We arrive in Canterbury by mid afternoon. Northern inclement climes have been replaced with a perfect day – mid 20s with blue skies. Canterbury city council has been extraordinarily progressive and converted a large section of its Park and Ride service to a motorhome aire. With a regular bus to and from the town centre, it’s the ideal spot to prop.
In another literary twist, we’re in the home of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a 1300s storytelling contest, as told by a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. More on that tomorrow.
The main draw card of Canterbury though, is its magnificent cathedral. With a 1,400 year history, it’s easily one of the oldest churches we’ve seen, if not the oldest.
Extensive restoration works impede our complete view of the facade, but they’re vital to long term preservation so one can’t whine too much.
We arrive in the middle of service – the Cathedral is filled with song, the choir and organ are both in good voice, the acoustics evocative of eras past. Until it finishes, we’re restricted outside of the Quire, but there’s plenty more to explore.
We visit the nave, the Trinity Chapel, the cloister, the Chapter House, the site of the Martyrdom, the enormous crypt and the ruins of the monastic dormitories, now home to a medieval medicinal herb garden with explanations for the herbs’ uses.
Canterbury Cathedral’s history commences in 597AD when Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine (a monk) to England as a missionary. It was he who set up the Cathedral and became it’s first Archbishop.
Things went on relatively smoothly until 1170AD when Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered following a muttered utterance of King Henry II – “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest”, a reference to the Archbishop’s unwillingness to bend the rules, even for the King. Given that the Archbishop was actually the King’s good friend, it was possibly unfortunate that this utterance was heard by four Knights, who promptly set off to deliver their King’s wish.
Shortly after the Archbishop’s murder, a series of miracle healings took place on the site he fell. He was subsequently, and rather hurriedly, made a Saint. The Cathedral also became a place of pilgrimage and the starting point for the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail, all the way into Spain.
The Quire and Trinity Chapel houses the royal tombs of King Henry IV and Edward, Prince of Wales, known as the The Black Prince. The latter’s tomb is intriguing: he’s dressed as a Knight with his faithful hound at his feet.
Eventually service finishes, and we’re free to see the Quire with its beautiful wood work.
After our tour, we walk to the original city walls, now largely in but ruins. The western gate survives in good condition, still standing guard.
They’re set alongside a couple clear river whose banks are a riot of summer flowers. Punts glide past, reminiscent of Venice’s gondolas.
We tour the town briefly and a stop in yet another sweets shop (it’s the toffees…) yields the day’s best reward. On checking my change, I remark on why: “I’m checking for Peter Rabbit” 50 pence pieces, released for Petie’s 150th anniversary. Our server smiles: I have one, she says. In my purse, she says. And promptly hands it over to me. It’s made my day. I’ve been looking longingly at those coins on line as people in the UK find them, for 2 years now.
Canterbury’s such a pretty spot, but the day has got away from us.
We’ll stay another day to explore further.