2005-12-11: Canterbury Tales

Edyta and I spent a wonderful weekend together. Yes, a weekend, two days in a row when neither of us went to work. Because of this we could range a lot further than normal and stay somewhere overnight so that the many hours of travel had a nice break in the middle.

Our first trip was an early and well timed start to Canterbury. But of course it was travel, so there had to be some drama. The conductor at Paddington told us to get on platform 1 for the Circle Tube line to Victoria station. I followed his advice but as I stood there I felt that it was the wrong platform. The last time we headed south we were on the other platform. Sure enough as we boarded the train we found ourselves at Edgware Road station, the opposite direction to Victoria. I took us over to the Circle line and jumped on the first train, which wasn't Circle at all but Hammersmith, leading us back to Paddington but at the wrong station. So we caught the next train back to Edgware and then the Circle to Victoria. At Victoria it was simply a case of jumping on a train that said Canterbury somewhere and settling back for the 3 hour ride. This ride was accompanied by loud-mouth louts who'd just been out enjoying the British past-time of binge drinking. Apparently if you have nothing important or funny to say, saying it loud is suffice. As is typical on public transport the most annoying people are on it for the longest duration; this time we were on the train longer though. On the way to the town Edyta and I chuckled as we went past Ashford International station and saw the Way Out signs accompanied by Sortie. Ah, the French.

That is a bus going through the keep

Canterbury is a nice little compact town. We walked to the main street and found a charity store. Edyta purchased a little giraffe to go with the bigger giraffe and the even bigger stuffed animal collection. We then stopped at a tea house and bought some tea but were too frugal to buy a cake there so we took out some we'd brought with us from home. Further down the street you arrive at a big imposing gate, though the wall the gate is in has long since past. A double-decker bus would just squeenze in through the gate. Behind the gate is the main street, once full of churches and journeymen, now full of chain stores and a goodly number of charity stores. All the charity stores in this town seemed to pull the biggest shopping crowds. We walked through a little hostel used since the 13th century for people coming to see where Thomas Becket was stabbed to death on the advice of his good friend, Henry II.

Pilgrims home

We planned on getting to the end of the mall and then doubling back to enter the Canterbury Cathedral when I spotted my own holy grail. Tucked in front of an old church and between a mobility for disabled people store and a hearing aid store was a Games Workshop. This qualified as the worst place Games Workshop I've yet seen. We continued around the shopping districts and the endemic roasted peanut sellers to finish our mall tour. Somewhere in the middle was a church used to re-enact the Canterbury Tales. However the price was steep and the Lonely Planet guide said that half of the hydraulic robots inside were dilapidated. Not wanting to risk a WestWorld incident Edyta and I headed to the church.

Games Workshop, Canterbury

Outside of the church grounds we sat down for a truly terrible sausage and chips (it seems more popular than fish and chips here). Then we went into the grounds wandered around the Cathedral. This was another big church, on par with Salisbury (but well below Westminster Abbey). Unlike both of those other churches we actually paid to go into this one. There were some good ruins at one side and an exclusive private school at the back of the church grounds. Only a minor amount of scaffolding was on the church. There also seemed to be a lot of cats, which is odd given they are the devils tools. But then so are buses, and we tolerate them in society. The church inside seemed to be mostly shut yo people coming to visit. I'd wanted to see the spot where the afore mentioned Becket copped it in the back but that part of the church was closed.

Leaving the church we wandered around for a bit and then followed the old city wall (restored in 1950) to the train station. Before we left there we stopped at the ruins of a Norman Castle. This was one of the best no-cost castles (I think the only no-cost castle) that we'd been in. It also seemed to be a good place for young people to hang out and drink alcohol without their parents noticing. It also explained why the tower we were walking in stunk of booze and urine. After that little tour we left for Dover.

The wrecks of Canterbury Cathederal

A spooky window

We got to Dover when it was cold. And dark. About 5pm. The stores were closing leaving Edyta missing out on a double treat of two towns stores in one day. We found our way to our B&B, situated under the hill that Dover Castle was perched upon and lit up like the castle in Chinon. We were lucky in that we remembered the correct name of our B&B and that it was well sign posted because the notes I'd written down to find the place were terrible. Edyta loved the old world charm of this B&B and remembered that she would still like to run one of these things. The good thing was - a TV! But the problem is 6 months on from having had a TV available to watch I found it was still the same old stuff, antique shows, X-factor, strictly dancing and documentaries on Nazi war atrocities. At least now I know the scale of Auschwitz. For tea we went out to an Italian restaurant and then tried to guess if the staff were French, Italian or Polish. Breakfast at the B&B was big, which was good for our Sunday.

The first trip for the day was a walk along the Dover sea-shore and cliffs. The sea-shore was easy to find. It isn't a beach but more a pebble collection. There isn't a lot of channel fury here, a huge sea-wall protects the port. Then we went off to the cliffs east of town. Only we got stuck in this massive international port that was full or huge trucks roaring around. We had to ask a policeman for directions to the cliffs. The cliffs were a great walk and one that could have been done for a full day. The weather was glorious, the sun was out and the temperature would have been in the teens. At the end one path where only cliff faces were in front of us we turned back. At a homeless persons shanty we saw some local rat species crawling around on the bed area.

Lovely dolly's in the B&B

Dover scrub land

Once back at the B&B I picked up the overnight bag so that I had a few extra kilos to haul with me when we walked up the hill/cliff face to reach Dover castle. Dover castle is rated by me the best intact castle in England (of course I've only seen a few). For a modest entry fee you get to walk around the old WWII secret tunnels, where you can enjoy a rather poorly done audio presentation of the treatment of a wounded pilot (there were lots of examples of dried blood on the gurneys to help our imagination). Outside of the tunnels you can walk the battlements of the keeps. There are tunnels that allow you to enter into the below ground defences of the castle. The day was well lit but there were still many areas that were so dark we took a photo with the flash to see what we were looking at. We made our way past the officers quarters, back past the admirals lookout (which was covered in scaffolding), up to a restored Saxon church that looks more Roman inside, and next to an old Roman lighthouse. The fire the Romans would've had to lit to use the lighthouse must have emptied out all the local forests. At the end of the day we finally made it inside the keep proper and into Henry II's keep. This was a great castle keep, with some fantastic old corridors and winding stairs.

Smell the manly-ness

What's over the mound?

The castle and cliffs were so good our whole day was spent. By 4pm we were back at Dover train station hoping to catch an express to London Victoria. Instead we found out the train line wasn't in use because of track works (again!). We were to take a bus to Folkestone, however we'd just missed the bus and had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. Both Edyta and I were exhausted from the day, so we just crashed in the nearby pub and ordered a cup-o'-tea. Our bus finally came and two hours later we were in London at Charing Cross station. A quick tube trip to Paddington and a run to a platform got us home by 8:30 (whenever you catch public transport at least one leg will involve running).

So that is our weekend. Full of too much good adventure for me to make it sound bad, and too many days since it happened for me to remember the nasty stuff.

Please don't ride the cannon

Cop that you Jerry bastard!

Dover Castle