The Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury follows in reverse an ancient route from Folkestone and Dover towards Stonehenge in the West in 1800 to 1400 BCE, a route established more for reasons of trade than pilgrimage. In the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, the road from London to the coast via Canterbury was an important route to Rome. Later, Augustine, sent from Rome by Pope Gregory the Great to establish Christianity in Britain, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 597AD. After his death, the pilgrimage routes from both Winchester and London grew in importance and the death of Thomas Becket in the cathedral in 1170 gave another reason for spiritual journeys to or via Canterbury.
After the reformation in the 16th century, these practices lapsed and it was only at the beginning of the 20th century that interest was rekindled.
Today, the preferred pilgrimage route from Winchester (boasting the shrine to St Swithun and the tomb of Alfred the Great) follows St Swithun’s Way, a 34 mile walk from Winchester to Farnham then the North Downs Way to Canterbury, covering a distance of 153 miles.
St Swithun’s Way waymarks are based on the shell and two croziers, representing St Swithun and St Thomas à Becket. A walker’s pack detailing all of the route, local features and history, tourist information and eating places can be obtained from the Countryside Service, Castle Avenue, Winchester SO23 8UL (send a £2.99 cheque payable to Hampshire County Council).
Information on the North Downs Way, which was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1978 can be found at:
London to Canterbury
The Pilgrims’ Way from London to Canterbury is a 68 mile walking route from Westminster Abbey to Canterbury Cathedral and visits other religious and historical sites along the way. After crossing Southwark Bridge the route follows the Thames, then visits Greenwich Park, heading out through the suburbs to Gravesend and on via Faversham to Canterbury. A guidebook is available from: http://www.johnmerrillwalkguides.co.uk