Canterbury – October – 2022

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With some new tyres on the van, it seemed a shame not to make use of them before the winter arrives, so with the weather forecast looking good, I tried for a pitch at the Camping & Caravanning Club site in Canterbury. A booking was confirmed, so I set off the next day along the M25 and into Kent. The drive was only 75 miles and with a 1pm entry, I didn’t need to leave before 11.

The site is situated close to the Sandwich Road, just a mile or so from the city centre. There are five pitch areas with a mix of hard-standing and grassed pitches. All the pitches are served by two toilet and shower blocks. The site has a free Wi-Fi connection but it is only effective close to reception. Instead, I used my Huawei MiFi which worked well. As is usual on C&CC sites, a warden takes you to a nominated pitch – even in spite of the site being less than half full. However, they did comply with my request for a pitch close to a water tap.

With electricity connected and water plumbed in, it was time for some lunch. It was whilst I was munching my way through a ham roll that I realized I hadn’t brought my laptop in from the car. But then I thought……………….. it isn’t in the car! It’s sitting on the coffee table at home. What was I to do? Ten days without a computer was just not possible. I looked at the clock. Just coming up to 2 o’clock. I could be home by 3.30. A quick cup of tea and I would on be my way back by 4.

So that’s what I did. I set off for home and reached there at 3.15. With the computer packed in the car and the kettle on – but alas; no cup of tea, for there wasn’t any milk, so I settled for black coffee before heading up to the M25. I was back in the caravan just before half five. Not quite what I’d planned my first day.

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Day two.

With lunch packed, I set off on the short drive into Canterbury. A parking spot was found fairly close to the Cathedral Precincts. I unloaded my mobility scooter; locked the car; switched on the scooter – and discovered the battery was almost flat. Too flat to venture far. I’d assumed that it would still be holding the charge I put in it when I was in Suffolk a few weeks ago. I got out my walking stick instead.

Visitors to the Cathedral are asked to donate £14 per person – but there’s a 20% reduction for EH members. The oldest part of the Cathedral is the Crypt, its round Norman arches, date from the 11th Century, whilst the Nave above it was rebuilt in the 14th Century. To one side of the bell tower is the spot where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170.

The Crypt at Canterbury Cathedral
A view along the Nave. I never cease to be amazed at how masons could build to such soaring heights without the use of modern tubular scaffolding and electric hoists.
The view up through the Bell Tower

Beckett and King Henry II had been long-time friends. Henry had made Thomas his Chancellor and was happy to leave affairs of state in his hands. But Henry felt the church was becoming too powerful. What better way to get control of it than make Beckett the Head of the Church. But not only did Thomas take his role as the leading churchman seriously, he also resigned his post as Chancellor. Henry’s plot had failed. And the two rapidly became enemies. The squabble was to continue for ten years. The King confiscated Thomas’s lands in Suffolk and Henry had a castle built for himself on some of the lands at Orford. Things got so bad that Thomas had to seek refuge in France. After the Pope interceded on his behalf, Thomas was allowed back to Canterbury, but Beckett refused to agree to Henry’s demands. History has it that four of King Henry’s knights on hearing those famous words, “Can no one rid me of this troublesome priest?,” took it upon themselves to carry out the killing. Henry became very unpopular. Finally, he had to undergo an act of public penance where Henry had to travel to Canterbury, publicly confess his sins and allow himself to be birched by all 80 monks at the Cathedral. The murder has ensured that pilgrims have kept travelling to Canterbury for more than 850 years.

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Day three.

This morning I headed into the City again. I found a parking spot close to the City walls. Canterbury has been a walled city since Roman times, but most of the walls were rebuilt in the medieval period. Altogether, the city had eight gates which would be locked and guarded every night. What I wanted to see today was the Westgate.

A view of the Westgate from the outside of the City.
Another view from Westgate Gardens.

It was built in 1380 on the foundations of an earlier Roman gate. The river runs close to the walls and today the area has been laid out as a public garden.

