Tag Archive | touring England

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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Town of Sandwich, Kent, UK

My daughter and I just returned from a twelve-day trip to England to visit my mother, who has lived in the UK for about thirty years.  Usually the trip involves tours of local attractions.  This year we went to the town of Sandwich, located near the English Channel between Margate and Dover.  At one time Sandwich was one of the greatest ports in England and is still one of the five Cinque Ports designated by the Crown to protect the coast.

Sandwich is renowned for containing some of the most complete sections of medieval town.  Tourism to view the antiquities began in the 1700s and has not abated.  We stayed at the King’s Arms, an inn built in 1580 on Strand Street.  At that time the street fronted the Stour River.  Since then so much silting-in of the waterway has occurred that there are houses with large backyards on the river side of the street.  The inn was originally called the Queen’s Arms and named for Elizabeth I who visited Sandwich.  The name was changed in 1687, during the reign of James II.

The inn is a charming and largely original structure.  Features such as the cheerful common room with its giant fireplace, huge exposed wooden beams throughout, narrow, steep staircases, and door clearances under six feet high are all proof of this house’s nearly 450 year history.  Our room was number three and our window was the middle one with the orange glow above the parked car on the right side of the first photo.  The elderly single glazed window was quite drafty.  Luckily the weather was warm during our stay.  We had a large, comfortable room with a fireplace that has been closed up.  The included full English breakfast was very good.  The psychic in me is certain residuals of long-gone lives still remain in our room and in the entire building.

Many of the streets in Sandwich are like the one above.  It is single lane, yet accommodates two-way traffic.  Medieval buildings crowd close, their jetties overhanging the sidewalks.  The lane above, Church Street, runs between the King’s Arms and St. Mary’s Church to intersect with Strand Street.  Walking along the streets can be challenging as the traffic is sometimes heavy and the sidewalks are narrow or non-existent.  Many are roughly paved with cobbles.

Sandwich has a long history.  It began as a small settlement on an island in a large, deep harbor.  In AD 43 the Romans established Rutupiae (Richborough) on this harbor.  The population of the area rapidly expanded as the army used Rutupiae for their base in the conquest of Britain.  Sandwich, once known as Lundenwic, stood near the harbor entrance to the wide, deep, important Wantsum shipping channel that ran all the way to London from the sea.  Massive storms with tidal wave surges deposited so much silt with major flooding that the harbor was partially filled in, leaving Richborough high and dry and making Lundenwic the new port town.  After the Romans left, and the Saxons were invaded by Danes, the name was changed to Sandwic, meaning sandy town.  Over time the name morphed into Sandwich.

In the 900s, the town moved to higher ground as continued silting formed a peninsula from the original island.  The channel remained deep enough for large ships.  By the eleventh century Sandwich had become a major English port with a large population and great wealth.  In the middle of that century it was designated a Cinqueport with obligations to provided armed sailing vessels and fighting men for the king in times of war.  In return Sandwich received money from surrounding towns to help with the arming of vessels and men, and privileged trade with the continent free from customs and tolls.

Ever at odds with England, France staged several raids on Sandwich.  In 1217, they burned much of the town.  A toll ferry carried traffic across to Thanet until a bridge was built.  A version of it stands today.  The structure was originally a drawbridge but was rebuilt as the current single lane swing bridge.  Traffic approaches the bridge through the Barbican or David’s (Davis) Gate (photo above.)  The town had been granted the right to have its own municipal court as a cinqueport privilege.  A Guild Hall with a court room was constructed in 1359 that still stands today.  The town had a mayor and all the eligible men of voting age participated in town business including serving on juries.

The Great Storm of 1287 brought a devastating tidal wave storm surge carrying so much silt that the harbor was filled in.  The river remained deep enough for good sized ships to navigate so Sandwich continued as a port two miles inland from the sea.  A wide place in the river called Sandwich Haven provided safe docking for trade ships.  The French attacked several more times including in 1457 when the mayor was killed.  Since that time all the mayors of Sandwich wear black robes of office to signify mourning.  In the 1450s the king became so concerned about attacks by the French that he ordered the town better fortified.  More and higher walls were built and stronger gates.

