I don’t know where to start so I’ll start at the beginning. (Isn’t that a song from The Sound of Music?). As Glen said, we’ve been here in Canterbury since Friday and it already feels like an old friend. And by old, I mean olde!
Canterbury is a mid-sized city so it’s really manageable to figure out and get around. It has a large (at least larger than I expected) cobblestoned, medieval olde town that’s just a hop skip and a jump away from our dwelling. The narrow streets full of cafés and shops provide plenty of opportunity for people watching, shopping and just generally enjoying the vibe. The river Stour runs through town so I think there is a punting experience in my future (or at least a river “cruise”)!
I took a walking tour yesterday so I learned a bit about the history of the town and especially the cathedral. It’s graduation week for the University of Kent so the cathedral itself is closed for services. I’ll go inside next week. One thing that I found unique about Canterbury is that you can’t even get on the cathedral grounds without a ticket. I can’t think of another cathedral I’ve visited where you can’t go right up to it, if not even in it…for free. Now I understand. It was built at the center of the town with gates and buildings surrounding it that closed at 9:00 pm every night. If you were a villager and you weren’t inside the gates and home by 9:00, tough luck. So today they are able to keep the cathedral isolated from the rest of the town and monitor its access. I guess all those fees help pay for the ongoing restoration.
Canterbury has 3 UNESCO sites – The cathedral, St. Augustin Abbey which is a stone’s throw away from our house, and St. Martin’s Church and cemetery. I happened upon St. Martin’s church on a morning wander. I later learned of its status. More on that church in a future post.
There are larger medieval (even back to Roman) walls around the wider section of the city that are evident in places throughout town and even a section that you can walk along. There are also 11 or so gates remaining. As I’ve walked around town, I’ve seen several of the gates, including the one with the jail. Yesterday I learned the origins of the phrase “living on a shoestring”. In medieval times, debtors were considered to be breaking the law and were thrown in jail with the murderers, etc. The only way to get out of jail was to pay your debt which was hard since you were stuck in jail. To remedy the problem, they put debtors in cages and wheeled them into town where they took off their shoes and tied them to the outside of their cage hoping that passersby would take pity on them and drop some coins in their shoes…thus “living on a shoestring”.
The old Canterbury castle is just a ruins, but there are plenty of other VERY old buildings in town. Most of the buildings are timber, though many have been covered in tiles to make them look like brick. One wouldn’t want to be considered poor by having a wooden house so they covered the wood with tiles to look expensive.
Canterbury was hit by the Nazis, but due to the quick thinking of the community and a “holy wind” that blew the missiles north of the cathedral, most of the town was saved. It was rebuilt, but not in the architecture of surrounding buildings so eventually they tore down the post WWII modern and utilitarian buildings and rebuilt the section of town to look like the original buildings. Good move.
Our little street, Ivy Lane is crossed by Love Lane and our house literally sits at the corner of the two. We see this view out our living room window. The oldest house on the street is dated 1627. I’ve already written about Two Sawyers pub (1779) and coffee shop across the street.
AND here’s the real story I want to tell…we met David, our next door neighbor, the other day when he came by to invite us over for a drink. Today we joined David in his home, built in 1631, for a glass of wine and conversation. David is 82 years old and an academic. His house is FULL of books, just like you’d imagine an 82 year old academic’s house to look. Literally floor to ceiling books. Our Aussie neighbor, Olivier had told us that David was an authority on Karl Marx so I spent some time studying up on Wikipedia so I wouldn’t embarrass myself if the conversation went that direction. I did the ol’ “cram for the test” method so don’t expect to have me answer your Marxism questions because I already forgot what I learned!
David is of Scottish descent, but was born in England. He went to Oxford (and a couple other universities), lived in France and according to Wikipedia, considered becoming a Jesuit for a time. During that time, he became enamored with Karl Marx’s theories (philosophies?) and has spent his life studying and writing about him and others who interested him. Glen borrowed a biography he wrote about a woman who sounds very interesting. David has written and published more than 20 books! He’s a very interesting 82 year old chap. He has a daughter and granddaughters who live in town (and another daughter and her family in France) and it seems that he is quite involved with them. all He has been walking the “Camino” in France and Spain with the girls for years. They just finished a section last week. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with David and look forward to having over to our home soon. And he and I have a date for a walk with his widow friend next week and I can’t wait!!
Here’s a postscript to our visit with David last night. This morning, he popped by our window and I opened our door to see him in full Scottish dress – kilt, socks with knife, sash, etc. etc. He was acting a bit odd and it turns out he’d locked himself out of his house as he was leaving for his granddaughter’s graduation and forgotten his hearing aids so he couldn’t hear a thing. He was flustered trying to find someone who had an extra key to his house. He thought our landlords had a key and I sent a quick email asking about it, but they took it with them! Big help that was. We did find a key that looked like his, but it didn’t work so after knocking on another neighbor’s door to no avail, I think he had to just head out to London “deaf” as he said. I wish I’d gotten a picture of him in full Scottish dress, but it didn’t feel like it was the time. Also, he was dressed per his granddaughter’s request! How sweet is that?!
And another postscript before I could get this post published…our pub neighbors came over to help me with the trash system this morning. Turns out they have a key to our house should we get stuck. AND as we were leaving for the train station for our matinee in London, we found a 90 year old woman (okay I’m guesstimating) unlocking David’s door. Turns out she’s his housecleaner! (I’m guessing her eyesight isn’t too good based on the cleanliness of his house.) She just laughed at David forgetting his key. She was going to hide one outside for him. What a lovely community of caretakers!
Finally…I’ll try to end this post…I had another of “those” unplanned experiences this morning. The kind that really makes travel special.
I was for a walk by myself and I came upon a small stone church with a graveyard. Always an irresistible stop for me. I saw that the church had an “open” sign and as I entered, a woman followed me in. I didn’t want to be disrespectful in case she were there to pray, so I tried to be unobtrusive in the back. I saw that she definitely was not heading to a pew for prayer as she started poking around so I poked around, too. She finally told me that she was looking for Thomas More’s crypt. Thomas More? Sounds familiar. Hmm…We had a lovely chat where she educated me on the history of Thomas More. He was a prominent Catholic who refused to agree to the annulment of King Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. In order to get around the pope’s supremacy and refusal to the annulment, Henry decided to go his separate way and declare his own supremacy of the (new) Anglican church. Thomas More remained allegiant to the Catholic pope and stood by his beliefs and though he didn’t publicly decry Henry’s plans, even his silence led to his trial and eventual decapitation for treason. More also chose to educate his girls in the classics just like his son was educated. This was BLASPHEMY in the day.
For his sins against the king (and his second wife, Anne Boleyn), Thomas More’s head was placed on a pike outside London Tower for a month as a warning to anyone who was considering standing by the Catholic church. His daughter gathered his head at the end of the month and took it to her church in Canterbury where it was entombed near the alter. Thomas More was later sainted by the Catholic Church.
Then as my new acquaintance finished my education, she looked at her watch and said she had to get to class! She took the time to tell me that she was taking a “master gilding” course. Ahh…my ignorance (or shall I say poor education?) again. Gilding…that sounds familiar…She popped open her phone to show me photos of what she is working on…she is gilding (gold leafing) a large mirror frame using the original techniques from the Middle Ages. Cool, right?!
And this is why we travel…to meet the Davids and gilders of the world.
PPPS Thank you Mike and Nancy for correcting my spelling of gild!!! Gives the post a whole new meaning!