Walk 74: Canterbury City Walk: Watch your backs!

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Roughly 3 miles (4.83km)

Time to walk: There’s so much to see & do in Canterbury that this is a walk you undertake as part of a day exploring this compact city

Difficulty: Easy & all on hard surfaces

Parking: Several pay & displays around the city

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc

Map of the route: (it’s best just to explore though)

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So what can we tell you about this beautiful city?

Canterbury is a historic UNESCO World Heritage Site, laying on the River Stour. It’s a popular tourist destination & consistently one of the most visited cities in the UK. It remains, however, relatively small in terms of geographical size, when compared with other British cities & therefore ideal for exploring on foot

There’s also a substantial student population, based at the University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University, the University for the Creative Arts, & the Girne American University Canterbury campus

The city has been occupied since Paleolithic times & was the capital of the Celtic Cantiaci & Jute Kingdom of Kent. We’ll see many historical structures on our walk today including a city wall founded in Roman times, the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey, a Norman castle & the oldest extant school in the world

It’s also a highly religious place. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the primate of the Church of England & the worldwide Anglican Communion owing to the importance of St Augustine, who served as the apostle to the pagan Kingdom of Kent around the turn of the 7th century. The city’s cathedral became a major focus of pilgrimage following the 1170 martyrdom of Thomas Becket. A journey of pilgrims to his shrine was the frame for Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century classic The Canterbury Tales

Well that’s just a taster & there’s plenty more to see so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk today begins just outside the old city walls to the east, off Longport where we find the site of the remains of St Augustine’s Abbey, one of the most important sites in Canterbury…

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It’s run by English Heritage which charges an entry fee for non members. As this was the start of our day we were unsure of timings & decided to make do with the view from the entrance

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In 597 Augustine arrived in Anglo-Saxon England, having been sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the Anglo-Saxons. The King of Kent at this time was Æthelberht or Ethelbert &, although he worshipped in a pagan temple just outside the eastern walls of Canterbury, Ethelbert was married to a Christian, Bertha. According to tradition, the king not only gave his temple & its precincts to St Augustine for a church & monastery, he also ordered that the church to be built should be of “becoming splendour, dedicated to the blessed apostles Peter & Paul, & endowed it with a variety of gifts.” One purpose of the foundation was to provide a residence for Augustine & his brother monks. As another, both King Ethelbert & Augustine foresaw the abbey as a burial place for abbots, archbishops, & kings of Kent

The abbey functioned as a monastery until its dissolution in 1538 during the English Reformation. After its dissolution, it underwent dismantlement until 1848 & since then part of the site has been used for educational purposes & the abbey ruins have been preserved for their historical value

2. Just along from the abbey is the second part of the World Heritage Site (the third is the Cathedral), St Martin’s Church…

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St Martin’s is the first church founded in England, the oldest parish church in continuous use & the oldest church in the entire English-speaking world!

It was the private chapel of Queen Bertha of Kent in the 6th century before Augustine arrived from Rome. Queen Bertha was a Christian Frankish princess who arrived in England with her Chaplain, Bishop Liudhard. King Æthelberht of Kent, her pagan husband, allowed her to continue to practise her religion by renovating an existing church which the Venerable Bede says had been in use in the late Roman period, but had fallen into disuse. As Bede specifically names it, this church was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, a city located near where Bertha grew up

Upon Augustine’s arrival, he used St Martin’s as his mission headquarters, immediately enlarging it & King Æthelberht was soon baptised here. With the quick, subsequent establishments of Canterbury Cathedral & St Augustine’s Abbey, St Martin’s lost prestige but retains its priority & historical importance

3. Walk back to St Augustines & carry straight on to the end of the street, turning right & then immediately left into Church Street towards Lower Bridge Street…

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4. Cross over at the Pelican to arrive at a section of the city walls…

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The first city walls were built by the Romans, probably between 270 & 280 AD. They were constructed from stone on top of an earth bank, & protected by a ditch & wall towers. At least five gates were placed into the walls & linked to the network of Roman roads across the region. With the collapse of Roman Britain, Canterbury went into decline but the walls remained. The Anglo-Saxons retained the defensive walls, building chapels over most of the gates & using them to defend Canterbury against Viking incursions

