Canterbury Tales

Over the bank holiday weekend, my mum and I went on a mini break to Canterbury. I had an interview at the university (I know, this teacher training business is proving to be very long winded…I wish someone would just make a decision!!) early in the morning, and rather than get up at the crack of dawn to catch the train from London, I thought, why not make a holiday out of it instead? So we did. We boarded the train in Sevenoaks, and settled down for the hour or so journey to Kent’s beautiful, historic county town.

The train rushed through a patchwork of fields, some lush and green, studded with white dotty sheep, others vibrant with the almost neon yellow of rape, shining gloriously in the sunlight. Every now and then the white tip of an Oast house would appear, then a few Victorian red brick farm cottages, or older, stone built dwellings, straggling along lanes that curved off into the distance. As we got nearer to Canterbury, the train thundered through ancient villages, huddled against the tides of time, with their castle-like grey flint churches, tumble down wattle and daub cottages and village greens, that had me longing to jump off and explore. All of a sudden the train left the fields behind and slithered into Canterbury; a short walk and a right turn later and we found ourselves passing under the original 1300s city gate into the main High Street.

Canterbury feels rather Dickensian; it is full of little winding streets with ancient, leaning timber buildings and tiny whitewashed cottages rambling off the main drag, with secret passages, bits of ancient walls and windows, mysterious gates and hidden courtyards meeting you at every turn. It is the sort of place that you wouldn’t want to be wandering in after dark; I could just imagine the sound of horses’ hooves, the smells of sewage, the swishing of ladies’ dresses and nasty creatures lurking in the misty shadows that would have made these streets the perfect setting for a Victorian sensation novel. At almost every point you can see the towers of the magnificent Cathedral loom overhead, and there are tantalising views of some fascinating pieces of architecture down every street. One of my favourite views is of the Old Weaver’s House, built in the 1500s, which overhangs the little river that runs underneath the High Street. You can go on a boat trip down here, and you will pass directly underneath the old ducking stool, which was used to duck witches to see if they sank or swam (the current stool is a reconstruction, not the original!). I also love this leaning house, which was mentioned by Dickens in one of his novels, and this beautiful house dating back to the 12th century, said to be where the Knights who murdered Thomas a Becket met before doing their evil deed…

What is so wonderful about Canterbury is that it has evolved over time and is now a beautiful mishmash of architectural styles and a real piece of living history. There is so much to see and do and I love spending time there. This trip was a little more special than others, though, because Mum found this hotel situated in the grounds of the cathedral, and we jumped at the chance to stay somewhere so wonderful. Walking under the 16th century gates into the cathedral courtyard is a breathtaking experience; the gorgeous 900 year old cathedral rises above you, its towers piercing the clouds and its magnificent architecture reducing you to amazement at what a feat its construction must have been. Surrounding the cathedral are a range of pretty buildings and gardens, and one of these is a purpose built hotel. The hotel is set around a peaceful courtyard, which is mercifully quiet after the chattering of exchange students outside the cathedral! Right by reception was a cosy library, and then on our way up to our room we found a door onto a secret garden overlooking the cathedral; I was enchanted! The best was yet to come, though; I assumed our room wouldn’t have a view as we had wandered through such a maze of corridors to get there, but on opening the door I was delighted to find that we had a window seat and large window that gave us a direct view of the entire front of the cathedral. How lucky we were!!! As night fell and the cathedral was lit up, I sat on the windowsill and gazed at the beautiful sight; if only my own bedroom’s view could be so amazing!

Aside from wandering and shopping, we spent some time exploring the cathedral, whose magnificence never ceases to amaze me. The stained glass is so beautiful, the height and majesty of the interior is awe-inspiring, and the sheer complexity and detail in every aspect of its design really is fantastic. I didn’t know where to look, there was so much to see! I especially enjoyed some of the highly romantic Victorian memorial tablets, one of which mentioned someone dying ‘at the hand of an assassin’, and I also loved looking at the graffiti etched into the stonework; the oldest date I found was 1864. When the sun finally came out just before we were due to leave, Mum and I managed to find time to have a scenic walk along the river. Some lucky person has a house on a sort of island in the middle of the river, overlooking the glorious public gardens that are on both banks; I would love to wake up to that view every day! All in all we had a brilliant time and let’s hope that the interview went as well as the trip!

30 comments

  1. You have the best day trips, Rachel, but then again just look at all the beauty you have to work with! And it’s so true when you say you can imagine the sights, sounds and smells of an era long past. I can’t pass an historical home without trying to picture the first family to have lived there. Those poor women forced onto the ducking stool though, how awful.
    The powers that be are keeping you on tenterhooks aren’t they? Hope you hear some good news and soon!

