wrotham1Wrotham to Trottiscliffe,

and return via the Pilgrims’ Way Degree of difficulty: easy Length and duration: 5 miles; 2½ hours (without detours) Nature: cross-country circular walk taking in the historic villages of Wrotham and Trottiscliffe, and returning along parts of the Pilgrims’ Way and North Downs Way with views over the surrounding area. Option of refreshments in one of the pubs in Wrotham. The walk may be extended to include the Neolithic Coldrum Stones at Trottiscliffe. Map ref: Ordnance Survey Explorer 148 Starting point: West St car park, centre of Wrotham Points of interest along the way: Wrotham VillageThe village is steeped in history and contains several notable buildings, including St George’s Church, Wrotham Place, and the 17th century mansion incorporating the remains of the Archbishop’s Palace. The area shows extensive signs of occupation by the Romans, and it has been claimed that the Wrotham Pinot, a disease-resistant variety of the pinot noir grape found in Wrotham churchyard, is descended from vines brought by their invading forces. Modern walkers are literally following the tracks of ancient men and women who passed this way over the millennia, from neolithic man and Bronze Age tin traders to Roman armies, medieval pilgrims and latter-day smugglers. The first written record dates back to 788 AD. It is said that Richard de Wrotham gave his name to the Parish and the village that grew around it, and around 964 AD founded the church that dominates the village and is the first landmark on our walk. The present building dates from the 13th century but follows the format of the original church with its southern porch entrance, which is typically Anglo-Saxon.

 

wrotham1wrotham2St George’s (so named before he became England’s patron saint) has a number of unusual features, including the intriguing Nuns’ Gallery and the passageway under the tower, allegedly designed to allow a processional way around the church without having to leave consecrated ground. Worn holes can be seen in the local ironstone in the passage: reputedly the archers of the village sharpened their arrowheads here before climbing the Downs to perform archery practice in the days when civil defence was everyone’s responsibility. According to one web-site, “the present Parish Council is considering reinstating the practice”. The C17th clock is one of the oldest in the country. Apparently it is able to play tunes after striking the hour, ranging from hymns to a ditty called “The captain with his whiskers took a sly glance at me”

 

 

Unusually in these times, the village still has three pubs – all within a hundred yards of each other: The Rose and Crown, The George and Dragon, and the old coaching inn, the Bull, which we pass on our left.

 

The inn was built during the reign of Richard II in 1385 and was first licensed in 1495. For much of the Second World War it was the haunt of fighter pilots stationed nearby. A WAAF is reputed to have ingeniously left her footprint on the ceiling.

wrotham3After The Bull, our route takes us past the site of a C12th archbishops’ palace, used by the Archbishops of Canterbury as a resting-place on the way to London. (The Bull was originally part of the palace’s stable-block). Its fabric was looted however by the incumbent Archbishop Islip in the reign of Edward III to provide stone for the granary in the building of Maidstone Palace. The historian Hasted (Edward Hasted “The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5, 1798 ) tells us that “The manor, with the remains of it, continued till the reign of king Henry VIII”. Henry was in Wrotham when told the news of the death of Ann Boleyn in 1536.

The present house, above, was built by the Byng family during the C16th and incorporates part of the remains.

 

The photo below shows an original door from the 1300s made of solid English oak:

wrotham5

 

 

Opposite the ‘palace’, with its tudor gables glimpsed above the wall, is Wrotham Place. To quote Hasted again:

wrotham6“WROTHAM PLACE is an antient mansion, situated on the south side of the High-street of Wrotham town, which has been for many years the habitation of gentlemen. It was formerly called Nyssell’s, from a family of that name, proprietors of it, one of whom, Thomas Nyssell, died possessed of it in 1498, and lies buried, with Alice his wife, in this church.”

There is no record of its being used as an olde countrie clubbe or golfe course.

 

Hasted also records a chance find: “About seventy years ago a considerable quantity of British Silver coin was discovered in this parish by a mole’s casting up the earth, and by digging afterwards, which were all seized by the lord of the manor of Wrotham.” The walk now takes us out of the village, heading east, but in passing you may be interested to know the Wrotham transmitting station on the hill was the first in the UK to broadcast on fm in 1955.

