Canterbury Tales (Seriously, what else was I supposed to call this?)

16 Jun

Day 4

No tour busses today! We got up, got on the train, and rode to Canterbury. An advance round–trip ticket from St. Pancras Station is in the £32-£35 range depending on when you leave.  Morning rush, there are trains every 20 minutes or so. The frequency and ticket price drops after9:30AM, with outbound trains leaving about every half hour. As always I recommend buying in advance online, but this poses a problem for those of us without chip and pin credit cards (Remember those?). You can choose your tickets using the National Rail Enquiries website, which will then shift you over to the site of the retailer that actually sells the tickets, which in this instance is Southeastern Rail (Man was this ever easier when it was all just Britrail). Once you decide on a trip you can purchase your tickets online and have them mailed to you (Not the best option for those of us coming over from across the pond) or you can pick them up at a self-serve kiosk in the station (IF the station has one and IF you have a chip and pin card). We used the National Rail Enquiries site to choose times and then purchased tickets at the counter ahead of time whenever possible. Oh, and the National Rail Enquiries site also lets you print out very handy little personalized timetables. Look for the link to a custom .pdf at the bottom of your search result page.

A word about Canterbury West station;

I wish I’d thought to ask somebody about this at the time, because it bugs the hell out of me. There are two stations in Canterbury, named simply Canterbury East and Canterbury West. If you glance at a map you will notice something interesting about these names. The stations are situated on either side of the town. Canterbury West station is approximately 1 kilometer due north of Canterbury East Station.  Now to be fair, if you follow an imaginary line north from Canterbury East… yes, Canterbury West is about 250 feet further west than Canterbury East. In trying to find an explanation for the names I ran across the Quite Interesting website and a forum thread about “Really Bizarre Train Stations.” A post by Mr. Grue posits that Canterbury is slowly revolving.  (Mr. Grue does not speculate as to whether Canterbury is turning clockwise or anti-clockwise.)

Anywho… we had a lovely relaxing train ride to the Canterbury West station, got off the train… and got poured on.  All day.  Rain rain rain. We made our way from the station to St. Dunstan’s Street and walked to the Westgate towers on the River Stour.  I noticed along the way that the English don’t appear to be overly interested in keeping dry.  We watched a young mother and her boy walking down the street. The boy had no hat, his jacket wasn’t zipped, it was pouring rain, and his mother was telling him not to stomp in the puddles. His hair was plastered to his forehead and water was dripping from his jacket and his shirt, but she was yelling at him not to stomp in the puddles. We encountered far more people without umbrellas than with.

Canterbury is where we discovered that rain makes us buy stuff. The rain would let up, and then come down harder, so we’d duck into a shop… and we’d buy stuff. Rain = purchases. This first instance was incredibly fortuitous. Some good friends of ours have a 3 year-old son who loves the Kipper cartoons. Kipper is a little brown dog and the title character in a series of children’s books. The cartoons were produced in the UK a number of years ago and all revolve around the very mild adventures of Kipper the dog (Who my friends and I all believe is a TOTAL stoner), his friend Tiger (A grey terrier), their friend Pig (A pig, obviously), and Pig’s younger cousin Arnold (Also a pig, perhaps not so obviously. It’s a kid’s show with talking animals, so you never know). We’d been asking at all of the shops we’d stopped in since landing in London if anyone had a stuffed Kipper toy. We got the same thing from everyone…

“Awwwww, I remember Kipper from when I was little! No, we don’t have anything like that.”

…until we stepped into a shop called Whispers to get in out of the rain. The store was filled with Star Wars and Star Trek merchandise, comic book characters and stuffed animals from every cartoon and comic imaginable. Not seeing a Kipper anywhere about I asked the shop keeper and he said “Sure,” and pointed to the top corner shelf where there were Kippers in all sizes! Mission accomplished! Seriously, we could’ve turned around and flown home right then. If you find yourself in need of a rare bit of comic book or sci-fi kitsch and you are anywhere near Canterbury, stop in at Whispers, 11A St. Peter’s Street.

Canterbury’s High Street is lined with a number of interesting shops and bakeries. Along the walk to the Cathedral we found the Royal Museum, the remaining tower of  St. George’s Church (Where Christopher Marlowe was baptized in 1564), and the Old Weaver’s House, which now has a café in the basement and was built in 1500.

