Pilgrims' Way

Roman Road

The Pilgrims’ Way (also Pilgrim’s Way or Pilgrims Way) is thought that the most ancient thoroughfare was from Folkestone and Dover towards Stonehenge in the West in 1800 to 1400 BCE. It extended further than the present Way. A route following the ridge of the chalk downs towards Folkestone would be likely for it would keep to the natural contours and higher ground away from the bogs and sticky clay, but sheltered from the exposure and the clays on top of the downs. The tracks were established originally for trade, rather than learning and spiritual reasons. There have always been pilgrims, travellers to foreign parts: to oracles, for example at Delphi, or to schools in distant places. A related word is the Latin peregrinatio, travelling in foreign countries. We know that a Greek Pre-Socratic philosophers Pythagoras, and Pytheas travelled widely, the latter even coming to England, following in the footsteps of traders, Greek or Phoenician.

Shortly before Roman times the track ways followed roughly the route from London to Canterbury and the coast because London provided a short ferry crossing for travellers going north since the stone age. After Roman rule came to Britain in 60CE, the strategic roads such as Watling Street from London via Canterbury to the coast, and from thence to Rome were metalled and these replaced less direct trackways. The Roman occupation gave rise to a constant interchange resulting in the use of Latin, and the influence, on these islands, of Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Middle Eastern learning. This was only to survive in the Celtic fringes after the fifth century, following the flood of invading Angles, Saxons and Vikings.

In medieval times it became the historical route supposedly taken by pilgrims from Winchester in Hampshire, England, to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury in Kent. This name, of comparatively recent coinage, is applied to a pre-existing ancient trackway dated by archaeological finds to 600–450 BC, but probably in existence since the Stone Age. The prehistoric route followed the “natural causeway” east to west on the southern slopes of the North Downs.


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