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Published: April 24th 2018
Today we had booked an all-day excursion to visit some notable sights in the county of Kent, southeast of London, in a region called "The Garden of England". The tour agenda included visits to Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, the White Cliffs of Dover, and a cruise on the Thames back to London from the town of Greenwich.
We ordered a taxi for 7:20 AM, and 30 minutes later it delivered us to the tour office's staging point on Buckingham Palace Road, near London's Victoria Station, in the City of Westminster.
The traffic in and around London, especially during rush hours, may best be described as "bloody" awful. It crawls along at a snail's pace, more so in the central districts, and the network of streets is like a maze. Of course, none of us are accustomed to a city with a population of more than 8 million souls, but Londoner's seem to take it all in stride!
Our tour bus inched its way through traffic, from west to east (along the north shore of the river Thames), while driving past many of London's historic landmarks, such as Westminster Abbey, Parliament, the City of London area, the Tower of
London, Tower Bridge, and the docklands on the east end.
We were fortunate to have an outstanding guide, Martin, whose running commentaries throughout the day were excellent. He passed along many interesting historical details as we drove out of the city, and then through the scenic landscapes of Kent, the county to the southeast of London that stretches to the English Channel.
This region of England, with its lush countryside, is known as "The Garden of England" because of its relative abundance of fruit-growing and hop gardens. We passed many fields carpeted with the bright yellow canola (rapeseed) plant, much like the ones we saw in the Loire Valley of France.
After a 90-minute drive, we reached Leeds Castle, located 5 miles southeast from the town of Maidstone. A castle has been on the site since 1086, and during the 13th-century it came into the hands of King Edward I, for whom it became a favourite residence. Its principal claim to fame, however, is that Henry VIII used it as a dwelling for his first wife (of six), Catherine of Aragon, during the early 16th-century. The castle today dates mostly from the 19th-century, when it was remodeled
in a Tudor style, and sits on islands in a lake formed by the River Len to the east of the nearby village of Leeds.
The last private owner of the castle, Lady Baillie, who was the daughter of a baron and an American heiress, bought the castle in 1926. She redecorated the interior and added features such as a 16th-century-style carved-oak staircase.
During the early part of World War II, the castle was used as a hospital where Lady Baillie and her daughters hosted burned Commonwealth airmen as part of their recovery. Upon her death in 1974, she left the castle to a charitable foundation created to preserve the castle and its grounds for the benefit of the public. The castle has been open to the public since 1976.
We spent about 1-1/2 hours walking through the rooms and chambers on several floors of the castle, and had enough time before the tour bus departed to admire the beautifully landscaped grounds surrounding the castle, including the ducks, geese, and swans that call this place home.
The next stop on our itinerary today was the Canterbury Cathedral, located in the town of the same name, which
Stock photo; most of the cathedral is currently shrouded in scaffolding, due to ongoing restoration work.
is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England. It forms part of a World Heritage Site. It is the cathedral of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Founded in 597, the cathedral was completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077. The east end was greatly enlarged at the beginning of the 12th-century, and largely rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174. Significant eastward extensions were made to handle the flow of pilgrims visiting the shrine of Thomas Becket, the archbishop who was murdered here in 1170. The Norman nave and transepts survived until the late 14th-century, when they were demolished to make way for the present structures.
The cathedral is undergoing major restoration work, so scaffolding covers much of the exterior facade, but the interior is quite impressive. The nave, vaulted ceilings, the Quire and the Trinity Chapel, especially its stained glass windows, are magnificent. Equally impressive are the Cloisters and the Chapter House.
Above the spot where Becket was murdered by four knights, which came to be called "The Martyrdom", is a sculpture of two swords and
a broken sword point, a reminder that one of the knights broke his sword tip when striking a blow to Becket's head. This sculpture of the sword's point, with its representation of four swords for the four knights (two metal swords with reddened tips and their two shadows), was installed in 1986.
After touring the cathedral, we walked through the city of Canterbury's pedestrian area, much of which retains a medieval flavor. We had time to stop for a round of drinks at a local watering hole, courtesy of Larry and Danielle, to celebrate my birthday. So I downed a great-tasting gin and tonic, served with a grapefruit slice; thanks guys!
Our next stop was Dover, located on the southeast coast of England. The White Cliffs of Dover is the name given to this region of coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France, which lies about 20 miles away at its closest point. The cliff face, which reaches a height of 350 feet, owes its striking appearance to its composition of chalk accented by streaks of black flint. The cliffs, running on both sides of the town, stretch for eight miles. Atop the cliffs sits Dover Castle,
White Cliffs of Dover
Viewed from Straits of Dover; stock photo.
the largest castle in England, founded in the 11th-century.
During World War II, thousands of allied troops on the little ships used in the Dunkirk evacuation saw the welcoming sight of these cliffs, while many aerial dogfights between German and British aircraft during the summer of 1940 took place in the airspace over this area. During a short photo stop, Larry and Danielle walked down to the rocky beach from the bus, but the weather had become pretty cold and windy by this point.
The final stop of the day was in Greenwich, where we boarded a boat for a ride back into London proper. Located on the south bank of the Thames, about 5 miles east-southeast of Charing Cross, Greenwich is notable for its maritime history, and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian (0° longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time.
After we had disembarked from the boat, near the Tower of London, and walked across the Tower Bridge, Larry and Danielle graciously treated us to dinner for my birthday. We chose an Italian place along the Queen's Walk, not far from our flat, and everyone's meal turned out to be sensational - veal scallopini, fish,
pasta carbonara and lasagne. It was a perfect ending to our day's adventure!
Dee's comments: Just to catch-up, we took yesterday off to rest; watched some TV coverage of the London Marathon, after a great breakfast by Danielle! The streets near our flat were lively with people heading for the marathon route to watch the action. Larry and Danielle went out later in the morning, and watched the runners crossing Tower Bridge.
Up at 5 AM this morning for our tour on Mitchell's birthday; our cab driver was great, weaving in and out of tiny streets to deliver us to the departure point, in time for our 8 AM check-in. When the tour bus took off, on time, what unbelievable traffic we encountered; people, buses, cars---must be worse here than in NYC! I know the blogger filled you in on the day's travels, sights, etc. We had a relaxing ride home on the river boat, and I walked across the Tower Bridge with no problem; and then a great Italian dinner to celebrate Mitchell's birthday. No problem falling asleep tonight, after a long day!
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