Posts Tagged ‘Saxon Shore’

One thing to know about the English is that on the whole they do not go in for early rising. Why, I have no idea, but it’s patently obvious both in the opening hours of their national treasures (even Stonehenge, clearly visible for miles away isn’t “open” until 9:30 a.m.) and in their personal habits. Canterbury Cathedral, open at the shocking hour of 9 a.m., perhaps because it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site and thus not beholden to the benevolent dictatorship of English Heritage, was practically deserted when we arrived. After finding parking–yes, parking!–we were guided to walk around through the winding medieval streets that circle the cathedral precincts, past genuinely quaint tea shops, outdoor gear outfitters and even a Starbucks which had the good grace not to re-do the decor of the quasi-ancient hotel it had taken over.

We entered through the same cathedral gate that pilgrims have been entering for hundreds of years and were directed across the grounds to the cathedral proper where very nice docents kept trying to give us leaflets. After the third attempt, I started taking extras because it seemed that there might be some kind of prize they were vying for, to be the one who gave away the most leaflets and I could always wad them up to make cat toys for Juliet.

Front gate, the main city entrance

The exterior of the (south?) end of the nave

Bear for scale, looking toward the other end with the Trinity Chapel at the furthest end

Interior of the nave

Organ

I light a candle and say a prayer at nearly every cathedral we visit. I don’t know if it will ever be fully answered but I’ll let you know if it is.

We found the site of the little chapel-ish area on the side where Thomas a’Becket had been murdered by the knights of Henry II (“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”) and took some extra minutes to stay and talk about watching Becket for the first time and how sad it had been for Henry II to create a situation in which Beckett was put at odds with his old friend and ultimately the conflict led to his death. I don’t imagine it was also as crystal clear as the movie made it and politics inevitably muddies things, but Thomas’ devotion always seemed very clear, as well as Henry’s remorse afterwards.

The site of Becket’s murder (love the sculpture)

We also wandered the crypt for a while, getting lost in the crypt vaults, and stopping by the crypt treasury. Bear said that looking at all the silver communion chalices reminded him of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where they were all looking at the mass of treasure and the Nazi seized on the most elaborate bejeweled cup and said that surely this must be the Holy Grail when in fact it was the simply wooden cup that was the least attractive of them all (because the point was never supposed to be about the glitzy shiny).

First attestation in history of Disney’s heroine Belle (stained glass at Canterbury Cathedral) — OK, I think it’s one of the more recent windows, but *still*.

Yes, I took that. My silly little digital camera does pretty well when the subject is unreasonably pretty.

The site where the shrine to Thomas a’Becket was until Henry VIII dissolved it along with everything else. (I grow increasingly irritated with Henry the more I visit things that are in ruins because he couldn’t balance his checkbook and decided to pilfer from everyone else to make ends meet).

Site of the former shrine

Trinity Chapel

Upward shot of the roof

Canterbury Cloister

The crowds were starting to build up by the time we were done and wandered back to the little square in front of the cathedral. Bear had spotted a tea shop and I was all too ready for a snack, so we ducked in and were seated up on the second storey with a really nice view down over the square where musicians were playing an people queued up to get into the cathedral (because apparently they were done sleeping in now).

Tea overlooking the cathedral entrance

The crowds queuing up at the cathedral gate while we had tea

We hopped over to St. Augustine’s Abbey after that which was practically around the corner and the site of the monastery founded by Augustine when he was sent as a missionary by the Pope to the people’s of England. The king of the region, Ethelberht, was married to a Christian woman and they allowed the monastery to be built and funded it.

Ruins of the abbey walls with the missionary school standing beyond

Tombs of ancient kings of Anglia and Wessex, buried outside the city walls according to tradition

As there wasn’t parking readily available at Walmer Castle and Gardens, Bear pulled us onto the grass under a tree. (I think sometimes that he spent so much time in Texas that he simply feels land should be expansive and available for any purpose.) When we went inside, they had a woman at the entrance to specifically ask you where you had parked so after a little hemming and hawing and defining (though Bear did stop short of saying “it depends on what your definition of the word “is” is”), he had to go back to move the car while I poked around the gift shop.

