Many Roads to take and A River to Cross

From what I discovered on my day trip to Dartford, I was no longer sure of the road I wanted to take in leaving there.  

Bridge across The Medway

Plus there was a question of how best to get across the River Medway using the mode of transport I’d decided to choose, yet still stay true to the spirit of the journey to follow in the footsteps (sorry, that should be hoof prints) of Chaucer’s pilgrims.  This song “Many Rivers to Cross“, which has very apt lyrics in the circumstances (even down to location mentioned in it), comes to mind as I think of it now. Just click on the link to have a listen to my favourite version of it, as sung by Toni Childs, and you’ll hopefully get a feel for what I mean.

Certainly that song seems to be capturing (right now as I write) both the physical and the meta-physical dilemma I have felt in determining which way to take this journey and story – and, indeed, life in general since deciding to take the whole writing lark more seriously in publicising research and discovery of the ideas for my first book online like this. However ain’t the way that relevant songs come to mind like that amazing sometimes? (No? Well maybe it’s just for me then!)

As it was, before I took the trip, I’d found out that there were many roads taken by pilgrims in the Dark and early Middle Ages here in Britain, although ironically only a few are written about in any detail.

Clearly the best known, although even then only alluded to, is that of the road from Southwark in London to Canterbury Cathedral as referred to in The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer – however even that, for some unknown reason, only hints at places that the pilgrims stopped off at along the way.  Apart from The Tabard in Southwark, that is.

The nearest I can get to a photo that shows what The Tabard would have looked like - using the bar at The Royal Victoria and Bull in Dartford

The start to the Canterbury road though, as I found when I went back down to Winchester in 2006, begins there and is known (or perhaps just marketed for touristic purposes) as “The Pilgrim’s Way“.

In fact, as the Tourist Information Centre people in Winchester kindly showed me in a special tourists’ map, the first main site of pilgrimage in Great Britain was to Winchester under the Saxons’ rule and was tied in with honouring the good works of St. Swithun – so, if anything, all roads led to Winchester.

It was only some time after the Normans’ conquest, following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, that Canterbury became the main centre of religious attraction in England.

All that began supposedly, along with the first inklings of Anglicanism,  following the murder of Thomas a Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral – for the reasons explained in my previous blog post.  

Following his sainthood, and in posthumous appreciation for his martyrdom by the Pope, pilgrimages to Canterbury began as a way to show respect to St. Thomas and his remains. These took over from those to see St. Swithun.  In a way, we perhaps ought to be thankful to this pilgrimage for providing the basis for the flowering of English literature, as a result of the good Sir Geoff writing about his and his fellow travellers’ tales told on the way there some time in the late fourteenth century

The fact is though, there is always a prophet or saint involved somewhere in all of the pilgrimages I’ve now analysed – and, from all the paraphernalia sold along the ways related to it, possibly a goodly as much as a godly profit to be made too!! 

I finally made up my mind to head to Rochester – and more to dispel theories that Chaucer’s pilgrims went that way (or any way for that matter, as I was starting to see the point that where one gets to on the physical road taken means less than the value of what is discovered at any point along it – which might explain why The Canterbury Tales were incomplete in not having the full set of tales told by each traveller on the way out, as well as no indication of any ones told on the way back). 

Rochester Cathedral

So perhaps it was poignant that, with only a single thread of spiritual cred left for the final destination still in mind, the only available bus to get me along to the next point in the journey was a red single decker, the number 428 to Bluewater.

Still, when I got to Bluewater (which is a massive shopping centre) I found (much to my delight) that I could take the next step of the journey on a double decker to Rochester – however the bus was no longer rosy red any more.

So, it was on a number 700 (and realising that that number represents seven centuries, if you want to see any numerological significance in taking this journey) that I headed down and across The Medway to Rochester. 

Blue Double Decker from Bluewater to Rochester


I hope you appreciate the little nuances of coincidence in this post hinting at the possibility of a higher journey being taken beyond the physical one. Still, if you really want to, you can actually call on spirits that help you to see significance in almost anything – as the good ladies I subsequently met in Rochester endeavoured to prove to me…


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, Canterbury, Chaucer, Dartford, Pilgrimages, Publishing, Rochester, Winchester and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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