Walking the countryside is a way to explore the natural and the historical environment. Walking gives you time to look and to think. It is not just about the physical well-being that you get from walking. It is also about the mental well-being you achieve from setting aside time, even just a day, to take a break from the daily routine and experience the world around you.
There is increasing interest across Europe in exploring pilgrimage as an activity. Many people are familiar with the ancient routes to holy shrines, such as Canterbury or Santiago de Compostella in northern Spain. It is often thought that a pilgrimage has to involve a walk of many days, often many weeks, to reach an actual shrine of a Christian saint. But though there are such routes, pilgrimage is not just about them. Even in the Middle Ages, people could make a local pilgrimage to a shrine that could take just a day or two. The important thing was to take time out from the normal daily grind.
Green Pilgrimage is a new phenomenon that is being promoted as a means to explore the countryside in a new way. But what exactly is Green Pilgrimage? What makes a walk a pilgrimage, and what makes it green? Hardly surprisingly, that is not a simple question. Generally, a pilgrimage is more than just going for a walk. It is about your frame of mind, it is often to a defined destination that may be a site that is thought to be holy, and it may have a lot to do with taking time to reflect on what you see as you pass along the way. It is a mix of different things, and you should feel better for having done it. Pilgrimage can be green if you are having a light impact on the environment, using public transport where you can, and consuming locally-produced food and drink. Think about the carbon footprint. A pilgrimage walked within 50 miles of your home will have less of an impact on the environment than one where you have to travel 500 miles or more to start (and to come home again afterwards).
There are many themed walking routes across the country that have been developed to help people to explore parts of the country that are noted for particular things, both natural and historical. Working with the EU-funded Green Pilgrimage project, and with the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) who are managing the project locally for Kent County Council, we have developed our own pilgrimage route for this corner of Kent under the Pilgrimage in Kent banner. This will allow you to travel from coast to coast across the ridge of the North Downs, experiencing dramatically different landscape as you do so. The history of the area is equally rich. The linear route links together 24 historic churches, including 16 active parish churches, many of which are associated with queens and princesses of the Anglo-Saxon period. The aim of the route is to put you in mind of the powerful women who shaped the Kingdom of Kent in the early centuries of Christianity, in the 7th and 8th Centuries AD. Uniquely in Britain, you can encounter shrines with relics of the original Anglo-Saxon princess saints at both ends of the route, and in Lyminge, we have a site where two Anglo-Saxon royal women were venerated. For this reason, we have called the route the “Royal Saxon Way“. There is also a shorter circular walk that links Folkestone and Lyminge. Both routes are available on OS Maps for download as GPX files if you are a subscriber. You can find them listed under the non-premium routes if you search under Folkestone and Lyminge.
Or you can download the route cards as pdf files from the links below:
You can also download a pdf of our Royal Saxon Way Public Transport Map here.
We are aiming to produce more material to support walkers in the coming months. This will be made available through this website . You can download A Secular Pilgrimage and share one couple’s very personal experience of walking the whole route. Or you can view the route section by section with pictures and commentary on what the walk is like and the kind of countryside you will pass through by following the links below, :