When he returned, he looked shaken and there was blood on his pants. “Did you see that?” he whispered. I had to admit that no, I had not seen whatever had happened to bring him to this state or else I would have run out of the gift shop in an utter panic to be by his side. I’m not in a habit of standing by, browsing through guidebooks, while my beloved is undergoing serious bodily injury.

“There was this little old lady,” he said, and I wondered why it always had to be a little old lady. “She was trying to get to the entrance and this little kid had a scooter and somehow they got mixed up and she just faceplanted on the pavement in front of me. She broke her nose and her glasses shattered and the metal of the frame drove into her nose up to the bone.”

I don’t blanch easily–I was raised by a taxidermist and you just have to get over certain things–but I must’ve gone stark white. Fortunately for the little old lady, who turned out to be a great-grandmother out for the day with family, ┬áBear is extremely good in personal emergencies and helped stop the bleeding and got everyone calmed down and even rustled up some ice for her nose. (If nothing else, Americans know what to do with ice.) “I think I called her love,” he said mildly. “Was that right?” Yes, I said, that was the perfect thing to do. I wasn’t as certain about getting the blood out of his pants, but it was all for a very good cause.

“So that’s what took you so long to move the car?” I asked.

“Hell no,” he said. “That officious little harpy was walking next to me when it happened and as soon as she saw blood, she took off for the hills. She said she was going to get help but I certainly didn’t see anything that looked like a doctor. I didn’t move the damn car. It can sit out in the field all night for all I care.”

That excitement done, we checked out the house that had been built in to the castle and we weren’t allowed to take photos, but nevertheless I dug these up on the Internet.

Wellington bedroom (the Wellington’s bedroom)

The Duke of Wellington (the first one who apparently is still referred to as the Duke of Wellington) spent the end of his life in the castle. Apparently even after he left military service, the Duke preferred to sleep in a camp bed and they had it on display there along with other memorabilia.

On the roof, well…

Who needs Safetouch Security when you can just use cannons?

Outside in the gardens…I’m not certain how to describe it. It seemed like a strange combination of flower beds, open lawns, and an orchard or two. It was like a string of little gardens put together, sort of like a series of experiments.

A nice long reflecting pool with garden

The apple and pear orchard was very nice and the apples were for sale in the gift shop also, but I think the nose breaking incident happened before I had a chance to check them out.

And what garden is complete without a cat?

(No, I didn’t take any–have we learned nothing from Eve?)

A mile up the road, Deal Castle had also been constructed by Henry VIII as a part of the coastal defenses against the possible invasion from Catholic Spain and France. (That’s what you get when you divorce the aunt of the Emperor of Spain and a symbol of the beloved Catholic faith of France.)

Again with the cannonery!

It was a bit more modern in feel with the cannonery up on the bastions looking out over the ocean.

A chapel in Deal Castle, all around the theme of remembrance for fallen soldiers. The poppy (red flower, dark center) is the symbol of remembrance, used from the time of World War I forward.

After Deal Castle, we visited Richborough Roman fort which was one of the Saxon Shore defensive forts, much like Caister on Sea up in Norfolk. The fort may have been founded as part of the first Roman invasions, although that site isn’t clearly documented.

After the first military buildings, the area grew into a fairly large town but the military presence came back in the third century when pirate raiding along the Saxon Shore increased.

Ruined walls of the fortified area and the excavated remains of the triple defensive moats

Bear looking out from the high ridge, wind in his fur.

Time for a quick lunch ($5 if you can guess where we went) and then back up the road a bit to see St. Augustine’s Cross which we had overshot to get lunch.

Finding the cross was a bit of a miracle because it was in a field off a small road, the kind of site that we usually miss and have to troll around for hours to find, but Bear happened to be looking back over his right shoulder and spotted it right off the bat.

St. Augustine’s Cross

The cross was erected in the 1800s to mark the site where St. Augustine was reported to have given his first sermon on English soil to King Ecgbert.

We had one more stop to make, up on the top of the Kentish coastline, opposite Essex at the tiny town of Reculver. A Roman fort had been converted to a Saxon monastery and later a church with some imposing towers.

Reculver Towers

The towers are even now used as navigational markers for ships in the water beyond.

It was nearly a daily record (7 major sites) and our first extended expedition into Kent, plus we still had time to head back and let Juliet out to play in the garden for a few hours.

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