Trottiscliffe

wrotham7Our route proceeds past Little Wrotham and Wrotham Water with its pond, taking care as we first cross the busy A20, taking in the views across fields to the Downs, and noting the ironstone farm buildings and cottages showing outward signs of their venerable age.

After a couple of miles we arrive at the attractive village of Trottiscliffe. (“Vulgarly called Trosley” states Hasted haughtily. In fact along with Rootem, Meppam, Shibben and Lie, one of the many Kentish place-names designed to confuse invaders from outside the county bounds). Note in passing Gore Cottage – probably referring to the wedge of land on which it stands rather than any sanguinary connection.

 

wrotham8We head north out of the village … but it is worth loitering for a while and seeking out St Peter and St Paul church about a quarter of a mile to the east, and the adjoining old manor house, Trosley Court, in their peaceful setting.

 

Land for the church was first granted in 788 AD by Offa, King of Mercia and builder of dykes. The late C11th Grade 1 listed building, a sanctuary for pilgrims over the ages, is of national importance with its wealth of Norman fabric that survives in the nave and chancel. Its ornate pulpit was abstracted from Westminster Abbey in dubious circumstances. The artist Graham Sutherland, who lived in village, is buried in the church-yard. It may be that the village is so isolated from the church and manor house to avoid the black death – one bishop staying at the manor lost 32 of his staff (in olden times that is).

wrotham10Not on our route today, but a further mile eastwards across fields, lies the Coldrum long barrow – a Megalithic burial chamber possibly dating back to 3000 BC, and the best preserved of the Medway megaliths on a splendid site. (There is a car park nearby should you wish to drive to it later).

 

wrotham11The tomb is set on a chalk mound and was originally between 21m to 27m in length by 17m wide. It is orientated east to west and overlooks the Medway Valley. Much of the barrow has collapsed down the slope but the rectangular chamber at its eastern end comprising four large sarsen* stones has survived and been partially restored. Over 30 stones surround the tomb, and it is speculated that there was once a processional way lined by monoliths linking one site to another. Excavations in 1910 uncovered the remains of 22 people, including one woman with a fractured skull – possibly murdered or sacrificed.

William Borlas writing in 1754 believed (probably incorrectly) that the word Coldrums is derived from the Cornish ‘Galdrum’, meaning place of enchantment. Visitors often sense this and you may encounter trees decorated with ribbons and baubles. A Druid Grove liaises with the owners, The National Trust, on its use by local pagans in seeking to protect this “sacred” site. It is indeed an atmospheric spot, especially on a gloomy winter’s eve with the sun low on the horizon – and you may wish for company.

 

wrotham13wrotham14This may be an appropriate place to mention the welcoming George and Plough pubs in the village, both dating from the 15th century.

 

But we digress: the walk proceeds upwards out of Trottiscliffe, but gently, until we reach The Pilgrims’ Way and the outskirts of Trosley (vulgar!) Country Park. (Should you return for a further walk around the village, stones and park, see Explore Kent’s leaflet “Trosley Ramble”). One of Kent’s first country parks, covering 160 acres of the North Downs, it was once the estate of Trosley Towers mansion, built in 1887 and demolished in 1936.

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Although we head west by Pilgrims House before reaching the village, the signs initially point us in the direction of Vigo. The present village is new, on the site of a second world war army camp. But the former hamlet is said to have taken its name from the Vigo Inn, dating from 1471, which is reputed to have been renamed by a local man after he purchased it with ‘prize money’ from his time under Admiral Rooke at the battle of Vigo Bay in Spain during the Franco/Spanish War in 1702.

 

 

 The Pilgrims’ Way


The “Pilgrims’ Way” (the name the invention of a romantic Victorian map-maker who caused its insertion on the Ordnance Survey map of Surrey!) follows the stone-age trackway which stretches from Folkestone to Chevening, and thence past Avebury and Stonehenge to Cornwall. This Old Road took the natural east-west causeway along the southern slopes of the Downs, avoiding the heavy clay of the land below and the perils than may have lain in the wild forest of Anderida. In the Bronze Age it was used to transport tin from near Lands’ End to the Kent coast for export – tin being especially prized for the making of armaments. The route was still followed as an artery for through traffic in Roman times, a period of continuous use of more than 3000 years. For three and a half centuries after Thomas Becket’s canonisation in 1173 it was adopted by pilgrims journeying from Winchester (joining with their French fellow-travellers at Farnham) to visit his shrine in Canterbury.

