Jack Gunn continues his series recounting his pilgrimage from Winchester to Canterbury, and the history he found along the way.
Rain in persistency is the weather the pilgrim, and indeed the camper, dreads. For us, it was a pattern which hit on the walk from Shere to Westhumble. This took us at one point along a hillside path against which the rain fell like a Tatar arrow storm, its speed and ferocity spurned on by the most cutting of winds, proving even our fairly durable clothing to be quite inadequate. Just after a kissing gate, we saw the tent of a wild camper, bravely pegged into the hill. As Sir Humphrey Appleby would say, very courageous. There was a strange mixture of elements on this hillside. To our right, it fell into a valley, to our left, a dense and dark forest. Pillboxes from the Second World War peppered the path ahead and at one, where the track veered into the woods, a small herd of cattle blocked our way. We squeezed past, careful not to antagonise for we didn’t fancy a one-tonne cow kicking or barging us down the side of this hill!
We reached our destination (the Stepping Stones Pub) and awaited the others’ with our lunch. Sodden and cold to the bone, the warmth of the Wetherspoons we had our evening meal in was a welcome relief! But that night we took part in what would become the most visually-stunning event of the journey. In the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Chawdon, Surrey, the most incredible and perfectly preserved Doom Painting in all of Britain is situated proudly on the back wall of the nave. We were lucky enough to receive a talk from a member of the parish congregation, a professor who has become the expert on this wall painting. Produced in the late twelfth century, it depicts the Ladder of Salvation and the Final Judgement, bifurcated into the eternal glory of Heaven and the forever damnation of Hell. Included in it are depictions of the seven deadly sins. We weren’t totally sure if the fact that gluttony, represented as a pilgrim swigging from an enormous bottle of wine, was a Divine signal. I suppose in those days, wine would have been a tempting offer to the weary and blister-ridden pilgrim (especially without any Compeed!) It was a stark example of how pre-Reformation churches throughout the country would have been lavishly adorned with biblical and religious imagery.
The final days’ walks I completed alone. They took me through what remained of Surrey and into Kent. On one vivid occasion as I walked up and across a rolling hill of the North Downs, I heard a low humming sound approaching from behind my shoulder. I turned. The unmistakeable and emotion-inducing thrum of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine heralded the fly-past of a Supermarine Spitfire and a Hawker Hurricane in tight formation. Somehow, their sound, unlike that of the distant M25 which snaked its way in the valley below, suited the landscape. It was a delightfully unexpected appearance from two veterans of the skies and accompanied me on my journey from Alderstead to Chevening.
Thanks to Jack. Stay tuned for the final installation!