Tag Archive | Kent UK

Canterbury, UK

On this first day of March, snow over two feet deep, temperatures hovering in the 20s F with a bracing northerly breeze here in Maine, I think back to March a year ago when I was in warm England.  My mum and I spent a delightful couple days in Canterbury.  This town is one of the larger in Kent and the seat of the English church since the 600s.  Although it is a religious center and the destination for thousands of pilgrims over the centuries, Canterbury is much more than its cathedral.

River Stour as it flows through Canterbury

In ancient times the site of Canterbury was a settlement at the mouth of the River Stour.  It was situated on the banks of the river’s large estuary opening into the Wantsum Channel, a wide arm of the sea that once formed an island out of Kent called the Isle of Thanet.  Great storms over the centuries silted in the channel, creating dry land.  The river now runs about twelve more miles to join the sea beyond Sandwich.  The Romans built a town called Durovernum Cantiacorum after their invasion in the year 43.  By the year 200 they had completed a wall around the town.  The wall was rebuilt in the Middle Ages and portions of it still stand for the strolling pleasure of tourists today.

image courtesy L. Winslow

In the late 500s Canterbury was the capitol of the Saxon king of Kent who married a Christian.  Her influence likely brought about the mission of St. Augustine, sent to England by the Pope to convert the inhabitants to Christianity.  Augustine founded the cathedral after he was made Bishop of England in the early 600s.

The current building dates from medieval times.  It has been repaired on several occasions:  after various fires, following periodic neglect, and the depredations of the Puritans during the Civil War when stained glass windows were smashed and horses were stabled in the Nave.  The oldest section is from around 1077 and is called the Martyrdom.  It is a staircase and parts of the north wall, the area reputed to be the site of the murder of the Archbishop Thomas Becket.  After his death on 12/29/1170, rumors of miracles brought a flow of pilgrims to Canterbury that has not fully abated.  The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer tell of life on the pilgrimage and are a popular motif in the town.

image courtesy L. Winslow

 

After the obligatory visit to the cathedral, the remainder of the town beckons.  My mum and I stayed the weekend in one of the oldest buildings in the town, constructed in the 1500s as an inn, and currently the Pilgrims Hotel.  The place is charming and transports one back in time with its large common room, narrow stairways and cozy rooms.  Our room was situated above the taproom and the ambient sound of chatter and music drifting from below was undoubtedly much the same as it would have been in the 1600s.  In the photo below, our room was the one with the double windows overhanging the entry and sign.

The Westgate

After a lovely cuppa tea and some biscuits, we explored the famed high street shopping area of Canterbury.  Extending about one-third mile from the Westgate (the only remaining medieval gate in the city wall) to Whitefriars Shopping Centre, the streets are closed to traffic during the day, creating a bricked pedestrian way often crowded with shoppers. The thoroughfare is lined on both sides (and down side streets) with shops.  It is such a great draw that at times navigating through the crush can be difficult.  Buses disgorge large groups of tourists, often from non-English-speaking places, who traverse in impenetrable packs.
Buskers strum guitars and play other instruments, adding music to the scene. Street vendors sell roasted nuts, hot snacks, nick knacks and trinkets, further narrowing the congested ways with their carts.  Yet, it is a congenial crowd, well fed at the numerous restaurants and sated by endless purchasing opportunities.

So many of the buildings lining the pedestrian way are ancient, dating from the 1600s or earlier.  They jut over the sidewalks, providing a window-shopping experience similar to that of long-ago.  Although, I’m sure the streets are much cleaner and better smelling than they would have been when horses were the mode of transport and chamber pots were emptied from upper windows with a call of “guarde loo!”

After a strenuous day of shopping, I enjoyed a lovely roast of lamb in our hotel’s taproom restaurant.  With a nice glass of rose, it was a scrumptious way to relax.  Canterbury is such a fun town that I hope to return for another stay and to perhaps catch a performance at the Marlowe Theater, a popular playhouse just across the street from our hotel.

