Going back in time to Canterbury Tales

Max was off to Maine for a visit with his mom as I prepared to meet up with two college friends, Carol M. W. and Katie R. P., the latter being the wife of our crew member, Steve, from this summer.

We had finalized plans just three weeks before after coordinating schedules and settling on a location, which you can probably guess was Canterbury.


Our tales weren’t necessarily bawdy… well, one night was, but no more of that :)

I had actually Blobbed Blogged our reunion before Max and I left for Germany but had a few edits to make so kept it as a draft. Mistake. When my laptop was stolen, poof! Photos, words, notes… gone. But, I wanted to write something about this trip for it was wonderful, as it always is, being with good friends. Fortunately, I had a few photos left on a camera card and Carol sent hers. Unfortunately, Carol isn’t featured in a lot of the photos, which only means the three of us need a repeat adventure.

Hopefully, the few photos we have and some words will give you a sense of our visit… so here beginneth our tale.

DAY 1:  Friday, October 3

I met Katie at Heathrow while Carol arrived via Gatwick. Katie and I arrived at our place easily. Carol, on the other hand, began her journey with a five-hour delay starting with an early check-in to catch an 11pm flight from JFK that didn’t leave until 3am. Not a great night spending it in an airport with little open and nothing to do but sit and wait.

Katie and I were unpacking when the owners happened to come around and gave us a quick tour and a fast lesson on how to use the fancy expresso machine. Katie and I then freshened up


and went across the street to the Safron Cafe, which became our go-to spot for a spot of tea, coffee, and sometimes lunch. Our first time there the waitress sat us outside under a grape vine. When we commented on the luscious purple grapes, she picked and washed some for us to eat while we were waiting for our coffee. Heaven.

As the hours ticked by we knew Carol would be looking for some refreshments when she finally arrived. Not to disappoint, we greeted her with some nutritional cheese & crackers and a glass of wine (doesn’t that always make things better? if sipped with friends? :)


Just a warning:  our get-togethers take the three us back, okay, waaaay back, to our Foss-Woodman dorm at Colby freshman year. Consequently, we’re not the most sedate adults. But, no one can say we’re not entertaining. Well, we make ourselves laugh.

DAY 2:  Saturday, October 4

The first day we found an easy pace with Carol and I generally heading out for an early morning excursion while Katie caught up on some rest (she’s more of a night owl than Carol and I).

Carol and I thought we’d just get our bearings. Our condo was from one of those rent-your-own sites that Carol had located. It was perfectly situated:  off a quiet street and close enough to wander easily in town (if you enlarge the town map, we’re on Castle Street, just down from Beer Cart, roughly 8 o’clock from the black star).


Canterbury is filled with college students, tourists (like us), and locals, strolling the cobblestone streets.


There was a lovely park down the main road where Carol and I found a path along the river accompanied by some quackery




and decorated by a really funky tree.


We returned to find Katie up and ready. The weather was relatively mild and the three of us decided to take a short punting trip on the river. In spite of the huge looming thundercloud we were taken in by the spiel of the young folk selling this trip.

We hopped in and were immediately entertained by well-practiced factoids and plenty of puns by a theatrical student. Remember that cloud? No sooner were we pushed off from the rickety dock than the skies dumped rain, and, I mean dumped. All we could do was laugh as our punter quickly pushed us under a bridge to wait out the worst of it.


Not the best day for a river boat ride but definitely memorable.

After heading back to change various articles of soaked clothing we ended up at a whole food cafe sitting atop a co-op. The hot coffees, teas, and soups made it a great stop for a late lunch.

We walked around a bit more then headed to the store for breakfasts, hors d’ouerve, and dinners. Since none of us felt like cooking, our meals involved a lot of yogurt and fruit, cheese and crackers, soups and bread. Oh, and wine.


At one point we had trouble fitting into a self-timer shot, but, as you can see, it really didn’t matter.


