Distance: 23.7 km – Elevation +240 m – 290 m
Weather: Sunny. Temperature: High 20 degrees
After a wonderful nights sleep in a very comfortable bed, and after enjoying breakfast with my host, I reluctantly said goodbye to Valerie promising to send her a post card when I arrive in Lucca.
I made my way to Womenswold, a distance of around 2.5 miles, where I joined the North Downs Way for the onward journey to Dover. It was not as hot as yesterday and with a lighter pack (I had left a few things with Valerie to collect on my return) I enjoyed the gentle roll of the North Downs with its vast fields of wheat.
The way marking was good until I reached the crossroads on the edge of Coldred where there was not a sign to be seen. An elderly gentleman was setting up a plant stall on the green in the centre of the crossroads and I asked for directions – he pointed and said “it is that way”, of course it was not. It took me along a pleasant English country lane to Whitfield and the North Downs Way was not seen again until I reached Dover.
From Whitfield I had to navigate a very busy roundabout before joining the A256 to Dover. Lots of traffic but fortunately the A256 was built in the era when a lot of major roads included footpaths in their design, so whilst noisy it was safe for walkers. They say “every cloud has a silver lining” and indeed there was an unexpected bonus by taking the A256, it took me past the “Old Park Hill Nature Reserve” where I came across some very handsome ponies – a breed I had never seen before. I later found out they were primitive polish horses called Konecs which are closely related to the extinct Tarpan, a wild forest horse from Neolithic times – so, early in the journey I am learning new things by walking the Via Francigena.
I continued my journey to my bed for the night in the Dover Backpackers hostel which was once the “First and Last” pub. It was unusual and it was cheap. The dormitories were clean but had too many beds, the staff were friendly, plenty of free coffee and tea and the price included breakfast. It was also just 5 minutes walk to the ferry.
Later I walked into the town centre and visited the “Maison Dieu” which is now part of the Town Hall. It was founded in 1203 by Hubert de Burgh, the Constable of Dover Castle, as the “Hospital of the Mason Dieu” to accommodate pilgrims coming from the Continent to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. The stained glass windows in the “Stone Hall ” are quite magnificent. They were installed between 1856 and 1873 and six of the seven windows were designed by Edward Poynter. On my way back to the hostel I bought take away fish and chips and sat on the promenade watching the ferries arriving from and leaving for Calais knowing that tomorrow morning I would be taking one of those ferries on the next stage of my pilgrimage to Rome.
One of the stained glass windows in the ” Maison Dieu ” Dover.