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Botany Bay Kent UK

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Along the coast of Kent between Margate and Broadstairs is Botany Bay.  This bay has a long, yellow sand beach, chalk reef and towering chalk cliffs with some sea stacks.  Today I visited the bay with my mum as I enjoy a UK vacation.

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My mum’s dog, Archie the Westie, patrolling the cliffs

Infamous as a landing place for smugglers in the 18th century, the beach was actually the site of a clash between smugglers and Revenuers in 1769 that resulted in several deaths.  The encounter has come to be known as the Battle of Botany Bay.  It involved Joss Snelling and his considerable band of smuggling cohorts known as the Callis Court Gang.  The Revenue Patrol ambushed the gang as they unloaded their goods and shooting ensued.

Smugglers cut caves and tunnels into the soft chalk cliffs to use as storage places for the contraband and as escape routes.  The closed-up remains of these caves and tunnels can still be seen today.  The most well-known features of Botany Bay are the impressive chalk sea stacks.  These free-standing towers are the remains of cliffs that have been cut away by the endless wash of the sea.a8

Newly eroded chalk is pure, blinding white in the sun.  It quickly weathers to a gray-white and is often colonized by algae.a9

If you move up close to the seaward side of a cliff you will find the rock is riddled with holes.  Limpets creep into the holes for safety during low tide.  It is remarkable how well they fit the holes.a6

a7This part of the English coast looks out across the Channel toward France.  There is a huge windfarm off-shore.  Cargo ships often shelter on this side of the channel when it is too choppy for crossing.  It is not uncommon to see several large ships close to shore.a4

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Skate or ray egg case and whelk egg cases

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Whelk shell

Strolling the beach revealed a healthy population of whelk and some type of skate or ray as evidenced by the plethora of eggs.  The strangely shaped black ray eggs are also called mermaids purses.  There were numerous egg cases to be found, along with shells of the large sea snails.

With the great expanse of fine sand, the impressive cliffs and the safe waters with a mild current, it is easy to see why this beach is popular in the summer.  And also why smugglers found it a convenient spot to ply their lucrative trade.

This article contains interesting information about the Battle of Botany Bay:  http://www.thanet-ghostwatch.co.uk/history/smug1.htm

Sarre Windmill


When the weather turns cold, dark and damp (as it has been for five days) my thoughts stray to warmer climes than Maine. Places where the air is balmier and the sun shows more frequently. I revisit in my mind the spots I have toured.

One delightful side trip was to the windmill at Sarre in Kent, UK, near my mother’s home in Birchington.  My mum and I hopped the bus for a short ride to the mill.  From miles around the windmill is visible rising above the fairly level farmlands of Kent.  Locally grown grain is milled at Sarre.

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Mum at Sarre mill

 

At the time we visited, several years ago, there was a visitors shop and tea room on the first floor.  The windmill is operational and produced the flours available in the shop and used to make the baked goods for tea.  I’ve read that since our visit the place has been converted into lodgings, although the mill still runs.  It might be a fun place to stay on my next visit to Mum.

The mill was built in 1820 on the site of a previous mill, and operated until the 1930s.  It had a steam engine installed as alternate power on calm days.  After 1920 it ran on a gas engine as the sweeps (also called sails) were removed to another mill. From the 1930s till 1985 the mill languished and deteriorated. Then, some energetic people bought the place and restored the mill to operation.

The building stands 4.5 stories tall including a 1.5 story brick base and the sails.  It is termed a smock mill due to the particular construction of a fixed timber tower with a movable cap and attached sweeps.a2

When the wind turns the sweeps there is a noticeable whoosh as they rotate.  Inside the building, the squeaks and squeals and rumblings of the turning machinery are very impressive.

Several cogged wheels convert the action of the turning sweeps down to the stones set in the base that grind the grain.

A visitor could climb nearly to the top via narrow stairways.  The windows afforded wide views of the surrounding countryside.a7a9

We visited the mill on a brisk spring afternoon.  The fields were green, trees budding, the sky bright blue with wispy clouds and a soft breeze gave the sails a lazy spin.  So nice to remember this sojourn far from the browns and grays of a snowless December in Maine.