The Pilgrims' Way - fact and fiction of an ancient trackway
Published by the History Press £14.99
Pilgrims Way - The History Press
Winding its way from Winchester to Canterbury, through the counties of Hampshire, Surrey and Kent, can still be found one of England’s most ancient trackways. Well trodden and beloved of walkers throughout southern England, the ‘Old Road’, better known to most as the Pilgrims’ Way, serves as a hidden by-way linking those that travel along it with some of the countries oldest cathedrals, castles and abbeys, yet the North Downs trackway remains an enigma too many of us who regularly follow its tracks. Today, many journey thousands of miles to walk the Pilgrims’ Way and find meaning in it. A meaning which Belloc aptly described when he said of all primal things that move us ‘the least obvious but most important is The Road’. Popular folklore lays claim to the trackway being the path taken by thousands of medieval pilgrims to Beckett’s shrine at Canterbury whilst purists assert that not a single pilgrim ever strode these ancient trackways along the edge of the North Downs.
From the Neolithic through to the Victorian pilgrimists, Derek Bright brings together a mass of evidence and re-evaluates how we should view this ancient trackway that Ivan D. Margary described as one of the most important in Britain. Through a reassessment of the numbers at liberty to leave the manor and take to the road, he places the road’s usage in a new realistic context. Using evidence of roadside crime, prohibitive legislation, and the everyday hazards facing wayfarers, he makes decisive arguments for how the road has served travellers overtime. In so doing he re-appropriates the history of the Pilgrims’ Way for the thousands who walk it today and places it within a credible and realistic context. The book also examines the development of the Long Distance Footpaths along the ancient trackway and how the concept for this evolved over time from the concept of the Pilgrims' Way to the North Downs Way National Trail that so many walkers enjoy today.
As well as examining both Cartwright's and Belloc's contributiion towards the Pilgrims' Way story, the book has a number of flow charts that plot both the Belloc and Cartwright routes and show where these overlap with the St Swithun's Way and the North Downs Way. In addition the 'Pilgrims' Way - fact and fiction of an ancient trackway' uses social class as a means of asking the question of "how many people in a feudal society would have been in a position to undertake an extended pilgrimage away form the manor for any great length of time'. In so doing it also looks at many of the impediments facing the medieval traveller such as restrictions on freedom of movement, the likelyhood of roadside crime and the difficuliteis faced by those use the medieval road network. For anyone planning to walk the Pilgrims' Way, this book provides a superb background reader as itbrings together into one volume much of what has been wrttien about the ancient trackway by a range of antiquarians, archaeologits, historiand and cartographers over the years. Moroever it is not afraid to expose some of the myths and folklore that have grown up around the 'Old Road' where it is necessary. The book includes 27 colour photographs by Richard Brown, but also included are an additional 46 black and white photographs by Richard to support the text. This speaks volumes about the quality of Richard's work as well as the enthusiasm and hard work that Richard brought to the project with his innovative style of photography, capturing scenes along the Pilgrims’ Way between Winchester and Canterbury.