Later I drove out into the country to visit Howletts Animal Park. Fortunately, my entry was with Tesco vouchers, otherwise, the admission would have cost me an eye-watering £25 per person. The Park began as a private zoo in 1957 on a large country estate owned by the gambler, John Aspinall. During the 1950s, gambling was illegal except for when it took place on a race course, by post on football results, or on private premises. Aspinall bent the law by hosting private gaming parties for members of the aristocracy where fabulous amounts of money were lost during the course of an evening. Aspinall’s hobby was keeping exotic pets. Amongst his collection, he kept baby lion cubs and monkeys. In his later years, he set up a foundation to better the conditions and treatment of wild animals throughout the world.

One of many Lemurs
Emus
An elephant family in the Paddock

In 1974 Aspinall became involved in the disappearance of one of his gambling friends, Lord Lucan. Lucan was facing a charge of murder. He had intended to kill his wife, but because it was dark in the basement of his house, he mistakenly killed his children’s nanny. Before he could be brought before the court, he disappeared and was never seen again so escaped justice. It was alleged but never proved that Aspinall had helped in his disappearance.

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Day Four

On Thursday I drove to Sandwich which is a lovely town situated alongside the River Stour, with much of it dating from the medieval period. At one time it was much closer to the sea than what it is now. The Fisher Gate on the quay dates from 1384 and is the only original medieval town gate left. The Barbican, 100 yards or so along the road dates from the 1500s and was at one time used as a toll house.

The Fisher Gate built in 1384.

The Barbican. Once used as a Toll Gate.
Two Inns.

In August of 1457, the French arrived in force to pillage the town, killing the Mayor and many of the townspeople. After almost burning the town to the ground, they left.

During the Reformation, European protestants were being persecuted by the Catholic Church. Many of them sought refuge in this country. Henry VIII had already cut ties with Rome and appointed himself Head of the Church of England. By the time his daughter, Elizabeth was on the throne, many Protestants from the continent came to this country as religious refugees. Flemish refugees arrived and settled in Sandwich. Eventually, by the 16th Century, “strangers” in the town far outnumbered the natives. They brought with them the idea of market gardening and weaving skills in the production of silk. The Flemish style of building can be seen in the town.

From Sandwich, I drove the short distance to Deal. Here, I wanted to visit the Castle. Our King Henry VIII had made enemies of every country in Europe. Because the Pope would not grant him the divorce he wanted, he chose to abandon Roman Catholicism and create himself the Head of the Church of England. His Queen of twenty years whom he wanted to be rid of, was a Spanish princess, and Spain, being the richest and most powerful country in Europe was offended. When the Pope offered his help and blessing to any country that would attack England, Spain was very willing. France also. Henry had cause to be worried. In 1539, he quickly set about building a series of heavy gun platform forts around the southern and eastern coastlines. Altogether, he had 30 built. The Castle at Deal is one of them.

The view of Deal Castle from the Carpark
Some of the heavy guns.

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Day Five

Today I drove to Canterbury to visit St Augustine’s Abbey. Although by Roman times Christianity had become popular in this country, after the Romans left, other tribes from the Continent arrived bringing with them their tribal religions. In 597AD, Pope Gregory sent forty monks led by Prior Augustine to England to convert the pagans to Christianity, St Augustine’s Abbey is just one of the monasteries they set up.

View of the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey
Another view of the ruins. The Cathedral tower is in the background.

From the city, I later headed out to the coast at Reculver. It was here that the Romans built one of their shore forts; one of several around this part of the coast. In medieval times a thriving town became established with a monastery being built at the centre of the fort. Over time, coastal erosion took its toll so that eventually most of the town had been taken by the sea. In the 1800’s it was decided that for safety reasons, the church should be pulled down. Since the towers were useful markers for shipping, they were preserved and eventually sea defences were built to protect them.

The Reculver Towers are now protected by sea defences.
Most of the church was pulled down in the 1800s because coastal erosion was making it dangerous.

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Day Six

Today I drove down the A2 and into Dover. Then through the town and onto the A20. I was heading to Samphire Hoe whose entrance is a traffic-light controlled single-track tunnel which leads steeply down through the cliff. The road comes out onto what used to be the narrow beach at the foot of the cliffs.

A view along Samphire Hoe.