The Norman invaders of the 11th century took the city without resistance &, by the 12th century, the walls were ill-maintained & of little military value. Fears of a French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War led to an enquiry into Canterbury’s defences in 1363. The decision was taken to restore the city walls &, for around the next thirty years, the old Roman defences were freshly rebuilt in stone, incorporating the older walls where they still remained. 24 towers were constructed around the circuit &, over the coming years, many of the gatehouses were rebuilt in stone & brick, defended by some of the first batteries of guns in England. Parts of the wall were deliberately damaged by Parliament during the English Civil War of the 17th century & the doors to the city’s gates burnt. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660, new doors were reinstalled

During the 18th & 19th centuries the walls came under extensive pressure from urban development. All the gates but one, West Gate, were destroyed & extensive parts of the walled circuit were knocked down to make way for new roads & buildings. German bombing during the Second World War caused further damage. Despite this, the remaining walls & gatehouse survived post-war redevelopment intact & some portions were rebuilt entirely. Over half the original circuit survives, enclosing an area of 130 acres & historians Oliver Creighton & Robert Higham consider the city wall to be “one of the most magnificent in Britain”

We’d better go & walk a section then!

5. Carefully cross the dual carriageway & turn left towards the roundabout & the next section of wall…

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Pass the Zoar Chapel on the left…

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The chapel stands on the site of a tower that’s one of roughly 22 built as part of the medieval defences of the city in the late 14th century. A cistern for the city’s water supply was housed in the bastion in 1801 after being moved from St George’s Gate. The current building probably predates the arrival of the Zoar Baptists & its conversion into a chapel in 1845

6. Stop at the junction with Burgate & look at the different coloured bricks in the road…

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The bricks outline the structure of St George’s Gate which is the only gate in the city walls that isn’t of Roman origin. In the 10th century a new city main street was formed by demolishing the shambles at the eastern end of the direct line between Westgate & a newly formed gate, creating the streets now known as High Street & St George’s Street. This gate naturally became Newingate (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘aet thaem neowan gate’ – at the new gate) & was probably simply arched, leading to a cattle market called Rithercheap

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In the late 14th century the city walls were strengthened & Westgate rebuilt. Newingate was not rebuilt until 1483 as a smaller copy of Westgate & became known as St George’s Gate from the nearby church

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7. Right…time to get up on that wall! Cross the road & climb the steps…

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Having recently walked the walls of York we’d expected this one to be narrow too, but it’s actually surprisingly wide

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8. The tower above on the left’s Cattle Market Tower. It was one of a pair rebuilt in the late 1950s when the city wall between Redingote & St George’s Gate was reconstructed. Though both were rebuilt in their medieval form, excavation showed that the tower closest to the roundabout had an earlier Roman one

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It’s thought the towers may have been platforms for projectile throwing machines. A cattle market was held outside the walls here since medieval times &, by the 19th century, the market was an important part of city life. In 1955 it moved to a new site

9. Slightly further along the wall there’s a sign telling you you’re now standing above what was once the Riding Gate. Again, if you look down you’ll see the different blocks in the road showing the outline of the gate…

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Until its destruction in 1782, Riding Gate was not only the finest surviving Roman entrance into Canterbury, but the only gate provided with two carriageways. The name Riding Gate means ‘the Red Gate’ in ancient English & maybe refers to the colour of the Roman brick used to build it

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10. Descend the steps on the right down into Dane John Gardens…

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A former Roman cemetery, it was converted into a motte & bailey castle in the 11th century & turned into a civic park between 1790 & 1803. The name “Dane John” is generally assumed to be a corruption of the Norman word “donjon”, meaning fortification

Turn right to firstly visit the sculpture called ‘The Silent Table’ by Joss Smith…

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…& then follow the avenue of lime trees past the Boer War memorial

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…to arrive at a lovely garden area & fountain (shame about the coin searcher!)

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11. Over to the left’s Dane John Mound which was the site of one of the first Norman motte & bailey castles erected by William the Conqueror. It’s well worth climbing…

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…because the views from the top across the city & surrounding countryside are very good, especially of the cathedral

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Also at the top is the Simmons’ Memorial. The Dane John Gardens were built between 1790 & 1803 by newspaper proprietor & alderman James Simmons who remodelled the old castle motte, incorporating the Roman bank & the medieval wall walk, although their design was later accredited to William Masters, the Canterbury nurseryman. During the Second World War, part of the city walls near the Dane John Gardens were turned into an ammunition depot, dug into the bank of the wall

12. From the hill return to & continue along the wall towards the footbridge across the main road…

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Ignore the footbridge, but look for a path leading down to the right

