11:30 a.m. September 16, 2022
11:58 am September 16, 2022
The Kent Pilgrimage Festival – ‘Bring your own beliefs’ is the slogan – takes place this month, with walks, talks and art exhibitions on offer. We hear from Liz Garnett, one of a group of artists who embarked on a series of walks together in preparation for the festival…
The idea of pilgrimage has become synonymous with long-distance endurance walking. However, in medieval times it might as well have been a short walk from a local shrine. For my fellow artists and me, it’s a slower journey – a slow pilgrimage, in fact. That’s why we took a newly designed route, following St. Martin’s Way through a series of 5 distinct walks, which we started on a May morning and finished in early June. The walks provided an opportunity to stop and observe, supplementing the research we did before our trip began and continued to do after our trip. Traveling with other artists was also a chance to see through their eyes. As a group of enthusiastic creatives from Kent, including artists and writers, our aim was to explore the theme of pilgrimage as a means of pushing the limits of their creativity.
Fortune was on our side even before we left Dover on a sunny May morning when we were blessed by the Regional Dean of Dover, the Reverend Andrew Bawtrey. At St Edmund’s Chapel we learned how pilgrims arriving safely in Dover picked up a flint stone with a hole on the beach and left it at the chapel as an offering before departing for Canterbury. From there we walked to Maison Dieu to reflect on its importance as a resting place for pilgrims and how the building has evolved over the centuries. We picked up the River Dour which runs through Dover (one of 200 chalk streams in the world) where we spotted brown trout, and our pace slowed to enjoy the tranquility of the natural space in an urban setting with ruins showcasing Dover’s industrial heritage.
As we traveled, we got to know each other and appreciate the delightful mix of characters and personalities, with each person’s experience bringing new perspectives. On our second walk we passed Temple Ewell with its Knights Templar links and over the Downs, through a nature reserve full of wildflowers before arriving at the small Norman church of Coldred for a picnic in the sun. . In Shepherdswell, a cup of tea at the East Kent Railway Trust reflected on the mining industry for which the railway was built. Our journey then took us through farmland, highlighting the importance of agriculture to Kent’s economy, then on to Barfrestone Church with its Romanesque-Norman architecture – artist Alex was inspired to spend time drawing the remarkable sculptures outside the building.
Later we drove through wildflower meadows to Barham Downs – the site of Roman battles, burial mounds and the discovery of Kingston’s extraordinary Anglo-Saxon Brooch. We then headed to Kingston itself, once the home of sculptor Henry Moore, who was inspired by the flints he found in the Downs.
Then it was a walk along the valley floor following the dry Nailbourne River to Bishopsbourne – once the home of author Joseph Conrad – where we were shown the medieval paintings in the church. The road then took us back into the hills, through Bridge Hill, where Count Zborowski raced the cars that inspired Ian Fleming’s children’s classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and on to Patrixbourne. Here the church has a wheel window, as well as mass dials – designed like sundials to mark the hours of worship – carved into its portal. It was there that we first heard of the huge medieval candlestick, actually a long candle wrapped around a drum and then pushed from Dover to Canterbury via Bridge. It was left at Thomas Beckett’s shrine in the hope that his spirit would protect the city, then cut into candles and used for the funerals of the poor. It was also where Alex spotted a honeycomb in the church chimney – a discovery that inspired her to write and illustrate her book, The Bee’s Tale.
On our final walk, our route took us along the North Downs Way to Canterbury and St Martin’s Church – Britain’s oldest church building still in use as a church and, incidentally, the place of burial of the author of the Rupert the Bear stores, Marie Tourtel. Here we were given a guided tour before going to see the relic of Thomas Becket at St Thomas Church. It wasn’t until we reached Canterbury Cathedral that we learned of the connection between Becket and Choughs and how the birds are believed to have dipped their feet and beaks in the blood of the dying saint, giving them their distinctive red color . These birds having recently been reintroduced to the county, we felt like we had come full circle.
For details of the Kent Pilgrims Festival program see here. Liz Garnett is a writer and photographer. Her book detailing the walks she and her fellow artists took, The Way of Saint Martin guide (ISBN 978-1-7399484-2-9), is available via lizgarnett.com. Exhibitions by Liz and her fellow artists run as part of the festival at St Mary’s Church in Dover and the Discovery Center from September 21-25. Alexandra le Rossignol will also lead a 3-day icon painting workshop, also at St Mary’s Church in Dover. September 21 to 23.
Another walking festival to try
New to the county, Maidstone’s Heart of Kent Walking Festival runs from September 30 to October 2 and offers everything from guided walks to long-distance hikes. Not only will the area’s countryside be explored and celebrated, but also its history and agriculture, with walks emphasizing wellness and lyrics adding to an energizing mix. visitmaidstone.com/walking-festival