The Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury Cathedral

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One way to find deeper meaning in life is to go on a pilgrimage and in this article we talk about the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury Cathedral and the life and death of Thomas Beckett.

This is Hobo Trudi’s deeply personal account of the final 10-mile walk to the cathedral – a pilgrimage she had been destined to take since childhood.

Hobo Trudi getting ready for a 10-mile walk to Canterbury Cathedral

A pilgrimage of destiny

Murder in the name of the King! Crown versus clergy! Spilled blood in a sacred setting!

It sounds like the plot of a modern computer game but this gory tale is of a time well before technology took over.

Out of the hundreds of stories you might read or hear about in a whole lifetime, why do a select few never quite leave you?

There are some stories in life – fact or fictional – that grip and hold you. Is it the content? Do you identify with the characters? Is it the skill of the writer…? 

As a young girl in primary school, I was an avid reader. I remember the world disappearing around me as I lost myself in the pages of the story of Saint Thomas Becket. Reading of a pious man who was martyred in his own cathedral broke my nine-year-old heart. 

Years later – on this visit – I reached back to my young self as I walked to Becket’s beloved Canterbury Cathedral and then stood where he lost his life and sat where his ornate tomb had once been.

This article retraces those steps and my reflections along the way…

The Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury

We were staying at Sunnyside Farm Caravan Park in Chilham in Kent and on a warm and sunny autumn morning decided to walk the near ten miles along the Pilgrims’ Way, from campsite to cathedral.

As I left the site and joined the Pilgrims’ Way toward Canterbury I found a staff waiting for me. I was glad of it over the miles that followed. It was just a stick, left by the wayside for another pilgrim to find. It gave me added strength to pull uphill and helped over the rougher stretches of the route.

Finding the staff reminded me that passing on a blessing, offering an encouraging word at a time of need, being someone to lean on temporarily, is an act we can all do. 

Allowing someone to aid us is sometimes more difficult.  

Was this pilgrimage just one day and nine miles along the Pilgrims’ Way, or was it to recognise and respect the journey through my whole life? 

And when I eventually arrived at the Cathedral, would it be my adult self who quietly contemplated the scene of the murder, or my inner child, losing herself once more in the annuls of history?

Maybe we would both meet there?

Already, I was wondering what she thought I’d done with her life…

The pilgrimage begins…

The walk was beautiful. Kent in Autumn is infused with the scent of ripened apples.

Gav and I journeyed through orchards – factory sized orchards. But the imagination can conjure up a country cottage garden, the bees kissing the late flowers in the warm sun.  A time for relaxation and recuperation after the heat of the summer. A time for planning the next harvest.

The vineyards of Kent on the way to Canterbury cathedral

The plants and animals work with the seasons. They know when to rest and when to toil. They trust that the warmth and rain will come in its own time. Nature has faith.

Plants and animals do not resist the turning of the world; they accept what life brings.

I need to be more like this.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin…

King James Bible, Mathew 6:28

Learnings along the Pilgrims’ Way

So what did I learn along the Pilgrims’ Way to the cathedral?

I learned that the journey is as important as the destination... 

It can be compared to life – with the destination a terminal stop. Or it can represent the trials and lessons we encounter and carry forward between the landmarks of life.   

I gained a sense of the intricate dance of the earth and her entourage

sign along the Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury Cathedral

At one stage we missed a sign. We walked an extra mile in the wrong direction due to not seeing a small pointer. We were not present, not alert to the signals.

How many extra miles do I walk just through missing something? How many extra worries do I carry through not noticing what is around me? Is distress often caused by misinterpreting the signs?

Indeed, I realised that paying attention to signs and direction markers in life can save me having to retrace my steps!

Trusting instincts over technology

My Google map was not easy to read. Yes, even with modern technology, we still veered off track.

So, I learned that relying on the internet for information can blind me to what is real and right in front of me. I learned to trust my own instincts rather than a digital map.

I turned the phone off! How often does that happen?