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13. The area at the bottom was the site of another old entrance into the city, Wincheap Gate. Wincheap Gate was probably erected for public use in a new street built to by-pass the castle

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The new gate led to Wincheap Green where there was a gallows. In 1670 the Gate was entirely rebuilt in brick & contained elaborate stone bidding visitors ‘Welcome’ & ‘Farewell’. The Gate was taken down in the 1770’s, although parts of it were incorporated in Dane John House across the road, which also bears the ‘Farewell inscription…

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14. Walk down the narrow alley to the right of Don Jom House above & walk straight across down Gas Street to arrive at the impressive castle

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15. Canterbury Castle is free to look round & well worth spending a few minutes doing so as it’s quite impressive. Don’t miss the excellent model near the entrance…

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Walk round the corner. Canterbury Castle was one of the three original Royal castles of Kent (the other two being Rochester Castle & Dover Castle). They were all built soon after the Battle of Hastings, on the main Roman road from Dover to London. This was the route taken by William the Conqueror in October 1066, & they were built originally as motte-&-bailey castles to guard this important route

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The great stone keep was largely constructed in the reign of Henry I. This massive structure is mainly made of flint & sandstone rubble. By the 13th century the castle had become the county gaol. It was given up to the invading French in the First Barons’ War. By the 19th century it had been obtained by a gas company & used as a storage centre for gas for many years, during which time the top floor was destroyed

Continue round & walk inside. Don’t miss the doorway that allows you to climb halfway up one of the corners

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16. Come back out of the castle grounds & continue to the bottom of Gas Street. Turn right along Church Lane. The church on the left’s St Mildreds which is the final resting place of Alderman Simmons who we came across earlier. His grave can be seen above…

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The Church of Saint Mildred is an Anglo-Saxon stone church probably dating from the 11th century. It’s been a Grade I listed building since 1949 & is the only surviving pre-Norman church within the former city walls

The relics of Saint Mildred, who died in 768, were transferred from Canterbury Cathedral to St Augustine’s Abbey in the middle of the 11th century & it’s likely that the church was built at that time. The church belonged to St Augustine’s Abbey until the abbey was abolished during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, & since then it has belonged to the Crown

17. Continue along Church Lane into Stour Street…

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…where, if you fancy a quick trip on The Stour, turn left into Water Lane & book a time with the Canterbury Punting Company which is one of two companies that offer boat excursions

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We did the up-river one as someone had caused the river to be polluted in the city centre. It’s a peaceful way to see a part of the city you wouldn’t normally see

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18. Suitably full of new (& sometimes incorrect) information about the city, retrace your steps & turn right down Hawks Lane, turning left at the end into St Margaret’s Street…

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…to arrive at the institution that is The Canterbury Tales Exhibition

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The popular exhibition’s been here since 1987 & brings to life the collection of 24 stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer. The tales (mostly written in verse, although some are in prose) are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from London to Canterbury in order to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return

19. We have it on good authority that the exhibition is “very good”, backed-up by the subsequent book purchase in Waterstones opposite! Walk to the junction & turn left along the busy, but attractive High Street

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There’s lots to see along here, including many individual, non-chain shops. It’s good to see it thriving & the locals are lucky people

20. On the right’s The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge which is the central museum, library & art gallery of the city. It also houses the Information Centre, which was okay, but could have been so much better

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21. Opposite’s the very impressive Canterbury Pilgrim’s Hospital of St Thomas…

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The Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr of Eastbridge was founded in the 12th century to provide overnight accommodation for poor pilgrims en route to the shrine of St Thomas Beckett. It’s now one of 10 almshouses still providing accommodation for elderly citizens of Canterbury. There’s a fee to enter & we didn’t have time today, but have a peep at the vaulted ceiling through the door if you can

22. The river cuts through the High Street at this point & there’s another boating business close by. The view to the right is one of the most photographed in the city

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The wooden building here is the Old Weavers House which takes its name from the influx of Flemish & Hugenot weavers who settled in the area after fleeing from religious persecution during the 16th & 17th centuries. Elizabeth I granted the Flemish weavers the right to establish their businesses in Canterbury & they are known to have used this & other similar buildings nearby

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The house probably dates back to at least the 14th century & at the rear is a medieval ducking stool, jutting out over the river. This ducking stool was historically used as a method of punishing ‘scolds’ – women accused by their husbands of talking back too much! The stool may also have been used as a more severe punishment for suspected witches. The suspected witch was dunked under the water & held there for several minutes. If she (it was usually a female) did not drown, she was proved a witch. If she drowned, at least her name was cleared!