The Old Weaver's House

We had lunch here. The building dates to 1500.

We entered the Cathedral precincts through the Christ Church Gate on Sun Street. Admission to the precincts is £9.50 unless you are attending a service. Bear right inside the gate and you’ll find an information booth with maps, etc, and further along to the right you will find the public toilets. We entered the Cathedral and were met by a little old volunteer who asked us what language we spoke.

“English” I said.

“Ah, Americans” he replied, and handed us a brochure and map that was not only in English, but highlighted things to see in the cathedral that had connections to the United States.

“Not the best weather for it today” he said.

“This weather is just… shocking” I replied (Recalling Handsome Helen Doyle’s lessons of the previous day).

The little man’s face… lit… up.

“It IS!” he exclaimed.

I got the impression we made this guy’s day. I can imagine him going home that night and telling his wife “I met an American couple today who spoke ENGLISH!”

The weight of history in this place is unbelievable.  The cathedral was founded in 597, and the present structure was begun about 1,000 years ago. Henry IV is buried here, and so is Edward the Black Prince (Yes THAT Edward the Black Prince!).  Most of us, however, know Canterbury for one of two reasons; We had to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or we had to read (Or watch) Becket in high school.

As you look at this bear in mind you can only see to the choir screen. This is only half of the cathedral.

We took our usual path and made our way around the cathedral anti-clockwise. The scale of Canterbury cathedral is somewhat daunting. I’d say easily twice the size of Bath Abbey. The stained glass windows are amazing, and some are 800 years old.

A choir from Germany was singing during most of our visit. They added a great deal to the ambiance (And covered some, but not all, of the racket made by the obligatory horde of French school children). While the Choir screen is an amazing work of art, I have to say I don’t like it. I enjoy being able to look down the entire length of Notre Dame or Bath Abbey. The screen bisects the cathedral, cutting off the view from the nave. Of course, who am I to criticize the layout of Canterbury Cathedral?

The German choir

We proceeded down to the Martyrdom (The spot where Becket was quite gruesomely murdered), and into the crypt. Afterward we went back outside to circle the cathedral. We met a security guard at the Quentin Gate and got another little history lesson from an unexpected quarter

800 years old!!!

before it started raining on us yet again. This particular storm actually served up some hailstones as well.

We finished up in the Cloisters after having a look at the King’s School and the Chapter House. The sun came out for a bit and we went back down the High Street to the Old Weaver’s House for a slightly overpriced lunch and then we simply wandered around before heading back to the station.

There were a couple of places that we could have visited that I didn’t know about before we went.  If you find yourself in Canterbury you’ll likely want to have a look at the “Crooked House,” also known as the Sir John Boys House at 28 Palace Street.

Another place to check out is the Canterbury Castle, a Norman ruin located at the intersection of Gas Street and Castle Street. The castle was started in 1180. Only the outer walls remain. I know I’ll check it out if I get back.

Along the way to the station we stopped in a bakery and I purchased a truly amazing confection called a Gypsy Tart. I asked what was in it and the woman told me “Evaporated milk and brown sugar.” It was amazingly good and I thought to myself “Certainly there’s got to be more to it than that” so we looked up a recipe online.

That’s pretty much it. Easy.  Two ingredients. Couldn’t be simpler.

I’ve tried and failed miserably to make a Gypsy Tart on two occasions now since returning to America. I actually hurt my arm trying to make it. I suffered a baking-related muscle strain and had nothing to show for it but an underdone pie crust filled with sugary brown milk.

We had a pleasant ride back to London and stopped in at The Queen’s Head on Acton Street for dinner. I had a Melton Mowbray pork pie with tangy relish. I was a lot better off not knowing the particulars of a Melton Mowbray pork pie. First off, I was unaware that it was served cold. Second… well let’s just say I could have gone my whole life without learning the phrase “Pork jelly.” Or as my friend Tim [Person, English: 1] calls it, the “Goo.”  It was good, but I’ll likely be sticking to hot steak & ale pies from now on.

Next; Tea and a night at the threatre.

Take good care.

© 2012 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator


One Response to “Canterbury Tales (Seriously, what else was I supposed to call this?)”

  1. Dave Royse June 28, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    Ms. Donsky would be proud. If she were alive. Still. And my kid likes Kipper. And once, he made the incredibly astute remark, “DAD! Tiger’s a DOG. why is he called Tiger?”

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