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Holy Tricks at Boxley

A short but energetic walk to the ridge of the North Downs that also takes in an historic abbey.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 508ft (155m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Tracks, lanes and field paths, can be muddy, 5 stiles.

Landscape Steep scarp of North Downs, and glorious views over Kent

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 148 Maidstone & the Medway Towns

Start/finish TQ 773589

Dog friendliness Older dogs won't like steep climb, can be very muddy

Parking On street in Boxley

Public toilets None on route

1 Start your walk at the church, cross Boxley Road in front of the Kings Arms and take the public footpath to the right of the pub. Pass between the cottages on either side into open fields. After the first field, cross an arable field to a stile in the far hedge. Nip over this and turn left down the slope, with the strip of woodland to your left. At the foot of the field you come to the boundary fence of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which cuts through the countryside here.

2 Turn right and cross a stream just above the newly constructed concrete banks. Ahead of you is a flight of timber steps, which takes you on to a new road bridge over the railway line. Pass through a gate, cross the bridge and go down another set of steps. Ahead of you, at the foot of the slope, is the ivy-covered wall of Boxley Abbey grounds. Turn right and follow the edge of the field back towards the road, coming on to it again at the house called 'Curlews'. Turn left and descend to the crossroads at Abbey Gate, where you turn left again. Just past a row of cottages you can see the arch of the abbey grounds. You can't go in as it is privately owned, but you can see a beautiful 13th-century barn that once belonged to the estate.

3 Now backtrack along the lanes, past Boarley Oast and then turn left, over the new road bridge. Continue uphill towards the Downs, passing Boarley Farm on the left. The path now rises steadily to a muddy track. Turn left here along the Pilgrims' Way for 300yds (274m). Various paths lead up the escarpment to the right. Go up here into the woods and pick your way through the trees up to the summit. When you reach the North Downs Way turn right and follow it through the top of the woods. At two timber hurdles follow the path ahead and then go right to Harp Farm. Cross Harp Farm Road and follow the North Downs Way to the left of a plantation. After 400yds (366m), cross the road ahead, dodging right and left at the lay-by and into Boxley Wood.

4 Continue on the North Downs Way to a waymarked post, where you turn right and descend through the woods on the Centenary Walk to the Pilgrims' Way again. Hop over a couple of stiles and continue going downhill, over another stile, then diagonally right towards Boxley church, crossing two more stiles on the way. This brings you back into the village.

Boxley sits at the foot of the North Downs, squeezed in between a mesh of modern roads. It must always have been a busy place as it is just off the ancient Pilgrims' Way, now a long-distance footpath. The walk also includes a section of the North Downs Way.

The poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92) lived at Park House near Boxley, to be close to his sister. He wrote his poem The Brook here, inspired by the local landscape. The poem ends with the famous lines: 'For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever'.

Founded in 1146, Boxley Abbey was Cistercian and was once one of the most wealthy, and infamous, abbeys in the country.

The monks here devised an elaborate hoax by which to extract money from innocent pilgrims. A figure of Christ on the cross, called the Rood of Grace, was made of wood, paste, wire and paper. The monks would hide in a corner of the church and, using a system of pulleys, manipulate the figure so that it moved its head, shook its feet and even changed its facial expressions. It was a sort of sophisticated puppet and must have both amazed and terrified those who saw it. Pilgrims would imagine that they had seen a miracle and leave the monks a hefty donation.

Another hoax involved a statue of the child saint St Rumwold. The monks said it could only be lifted from the ground by those who had led a pure life. In fact they had it fixed to the ground by a pin, and if they didn't think you'd given them enough money, they got their revenge by leaving the pin in place. If a pilgrim couldn't lift the statue they were regarded with suspicion by onlookers, and this caused particular stress to female pilgrims, who did not want to gain a reputation for being too free with their affections. The abbey was dissolved in 1538 and the Rood was publicly burned.

While you're there

For an insight into country life in Kent from the 18th-century onwards, visit the Museum of Kent Rural Life, at Cobtree, Sandling. It's got loads of historic buildings including huts in which hop pickers used to live, an old farmhouse, reconstructed cottages, herb gardens and much more.

Where to eat and drink

The Kings Arms pub in Boxley has a large inglenook fireplace and a garden for use on fine days. The extensive menu lists snacks, soups and sandwiches of course, but if you're hungry you can have a larger meal like fish and chips or home-made pie.

What to look for

In the church look out for a memorial to George Sandys, 'a traveller, a divine poet and a good man', who toured the Middle East in the early 17th century. There's also a memorial to a cat that saved the life of Sir Henry Wyatt when he was imprisoned in the Tower. Sir Henry was left to die of cold and starvation, but the little cat brought him pigeons to eat and kept him warm by sleeping on his chest.


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