Those Shaggy Tales: when and where did they begin and end?

The Tabard Guided Tour - as seen in Copyprints' window, Talbot Yard, Southwark

A Brief Recap

Well, here’s where the tale of the trail and the tales properly begins – with an exploration into finding the original road to Canterbury, and then along to a trip to each stop-off with a few good friends sharing their tales of the modern day as well as views on what I’ve found so far.

My formal following of the Canterbury trail began back in 2007 when I decided that I had to first start to write things up about this.  At that stage I had received support from a goodly bunch of friends who I had emailed about this idea at the start of 2006. I had then found a media business in early 2007 who had agreed to pay me for publishing part of my story online with a view to testing interest in it.  So it seemed that I was off to a good start!

First Challenge:  How Long to Take and When to Start?

Initially I thought I ought to take the same road at the same time as when I had found it in 1991.  The problem is that the dates for Easter move around according a mix of lunar and solar cycles – and so, in the end, I just decided to go with whatever dates Easter fell for that year. 

Since then, thanks to Wikipedia, I have been able to determine that the dates that I first began my travels here in the UK were after Easter as, in 1991, Easter fell on the last day in March

Unfortunately the passport I had back then has long since expired, and been cancelled, so I cannot check back on exact dates I first arrived here – and I clearly never saw myself writing this up or otherwise I no doubt would have it with me. Still, it is somewhere in storage back in Sydney, as I am a perennial hoarder…

The main thing is that, as far as following in Chaucer’s footsteps goes, it is equally unclear what dates that fourteenth century pilgrimage was taken in, as it is unclear what year they started out. There is even debate over the number of days taken. Rather than rehash it all here, check out the following for a good article by an American University about the academic debate over it:

Fortunately I’ve decided that I do not have to be true to “this plan” for The Tales at all as, for me, it is more about the people you are likely to meet along the road and the feeling you get from taking it.  So one only has to be roughly true to the route of the road, with an emphasis on the feel of what it would have been like back then – but with how stories of the people of today might be likely to fit in with those from back then. Revelations and purification of the soul notwithstanding, of course! 😉

In The End, the date of The Beginning was…

Easter falling on April 8 in 2007 was the date I started on my pilgrimage – and so here’s where the first account of my present day tale begins, in recounting how I semi-formally found the road to take.

According to Wikipedia (which I did not really know about or use back then – but do now), this day means that the official day for Easter  was the same day in both Eastern and Western calendars.  I have no idea why this is significant yet, but it’s just a feeling I have that it is – and so let’s see where this latest trip goes in that regard, as the dates also collide this year too. Perhaps it means that its likely to find more Chaucerian travellers than usual – who knows?  Certainly that now seems possible since meeting the nanny from Slovakia, as stated in earlier blog, who knew and had a different view about The Tales…

Second Challenge:  even the places to stop off along the road are not very clear either!

Nothing was clear on the way to go from reading the Tales themselves, or at least from the annotated copy that I borrowed from the Kilburn Library back then (and I now have my own copy that seems much better). 

So I decided to approach things laterally, based on reading up on the explorer’s way of doing things. This pretty much entailed simply “following what feels right” and using a good bit of deductive reasoning.  It certainly beats relying on the inductive reasoning and hard core research of the historian and the archaeologist – which would otherwise take me years or even decades to find out when and where to go, stay and what to do when I get there. 

Indeed, I believe it already has taken the academics that long or longer!  Aye, so there’s even a tale with how I came by that way of discovering how to find the best way to explore and readily find out about things too – but that’s what you’d have to eventually buy my book to find out. he he. 😉

The upshot of the approach I worked out was one of a simple process of deduction. That it would take three days and nights, if the pilgrims were travelling 15 to 20 miles per day by either horse or foot, to go the 55 miles or so to Canterbury.  Then there was the convenience presented from staying at different coaching inns along the way, as Chaucer and his band were stated to have done – and which they would have known about in their day (but which we apparently don’t know about now!).  All this, starting off from The Tabard in Southwark – a pub and place that is, perhaps ironically compared with the rest of the journey, clearly stated and documented. It seems like good product placement by the landlord of The Tabard!  So maybe the others wouldn’t cough up….

Today, a plaque marks where The Tabard originally stood - and The Tales began

Anyhow, after leaving Southwark, I went to see what I could find in three pleasant stops along the road within about that distance.  I ended up choosing Greenwich, Dartford and Canterbury as stop-offs, and based on what I could find out about coaching inns from a few guide books and enquiries at local tourist offices – and chats in a few pubs too, such as The George Inn.  Sadly, the staff behind the bar at The George were not much help at all back in 2006, nor in 2007. And, no, I was not savvy about the idea of promotion back then – but maybe I should head back there now? 😉

The George Today, 2011

Greenwich was closer and more of an instinctive stop, based on a few indicators in The Tales – but I will come on to that in a later blog, depending on the different views on that which I will share with my fellow travellers and pilgrims on the journey this time around, as well as what they think as fellow explorers.

Coaching on the Coaching Inn

Sadly, the only place I found that still had a coaching inn even closely approximating what Chaucer and his mates would have stayed in was at Dartford, a town in Kent and on the outskirts of London. Rochester, also in Kent, had the remnants of a coaching inn too – but it was nowhere near old enough nor did it have the same history.

So it was to Dartford, and a pub called the Royal Victoria and Bull, that I looked for the most genuine experience of a coaching inn. 

Even there I was surprised to find that this pub too was not necessarily the original – but that at least a pub had stood there on the road since medieval times.  The interesting thing about the pubs in Rochester and in Dartford is the connection with Queen Victoria – and the fact that both are called the Royal Victoria and Bull.  It seems more likely that the Dartford one is the original due to the claim that the pub there changed its name as a result of the young Queen Victoria stopping off there in 1838.

This story has since been stated in the Dartford Borough Council’s news online back in November, 2009 – and so I sure hope that they didn’t just take mine or the landlord’s word for it from what I found from chats around the traps back then! 

Anyhow, it is that fact that confirms I was probably in the right place and on the right track back then.

So ’tis there that I suggest another travellers’ night out is scheduled, some time in the near future, where we can experience something akin to the true Chaucerian coaching inn.    

Of course it is worthwhile checking out what I discovered at the other places too, following whoever comes along to meet up with me there.

My concern though is that there’s so much that the village and town of Greenwich and Canterbury like to do to cash in on the “two wrist pound” that I think it is best to get a few views on what is most likely to be the truth about it all before heading back to either place. 

So I look forward to thoughts on comments on this first step back along that road that I’ve less travelled – and to sharing more tales of the travellers and pilgrims of the modern day at a truly classic English pub, somewhere along the road to Canterbury.


I do wonder  – given Chaucer deliberately did not state what the exact stop-offs were, apart from The Tabard, how much he intended that it should not matter what route you take and where you stop off as much as appreciate what you feel and experience along the way, as well as who you meet and what they have to say!

A picture in a printers' window tells the story of The Tabard


About Matt's Tale

A New Age travel writer, seeing the old in the new and the bold in the blue - but mainly seeking the freedom to be, as much as to do. His tales come from meeting modern day travellers following their likes of King Arthur to Geoffrey Chaucer, leading him on to places considered "Camelot" and different ways to see Canterbury and cafes a lot. Email: Twitter: @mattstale
This entry was posted in Canterbury, Chaucer, Dartford, Greenwich, Pilgrimages, Rochester, Southwark, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Those Shaggy Tales: when and where did they begin and end?

  1. Pingback: Beyond The Sea – and Sky! | mattstale

  2. Pingback: The Spell of Britain | Return to Canterbury

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