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Published: June 27th 2007
After a very long train journey down from Whitby on Sunday, we stopped for two nights Canterbury. We stayed on the campus of the University of Kent, a few miles out from the city centre. It was a fairly modern campus, and the main buildings were designed as symmetrical stars, with halls jutting out from a large central courtyard. We found this very confusing at first. When giving directions, people would talk about the “front of the building” but it was not apparent to us where the front of these buildings was. Our accommodations were comfortable, although the students did not like being so far away from sources of food and drink.
The first morning there we went to Canterbury Cathedral. This is an incredibly old and beautiful cathedral, most famous for the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 and for the many pilgrims who have made their way here over the years to pay homage to the saint. I had an interesting talk with a woman behind the Friends of the Cathedral counter. We briefly discussed the current controversy within the Anglican Church. She appeared to be in her 60’s, and she was quite candid in expressing
her view that, of course, the church needs to allow gay priests and bishops. At the same time, she did not seem comfortable with groups within the church who wanted to push this agenda too forcefully. I think she believes that it will come in time, but that the church splitting over the issue would be a very bad thing.
We have visited several Anglican churches on this trip, large and small, but it was in this church, Canterbury, that several of our Jewish students had the experience of feeling very uncomfortable. They struggled to explain their feelings. Some said that the large gift shop right inside the church selling religious souvenirs felt strange to them. I think some of them may explore their experience in their journal entries on Canterbury. Canterbury certainly is a church that has more associations with its Catholic origins than others we have visited.
We then took the short train ride to Dover, walked across the small town, and up a very steep hill and staircase to Dover Castle. Inside the walls were many intact buildings. The wind was quite strong high up on this hill, and we had trouble walking around in
the powerful gales and occasional showers of rain. The weather forecast had predicted the worst one day rain totals in 50 years, but as it turned out, the worst rain - one month’s worth in one day - fell to the north and west of us, and we read the next day about the severe flooding and deaths associated with this. We were lucky with just our light showers and wind..
We got a quick lunch inside the castle keep - sandwiches and crisps again - and then we went on an amazing tour of the Underground War Museum. During the Napoleonic Wars in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s, two miles of underground tunnels were carved, by hand, inside the chalk cliffs under Dover Castle for the British army to hide in as they awaited the expected invasion of Britain by Napoleon. For various reasons, this invasion never happened. During World War II, as Hitler’s forces took over more and more of the European continent, new tunnels were built and this became the base of command for the British government’s war efforts. Miles and miles of tunnels hosted an underground military hospital and intelligence operations and monitoring of aircraft and
troops. Operation Dynamo, which was the name for the evacuation of Dunkirk in May and June of 1940, was organized and executed from this command base. This was also called the Miracle of Dunkirk, when over the course of ten days 338,000 soldiers were rescued from their isolated positions on the coast of France.
The tunnel museum was missing most of its period props, because there had been an earthquake in England about a month ago, and most of the historic items had been removed for safekeeping. Our guide was good, however, helping us to picture the bare tunnels as they would have been furnished and equipped during the war. We toured the section that had been a military hospital, which was designed to give visitors the experience of following a wounded soldier entering and being treated here. There were lights and sound effects, and actors we met who played the part of a military doctor and a wounded patient. This was a great way to get the feel for being here during the war, with the noise and chaos. Our tour guide also did a demonstration for us in the telephone exchange room, with its rows of old-fashioned
switchboards. Each call that gets connected takes a series of about 10 separate steps, and there were a lot of important people demanding that their calls be put out immediately. Women worked for 12-hour shifts doing this work during the war.
The students were really engaged and interested in this historical museum. Our guide made several references to how important it was that the “Yanks” joined the war effort, including thanking us a the end, and I think we all came away with an increased understanding of how very different the war must have been in Britain, with the close proximity of Hitler and the courage the British people must have had. It has certainly made me want to read more about this period of British history.
Back in Canterbury, I walked the high street, stopping by the public library, which was an incredibly striking building. Their internet access is in high demand, and they were all booked for the day. I found the yarn section of a large fabric and home furnishings store. They had the standard offerings: Rowan, Jaeger, and Debbie Bliss yarn and the Rowan and Debbie Bliss pattern books. Beautiful stuff, but certainly no
The campus at University of Kent was swarming with bunnies!
bargains when converting dollars to British pounds.
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