Being without the beeps and bells which accompany life nowadays gave me space to take note of my surroundings. No red buttons, demanding my immediate attention – ‘like, comment, share’.  No mental energy-sapping messages from people I will never meet.

It has been proven scientifically that hearing these alerts triggers a stress response in us. What are we doing to ourselves? Gav has even started seeing clients suffering from smartphone addiction!

We met fellow pilgrims and it brought me comfort in knowing that others were on the same path. It didn’t matter that they might be faster, slower, older or younger.

We exchanged greetings, we spoke to some – confirming our directions or distance left before taking our leave and continuing. But what I learned was to walk at my own pace.

I also contemplated the notion that gut feelings are my biggest signposts to where I need to be – my core inner-self is not distracted by the constant stream of noise and colour created to confuse and control us.

Approaching Becket’s Cathedral

As we neared Canterbury, I noticed the walk was becoming tiring.  It was hardly a marathon and I managed it fairly easily, but I needed to stop along the way.

It was good to be stretched a little but there is nothing to be gained in pushing my body further or faster than it will cope with. The body should be listened to. It knows better than the brain.

Whilst resting and deep in thought, the messages from my muscles were quieter; physical or emotional pain can more easily be borne when it is not the focus of one’s attention. It is too easy to obsess on the negative.

Reflecting on this, I even saw the beauty in the negative – what it tells us about ourselves. I certainly learn more from the difficult times in my life, not the periods where life flows without blocks.

Arriving in Canterbury

It was worth the minor discomfort to feel the sense of accomplishment when we arrived in Canterbury in the afternoon.

A busy, vibrant place, it proved to be very welcoming to two weary travellers carrying staffs – the mark of true pilgrims! We were even given free hot chocolates in Costa!

wooden Canterbury pilgrims

We spent time in and around the cathedral, my personal empathy with the story of Thomas Becket leaving me with a sense of the passing of time, from childhood to adulthood.

I remembered the child I had been, and the adult I had been before the nine miles of this pilgrimage. I would assimilate my thoughts and learnings into my life in the coming months.

So, who was this man who gripped my imagination so?

This is the story of Thomas Becket that children are told…

Born around 1120 to prosperous parents in London, Thomas Becket found employment as a clerk to the then Archbishop of Canterbury. Through this position, he became involved with the church. Thomas was recommended to Henry ll for the post of Lord Chancellor.

Thomas’ skills as chancellor brought extra revenue to the Royal coffers. The King granted him the role of Archbishop of Canterbury, sure that his friend and ally would bring the church’s great wealth and power under the influence of the crown.

Becket however resigned as chancellor and tried to regain some of the rights that he himself had taken from the church, causing a deep and dangerous rift between church and crown. 

Henry tried to turn the clergy against Thomas and weaken England’s ties with Rome. After many heated disagreements, Thomas fled abroad.

Politicians and clergy – little has changed throughout history

After years of exile, Thomas felt safe to return when Henry offered a compromise. Thomas, feeling that he had regained his power and security, then excommunicated three clerics who supported the monarchy. They appealed to Henry.

Exasperated, Henry uttered words which his knights interpreted as a command that he wanted Becket killed. Anxious to please their King, they rode, heavily armed, to Canterbury in December 1170.

Whilst in the cathedral, Thomas Becket was struck around the head and died in a spot now marked by a sculpture of swords.

King Henry ll was said to be devastated that his old friend had been put to death. He did penance at the tomb after walking the last few miles of the ancient route – the Pilgrims’ Way – into Canterbury barefoot.

Thomas Becket was canonized and revered throughout Europe. And he stole the thoughts of a nine-year-old girl hundreds of years later.

Trudi in the cloisters at Canterbury Cathedral

We hope you’ve found this pilgrim story enjoyable and informative.

Dive deeper into the story in our new ebook – Meeting God in a Motorhome

ebook: meeting god in a motorhome by the motorhome hobos

Remember to check out our other pilgrimages to Glastonbury and Walsingham.

We’d love to know what pilgrimages you’ve been on. Tell us your stories by emailing us here.

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