The first Five Church Walk was on 29th April 1984 on an initiative by Molash church parishioners to raise funds for its restoration inviting Chilham, Challock, Boughton Aluph & Godmersham, to join in organizing a sponsored walk. A 24 page A4 size guide (price 25p) provided church & route descriptions plus marked-up O.S. maps, (part was very different from today). So successful was it that a year or so later it became an annual event for all comers on the May Day Bank Holiday.
Apart from the guide book being replaced by putting up red dayglow arrows where required along the way the registration & checking in procedure has remained virtually unchanged. In the earlier years the services of the Raynet amateur radio organization set up masts at each church to radio number details of each walker as they arrived, the idea being that anybody well overdue could be searched for. In fact it gave Raynet good practice for a Cold War disaster; nowadays we have mobile phones, so we’re able to make the procedures less demanding.
The Pilgrims Hospices & Kent Air Ambulance also were added for people who wish to support secular charities. Together they now account for about a third of the total distributed, with the rest split among the churches (who also benefit from sales of refreshments to several hundred hungry walkers).
The route has had some very large changes down the years; initially much of the northern part between Chilham & Challock was through the Forestry Commission’s King’s Wood, popping up briefly to Molash church. Later nearly all this route switched to orchards & farmland to the north to add variety; nowadays it is a compromise between the two. Challock to Boughton Aluph remains unchanged, but for several years Godmersham dropped out so the North Downs Way was taken on to Chilham. In 2015 Godmersham rejoined with a mile long section up Godmersham Downs kindly allowed by the Estate owner. The variety offered is arguably the best ever.
The popularity of The Five Church Walk is such that we couldn’t stop it if we wanted to, but thirty years of fundraising which causes so much pleasure proves that it’s well worth doing. Long may it continue!