Click the picture above for a full map in the OS app; map detail depends on your subscription.
PILGRIMS WAY CANTERBURY
In prehistoric times, trackways linked the narrowest part of the English Channel at Dover to important religious sites at Avebury and Stonehenge. The Romans used similar routes, cutting from the Channel to the West. By the Middle Ages, pilgrims were walking easier paths, up valleys connecting the main towns: London, Southwark, Rochester, Salisbury, Winchester and Canterbury. The very earliest of the roads followed these lines. In the 20th century, these routes became adopted by main A-roads and even motorways. The Roman Watling Street largely became the A2 connecting London to the Kent coast at Dover.
One traditional pilgrimage trackway leads from Winchester to Canterbury.
In its day, Winchester and its bishops were among the most powerful men in the country. Bishop Henry of Blois (attributed with building Farnham Castle) was the brother of King Stephen, and many bishops were chancellors of England. Then, of course, there was St Swithun. Born c 800 AD, he was bishop from 852 to 863. A number of miracles are attributed to him, not least the restoration of a basket of eggs which were maliciously smashed. His shrine, in Winchester Cathedral, was destroyed in the Reformation. We have written a little more about Swithun, click here.
Saint Thomas of Canterbury
Canterbury housed the shrine of Thomas à Becket. Probably born in 1120 he was murdered on 1120, making 2020 the 900th anniversary of his birth and the 850th anniversary of his death. As Archbishop of Canterbury, he tried to devolve power from King Henry II. Stirring up many of the other bishops, he made a string of enemies. This lead to his murder in the Cathedral by four armed men on 29th December. The King was reputed to have said Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest, which encouraged four knights to carry out what they believed was a royal command. Canonised as a martyr, his shrine was also destroyed in the Reformation. We have a longer section on Thomas Becket here.
The Pilgrimage Route
Until the 16th century, the route was largely on ancient trackways. Even the earliest maps only give an indication of a possible route. Pilgrims after the reformation dare not call themselves by that name and became tourists. Largely these visitors and sightseers did not walk, taking carriages instead. The 1819 OS map shows no coherent route. A construct of a ragtag of paths developed along the valleys. Then, as motorised carriages developed in the second half of the 20th century making these tracks dangerous, the love of recreational walking came to the fore. The North Downs Way was developed along the hilltops and high ridges. In contrast, a number of these ancient trackways were linked and gained the name The Pilgrims' Way.
So today, the Pilgrims' Way tends to follow a lower path along small roads, whereas the St Swithun's Way and North Downs Way seek footpaths along high routes. The Pilgrims' Way is less well signed (if at all) and less frequently walked. Much of the route parallels the two better-known Ways, but the unique sections follow interesting and different paths. The section from Alton to Guildford, with Farnham in the middle, is notably different between the (three) routes.
The route as laid out is 138 miles. The map above will display the journey;
style depends on your level of subscription with the Ordnance Survey.
If you're looking for arguably the definitive site on the Canterbury Pilgrimage route, then check out https://www.pilgrimswaycanterbury.org/ This contains all kinds of useful information, such as the history of the route, maps and prayers. We hope you find it useful.