Note to reader: Midway down there is a break in the page and a change in the font, which I didn’t intend and have no idea how to correct. My apologies….it is the quirkiness of this blog program, I think!
I decided earlier in the week to take a day trip to Canterbury. I had been there a few times and remembered that it was a charming town with a famous cathedral but after that, I didn’t remember much. Of course, there is much to do in London but I wanted a change of scenery and earlier in the week, when I was walking by Victoria Station, I purchased a train ticket. The ticket cost $43.00 return and I had to leave after rush hour which is anytime after 9:30.
Victoria Station is a 20 minute walk from our apartment. I usually wake up around 7:00. I planned to leave on the 10:52 train so had plenty of time to get ready and walk to Victoria. Of course, Friday morning, I slept in until 8:00!!! I can’t remember the last time I slept that late! Isn’t that just typical.
The train ride takes 1 1/2 hours and I arrived at 11:30 in the morning at the east train station. Yes, Canterbury has two stations…east and west. The west train station has trains that arrive from St Pancras station in London which is home of the Eurostar, the high speed train. It only takes 1 hour to arrive from London if you leave from St Pancras. I figured it is six one way or a half-dozen the other way as it would take me about a half-hour to get to St Pancras from the apartment.
It was a cold, gloomy, foggy day when I stepped out from the train station. There is a pedestrian bridge takes you over a busy four-lane road onto the old city wall; founded in Roman times and rebuilt in the 14th century, that looks down onto John Dane Park. To my right, was a mound with a statue built on top. It is a burial mound from Roman times and was originally part of the wall.
I walked up the mound and had my first view of Canterbury Cathedral. It looked mystical shrouded in fog which is very fitting considering the long and sometimes violent history of that stately building. From the mound, I walked through the park and made my way to the town center to get information and a map of Canterbury.
Soon I was walking down High Street, which here in London, is the major shopping street. This High Street was a pedestrian street and had wonderful old timber front buildings. The information center is located on High Street in a building that houses the library and a museum. I got an audio tour of the town and was off and running. There is so much history in Canterbury. It was first settled by the Romans in the first century AD! In 597, the Kingdom of Kent was converted to Christianity. Saint Augustine, a Benedictine monk became the first Archbishop of Canterbury the same year.
The first part of the tour took me past Christ Church Gateway, the main gate into Canterbury Cathedral. The gateway was built to celebrate the marriage of Arthur, Prince of Wales to Catherine of Aragon in 1502. Sadly, Arthur died a few months later and it took 20 years for the gate to be completed. The bronze statue in the center of the gate was added in 1991 when the gates were restored. This statue of Christ replaced the one that was destroyed in 1642-8 by Parliamentarians who destroyed it during the civil war by using the original statue for target practice.
Sadly, I didn’t get to see the Canterbury Cathedral on this visit. By the time I finished the walking tour, it was too late to go to the cathedral. So, I have decided that I need to make another visit just to see it and just so you will know, the entrance fee was only $8.00…much more reasonable than Westminster Abbey!!!
Canterbury Cathedral has a long history, which I will write about after my next visit. However, I must mention that on December 29, 1170, Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury was murder in the Cathedral. He had a disagreement with King Henry II over the rights and privileges of the church. Four of Henry’s knights went to confront Becket and possibly arrest him. However, Becket refused to be arrested by low born knights and was hacked to death in the Cathedral. I mention this because I went by the Conquest House, on Palace Street, where it is said that the four knights met before going to the cathedral to confront Becket.
I found Canterbury to be such a charming little town. The River Stour aka Great Stour goes through it and there are some inviting parks that can be found along the river. The Westgate Garden that is the home to an Oriental Plane tree believed to be over 200 years old.
Another lovely park that I was introduced to on this walking tour was near the Greyfriars Chapel and the Franciscan Gardens.
The Westgate Tower is the only tower left from seven that used to be part of the wall around the city. It was finished in 1380 and years later was used as a prison.
Many medieval pilgrims passed through this gate on their way to pay respect to the shrine for Thomas Becket at the cathedral. In the 12th Century, the Archbishop of Canterbury had the Eastbridge Hospital of St Thomas built to give shelter and help to the pilgrims. Today, it is used as an almshouse for people who need a place to live. It is open to the public for tours.
Nearby the Eastbridge Hospital is Kings Bridge that gives you another view of the Great Stour. The timbered building next to the river is the Weavers Building that was used in the 15th century by Flemish and Huguenot weavers fleeing religious persecution in their country of Belgium. Unfortunately, you can’t see the dunking stool that is hanging out over the river. It was used to punish wives who talked back to their husbands (!!!!) and women suspected of being witches. The women being dunked for being a witch were held underwater for several minutes. If they did not drown, they were believed to be a witch. However, if they drowned, they were considered innocent!
One of the most photographed buildings in Canterbury, after the Cathedral, is Sir John Boys House. It was built in 1647 and when an alteration was made to an internal chimney, it began to lean. Attempts to correct the leaning caused more slippage. Today, it is supported by steel beams.
Another building of fame is the Sun Hotel, formerly known as the Little Inn. It was built in 1503 and Charles Dickens stayed there during one of his trip through the district of Kent. He also made reference to it in his book David Copperfield. It is still in business today and as you can see, quite the quaint little building.
I do hope my pictures and writing will give you the charming feel of Canterbury. In the shopping area there are many tea houses, coffee shops and of course, pubs. It was bustling with people the whole time I was there. I really enjoyed this town and could easily see myself living there. There are four colleges nearby and a newly built theater and appeared to offer some great programs. I imagine that it would be easy to keep busy between exploring the surrounding areas, programs offered by the colleges and the theater.
Walking to the train station, I got my last view of the cathedral…still shrouded in fog emphasized by the lights made it even more mysterious looking. A fitting end to a perfect day. I just hope it isn’t long before I can go back and visit the cathedral.