are accompanied to the first corner by Ed and Ginger’s dad, and by our friend Nejm.

The last few weeks have been intense. If there has ever been a low point in our fitness, bodily and psychological, this is it. We are not sure how we’ll react to a sudden immersion in life outdoors. There will be many trials we know well, which we can anticipate; and we are also sure to find surprising thorns, mischievous equipment and muscles, who’ll play new havoc with our hurried preparations: readiness is not the watchword.

But leaving, finally getting outside, with no plans to turn back, is glorious. The air falls deep into our lungs, and the sky is unclouded, with the quartz stars burning clearly above. It is on the cold side of brisk, but our furnaces soon roar into action, with the triple fires: repetitive physical movement; the rolling scene of new interactive worlds; and the smell of new adventure.

It is like a taste in the air, the promise of freedom awaiting. We are childish with it, and giggle out the “firsts” of the walk: the dropped staff; the car that stops to ask if we’re lost; the car that doesn’t see us in the road. They keep on coming.

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We stroll briskly and excitedly along the paths to Canterbury. We want to begin our journey there, because it is our home-town, and because of Canterbury’s role in historic Pilgrimage. We feel Canterbury to be a place of real power, a centre of communication, whose channels flow throughout the land. She resonates in a crucial way, a good and peaceful town, beautiful and welcoming. We hope to find good beginnings there.

So although our first ‘stop’ is Wales, we walk East. We stroll most gently, but even so soon become mildly uncomfortable. Bag-straps throttle us, feet become sore, backs under bags get sweaty, and then cool to chill us.

Thankfully, on this journey the weight we carry has nearly halved since our previous departure. For the benefits of science, we weighed ourselves, all bagged and kitted up, a little before leaving. Ed and Ginger weighed 13.5 stone, Will 15 (but he had a head start). We don’t know how this sounds to you, heavy or light – it depends what you are used to. It is not so much, we feel, when you consider that we have everything we’ll need for the next year or so.

We take our first rest in the ghostly poles of a winter hop-garden, under the chestnut poles and wire-workings, with not a hop to be seen. We de-bag, stretch our limbs and bodies; but chilling rapidly, we step on.

We aim to be in Canterbury tomorrow morning, to meet our friend Alaric who is going away. We have to catch him early, to launch this website device into the air.

At our first crossroads, in the still Kentish night, we consult the map. We want to find the North Down’s Way, the most beautiful route by which to enter town; but wherever we look for it, in all the places it should be, it has disappeared. We cannot walk a path that hides from us, so we take the hint, and walk the country lanes instead. We’d probably have got lost in East Kent’s barbed wired pastures, and Luna is dark, so we won’t be missing the scenery. The lanes are empty as we stamp down toward the River Stour.

A ribbon of busy road follows the river into Canterbury. We dive across it, and pass south into Chartham. We look for a public house, to drink a toast to the walk, but peeking through our options’ windows, we find no cause to stop. So we drink the water we’re carrying on our backs, which tastes fine.

Toward Larkey Wood, we hurry down a dangerous stretch on unlit, quiet wide roads. We probably need yellow shiny clothes for night-time road-walking, but we’d rather just avoid roads. At the moment we’re relying on wiggling our head-lamps, to show that we’re not static road objects to be driven over, but moving humans. So far, so good. But roads are the most dangerous place in the land (statistically, perhaps second to hospitals).

We head toward a farm on the hill, very near to Canterbury, where we know the woodland is dark, and we’ll be able to camp peacefully. A friend lives on a farm nearby, and as we’ll not pass this way for a while, we pop in to say cheerio. He’s a lovely fellow, living in a showman’s caravan inside a wooden-framed house, who was once described to us as a Cornish Italian Gypsy farmer. He pours the wine, and his accordion is soon playing Italian mountain music in full vigorous stamping fashion. He plays a beautiful old squeeze box, with a tiny portrait of a woman on the side, a little photograph from the early days of the science. We ask who it is. “Some old tart” he tells us.

