City,  England

Travel Diary: Visiting Canterbury

Canterbury is a city recognised in history as a site of pilgrimage. In Medieval England, people would travel to visit the shrine of the murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket. Such travels were immortalised in Chaucer’s epic poem, The Canterbury Tales. We only had a spring afternoon to make our pilgrimage, but we tried to pack in as much as we could.

First, we walked alongside the Great Stour on the Westgate Gardens River Walk to immerse ourselves in a bit of nature, before we got heavy on history. People punt down the river, and I loved how bright the flowers that lined the banks were. As we passed the ‘Toddlers Cove Playground’ the foliage became much more green, more feral.

Canterbury Castle is a Norman ruin, which I only partially knew before we arrived. I was somewhat disappointed to find that the castle was closed off to the public, that we couldn’t explore the internal walls. It was more painful since we live so close to Hadleigh Castle (read about it here). Even though it is a ruin, it is enormous. Its imposing walls towered over us as we got close, although there is a risk of falling stone.

One grey stone castle wall of Canterbury Castle.

It’s not my favourite, but you know I can’t pass on a castle if I get the chance to see one!

The entrance gate to Canterbury Cathedral is much more grand. Nestled between an information centre and a hotel, the gate is a staggering work of architecture, albeit out of place on a typical high street. When we approached, we were met by the shrill sounds of a bagpipe as buskers busked while shoppers shopped. I thought it was probably not too dissimilar to the Canterbury of the 13th century.

As expected, the Cathedral had an entry fee which we had to pay on passing through the gate. It was roughly £12, but if we lived locally or studied at the University it would have been free. But on looking at the majesty and magnificence of the Cathedral, I could let the cost go!

Walking through churches can be a sobering experience on a normal day, but this visit was so much more intense for Canterbury Cathedral is the leading church for the Church of England denomination of Christianity. I worked in a Church of England school at the time I visited, so I felt as though I should be feeling something, or at least learning something!

When we visited, I hadn’t seen Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, or appreciated St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, so we were awestruck at the fascinating architecture inside the cathedral. It’s dimly lit with chandeliers but is still bright for such a large building. Throughout, there is an atmosphere of serenity. I always get a little shiver when I go into a big church, and definitely got it here.

Undoubtedly, the most spiritual part of the whole experience in the cathedral is the shrine to Thomas Becket, the archbishop who was assassinated in 1170. The original shrine, and Becket’s bones were demolished on King Henry VIII’s order. Now, a single lit candle stands in the centre of the stone floor to represent where his body once lay. Bizarrely, or perhaps not, the candle seemed to remain still despite the breezes that drifted through the building.

However, my favourite part of exploring the cathedral was walking through the courtyards that were laid with tombstones, some nearly a thousand years old. Some were of extremely elderly people for their time, and some babies. It was moving to walk in such a beautiful location amongst the memories of people who were once loved and now forgotten by time.

After we had soaked up all the Cathedral could give us, we made our way back to the high street, where I found this precarious looking building. Who would have guessed it’s actually a book shop? I had to go inside, and as a woman with a Literature degree, I just had to buy a book, but with so many, I didn’t know what to choose.

So I opted for a blind date with a book.

Which I finally got round to reading!

Related: Altar of Eden by James Rollins

Overall, Canterbury is a beautiful location for an afternoon walk in the spring sunshine. It’s got history, it’s got nature, what more could a girl want?

If you’ve been to Canterbury, what was your favourite part of the city? Leave me a comment!

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