London to Exeter via Canterbury

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June 2nd 1991
Published: August 8th 2009
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Leeds CastleLeeds CastleLeeds Castle

Leeds Castle, built in 1119 by King Henry II, was a favourite of King Henry VIII.
Picking up a hire car and I head east, out of London towards Leeds Castlein Kent. Set on two islands on the River Len, it was built by King Henry I in 1119. Partly because it was away from the plague which effected coastal areas,it was a favourite of King Henry VIII. Until 1947 it was used as a private home by its last owner Lady Baillie, who bought it in 1926. Parts are decorated with furniture from the Victorian era to the 1920 - 30s. One room houses a 16th century panel. When the panel was found to be to large to install, Lady Baillie had the room knocked down and enlarged so that it could be fitted. Other rooms were restored with Henry VIII period furniture. There is also a wine cellar which is said to date back to the 13th century, but alas samples are not available. The castle was opened to the public in 1976.

Arriving at Canterbury at dusk, I conduct a preliminary exploration on foot. Light rain adds to the atmosphere. Parts of the medieval wall are still used. A gate leads through to High Street, a narrow street with many currently used Elizabethan

Southwest entrance to Canterbury Cathedral Precinct.
buildings. On the basis of this scouting trip I decide that Canterbury is worth at least a full day.

In England, a settlement is a city if it has a Cathedral. A religious structure is a Cathedral if it is the seat of a Bishop, size and grandeur do not matter. Canterbury is a small city whose economy revolves around its grand Cathedral and its history. The Cathedral, founded by St Augustine in 597, was completely rebuilt by the Normans in 1077. Over the centuries there has been several partial rebuilds and additions. Rebuilds have been largely paid by pilgrims to Thomas Becket's shine. Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170 by knights of King Henry II. Another personality associated with the Cathedral was Edward the Black Prince. He was notable for a series of victories during the Hundred Years War. In my imagination I can see Thomas Becket and Edward sitting down together and having a cup of tea. The fact that Edward lived 200 years after Becket, is of course, totally irrelevant. I am often amused the way reading guide books can have the effect of compressing time allowing

Overlooking the Norman castle and the 19th century town.
for impossible juxtapositions. Tea was not introduced into England until 1660.

Outside of the Cathedral, but still within the medieval walls are displays of a selection of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Chaucer wrote tales about the pilgrims coming to Canterbury. The were not complete when he died in 1400.

Driving from Canterbury to Hastings I stop briefly at Dover to have a look at the famed white cliffs. On this day I can clearly see France. Such a short distance, such a big impact on world history.

The country around Hastings is called the 1066 country. Hastings today is a small town with stony beaches, Victorian and Edwardian buildings, dependent on the tourist trade. Overlooking the town is the ruins of Hastings Castle, the first Norman castle to be built in England. In the castle grounds is a small pavilion shaped like a Norman battle tent. Inside is an audio-visual of Hasting's History. The fort was built to protect the then port of Hastings. The fort remained for 200 years until a large storm caused parts of the cliff and fort to plummet into the sea. The same storm also caused the harbour to silt, so it was

View of Lewes from the Balican.
abandoned and Hastings declined into a fishing village. During the Victorian Era it became a resort for London's fashionable set. It was during this period that the old castle was rediscovered. It maintained its popularity with the fashion set until another storm, a mechanical one set by Adolf Hitler, arrived. On the lawns surrounding the castle several middle aged women are painting.

The Battle of Hastings didn't occur in Hastings. It occurred a little way inland where the town of Battle now stands. I am standing here with an Abbey wall behind me. The wall marks the position of the Anglo-Saxon lines. Ahead are green rolling hills, grazing sheep and trees with pink blossoms, the scene enveloped with a light rain giving no hint of the violence and death of that day long long ago. I look, I ponder, if Harold had triumphed that day, would I be here, surveying the scene, would have Isaac Newton have been born, would the industrial revolution, in the year 1991, be an event which was yet to occur. But William prevailed and true to his word he built an abbey, the Abbey of St Martin, between 1070 and 1094 in the area
Brighton PierBrighton PierBrighton Pier

Deck chairs and parlour games are here.
where the battle was fought. The town, Battle, grew up around the abbey.

Driving from Battle towards Brighton I come to Lewes. Though a road and a river port in Anglo-Saxon England, it really took off after the Norman conquest. Historically it is significant because of the defeat of King Henry III by Simon de Montfort in the Battle of Lewes in 1264. This forced King Henry to accept the Provisions of Oxford, a set of documents regarded as England's first written constitution. Most of today's town dates from the Victorian Period. From the Balican I take a few photographs of the town's skyline.

Arriving at the coast again at Brighton in the late afternoon I venture out onto the stone beach. To my surprise it is actually quite pleasant. Due to wave action the stones are very smooth and are warm when dry. Brighton Beach has two piers. One is closed and is going to be demolished. The other has a pavilion at the end containing parlour games and deck chairs. Deck chairs on the pier and beach are provided for free. I retire in the YHA to a symphony of snoring.

A new day and
Salisbury CathedralSalisbury CathedralSalisbury Cathedral

The spire, the tallest in England, is currently undergoing restoration.
a new destination, Salisbury. Attempting to get there via small villages without a good road map is proving to be a very frustrating exercise. I capitulate and buy a decent road atlas. Arriving before nightfall allows me to keep some dignity from my motoring misadventures.

Salisbury is a city of Elizabethan style houses arranged in a square pattern. Lunch was enjoyed in an Elizabethan style hotel. Dominating the skyline is Salisbury Cathedral its 404 ft high spire, the highest in England. The Cathedral was designed as a whole rather than having bits and pieces added. Currently it is in the process of being restored. An organisation called the Friends of the Cathedral is trying to raise restoration funds. Inside is the oldest working clock in England, possibly in the world. It does not have a clock face but is designed to strike a bell at a precise time. I think the bell was struck when the priest was due to give a sermon. The best preserved part of the cathedral is the Chapter House, named because they use to read a chapter of the bible before beginning the meeting. It is used to discuss daily business. Around the cathedral

Centuries old, no one is really sure why they were built.
perimeter are bible stories carved in stone. The library contains old manuscripts including one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta. King John used to tax barons so much that they would go deeply into debt, then he would imprison them and confiscate their property. This policy raised their ire. Sensing his power was waning ther forced in to sign the Magna Carta at Runymede on 15th June, 1215. It was an attempt to bring every one, including the King, under the rule of law. Even so, it was quickly forgotten for several centuries.
Two points that were to come out of it were,
1. that a person should be judged by their peers.
2. that widows are not forced to remarry.

A few miles from Salisbury is Stonehenge. Stonehenge was constructed with circular stone pillows, bluestone from Wales then sareanstone, between 3100BC to 1550BC. The first monument was a ring which was used for about 500 years then abandoned for about 500 years. With the discovery of sareanstone only 30 miles away they could afford to build a more elaborate temple. Actually it didn't appear as imposing as I had imagined.

Drove to Exter via back roads, going through small villages such as Dinton, more successfully this time with the add of two or three road atlases.


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