"" Writer's Wanderings: June 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Canterbury Tales - The End

Canterbury after five in the evening began to close down as tourist traffic thinned down to almost nothing, boarding their buses parked in the large lot along the Riverwalk. One evening as we walked past the entrance to the Cathedral grounds we realized the gate was open and we were free to enter the grounds and walk around. We strolled through the courtyard and up to one of the doors which had a notice posted on it. The notice was actually an announcement for an organ recital to take place the last night of our stay. How exciting! An opportunity to get inside without having to take the tour that we'd already taken on a previous trip and a chance to hear the organ in the grand cathedral.

After our trip to Leeds Castle, we refreshed at our B&B and then took off to find an early dinner so that we could catch the 7:30 p.m. recital. We arrived a bit early at the Cathedral after dinner and waited around to see if the main door was going to open. Since we hadn't seen the recital advertised anywhere else we were a little concerned that maybe we had been mistaken about it.

While we waited, we had time to reflect on the history we had learned about the Cathedral on our first visit. The tale of the murder of Thomas Becket is quite interesting and the pilgrimages that began afterward reflected in the writing of the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.

Eventually, we saw a few people entering the Cathedral by a small side door. When we inquired and found that indeed that was the entry door for the recital. We followed another couple in and stopped at a table set up for tickets. In England rather than saying senior discount, they ask if you want a concession. Being a senior has its perks in lots of countries.

We were instructed to sit in the area where the choir sits. Unsure of the best place to plant ourselves, we asked a couple who seated themselves in an area just past the choir seats. They were regulars for the recitals that are held every six weeks or so. We joined them and struck up a conversation. They spoke of past recitals and the unfortunate lack of publicity for them.

It truly is a shame that they are not better advertised because it was a wonderful opportunity to hear the huge organ fill the Cathedral to the rafters with its wonderful sounds. While we were not entirely familiar with the pieces that the organist performed, we sat mesmerized by the sweet soft melody that wound around and through the huge arches above our heads and then crescendoed to rich full tones that reverberated and filled the entire massive space of the Cathedral. It was amazing.

When it was over, we strolled back to our B&B in the dusky evening light hand in hand, grateful for the opportunity to once again experience the history and ambiance of the English town of Canterbury.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Leeds Castle, Kent

Leeds Castle
Our day and a half in Canterbury had covered all that we wanted to see. We had visited the Cathedral on a previous trip so while we munched on fish and chips we had asked the proprietor what he recommended we see that would be a day trip. He didn't even have to think about it. "Leeds Castle. It's a lovely spot. You'll quite enjoy it!"

So on our third day in Canterbury, Kent County, we boarded a train and headed for Bearsted. We had to change trains in Ashford which was very simple to do. Along the way we met some interesting folks visiting from South Africa with a lady who lives in England and goes to Africa to find water. She is a dowser. We had quite a discussion about how Americans eat. They
Leeds Castle on River Len
 didn't have a good impression of our eating habits. Can you blame them?

At the Bearsted station we had to wait a few minutes for the shuttle to Leeds Castle. For a small fee you get a neat ride through the little town of Bearsted and out into the countryside where the castle is located. I fell in love the moment we stepped off the small mini bus. Cinderella's castle has always been a bit too fru-fru for me. This was a REAL castle.

The grounds were absolutely spectacular, especially in the morning sun. We couldn't believe it.
 Another gorgeous weather day. Did someone move England farther south?


Henry VIII Banquet Hall
Lady Baillies's Dining Room










As the Leeds Castle website says: "Leeds Castle has been a Norman stronghold; the private property of six of England's medieval queens; a palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon; a Jacobean country house; a Georgian mansion; an elegant early 20th century retreat for the influential and famous; and in the 21st century, it has become one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain."



A Lady Baillie Bedroom
Queen's Bedroom












The first stone castle was built in the 1100s on an island in the river Len. Over the centuries, it was owned by many queens who expanded on the facility. After all, every new owner needs to redecorate and renovate. In 1926, ownership of the castle came to an American heiress, Olive Wilson Filmer, later known as Lady Baillie.

Lady Baillie spent much of her oil inheritance on restoring the castle and renovating parts of it for her residence. She was quite a social hostess and entertained extensively such guests as Edward VIII, the Grand Duke Dimitri of Russia, Douglas Fairbanks junior and senior, James Stewart, Errol Flynn, and Charlie Chaplin.

Black Swan Bathroom
Queen's Bath












As you tour the castle, you begin with rooms furnished in the medieval style and move to the more modern tastes of Lady Baillie. Throughout there is commentary called "What the Butler Saw" that tells of life in the castle during the days of Lady Baillie's social gatherings. The information was interesting but took an awfully long time to read as people crowded around. A nice audio tour would have worked so much better.

