Canterbury

January 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, museum, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Back before the Games Release Craziness ruined my social and blogging life I went to Canterbury. About an hour out of London this is an easy day or weekend trip.

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The City’s most well known attraction is Canterbury Cathedral the seat of the Anglican Church. The Cathedral looms over the city skyline and is easy to find as you walk through Canterbury’s medieval streets. The history of the building is fascinating with murders, money and of course faith all part of the picture. I’d strongly recommend an audio guide or getting onto one of the guided tours as it will add much needed colour to the history of the building.

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St Augustine’s Abbey– The ruined Abbey complex lies just outside the city centre and is easily accessible by foot. The Abbey was founded in 597AD by St Augustine and flourished for a time before being dissolved by Henry VIII and ultimately destroyed in 1703. The ruins were eventually excavated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Canterbuty city. I would recommend hiring the audio guide as it provides much needed context but I found myself getting bored quite frequently and having to pace around the same spot for prolonged periods while the guide blathered on. Nonetheless still interesting and a very picturesque experience to walk around the shattered remains of a building that once rivaled the Cathedral.

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St Martin’s Church– The UK’s oldest and longest in continual use Christian parish. This small church nestled at the top of a hill in amongst gravestones and next to a prison is this stone church. It’s free to enter and there should be a member of the parish on hand to provide some background to the building. Informative, reasonably quick, not far from the city centre and St Augustine’s Abbey.

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Westgate Gardens – Lying on the Western side of the City (past the river) is a stretch of gardens that border the Westgate Towers. They’re pleasant and a brief diversion from but nothing particularly different. Although being there on a wet day has probably influenced my opinion.

West Gate Towers – A medieval tower at the western side of the city, while it has a small museum, it’s not very informative and the main reason to come is to climb to the top and look out over the city.

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Roman Museum – A small, cheap museum that’s fairly well appointed. The museum is found on one of the side streets near the Cathedral. It provides a run down on the ancient history of the city from its early days as a Roman outpost to the decline that happened when Roman rule fell. The museum also features some excavated mosaics.

Museum of Canterbury– which also features an exhibition on Rupert the Bear (if you’re interested!)  The museum covers the history of the city from its earliest beginnings to today. It does duplicate much of the information from the Roman Museum so you could probably skip that one if you’re pressed for time. Within the space available there seems to be a reasonably good amount of well presented information.

Norman Castle – Near Canterbury East station are the ruins of the Norman Castle. The ruins are free to enter and there are a few information boards around the site that explain the building and its use as a defensive structure, prison, factory and historic relic. Take a few minutes to soak it up before moving onto the rest of the city.

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The Canterbury Tales Experience – Not a site I would particularly recommend but if you’re bored or a fan of the Canterbury Tales then this might be for you. Actually if you’re a fan of the tales you might want to avoid it! Over the course of about an hour you’ll enter into a long road (mimicking the journey of the tales) and spread along it are spaces representing several of the tales. At each of these you’ll stop for about 10 minutes to listed to one of the stories. Unfortunately, this method of translating literary works leads to a fair amount of boredom and pacing around as each area is a static display with only the words to entertain.

 GreyFriar’s Chapel – Closed when I was there, the chapel straddles a small stream in a pleasant field and nestled within the city limits but accessed through a narrow alley.

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Another attraction closed during the colder months are River Tours. I did walk along the some of the river and it was quite nice and presumably either a river tour or walk during the better months would be an excellent break.

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I stayed at the  Canterbury Cathedral Lodge . It’s run by and within the Cathedral’s grounds. It was reasonably priced and well appointed with a complimentary breakfast. Admittedly, I don’t think it’s the place for a boozy weekend but that wasn’t an issue for me this time around. While the precinct gates close at night you’ll be able to come and go as you please with your hotel key.

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Food and Drinks

Cafe St Pierre a seemingly popular and busy french cafe on the high street

Inpresso for lunch, it’s a homewares store meets deli. Mediocre mocha, reasonable quiche, great side salad. Nice atmosphere, excellent value.

The Old Weavers restaurant. I ate a salmon fillet for dinner. It was a very large serving with mash and side of vegetables. Nice but not great. Still price to amount of food ratio is good. As the name suggests the venue is an old weavers house that dates from 1500AD.  Reasonable service.

Cafe Bohois a small, loud and brash. Filled with loud walls and many many clocks. The small tables and chairs makes me feel gigantic. I didn’t eat but there appears to be a reasonable range – desserts looked delicious. The cafe was doing a bustling morning trade. The service reasonable and while the mocha is good it was a little burnt. The manager runs a tight ship with the staff in spite of the cafe name. He was very friendly buying roasted chestnuts from the vendors outside and offering them to the customers. That was my frist chestnut – won’t be rushing back – but that’s not the cafe’s fault!

Coffee and Cork– It has lacklustre mochas but an excellent coffee shop atmosphere. Couches, board games, music and a bar. Appears popular with students and knitters as it also has a Knitting circle.

The Old Buttermarket– Is a Nicholson pub that’s like a Weatherspoon’s. It’s a sprawling pub and very busy, which is understandable as it is near the cathedral. While cheap the roast was tough and chewy. Not recommended – although maybe for a pint.

Tiny Tim’s Tearoom. A small wooden tearoom with a 30s style. Offering a variety of freshly made food and high teas. Mocha was nice and rich.

Final Thoughts:

Canterbury is a wonderful city and a great way to recharge from life in London. Canterbury has endeared itself to me with its winding medieval streets, centuries of history behind it and touches of modernity. I managed to get most of the sites above done on Saturday and by the time my train departed at 5 on Sunday I was well and truly done – it wouldn’t be a stretch to say bored. As a result I’d say Canterbury would be good for a day or day and a half, any longer and you’ll have to look into going further afield.

More photos over at Flickr and the map is at Google!

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