The end of Sandwich’s days as a port city occurred in the late 1550s when Pope Paul IV lost a large ship. It sank right at the mouth of Sandwich Haven.  Soon silt and sand built up around the wreck effectively stopping up the entrance to Sandwich for large trading vessels.  Attempts to cut a deeper passage failed.

In the 1560s, craftspeople escaping religious persecution in Flanders and France came to England.  Queen Elizabeth granted the refugees licenses to set up shops and manufacture in different parts of England.  Several groups of Dutch weavers moved to Sandwich and began manufacturing broadcloth using wool produced in Kent.  They employed small vessels to carry their goods out to markets.  This created a boom for the Sandwich area.  The photo above is of the Sandwich Weavers building where the Dutch sheltered when they arrived in the area.  Over time many of these weavers became wealthy.

The Dutch influence in Sandwich can also be seen in architecture, ditches, drainage works and farm fields.  Because the area was once part of the sea, it is low, flat and damp.  The Dutch had experience with such conditions.  They drained fields to create farmland and grew crops such as grains, carrots and celery in the sandy soil.  A ditch called the Delf (Old English for ditch) and connected sluices were added in an attempt to bring better water to the town.  It was notorious for unhealthful conditions due to fouled drinking water.  Today the sluices can still be seen, stagnant water filled with duck weed and looking like tiny canals standing below street level in front of homes.  The Delf did not improve conditions as people continued to foul the open waterways and contract illnesses.  An attempt to pump in clean water failed in the 1620s.  The town didn’t have reliable clean drinking water until the late 1800s.

Prosperity brought by the Dutch began to fade in the early 1600s when King James I set up a company of merchants and granted them sole rights to trade in Europe.  With its commercial life strangled, Sandwich faded as a port for anything but the superior crops produced in the area, including its famed carrots.  Poverty became a problem for the locals until tourism began to restore some employment.  The town drew visitors to its quaint, narrow streets and blocks of antique houses.

The fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montague (1718-1792) is fabled to have eaten meals made of slices of meat between pieces of bread while gambling in the Guild Hall around 1762.  The sandwich is named for him.  In 1759 Thomas Paine lived for about a year on New Street in a small brick house.  He had settled in Sandwich after marrying.  His wife died a year after the marriage.  He later departed for the American colonies and found fame there as a patriot.

Today Sandwich has much to offer visitors.  Experience the adventure of staying in a medieval inn, take a leisurely stroll on the walkways by the Quay, enjoy a meal in one of the many fine establishments, amble through the ancient streets or hike along a segment of the well kept Coast Path which passes through town on its way around the entire southeastern seaboard.  Sandwich has something for everyone.

 

 

 

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

Leeds Castle, Maidstone, UK

a1Another gloomy day of snow and freezing rain sets me to dreaming of warmer, more pleasant places such as the lovely estate of Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent in England.  I have visited at least three times, possibly more, and could easily go there again.  Beautiful grounds with ponds, a moat and streams, plentiful gardens, wild wooded places and open grazing lands surround a jewel of a stone castle right out of an old romance.

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White peacock employed as greeter at the castle

The castle is fairly easy to reach by road or train.  A path leads from the parking lot and follows a large brook through a wildflower wood and across a vast field to the buildings.  Peacocks and other tame and wild birds roam the grounds.  A couple peacocks are always on hand to greet visitors.  The entrance to the main building is through a gate house and over a bridge.

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Spring flowers and sheep along the path to the castle

Leeds Castle was built over 900 years ago on an island in the river Len, so it is surrounded by a large natural moat.  A Norman structure was erected by a baron of Henry I, William the Conqueror’s son.  The land was originally the site of a manor belonging to Saxon royalty that was taken by the Normans.

The castle became a royal residence of queens for several hundred years before returning to private ownership.  During WWII it served as a hospital and site for development of secret weapons.  The castle continued as a home and became a center for lavish entertainment of important personages until the 1970s when the estate was made into a charitable trust.  Over the centuries the land and buildings have been re-organized and updated, but the outward appearance of a Tudor stronghold remains.