DAY 3:  Sunday, October 5

It was a beautiful morning. Mild, and a totally blue sky. There was a historical site just down the road from our condo. Carol and I decided to explore this Norman castle begun by William the Conqueror around 1070.


Although it was beginning to earn its reputation as a ruin by the 17th century it had been one of the three royal castles during Henry I’s time (1068-1135). Two hundred years later it became a prison. It made for a lovely walk if not the most informative castle tour.

From there we walked through another park to the site of Saint Augustine’s monastery, marking the rebirth of christianity in England, now simply stone foundations poking up through grass.


Just to provide a quick background on the religious element of Canterbury:

As a lot of you know Canterbury is known for its cathedral as well as the guy telling the bawdy tales (Chaucer). The history is amazing. Prior to the invasion of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, the Celts had converted to Christianity after the Romans introduced it. However, the 5th century invaders noted above changed the religious make-up to the worshiping of Odin, the head of the Norse gods.

Seeing an opportunity Pope Gregory the Great sent a monk, Augustine, to England for missionary work in 596. Augustine set off with a group of fellow monks; but, he was so nervous of running into bandits and other road travel menaces he ended up turning around in southern Gaul. Not to be deterred in his desire to christinize England, the pope sent him back, and Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet off the SE coast of England in spring of 597.


King Ethelbert who was married to a christian, french princess, Bertha (too bad she didn’t have a middle name to use), welcomed this retinue and gave them some land to build a monastery and allowed them to use St. Martin’s Church, the queen’s place of worship (and the oldest church in England still in use after 1,400 years) to begin with.


Augustine soon built a monastery and a church while becoming England’s first Archbishop. Thus, Canterbury’s prominence in English religion was cemented. This humble monk (and, he was known for being self-effacing as well as warm) became a saint, which only added to Canterbury’s growing prestige among England’s christians. Due to Augustine’s initial settlement and sainthood a magnificent cathedral (THE cathedral) was constructed on part of the former monastery’s site.

Having gotten our fill of formal religion, we decided it was time for nature to work its magic. Because it was so perfect of a day, it seemed the best use of the pristine weather would be to travel to the coast.

The three of us set off on the local bus towards Herne Bay, and the day was, as the English say, absolutely brilliant.

For those who’ve been around Katie, if there’s a beach around, you’ll most likely be walking on it with her. Which is how we landed at Herne Bay’s shoreline :)


The boardwalk, which was filled with others enjoying the October sun day, hugged the shore curving around to a local artists’ market with colorful booths and a few fruit vendors.


Opposite the market were some local fishing boats and an example of the dramatic change in tide. We spotted some artists painting outside bringing to mind friends’ (Ellen and Bobbi) trips to Maine.



Tiny, shoulder-to-shoulder beach cottages lined the path. Looking at these (some dilapidated and some cutesy-decorated) I could just imagine my sister and Ellen envisioning the best way to fix one of these up; and, if they had, I know I would have wanted to rent it.


With the sun going down we decided to find a tea shop, which we did (hard not to in England). Warmed up we caught our bus home enjoying the twighlty sky.

Another magical day was put to bed.

DAY 4:  Monday, October 6

I must admit the most frustrating event of our trip was trying to figure out the fancy expresso machine. To give you an idea of just how complicated it was, the damn thing came with an instructional DVD. I watched it twice and still it baffled us on how to operate the stupid thing. The worse part was that all of us would hungrily stare at it each morning, knowing that a morning cup out of it would be like heaven. Oh, well, there’s that obnoxious first-world problem again.


Wanting to visit the cathedral, the three of us made our pilgrimage through the impressive gates and into this building built just after the Norman Conquest (1066) and constantly added to and renovated into the 1500s.


Well-worn, slippery stone steps were throughout this cavernous stone edifice as we toured it clockwise.

There are too many stories to discover here, so I’ll just relate two, one well-known, the other, not so much.

First, there’s “The Martyrdom” where Thomas Becket (1118/1120-1170), the famous Archbirshop and friend of King Henry II (1154-1189), was murdered.


