LONDON – time to become a tourist
Tuesday – today is the day for the first Evan Evans Tour. I have a comfortable night at the Hilton and the wake up call for 6am comes at 7am so just as well I am already awake due to my state of excitement. Get ready for the day and head downstairs where I have words with the concierge about the wake-up call. He is very sorry and cannot understand why it was late. Yeah, yeah. The Continental Breakfast consists of cereal with vanilla yoghurt – some yellow citrus fruit – sounds awful but was nice, croissants, Danish pastry and coffee. Was very daring and smuggled out a Danish pastry and yoghurt for dinner tonight. The legs are a bit stiff and sore but not as bad as I thought.
A light misty rain starts to fall while waiting for the small bus to pick me up from the hotel at 7.45am. When the bus arrives I think this is good – there are not many of us on the tour and we are off – to Victoria Station. How nice – did not expect a lovely train trip but no, we have to change into a bigger bus. There are 30 on the tour – Americans, Indians (not red ones) and one token Aussie – ME! We are off to tour Leeds Castle, Dover and Canterbury including the Cathedral – unfortunately the weather is still showery – but it clears when we reach Leeds.
Our driver, a lady by the name of Pat does a great job and our guide Cossetta is a real hoot. She says that we can get into the castle early and can have a look around before the tourists take over. Makes me wonder what she thinks we are.
It is reputed to be ‘the loveliest castle in England’ and it doesn’t disappoint. A pretty, pretty place and they are preparing for a ‘Simply Red’ concert in the grounds on Saturday night. Apparently they have lots of open air concerts during the Summer months.
HISTORY LESSON: The castle dates back to 1119. In 1278 the castle came in the hands of King Edward I for whom it became a favourite residence. The castle seen today dates mostly from the 19th century.
I walk all over the castle and the grounds which are stunning and try and take everything in. I just can’t get over how elegant this place is, beautiful white swans on the lake, wonderful gardens. More photos – more photos, going to run out of film the way things are going.
Back on the bus – next stop Dover. Starting to rain a bit heavier now. Past Gravesend where, we are told, some of the locals believe, erroneously, that the name was born when the bodies of those who died from the plague in London were buried in the town in attempts to put an end to it. Hence the name Graves-end. This is clearly not the case as the plague was in 1665 – a full 500 years after the name Gravesend was given.
We get to Dover and can just see the white cliffs through the mist if we cover our eyes a bit and squint! They aren’t anything like I thought they would be – a chorus of Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover as I walk along the beach which is made out of small pebbles – I get just a hint of the French coastline. Lots of the large ferries to and from France use this port.
Also when people swim the English Channel they leave from here so we are told. If that is the case then they can have it. We aren’t going to Dover Castle as it is not part of the itinerary today so it’s just as well we were able to walk along the beach – no sand only pebbles – and take some photos.
Still misty rain but by the time we get to the top of the cliffs it has stopped.
We arrive at Canterbury about 1.15pm and are given the option of an ‘offered’ lunch with the group – cost ₤8.00. Second big mistake of the trip and I have only been here two days! A quarter of a chicken (the size of a budgie) and chips, apple pie (at least I thought it was apple pie) with pressurised cream out of a can and tea. Oh well at least it is food. After our very appetising lunch and wondering why on earth we didn’t visit the local pie shop or pub where we would have got a much better meal most probably for half the cost.
The group heads off to Canterbury Cathedral admission ₤5.00 – more walking – but the good thing is we are told we can take photos inside. I make the most of the outside and start snapping away before heading inside. Stopping to look at the carvings on the outside of the Cathedral makes you wonder just how they did it all those years ago. So intricate.
HISTORY LESSON: The Cathedral’s history goes back to 597AD when St Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great as a missionary, established his seat (or ‘Cathedra’) in Canterbury. In 1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral and ever since, the Cathedral has attracted thousands of pilgrims, as told famously in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Time to go inside and look around. On the left is the tomb of Henry IV (1367 – 1413) King of England & France and Lord of Ireland. He is buried with his second wife Joanna of Navarre. Going down to the crypt I light some candles in memory of Dad, Nan, Uncle Ivan and Aunty Edna. I bet they never thought that this would happen for them.
I am taken with the sheer history of the place and it’s hard to believe that this Cathedral was commenced 1500 years ago.
They are doing loads of restoration work on the outside so I suppose the ways of modern living is starting to take its toll. Seems no matter where I go there is always some sort of restoration going on.
The king had frequent conflicts with the strong-willed Becket and is said to have exclaimed in frustration, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” The knights took it literally and murdered Becket in his own cathedral. Becket was the second of four Archbishops of Canterbury who were murdered.
Following a disastrous fire of 1174 which destroyed the entire eastern end, William of Sens rebuilt the choir with an important early example of the Early English Gothic design, including high pointed arches, flying buttresses, and rib vaulting.
Later, William the Englishman added the Trinity Chapel as a shrine for the relics of St. Thomas the Martyr. The Corona (crown) Tower was built at the eastern end to contain the relic of the crown of St. Thomas’s head which was struck off during his murder.
We leave Canterbury about 4pm and arrive back at my hotel. I have a lovely hot bath, soak and think about the Insight Tour that starts tomorrow and fall into bed after devouring my acquired food from this morning.
Highlight of the day : Canterbury Cathedral