Back in the early 1980s when the Channel Tunnel was being planned, there were many discussions about how the spoil from boring the tunnel could be gotten rid of. A normal skip such as those seen on streets and in drives holds four cubic metres. It was calculated that there would be five million cubic metres of chalk to be disposed of. The winning solution was to create Samphire Hoe. They began by sinking two rows of sheet piles out into the sea from the base of the cliff. After they’d gone straight out to sea for a ¼ of a mile, they made a 90-degree turn and continued putting in the piles parallel with the cliff for a mile. The piling then made a 45-degree turn towards the cliff, finally enclosing the area at the base of the cliff. The three-metre-wide space between the piles was then filled with mass concrete, forming a promenade. In all, the area covered around 75 acres. Once it was pumped dry, it was into the space where the builders of the tunnel dumped the chalk. Now the area is home to wildlife, laid out with footpaths, carparks and picnic areas.

Another view of the Hoe with Dover Ferry traffic in the background.

Although I wanted to head into Dover, my route lay in the opposite direction because of the dual carriageway, so I took the opportunity to drive into Capel-le-Ferne and visit the Battle of Britain War Memorial. The Memorial is built on what was once the nearest WW11 airstrip to the enemy bases.

A Spitfire, a Hurricane and a crashed Junckers Divebomber.
The young pilot at the centre of the Memorial waiting for takeoff

From there, it was a short run down into the valley, through Dover and up onto Castle Hill. Long before Henry II started building a stone castle, the hill had been used as an Iron Age hill fort. Later the Romans built a lighthouse and the Saxons built a church. I’ve visited the Castle several times but this time, as I was able to park in what was once the inner bailey, I contented myself with taking an amble around the Pharos and the church. Later I strolled around the keep. Gone are the days when I could climb the steps through several floors of the tower and out onto the battlements.

The Norman Keep, the Roman Pharos and the Saxon church.
The Inner Bailey encloses the Keep.

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Day Seven

I awoke to hear the patter of rain on the van roof. I decided there was no great hurry to get on with the day. In fact, a good opportunity to drive to Asda and restock the fridge. By the time I’d returned, the rain had stopped and the clouds were beginning to brighten. I had lunch in the van and realised how fortunate I’d been on this trip by being able to take lunch out with me on all the other days. By early afternoon, the sky had cleared and it was back to blue skies with fleecy clouds. I got out the bike and cycled to the next village – Fordwich. First I visited the church. Still open for visitors. Still consecrated, but no longer holding services. In earlier times families would rent the box pews; large boxes for families with servants, and smaller boxes for those without.

Inside the no longer used church at Fordwich

As I strolled through the village I caught sight of a disused oast house, formally used for the drying of hops.

A view along the village street
The Medieval Town Hall.
The river flowing alongside the village,

Then I turned to walk a few hundred yards along the river bank before returning to my bike.

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Day Eight

Today’s drive was only four miles. I drove to the car park at Stodmarsh Nature Reserve. In Medieval times the place was referred to as Studmarsh because monks used the rich grasslands to breed ponies. They dug channels to allow the river water to reach the surrounding pastures. In the 19th and 20th Centuries coal mining took place with the result that later, the ground began to sink forming lakes and areas of reed beds. Now, a large area is laid out with pathways and hides. Cycling is not permitted, so I got on my mobility scooter.

Several volunteers were working on the reed beds.

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Day Nine

I decided today to visit Walmer Castle. This one was built in the same style as that at Deal and at the same time, however, in the 18th Century, it was decided to make it the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Consequently, the Castle was altered and had additions built and a huge garden laid out, with each successive Lord Warden bringing his own ideas.

Walmer Castle with its added windows and additional buildings

The five ports were Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, New Romney and Hastings and they formed a powerful trading and defensive agreement, enjoying rights of self-government in return for the Crown’s use of their ships and men as and when required. William Pitt the Younger and the Duke of Wellington held the post of Lord Warden.

Over time, the gardens got bigger and bigger.
I love doing close-up pictures.
Some of the dahlias in the gardens. Sad to think the first overnight frost will kill them.
This garden was created in honour of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

Now, the role is purely ceremonial. In more recent years the post has been held by Sir Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

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Day Ten,

The rain started in the early hours and continued on and off throughout most of the day. I didn’t mind! It gave me an opportunity to sort out some photographs and start writing this blog. In the afternoon I did some cleaning because tomorrow is the time to return home.

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