Becket had been a really close pal of the king after becoming Henry’s Lord Chancellor. In this post he collected all the revenue from landowners, including churches, and enjoyed the finer things in life (food, drink, clothes, and, I imagine, women).

Then, he got religion but not in the usual sense. He was appointed Archbishop because Henry was hoping to lessen the control of the church by placing a good friend as head of this powerful institution. Becket was initially reluctant about this change, and the priests weren’t so happy about it either. After all, here was a playboy who’d never even been a priest taking the highest position in England’s Catholic hierarchy.

However, Becket embraced the role wholeheartedly and changed from a carouser to someone evoking monastic piety. Even to the point of wearing a hair shirt (gross) and being scourged (whipped) daily by his fellow monks (even grosser).

Henry II was known as having a wicked temper, which didn’t bode well for anyone refusing to comply with the king’s wishes. He and Becket had already had one rift, causing the latter to flee to France after refusing to support Henry’s desire to try lay clerks in the royal vs. church courts. The two reconciled but came to blows again when Becket excommunicated bishops who had supported the king during Becket’s self-imposed exile.

When the king heard about this latest action he yelled (supposedly) ‘will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?!’.  That was enough to send four knights at their own behest to hunt down and stab Becket on December 29th, 1170. The site is marked in a little room off the main part of the cathedral.

Well, Henry was devastated and also realized what a huge faux pas he had done… not only had he lost someone he had admired but also created a saint. After convincing Pope Alexander III he never meant or ordered the murder of Becket, Henry was forgiven. The king had to provide 200 men for the Holy Land crusade (talk about murderers) and be whipped by 80 monks. Furthermore, he agreed to drop his plans of trying criminal clerics in the royal courts.

Canterbury itself obtained a monstrous amount of revenue by becoming a pilgrimage site, the most important one in England.

Another tale was related to us by one of the staff keeping guard (I would heartily recommend taking a guided tour, better yet, hire one of these on the side if you can). She began by explaining many stained glass windows were used to tell the story of christianity to those who couldn’t read. Some of the windows in Canterbury do just that. One series shows a woman dragged there by her caretakers. She was accused of being crazy. Well, she got well by feeling the tomb. (The tomb had holes so people could get as close as possible to St. Augustine’s bones. Nice touch.) What is really wonderful is that these stories were documented by scribes as they were occurring, so they know the window is depicting an actual event.

It was an impressive building but also cold and drafty, so we were thankful to have done our walk-around. If you find yourself in Canterbury and want to see the cathedral, visit this site;  http://www.paradoxplace.com/Photo%20Pages/UK/Britain_South_and_West/Canterbury_Cathedral/Canterbury_Internal/Canterbury_Inside.htm for a good primer.

What was really a highlight of our week was returning for the 5:30 pm Evensong composed of the famous Boys Choir and some older singers. It was hauntingly beautiful. The boys were given free room and board on the grounds (the Cathedral had quite a lovely complex), bused to an excellent school, and offered scholarships for universities upon graduation. But, they definitely earned it with all the singing they had to do.

With heavenly tunes drifting in our heads, we  slowly walked home.

DAY 5:  Tuesday, October 7

We decided to revisit the park, so the three of us meandered through the formal part and found ourselves faced with a bit wilder area occupied by some rather shaggy beasts.


Definitely a bit different from our black and white variety.

Today was our day for a tour of the city guided by one of the people holding up placards outside the cathedral. We paid our fee at the local visitor’s office and found our guide, a retired gent who was full of wit and historical information about his town.

He pointed out hostels (hotels) where pilgrims stayed, both the poor (shared beds and everything else that goes with that) and rich (fireplaces, toilets, and even someone to do your penance for you), the crooked house of which Dickens wrote,


one of the oldest homes exhibiting the emblems for fire insurance, and more information about the cathedral and its grounds.


