A zippy new train service has put the tranquil cathedral city in Kent within an hour’s reach of London, making it an easy place to visit for many people. Gareth Huw Davies followed at high speed in the footsteps of the Canterbury pilgrims to the perfect Christmas destination. This is his must-do list…
1…ON THE FAST TRACK REACHING
Canterbury is a lot easier since the new Javelin high-speed train service from London St Pancras started last year, using the same track as Eurostar trains. Journey times to the city have certainly fallen since the Middle Ages when Chaucer’s storytelling pilgrims made their trip in The Canterbury Tales. I took one of the new Japanese-built trains, which reach 140mph, and just 57 minutes after leaving London I walked under the ancient West Gate into this gracious old city. (www.southeasternrailway.co.uk)
2…DROP IN ON A CLANGER
‘The most important, beautiful, magical, saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world’ – and the star of one of the most enchanting children’s TV programmes – lives in a display case at Canterbury Museum. Oliver Postgate’s pink and white-striped Bagpuss slumbers on with Professor Yaffle, Gabriel the toad and rag doll Madeleine. Oh, and those busy menders of broken things – the mice. On my visit to the museum, staff screened an episode from the BBC animated series where the mice scurry around scrubbing and polishing a bottle. Also on display are Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine and the Clangers, all from the wonderful world created by Postgate and his friend Peter Firmin. And there’s a permanent display devoted to Rupert Bear – his creator Mary Tourtel is buried in Canterbury.
Some of the city’s most famous ‘visitors’ – Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, the Miller, the Pardoner and the Knight – are convincingly recreated, with Chaucer as the guide, in an attraction called Canterbury Tales at St Margaret’s Church. Among the real visitors to this spot was the Roman Emperor Claudius. The Roman Museum contains intriguing finds from the time, a facsimile market place, and the remains of a townhouse, with mosaics, uncovered by wartime bombing.
The history lesson continues at St Martin’s Church, the oldest in the English-speaking world still used for worship – parts of the building date from the 6th Century. It’s part of a World Heritage Site along with the Cathedral and nearby ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey.
4…ANCIENT SHRINE CANTERBURY
Cathedral boasts a wonderful medieval stained-glass window, but the most striking feature is a big blank space. It was the shrine of Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop cut down by Henry II’s knights in 1170. Becket’s tomb was at this spot until 1538, when Henry VIII had it destroyed. A single candle burns where the tomb stood. Visitors must pay, although guests at the Cathedral’s own hotel may stroll around for free in the evening or early morning.
5…CAINES IS SO ABLE
In a perfect world we would save all old pubs from closing. But if there are to be new ones, let them match the high standards of the Old Brewery Tavern. It opened in 2006, putting an old building to very good use. My leek soup and home-made pork pie with ale chutney (with a glass of Whitstable Brewery’s East India Pale Ale) was sublime. At the helm is Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines, who also runs the restaurant in the adjoining Abode hotel.
6…GENTLY DOES IT
A boat trip on the River Stour is fun. Highlights of the 40-minute tour, which starts at the bridge by Old Weavers Restaurant, include epic views of the Cathedral, and Greyfriars, a 13th Century chapel spanning the river. It’s England’s oldest example of Franciscan architecture, built in the lifetime of the order’s founder, St Francis of Assisi.
For some soothing retail therapy, visit the newly refurbished King’s Mile area where independent shops offer handmade chocolates, designer clothes and Fairtrade products. Look out for the remarkable tilting 16th Century Sir John Boys’ House
Source: Daily Mail