On our way home from Boulogne we stopped overnight in Canterbury, a city neither of us had ever visited (though we have flown past it). Disappointingly, the weather was not on our side, and our journey from the Channel Tunnel to Canterbury was significantly lengthened by torrential rain and localised flooding closing several roads.
When we eventually got there, we walked into the city centre from the carpark and traversed a pavement that had been carved with enlarged archaeological drawings detailing the pits that had been found by archaeologists during the building of a new shopping precinct. Emerging onto the main shopping street, the sense of history continued as we admired St George’s Tower, a clock tower that is all that’s left of the church in which Christopher Marlowe was baptised.
I had been really looking forward to seeing one of the UK’s most famous cathedrals, and felt a great sense of anticipation as we saw it looming up at the end of this quaint little side street.
On the way to the Cathedral we kept stopping to admire the old buildings – this one with old sign-writing from a business established in 1698. I liked the fact that the name of the street – Butchery Lane – gave clues to its past.
Reaching the end of the lane we spotted this magnificent gatehouse presiding over the entrance to the Cathedral. But imagine our disappointment when we found out shortly afterwards that you have to pay an entrance fee even to be able to walk around the outside of the Cathedral! There is no way of accessing even its exterior without first paying £10.50 each to get through this gate. I find this extraordinarily mean-spirited. I object to having to pay to gain entry to a religious building in the first place (all the churches in Rome are free, even St Peter’s Basilica, the most famous and important in the world); they ought to be free for everyone. I do appreciate that there are costs involved in maintaining such a building, but why not just charge a fee to get inside the Cathedral building? Or make it a voluntary contribution for whatever people can afford? To deny people the chance even to admire the Cathedral from the outside without paying is incredibly unfair.
In protest at the unfairness of it all, we resigned ourselves to not seeing the Cathedral, and feeling incredibly miffed, continued our rainy walk around the city, discovering scores of very old buildings along the way.
This was the best view we could find of the Cathedral. We did find one other entrance to it, but it too was guarded by more busybodies employed to extract as much money as possible from passing tourists.
I enjoyed this old-fashioned shop, with its lovely sign-writing. Why do shops have to look so ugly these days?
Proving that it often pays to look up, we spotted these old road signs, which harked back to a day when the High Street must have been a fairly major thoroughfare on the A2.
We found a marvellous museum – the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge – on the High Street, which I don’t have a picture of. Still feeling stung by the Cathedral experience, we were pleased to find that it was free, and enjoyed a look around its varied exhibits, which included original sketches from the Ivor the Engine television series that I loved as a child. Not far from the museum was this lovely old black and white building, yet another reminder of the city’s great age.
On the way back to the car to go and check into our hotel, we enjoyed one more glimpse of the Cathedral peeping out from behind what one might call the “Paywall”.
We rested at the hotel for a couple of hours before coming back into the city for dinner. We decided to take a look at the Cathedral on the off-chance the mean people on the gate might have gone home, and sure enough, they had! The gate was open and we were able to enjoy this magnificent sight.
I absolutely loved the beautiful Christmas tree, its clear lights illuminating the dark, drear night.
Adding to the atmosphere were the carols playing from within the nativity scene.
This was our final view of the Cathedral before we made our way to dinner. A magical scene, and one we were really glad to have experienced after the disappointment of earlier in the day.
Thus our brief time in Canterbury came to a close, the festive scene of the floodlit Cathedral and its Christmas tree having gone some way towards redeeming the day. I’ve no doubt that we’ll return to Canterbury one day. Perhaps, if we’re feeling flush, we might even cough up the lofty fees for the Cathedral next time!