We talk of recycling, and we’re told that for 20 years the local recycling yard has been collecting metals from local folks, separating them and being paid the recycling rates, before burying them at the weekend in the standard landfill sites. We wonder if anyone could ever dig the landfill up, to see what we have thrown away, or if our municipal dumps are like the tar-pits of pre-history, swallowing black holes whose secrets will be hidden for millennia. It would make a compelling archaeological dig, we think.

We are also told of the benefits of drinking the nutrient rich salts of Utah, and how this is sold in a drink by the Mormon Communities. It is an epic business, and looks like a classic scam, selling your dust around the world in a tasty but expensive fruit drink, but our friend assures us it works, that it has kept him alive during rough periods of his life.

He feeds us with bread, crisped on his iron pot-belly stove, and dolloped with his new blueberry jam. One of the farmhands made it from a batch of fruit he recently took. A freezer in a fruit-farm broke down, which needed the rapid clearance of fruit with an interrupted storage process. This makes it unsellable, so it goes to the pigs.

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He tells us stories of owning a German Shepherd, a big hungry dog, that would starve rather than eat tinned dog food. “Only thing he’d take, was raw meat. So here he was, getting hungrier and thinner, looking all ill. So we had to get him meat. We were living in a squat, in a place abandoned by the army, and there was a Research field of sheep at a nearby university. So we got in the landrover, and headed over there. It took an hour to find a sheep that wouldn’t run away, and we clobbered him with a sledge hammer. We gutted him there in the fields, and threw the entrails for the fox. Then we dragged his carcass to the boot of the car, and drove home. We flung him in the bath, blood got everywhere. Well, then we feasted, and the dog was happy too.”

Tired out, we ask which part of the woods is flat, and good for shelter. “Well, I don’t know about that, but I’ve got a hay barn over there by the cows. You can climb and sleep up there if you like.”

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It sounds like a good plan, so we say goodnight, and farewell, and slide through the mud to the barn, to hit the hay. We clamber up, and learn that there are different sleeping grades of hay bales. Some are sharp, all pointed with spears of spiky twigs. Ginger lays down his roll mat, and found it instantly transfixed to the bale, pierced in three places. It was good he did not just throw down his sleeping bag, as a holed bag  makes for draughty sleep.

All sure arranged at last, we drift off, our feet, legs and shoulders gently throbbing into sleep. As a gentle rain starts to patter on the tin roof, we waken suddenly, alert to the warning-sounds. We aren’t yet confident nor casual in our outdoor sleep routines, the disciplines of keeping ourselves and our kit dry. But we quickly remember the roof is above us; and sound sleep slowly returns.

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We move early in the morning, eating our oats and water while sitting in the open cabs of old tractors. We pack away, and walk into town. Snowdrops lean poised and pendulous all along the roadside, surrounded by the confusing masses of Hemlock and Cow Parsley, and the welcoming Cleavers. We spot more unusual hedgerow sights:

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The sun is growing warmer, and we can see the Cathedral through the hedges and distant houses.

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In Thannington Without, the first curious chap asks us what we’re doing, in a very East Kent way: “You’re looking serious.” This prompts a first attempt to explain ourselves. We chat awhile, then say cheerio, giving him a card with the website. “Oh, well my daughters got one of these computers, at her work. I’ll give it to her then. All the best!”. We are cheered, and walk on into Canterbury City. The cars at the traffic lights give us a strange mixture of glances, glares and grins.

Old Canterbury is a small town, but beautiful and friendly. We are early to meet Alaric, and as we wait, a gentleman stops, to say he read of our walk in Permaculture magazine, and could he sponsor us to the tune of a morning drink? Most grateful, we accept, and sing a first morning song in the still quiet morning streets. The Cathedral booms upward behind us, the great quiet presence at the heart of this town. It’s a good start to the day.

Meeting Alaric, we draw our first journey map, and edit the last bits of descriptive hoo-hah, before Alaric ceremonially taps the mouse buttons, and in Cyberspace, something happens. We are then, now, online.