Looking at my pictures, you can see the contrast between the medieval owners and the more modern changes that the last owner made.The black swans on the towels in the bathroom picture were a symbol of Lady Baillie's castle. There are hundreds of water fowl in the streams, river, and pond on the over 500 acres of property surrounding the castle. And of course, among them, keeping their regal feathers dry are several peacocks.













When Lady Baillie died in 1974, she left the castle to a trust that continues to ensure the public enjoyment of the castle. She also allowed for its use by international statesman which led to the mini-Camp David in 1978 involving US Foreign Secretary Cyrus Vance, General Moyshe Dayan of Israel and Mohammed Ibriham Kamel of Egypt.

Inner Courtyard
Before we left, we ate lunch in the restaurant across the pond from the castle and then decided we could take on the maze. We were wrong. The maze was amazingly difficult. We wandered around and wondered how it was there were kids getting to the middle way before us. Were we getting too old for a sense of direction? No. The answer was evident when we saw one kid climbing over the hedge and another being helped by a parent who had found their way. Eventually, by luck, we made it to the center and down the steps to the grotto below it. So much for medieval entertainment.







Friday, June 22, 2012

My Canterbury Tales 3

Tight squeeze
Canterbury was a bustling little tourist town for sure but early in the morning and after four or five in the evening, the streets were relatively empty. As a matter of fact, we found that most everything except the larger restaurants closed by six o'clock. During the day, most of Canterbury is pedestrian but until ten in the morning, cars and trucks are allowed through the narrow streets to do their deliveries. As you can see in the picture, there's a good reason for making the streets pedestrian when the tourists begin to arrive by the busloads.

Queen Bertha
After finishing the first route of our Canterbury Audio Tour, we ate a light lunch and found our way back to the starting point at Christ Church Gate in front of the Cathedral grounds. We walked down Burgate to Lower Bridge St. and crossed over. Lower Bridge is outside the historical part of the city and is heavily trafficked. Just down Lower Bridge was Lady Wootton's Green, a small well manicured garden with two statues prominently standing in the middle of it all. The statues are relatively new (2006) and are of Saxon Queen Bertha and her husband King Ethelbert who were instrumental in returning Christianity to Kent. It is said that Queen Bertha walked through this area each Sunday to attend church services. So who was Lady Wootton you ask?

Fyndon Gate
Apparently later, when King Henry VIII decided to dissolve the monasteries in England because the Pope would not allow him to divorce his wife, part of St. Augustine's Monastery became lodging for the king. Later it was leased to Edward Lord Wootton whose widow, Lady Wootton continued to live there until she died. When the garden was designed and planted, it was named for her.

St. Augustine's Abbey
At the other end of the Green is the Fyndon Gate, rebuilt in the 14th century and is the entrance to what is now a part of King's School. Further down the street and around the corner we found the entrance to the old ruins of the original St Augustine's Abbey. We opted not to go in. It was getting very warm and we didn't think we wanted to take the time.

Canterbury City Wall
Crossing back over Lower Bridge St. we found the entrance to the City Wall and climbed up the walkway. The wall dates back to Roman times and was already well known in the third century. Towers along the wall were for archers. There were three to four foot upside down keyholes spaced around each tower for the archers to shoot through. Several large gates have been restored (see Westgate in previous post).

City Wall Towers
We walked along in the unusually warm weather and wished we'd packed the sunscreen. Who knew? At the Dane John Mound, we paused for a few moments to try to figure out its significance. It was basically a large mound of earth with a monument on top. Originally it had been large enough for a castle to be built on top of it. One of the reasons for building the city wall was to protect it.

We exited the wall and walked through the shady alleyways to the Canterbury Castle once again. I had hoped to find a bench in the shade but there were none. Normally people don't seek the cool shade in England. Since we'd visited the castle the previous day, we didn't go back in but continued on to our next point of interest, the Greyfriars.

Rupert
On our way to Greyfriars, we passed the Museum of Canterbury, a beautiful brown stone building with a pretty garden court where some were enjoying an afternoon tea. It is also home to the Rupert Bear museum. The Rupert Bear is a popular children's character in England and the original author/cartoonist, Mary Tourtel, who was actually born Mary Caldwell in Canterbury in 1874.
Greyfriars Chapel

The Greyfriars was truly off the beaten track but the flowers that lined the river along the way were beautiful. The area once belonged to a large 13th century Franciscan friary (a brotherhood of friars). All that remains of it now is a small chapel that spans an arm of the River Stour. It was a lovely peaceful place and would have been a nice place to stop and rest but we continued on, afraid that we would tire before the end of our tour.