The Culpeper and Fairfax families owned the castle during the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries.  A lord born at the castle emigrated to Virginia in the mid-1700s to assume governance of his family’s huge estates in America.

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Wild waterfowl gather beneath a stately conifer on the grounds

Open year-round, Leeds is one of the most visited castles in England.  In addition to delightful walks in wooded parklands, or a picnic by the river, a visitor may enjoy various activities such as strolling the gardens, greenhouses and vineyards, navigating the large maze and grotto, boating on the moat, viewing the falconry, or touring the Gatehouse castle history exhibits or the unlikely Dog Collar Museum.  The present collection contains over 130 rare and valuable examples of canine neck attire.

Of course there is a restaurant and gift shop and a guided tour of the sumptuous interior of the castle. Two modern castle-themed playgrounds have also been built to entertain children.

I have been to Leeds Castle with my mum and her husband and my daughter.  One day I hope to take my grandkids to see this wonderful English sight.

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Black swans and duck breeding houses

 

Rye, UK

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Since my mother lives in Kent, in England, I fly over from Boston to visit her at least once a year.  My mum doesn’t drive anymore and depends on mass transit or a helpful neighbor to get around.  For a little excitement when I visit, we rent a car and I run us around the countryside sightseeing.

Three times we’ve been to Rye, a small town in East Sussex, near the coast in southern England.  I love this place, so steeped in history and still retaining architecture from ages gone.  You enter the town through one of the gates of the old wall, a very narrow opening that limits the size of vehicles in Rye.  Pictured above is one of several towers from the old walls.  Because Rye was once on the English Channel, it had to be fortified against attack, especially from the French.

We always eat at a sweet little tea shop called The Runcible Spoon where I have my obligatory fish and chips, always with lemon for the fish and salt and malt vinegar for the chips, and a few nice cups of tea.  Thus fortified, my mum and I explore the old city.  rye5

Located on a chalky hill above the marshland and rivers, the town has stood since before Roman times.  Once a sea port in a sheltered harbor, the town is now more than two miles from the Channel.  The harbor silted in ages ago.  Rye sits at the confluence of three rivers and has a river port now.  Some of the best very old architecture is on Mermaid Street, including the Mermaid Inn.  The streets in the old town are mostly cobbled and rather hard walking.  Here’s a shot of my mum on the “sidewalk” of the street.rye3

There are many interesting little shops and tea rooms in Rye and once we caught a flea market in one of the church halls where I found a lovely ring and a porcelain box.  Here’s my mum checking out a tea shop.  She’s an inveterate shopper as is her daughter!rye7 Some buildings have leaded windows or tunnels leading through the buildings to courtyards at the back.  The Tudor construction is very evident.rye2rye1rye8

The Mermaid Inn is particularly popular with tourists due to its age. The original building has been attributed to 1156.  Today what remains of that building are the cellars.  In 1379 the town was sacked and burned by the French and the Mermaid was rebuilt in 1420.  Much of that building still stands.  The inside has low ceilings, heavy beams and dark woodwork.  An ancient vine grows by the front door.  This inn is reputedly haunted by several ghosts and has been featured on television programs about famous hauntings.  With 31 rooms for lodgers, there are ample places for specters to hide.  The inn was used in the 1700s by smugglers, a rough and violent bunch with many untimely deaths among their members.  The hauntings are mostly supposed to be of these smugglers.

Main entrance of the Mermaid Inn.

Main entrance of the Mermaid Inn.

I so enjoy visiting Rye that I wouldn’t mind going again.  The situation in a sparsely populated area of narrow roads, farm land, marsh and woods makes for interesting driving.  I even got into my only accident of my many years of driving on the “wrong side” of the road while going to Rye.  I took my eyes off the road for an instant too long and rubbed up against a guard rail.  No lasting damage was done to human or vehicle.  I hope to enjoy another memorable meal at the Runcible and further explore the little shops with my mum.