It was well-worth the ever-growing-colder day to trek around town with him. Not a bad job for being retired and, as he put it, kicked out of the house by his wife.

DAY 6:  Wednesday, October 8

Our last full day was again gray and chilly, but Carol and I decided to take the train to Walmer Castle, known for its gardens and being the place where General Wellington of Waterloo fame died.

It was raining off and on, mostly on, as we walked several miles to the castle from the station. Walmer was one of the five, coastal fortifications built by Henry VIII, with others being some Max and I had visited on the southern coast earlier in the summer. The castle later evolved into the residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (in charge of arresting criminals and collecting taxes), a post Wellington held for 23 years and which is now ceremonial.

We whisked ourselves through the house, noting Wellington’s room, the chair in which he died, and the boots he designed and took on his name.


Outside in the gardens we found the vegetable and flower ones and then realized we needed to run back (the several miles) to catch a train in time to be home by noon.


Well, our dash was interspersed with heavy panting, only to start off again, not quite sure where the station was. We finally made it (to the station) having just missed our first train, which put off schedule for the second one. Oh well, we tried, and we had to laugh thinking how the two of us must have looked running like screaming meemies through the quaint village streets to the train.

Back in Canterbury we caught up with Katie,


and the three of us decided to visit The Beaney, named for the philinthropic gentlemen, Dr. James George Beaney (1828-1891). Beaney had traveled to Australia and made his fortune practicing medicine at the Melbourne Hospital and becoming a pioneer in child health, family planning and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. This generous man left a bequest to create an ‘Institute for Working Men’ to serve as a refuge for those who grew up poor like him.

Got to love someone with a name like Beaney, who loved showy jewelry so much he was nicknamed Diamond Jim, and who cared so much about others less fortunate.

A wonderful photographic exhibit, the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait 2013 contest winners, were featured. Taylor Wessing is an international law firm, not an individual as I originally thought. For seven years this firm has sponsored a photographic portrait contest, and it was spectacular. The aim is to encourage and support new talent. Anyone interested in seeing some provocative shots of a diverse group of people, check it out.

The Beaney, which also houses one of Canterbury’s tourist offices, has some other rooms dedicated to showing off stuffed animals as well as some historical items of the town.

After being on our feet for most of the day, we were glad to finally find a place to sit, which just happened to be under a poster featuring one of the portraits (that of a female jockey).


Our last night was our pub dinner, one we had been promising ourselves since we had arrived in Canterbury. And, man, what a great meal that was! Situated behind the cathedral, The Parrot is touted as the oldest pub in Canterbury, and, once inside, we didn’t want to leave. All of us said ’THIS is IT.’ If everyone inside had been wearing clothes from the 1500s, we wouldn’t have been surprised. We would have just wanted to sit in the low-ceiling, beamy room sipping pints and chowing down on the wholesome, delicious food.

The young manager said he was sorry but they were booked. When we mentioned we’d wait for an opening, he responded a whole roomful from an event was coming downstairs to eat. With that information Katie and I began to head out the door when all of a sudden Carol called our names. We turned around and saw a huge grin on her face. She got us in!  She told the manager it was our very last night in Canterbury, and he graciously gave in and offered to seat us. Not only was the food delicious but the manager and the waitress couldn’t have been more hospitable. A wonderful way to finish off the week!

DAY 7:  Thursday, October 9

Time to say good-bye as Katie and I headed back to Heathrow (I’d just miss Max returning from the states) and Carol, to Gatwick. Nothing’s good about good-byes except when you know you’ll be seeing someone soon.

And, we did! We stopped in for a night at Katie and Steve Palmer’s on our way back north during Thanksgiving holidays.


As you can see, we were able to entice Max and Steve to behave like the three of us.

The end.

3 thoughts on “Going back in time to Canterbury Tales

  1. Carol Williams

    So much fun to read about our trip. I’m never good at keeping a diary, but this is great! Thanks, Lynnie, for the entertainment.

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