23. Continue to the bottom of the High Street to arrive at Westgate Towers

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The Westgate is a medieval gatehouse & the largest surviving city gate in England. Built of Kentish ragstone around 1379, it’s also the last survivor of Canterbury’s seven medieval gates. The road still passes between its drum towers which house the Westgate Towers Museum

24. Turn left for a brief distance along St Peter’s Place where on the left you’ll find an interesting little museum…

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This is the Kent Museum of Freemasonry & is a hidden treasure which boasts a rare collection of exhibits of national & international importance. Its collection of Masonic material is probably the finest in the UK outside of London. The vast collection of regalia & books covers all Masonic orders through the ages. The Museum is free & normally opens between 10am – 4pm

25. Over the road’s another gem & a great place to have your sarnie! Carefully cross St Peter’s Place, through the car park & into the magnificent Westgate Gardens…

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Westgate Gardens were once the splendid home & gardens of a notable Canterbury family. The area can be traced back to the Roman occupation & beyond. What’s really impressive is the incredible Oriental Plane Tree which is thought to be the oldest specimen in the country. It’s over 200 years old & huge!

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We entered the gardens near the car park & walked round infront of the house towards a subsidiary of the Stour which runs through the gardens

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The section near the river approaching Westgate Towers is a great place to stop awhile to rest & watch the world go by

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26. Return to Westgate Towers & head back up the High Street again…

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 …this time turning left into The Friars. On the left’s the Marlowe Theatre

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The theatre was named after the playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was born & attended school in the city. In front of the present theatre is a 19th-century statue, The Muse of Poetry (Marlowe is known as the Muses’ darling) surrounded by small effigies of characters from Marlowe’s plays

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Christopher Marlowe, also known as Kit Marlowe was an English playwright, poet & translator of the Elizabethan era. Marlowe was the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day & greatly influenced William Shakespeare, who was born in the same year. Marlowe’s plays are known for the use of blank verse & their overreaching protagonists. A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason was given for it, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy – a manuscript believed to have been written by Marlowe was said to contain “vile heretical conceipts”. On 20 May he was brought to the court to attend upon the Privy Council for questioning. Ten days later, he was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. Whether the stabbing was connected to his arrest has never been resolved

27. Walk round the side of the theatre to meet ‘Bulkhead’…

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The mask is the work of sculptor Rick Kirby & arrived in the city in 2003 as part of a sculpture festival called Blok. It was moved when the theatre was rebuilt, but has now come home. It really is a magnificent structure…

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28. Close by is another statue. This one’s of comedian Dave Lee,

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Dave Lee MBE was a British comedian known for his work in pantomimes around Kent & his work on television. Lee also founded his own charity to help disadvantaged children raising more than £2m before his death in 2012. His funeral service was held in the cathedral

29. Cross the bridge – the view along the river is beautiful…

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At the crossroads turn left into King Street where we arrive at the the Old Synagogue

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The Old Synagogue is considered to be the best example of an Egyptian Revival synagogue. The earliest record of a Jewish community in Canterbury dates from 1160. The community is known to have been prosperous & to have traded in corn & wool as well as banking. The present building was designed by Canterbury architect, Hezekiah Marshall, & built in 1846 to replace a 1763 building torn down to make place for the new railroad built by the South Eastern Railway Company. The site is known to have been a hospice of the Knights Templar in medieval times

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It’s now only occasionally used for Jewish services of worship, led by the Jewish Society at the University of Kent & Chabad Lubavitch of Sussex & South East Coast Universities

30. At the junction turn right into Palace Street. The crooked house on the corner’s known as Sir John Boys House…

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The building dates back to the 17th century & is named after Sir John Boys who was an MP & the first recorder of Canterbury

In the winter of 1987 it was a shop & staff heard footsteps walking around an upstairs stock room. Upon investigating, one of the team found the room icy cold. She left, but went back in again the next day when again, the temperature dropped suddenly. As she turned to leave a ghost of an old woman was stood close by. The woman stared at her for a short time & then turned down the stairs, only to disappear when she was halfway down

31. This area of the city’s known as the King’s Mile & is a lively haven of interesting shops, bars & restaurants. We’re heading back towards the cathedral area now…

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On the left’s one of the entrances into the Bishop’s Palace – the main one is in the cathedral yard which we’ll see shortly