    1. I know Darlene, I am so lucky!! Canterbury is so fantastic – The Heiress is fortunate to have the chance to live there for a year. I hope she is still loving it!

      Those powers that be are really annoying me! But next week should bring some finality at last. Fingers crossed! You’ll be one of the first to know!๐Ÿ™‚

  2. David Copperfield, chapter 15: “At length we stopped before a very old house bulging out over the road; a house with long low lattice-windows bulging out still farther, and beams with carved heads on the ends bulging out too, so that I fancied the whole house was leaning forward, trying to see who was passing on the narrow pavement below.”

  3. Rachel, your zest for life and love of literature and history really comes through in this post. I’m sure my own jealousy will also come through as I comment. I want to walk the narrow passageways, visit the cathedral, and lean-to with that fabulous leaning house. Can you image the weavers working and living in Canterbury? How fun that Charles Robert Baker included the Dickens quote above.

    What a wonderful, wonderful trip to make with your mum.

    1. Thank you Penny! You are always so lovely.๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you can come and see Canterbury for yourself one day. There is a lot of literary history here – Dickens knew Canterbury very well!

      It was – we really enjoyed ourselves and are looking to go back again soon!

  4. Canterbury is a beautiful place and your words and pictures capture it so well! As an ex-teacher and Headteacher I wish you well in your Initial Teacher Training quest! It’s a fantastic job and if even half of your enthusiasm for books is replicated in the classroom, I’m sure you’ll make an excellent teacher! Good luck!

  5. We stayed overnight in Canterbury on a tour of the U.K several years ago and loved it. We stayed in a small hotel almost directly next to the main gate of the Cathedral with a veiw of the ‘square’. What I most treasured was that the tourist all seemed to vanish back to London at 4:00 p.m. and we basically had the town to ourselves. It was wonderful.

    1. I’m so glad you have had the chance to experience Canterbury! I think I know the hotel you mean – it’s the oldest in the city! Yes that is so true – everyone just melts away when the shops close and you can wander around to your heart’s content – it’s bliss!

  6. Aaah my home town… The train journey from West to East Kent is wonderful. All the best with your teacher applications. I may just go and re read this post again!

    1. What a lovely place to grow up! It’s such a gorgeous town and yes- the train journey is stunning! Thank you! Shouldn’t be long now!๐Ÿ™‚

  7. What pretty pictures! I’m sure your interview went well, but will keep my fingers crossed you hear good news anyway๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous! And how intensely atmospheric! I’m sure that your interview went super well and I hope you get some news soon๐Ÿ™‚ Waiting is the hardest part.

  9. I love Canterbury – I have visited it many times over many years and it never fails to amaze me. In fact your account is so “on the money” that you have made me quite homesick and will have to put this on my “to do” list next time I visit the UK. Good luck on the job results Canterbury could be a perfect place to live.

    1. Glad you love it too – it’s certainly an amazing place! I hope you can come back soon and have a good nosy around. Thank you – yes it could!๐Ÿ™‚

  10. You bring such visits to life, on that basis alone I would recommend you as a teacher. However it is not up to me, thank you for sharing all that you found and the pictures. Another place I need to revisit. You inspire me to read, write and photograph trips for my blog.

    Fingers crossed for the job.

  11. what a lovely description of Canterbury! I haven’t looked at your blog for a while and was wondering if you had heard anything regarding your teacher training applications…do hope you get good news, and soon! Caroline

    1. Thank you Caroline! It should all be over by the end of the week…so not long before I will have some definite news to share – it feels like I’ve been waiting forever!!

  12. Sounds wonderful! Mumsy and I had a brilliant time in Canterbury when we were there a few years ago. Have you ever done that thing where you stand at the center of the spire and look up? It’s pretty terrifying — the pillars are buckling visibly, and the spire’s tilting more than a foot off-center. Apparently the whole thing was shoddily constructed in the first place, and then in the 1600s they had Christopher Wren in to tell them how to save it from falling over. He braced it with girders that were so well-placed that when they replaced them 200 years later, the spire hadn’t moved AT ALL.

    (I’m sure you knew all this. I just think Christopher Wren is the absolute coolest.)

    1. No! I wish you’d told me that before! I love how much you love Christopher Wren – adorable – and no, I didn’t know that at all! I’ll have to have another look next time!

  13. Do you know the Powell and Pressburger film A Canterbury Tale? It was made in 1944 and captures both the quintessential flavour of England at the time, and the underlying pagan feel of life in the Weald of Kent. I think you would love it!

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