Shortly we are joined by the North Downs Way, coming down from its ridge and maintaining this tradition of use, and we pass the appropriately if not accurately named “Chaucers” (Chaucer’s pilgrims followed Watling Street – the A2) before we descend into Wrotham, glancing through the trees at the Old Vicarage now uncomfortably close to the modern road system.

Nearby is Wrotham’s cricket pitch. Unfortunately for Wrotham, the first ever century recorded in cricket was scored against the team byJohn Minshull who hit 107 for the Duke of Dorset’s XI on Sevenoaks Vine on 31 August 1769.

Military Connections


Today’s ramblers may not be aware that this area of the North Downs was the scene of intense military activity during World War Two. Residents have tangible proof when digging in gardens reveals tarmac roads or the foundations of buildings only just below the topsoil. Children often returned with ‘relics’ found in the woods and on more than one occasion army bomb disposal teams were called in to deal with the more ‘exciting’ finds.

Wrotham Camp (actually at Vigo) was set up in 1942 to provide initial training for the large numbers of officers needed. It would handle the vast majority of officers for the British Army for the next four years – and was big: up to 10,000 men at any one time with training areas covering much of this part of the North Downs.

Duncan Torrance has these memories (BBC “WW2 People’s War”):
The time had now come for us to go to the Pre-OCTU at Wrotham in Kent. We had heard a lot about the standard of life at Officer Cadet Training Units, and were looking forward to even better conditions than we had at present. We did however realise that our work would be hard, but our treatment that of ‘gentlemen’.

What a shock awaited us. The food was average. Our nissen huts were packed with about eighteen to twenty of us, or about twice the correct number. The ablutions and unpartitioned latrines were a quarter of a mile from our huts and both in opposite directions. While I was there, a current rumour suggested the camp had been built for the Americans. They took one look, and condemned the place”.

From Roman times to World War Two, Wrotham village has a close association with the military – and rebellion. The hundred of Wrotham supported with some spirit the rising of Jack Cade and was the scene of blood and gore a century later when Sir Thomas Wyatt called upon Kent to help prevent the Spanish marriage:

To quote Hasted one last time:
In Blacksole field, in this parish, Sir Robert Southwell, sheriff of this county, and the lord Abergavenny, with about five hundred gentlemen and yeomen, routed the Isleys and their party, who were engaged in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion, in the first year of queen Mary’s reign; the rebels were pursued from hence near four miles to Hartley-wood, many of them were killed, and about sixty taken prisoners. Those who were slain in this rencounter were buried in the field of battle. Sir Henry Isley himself escaped and fled into Hampshire.
(It is a topographical coincidence that Jack Cade’s forces were victorious in 1450 against the might of King Henry VI at the Battle of Solefields, purportedly outside Sevenoaks).

Look out too for the inscription at the corner of White Hill, recording how Lt.-Col. Shadwell was “shot to the heart by a deserter” in 1799. As well as being a high ranking military man, Shadwell also moonlighted as the leader of a gang of smugglers who used The Bull Inn, owned by his brother, as their headquarters. The assassin met his deserts: being caught and “fatally clobbered”. (The smugglers hid their contraband in dene holes on Wrotham Hill. Many of these underground caves go back to pre-Roman times – the consensus is that they were small chalk–mines, used over the centuries to extract unpolluted chalk to spread as fertiliser on the fields).

wrotham17And finally on your return you may want to seek out one other curiosity with a subterranean connection: the artesian well pump house in the village – before deservedly testing other pumps in one of the local hostelries:

 

Sources: The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 5, Edward Hasted, 1798 The Scarecrow’s Guided Tour of Wrotham Wikipedia and various other web-sites Wrotham and Trottiscliffe Parish Councils The Gatehouse Gazetteer Various local books and guides KW photographs taken February 2012 Please notify Sevenoaks Society of any inaccuracies or significant omissions in this guide, or any changes or problems concerning footpaths and other rights of way. Keith Wade February 2012