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And then further along’s Conquest House, which allegedly played a massive part in the future of this country…

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On 29 December, 1170, 4 knights, Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Moreville, William de Tracy, & Richard le Breton, supposedly met here to plan what they would do the following morning. Whatever plan they discussed, the result was the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, a deed which changed the course of history & certainly changed the fortunes of Canterbury itself

At that time Conquest House was owned by a man called Gilbert the Citizen. The knights initially left their servants & weapons in Conquest House while two of their number entered Bishop’s Palace by force & remonstrated with Becket, trying to get him to remove the excommunication he had placed over several of the king’s supporters

It was a lost cause from the start. Becket was too strong-willed to succumb to their threats. The knights returned to Conquest House & gathered their weapons. In the meantime the archbishop’s servants convinced him to retire to the cathedral. The knights entered the cathedral, & after a further argument, killed Becket in the area now called The Martyrdom, which we’ll see shortly

32. Almost next door is No.8, an old 13th century tudor building which may have been built as the rectory for the nearby church of St Alphege

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This really is a lovely area of the city & one to return to…

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Pork Pies!!!!!

Pork Pies!!!!!

The cafe on the left also has a place in history. It was from here in 1820 that Robert Cushman, a local deacon, negotiated the hire of the famous Mayflower ship. As a result of the contracts signed here, the Pilgrim Fathers set sail to America to become the first settlers in Massachusetts

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33. At the top of the street we enter the cathedral area…

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…passing through the magnificent gatehouse

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34. The first thing that hits you about the magnificent cathedral now sprawling ahead of you is its sheer size

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Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest & most famous Christian structures in England & also the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England & symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Founded in 597, the cathedral was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077. The east end was greatly enlarged at the beginning of the 12th century & largely rebuilt in a Gothic style following a fire in 1174, with significant eastward extensions to accommodate the flow of pilgrims visiting the shrine of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170

35. So pay your entry fees please. The cathedral operates a system whereby the admission charge allows you to re-enter as many times as you wish during the following 12 months. It is quite expensive so if you’re a couple & don’t mind exploring separately, use the system!

The following link takes you to the extensive website which includes a virtual tour so we won’t dwell on detail here, just show a few key locations. Upon entering the cathedral look up – it simply soars…

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The cathedral does an excellent understated job of displaying the spot where ‘the deed was done’. Walk up the steps on the left & look for the small area known as The Martyrdom down on the left side…

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Make sure you time your visit when the Quire isn’t closed for services as it’s quite spectacular

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There are two significant tombs at the end. Firstly that of Henry IV & his wife, Joan of Navarre

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Opposite them is the tomb of Edward Plantagenet ‘The Black Prince’

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What caught our attention the most was the poignant, small candle burning in the centre between the two graves. This marks the spot where the shrine to St Thomas of Canterbury stood before it was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII

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The other two areas of the cathedral not to miss are the crypt & the cloister gardens. A few weeks earlier we’d visited York cathedral which we’d found considerably under-whelming & bare. The same cannot be said of Canterbury which is simply splendid & worth a return visit

36. We mentioned the Bishop’s Palace earlier which, if you want to see, you can look through the gates near the front of the cathedral. For us though the sun was setting & we were getting hungry so it was time to finish our walk…

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Come out through the Gatehouse again & turn left up Burgate where there’s some more very individual shops

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Pass the Catholic Church of St Thomas. Built between 1874 & 1875 it’s the only Roman Catholic church in the city & was built on the site of a medieval chapel

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In the Martyrs Chapel is a reliquary over the altar which contains a piece of Becket’s vestment & a piece of a bone from his body. In the late 19th century, these were given to the church by Mary Hales, of the Hales baronets. The relics came from Gubbio in Umbria, where they’d been held since the 1220s. In 1953, the Prior of Chevetogne Abbey, Fr Thomas Becquet, a descendant of family, gave a piece of Becket’s finger to the church

37. Continue along Burgate to reach the dual carriageway we crossed at the start of the way where we now end. Actually we finished about 100 yards earlier for dinner at the recommended The Thomas Ingoldsby

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So that’s it, a wonderful days exploring in a beautiful & thriving city. There’s so much to see & explore at all times of the year & we’ll definitely be going back to see more of the area around the King’s Mile area. If you were looking for an area to stay then we’d recommend here, although the city’s so compact that you’ll never be far away from the action

It’s a great city so…

Go Walk!