Last week, I treated myself to an extra long weekend off work. While no one is really ready to go back to work (let’s be honest), the time off was really necessary. I needed to get out of London and stretch my legs a little away from the heavy pollution and the hustle and bustle of the day to day, and it really worked.
I have been dying to visit Canterbury ever since I studied Old and Medieval English at college and university. I first fell in love with this period of literature while at college studying Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
If you’ve never heard of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or you think it’s just dusty and old, then you are seriously missing out. I’m going to be honest, the language is a bit weird and can be difficult (I mean, Chaucer does include 12 different spellings of “church” just in one tale), but once you get used to it, it’s absolutely fine. As for being boring, well, let’s just put it this way: the things Medieval people used to like telling stories about were sex, drinking, religion and bodily functions. And you get the picture.
Anyway, I digress.
So, basically, I’ve wanted to go there for a long time and Aidan finally conceded and came with me, and he actually had a really good time as well.
Canterbury is honestly the perfect little escape from London life. For me, this is particularly because it’s not that far – only an hour and a half on the train from London to be exact – but, it still feels like another world. The centre is quaint, charming and full of character, even on a really rainy day – which it was that Saturday – and there is a whole host of things to do.
We took a completely relaxed approach to our day trip and planned absolutely nothing. Instead, we wandered around the crooked streets looking at all the buildings and ambling into various shops and coffee houses as we went. Our favourite hideout from the rain was Canteen on Sun Street which provided a warm welcome from the cold in the form of a delicious Belgian hot chocolate. We also stopped off at The Veg Box Cafe for a quick coffee (pictured below), but it was such a shame we didn’t try the homemade food which all looked so inviting – definitely a place to try next time!
One thing that really did strike us about Canterbury, was the sheer number of pubs. Really. There was one on every corner, everywhere we turned, and we spent the evening hopping between a couple of them, each one warm, cosy and teeming with life. There were also a large number of Fish and Chip shops which for some reason I didn’t expect, but I definitely wasn’t complaining. After seeing every other person with chips we gave in and joined them and we had dinner at the amazingly named Canterbury Tails; it was delicious and exactly what we needed before the train journey home.
If you’re in Canterbury and looking to do a little bit more or get a bit cultured, then there is the The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. Not only was it a great way for us to avoid the rain for a few hours, but it was full of interesting paintings, drawings, objects and taxidermy – and best of all, it’s free! There are also a huge number of quaint, independent book shops dotted throughout the city each one filled with that new and old book smell and each with their own character and charm. For book lovers like me it’s perfect, and my favourites were The Chaucer Bookshop and The Crooked House which is said to have inspired parts of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (my favourite book ever) and it even has a quote from the text written above the door.
While the town is lovely, it really is the Cathedral that is the star of the show. Not only is it the head quarters of the Church of England today, but it has thousands of years of history within its walls. Most notably, it was the end point for many a medieval pilgrim looking to see the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket and have their sins dissolved – including those making the journey from London in The Canterbury Tales.
Even if, like me, you’re not religious, it really is magnificent. Not only because of that sense of history and importance you get when you enter, but also because of the sheer size of the place – it is absolutely huge! There are so many different rooms, chambers and even a crypt to explore.
Each is simple but beautifully decorated and there are a number of medieval tombs dotted around. There is even a medieval image scratched into the wall of the crypt which has luckily been protected by a large sheet of plastic over the top. It’s easy to miss but well worth looking out for. The grounds are also expansive, picturesque and so well looked after.
Canterbury really does have so much to offer whatever your interests. Have you been before? Do you have any recommendations for my next visit?