St. Margaret's Church
Getting back into the heart of the historical district, we passed by the Canterbury Tales which is housed in St. Margaret's Church. The tour inside the church takes you through several vignettes of medieval life. It appeared to be very popular with groups of students who lined up outside waiting their entry.

 Once again we arrived back at the entrance to the Canterbury Cathedral. We removed our tour paraphernalia and began our trek back to the Riverwalk to return it and then continue on to our B&B to rest and relax before dinner. Ah, but when the "Cream Tea" sign caught our eye, we knew we had to stop. You can't miss cream tea in England.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Canterbury Tales 2

Canterbury Cathedral
After a hearty English breakfast at our B&B, we set off with our audio tours dangling from our necks and headphones on ears. The Canterbury Audio Tour began at the Christ Church Gate, the entry to the Cathedral grounds. For some reason, I did not take a picture of it. Maybe I needed another cup of coffee to wake me up.  The morning was cool with the promise of another sunny day. Who would guess that I'd get a tan in England?

Weavers House
We passed by the East Bridge Hospital, founded just after the murder of Thomas Becket as a place to house pilgrims to the city, and walked over the King's Bridge that was built in the 12th century but was widened in the 1700s. It takes its name from the Kings Mill that used to stand there. Next to the bridge was the Weavers House, built in 1507, it housed Hugenot Weavers whose skills were greatly appreciated. It is from the King's Bridge that you can take water tours (punting) on the river boats.

Marlowe Theatre
Continuing down Peters Street we reached the corner of The Friars. Looking off to our right, we could see the modern Marlowe Theatre. Christopher Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare and it has been rumored off and on that perhaps he wrote for Shakespeare. He was born in Canterbury and attended King's School there.

From the theater, we walked to the Westgate Gardens near the Westgate Towers. The gardens border the River Stour and have been around since medieval times. There is a huge oriental tree in the middle of the garden said to be 200 years old whose massive trunk has grown through a circular iron seat place there long ago as seat in the garden.

The Tower House
The Tower House sits at one end of the Westgate Gardens. The structure is built around one of the square towers that was originally a part of the city's defense. The stone and brick building is now the office of the mayor.

Westgate Towers
Large, round, and gray, the Westgate Towers form the gate to the city. It is also home to an armory, dungeons, murder holes, and museums housing 600 years of history.

The Westgate Towers sit on the corner of an interesting street. It's called Pound Lane. As the story went, the animals were let loose on the streets to clean up the garbage but there was a curfew on them. Any that were still wandering and not claimed by their owners by curfew were rounded up and taken to the pound--on Pound Lane of course.

We crossed over the Stour River again at the place where the Abbott's Mill used to stand. There were several mills along the Stour. At this particular spot it was a mill used for corn and grains. The building that was on the spot dated back to 1792 but in 1933, it was totally destroyed in a fire. One of the axles still remains from the mill wheel. This was a very scenic spot especially in the evening looking down the river and seeing the backyard gardens reflected in it.
The Mint Yard Gate

The next significant spot on our tour was the Mint Yard Gate, the entrance to the King's School where Christopher Marlowe was a student. The school is still operating. Across from the gate is an older building with a very unusual door. It was the original King's School shop and was also owned by someone named John Boy (I don't believe he was related to the Waltons). From the old pictures I found on the internet, it appears the house has always been crooked as has the door. Back in the 1980s it was shored up on the inside with a metal cage when it was deemed unsafe.

Sugar Boy Sweet Shop
On the corner across from the shop is the Sugar Boy Sweet Shop. It is a candy lover's dream. The shelves are bulging with gallon jars of sweet treats. We stopped in and bought some Walker's Toffee and fell in love. Now we are trying to find a supplier in the U.S. Then again, it may just justify another trip to the UK.

Conquest House
Palace Street took us back in the direction of the Cathedral again. Along the way, we found the Conquest House where it is said the conspirators met who murdered Thomas Becket. The facade is 17th century but behind it is a structure built in the 1100s.

Sun Hotel
Our last point of interest on the first route of our tour was the Sun Hotel and Tea Rooms. It is a 15th century hotel that boasts of Charles Dickens' visit. It has been brought up to modern day standards and reopened as a hotel. I understand it is also a great place for cream tea--tea served with scones and clotted cream and not to be missed on any visit to England.

 It wasn't time for tea but it was time for lunch before we set out on Route #2 of our tour. We turned off the voices and headed for a local establishment for a light lunch.
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