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Then we walk around town, looking for a place to sing. We’ve just been given warning by another busker that there’s a permit policy in Canterbury, with slots being allocated at certain times to certain people. That sounds good, but we don’t want to waste the council’s money with admin, and we’re leaving tomorrow, so we just get on with singing. Ginger has begun to notice a familiar pain in his knee, one that previously caused him to stop walking. We all fear for this injury’s recurrence. We are dampened, that the walk can be threatened so early. We can think of no other solution than an extreme reduction of his backpack. So with half of Ginger’s bag left with friends, we go to sing the Canterbury back-streets.

We find a good spot in the sun, where the street is narrow and less bustled, so people can stop and listen if they wish, and where we can sing without straining our voices. We meet a fellow busker, who is playing his hurdy-gurdy in the Butter Market, making most appropriate medieval sounds in this city of carven stone.

Then we busk, and as we’re putting out our sign, a fellow comes over to ask us what we’re doing. He is amazed that we can do this in modern Britain, that the systems of movement in this way still work. “I thought it was all no go” he says. “That’s the modern illusion” we say. We get talking, and find out that he is a Malawian Pop Star , who has been TV No 1 in his homeland, and recently living the Blues Life in New Orleans. We ask if the City is still alive, after Katrina’s ravages and Bush’s slowness in rebuilding. He laughs, and tells us that it is more thriving than ever. “It’s the only area in the US where culture matters more than money. People are going there, from all over the States.” He starts to tell us about the Blues’ coded language of Hats, and how to wear them, before we remember we’re meant to be singing. So we get on, with our new friend sitting on the curb, watching and applauding. “I’m a seed-crowd” he tells us. It seems to work. Soon 35 people are standing in a ring, listening to the good old songs. A little group of school-girls stand nearby, muttering “…but what are they? Hobbits?…”. Another man stands with his wife, and we hear him say “I’ve no idea what these songs are.”

It is a good singsong, and a fine supper follows. We eat at a friend’s vegan restaurant, above the Whole Foods in Canterbury. He’s given us gigs here in the past, and we know we’ll eat well here. The benefits of eating good food are obvious: More energy, better energy. We heartily recommend the Good Food Café , for a good lunch in town. And our friend is very soon (maybe now?) to be a father, a sure indicator of his food’s healthfulness.

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We then head to the Cathedral, for a last time before we turn West. The Cathedral is a fine place, a lily amongst carparks, and it is well to spend time there. We sing the Seven Virgins quietly down the back of the church, from the altar at the top. This building is built for song, literally designed for voices.

We visit the newly re-planted monastic herb-garden, which is a really good resource for herb identification through the seasons, as everything is clearly labelled and placed.

And then out. An American family ask us if they have missed the singing, and we take little persuading to rise up a couple of classic bangers in the old Buttermarket Square. It is another great place to sing.

By this time, we know that we aren’t going to leave town. Canterbury will hold us for the night. Ginger’s knee is unwilling to co-operate, and unwise to push. So we take an ale each, before slowly retiring to a friend’s back garden. We are extraordinarily tired, the fruit of the long weeks before. We notice a sight that befuddles us, and have to take records:

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And in the morning, we rise and walk up the hill to the woods, to a spot we know well, to begin to relax into being outdoors. It surrounds a large pool, fed by the Sarre Penn stream, and is a good direction for us. Ginger’s leg is still troubling, but greatly mended, which we are all relieved to discover. If we keep it gentle, it’ll adapt into this new life. And if we do our utmost to keep off the concrete, we’ll all fare much better. It is very good to be going.

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2 Responses to “Home to Canterbury”

  1. Margaret says:

    Brilliant. Put frozen peas (still in bag!) on the knee. keep going. good luck…….gran.

  2. Jeremy says:

    wishing you the best of progress from Jeremy, Steve and Alex, we’ll be keeping a keen eye out for your progress and hope to see you one of these days on the road…x

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