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!