Canterbury, Kent

When we first got back to the UK and both my husband and I had a bit of free time we decided to make the most of it with a few days out. As we didn't (and still don't) have access to a car whatever we did needed to reachable either by foot, bus or train. With this in mind we headed off on the train to Canterbury, a place my husband had never been to before.

We left late morning and by the time we arrived it was the early afternoon but just a short walk from the train station and we entered the heart of the city through the city's Westgate, a Medieval gatehouse and the largest surviving city gate in England. It is the only survivor of the city's original seven Medieval gates and certainly provides an imposing entrance. Having not had any lunch we firstly sought out a cafe to have a quick bite before exploring any further. With the important matter of lunch done we then headed off for a walk around the city.



It's a long time since I last visited Canterbury. I'm not exactly sure when it was, possibly a shopping trip with a university friend who also came from Kent one holiday or else when I was at school on a trip to one of the many places of interest there. As I said my husband had never been and the weather, at least at the start, was pretty decent so it was nice to be back again and be able to show him another part of my home county.

The Canterbury area has been inhabited since Prehistoric times. The Romans captured the settlement in this area from the Celtic tribe, Cantiaci and rebuilt the city, calling it Durovernum Cantiacorum which included a forum and public baths. Later they built an earth bank around the city and a wall with seven gates to defend against Barbarians. When the Romans left Britain the city was abandoned and over the next hundred years an Anglo-Saxon community formed within the city walls. In 597 Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine to convert the King of Kent, King Aethelbert, to Christianity. After the conversion Canterbury was chosen by Augustine as his episcopal see, basically his area of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, in Kent. This meant that an abbey and cathedral were built there and Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Canterbury became one of the most notable towns in Europe for pilgrimage after the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in 1170 with pilgrims coming far and wide to visit his shrine.

Whilst there are lots of places of interest in Canterbury the obvious one to see is Canterbury cathedral so we headed that way. As I said it's a long time since I've been there and whilst I was quite prepared that we may need to pay to enter the building what I hadn't appreciated was that the charge also applies to entering the cathedral grounds. It was quite expensive, I don't remember how much now but not cheap, so I'm afraid slightly disappointingly we abandoned that idea for that day anyway. The hunt was then on for a view of the cathedral from somewhere where you didn't have to pay, not an easy exercise in the maze of small old streets in the vicinity of the cathedral. However we found a point and whilst not a perfect view it was not bad either, as you can see in the photo below.

A view of Canterbury cathedral without paying for it

After that disappointment we decided to have a walk around the main part of the city. The streets immediately besides the cathedral don't look to have changed much for a very long time, narrow with lots of twists and turns with independent as well as household shops. Further away from these streets the shopping resembled that of any main shopping street interspersed with residential properties. 

With so many points of interest there are lots of signs directing tourists to the different places and we soon saw some that caught our eye. Walking away from the main shopping we discovered the ruined Canterbury castle (have to admit I didn't even realise Canterbury had a castle) and the church of St Mildred. The castle is a Norman castle and one of three original Royal castles of Kent along with Rochester castle and Dover castle (somewhere I've been too a few times including when we were living in Singapore). All of these castles were built soon after the Battle of Hastings on the main Roman road from Dover to London. This was the route William the Conqueror took in 1066 and they were originally built as motte-and-bailey castles to guard this important route. As I said close to the castle is the church of St Mildred, it's unknown when the church was built exactly but two of the walls of the nave are Saxon. We only viewed these two buildings from the outside but tucked down a side street past a residential area they were a nice little discovery.

After this we discovered the Greyfriars chapel and gardens (the first photo above is from there) again just down a side street which you wouldn't necessarily find. This was a Franciscan friary, the first friary of that order in England. The friary was dissolved in 1538 and the only remaining part is the little chapel. Besides the chapel is the small garden, it seemed perfect if you lived or worked in this area as a little spot to make an escape to in good weather and enjoy some tranquillity.

By now time was getting on so we decided to go for a drink or two on our way back to the train station to round off the afternoon. The first pub we went to on the main shopping street looked nice enough from the outside but if I'm honest wasn't that special inside so we drank up and decided to move on. By this point it had begun to rain quite heavily so we opted for diving into another bar to sit out the rain, a little like our days of getting caught in rain storms in Singapore. This time we had a little more success and went to a bar located in the Westgate, a really nice place for either a quiet drink like us or, I imagine a night out with friends. As I mentioned it was raining quite heavily but we assumed after a drink it would ease. However as we sat there I was convinced I could hear thunder, not something I was expecting on a Spring day in the UK! Sure enough before we knew it we were engulfed in an impressive storm and, as we did in Singapore, ended up sitting it out in the bar. Well actually in the end it went on for so long that we had to give in and make a dash to the train station as it wasn't showing any signs of ceasing. The fun of British weather and how it can change so dramatically in the course of the same day! 

We had a great afternoon in Canterbury, despite the disappointment of the cathedral. We'll have to plan to go back again some time with the cash to pay for that or hunt out other good views from different parts of the city. Regardless though Canterbury is a great place to visit if you want a nice day out with lots of history thrown in for good measure!

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