Shoreditch, London – This weekend now almost passed has certainly been one for the books. In a period of 48 hours, my group and I have seen Canterbury, Dover, Stonehenge, and Bath. We’ve gone from watching eels swim in the River Stour in Canterbury, to drinking the waters at the Roman Bathhouse in Bath. And all by coach, which though rather uncomfortable, is a simple way to travel.
This was not my first time to three of the four sites, the solitary one being the oldest. Returning to Canterbury especially was quite a delight. In 2002, one of my aunts taught there at Christ Church University for a semester. During this time, my parents & I took the opportunity to pay a visit to England’s oldest city. As the coach drove into Canterbury, I had a list in my mind of what I had to see, all of which I am happy to say I saw.
Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Primate of All England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who also sits as the leader of the Anglican Communion, under the authority of HM the Queen of course. The Cathedral building itself is my favourite Cathedral anywhere that I’ve yet visited. It has a great combination of grandeur, and elegance. And on top of that the colours and lighting are many of my favourites. Canterbury Cathedral is also the site of a major event in my spiritual life. On 29 December 1170, St Thomas Becket, then Archbishop, was martyred by 4 knights at the altar of the Cathedral. He is one of my baptismal saints, along with St Thomas More.
For me, going to Canterbury, like my medieval predecessors of Chaucerian fame, is a pilgrimage of sorts. After touring the cathedral, some friends and I went to a local pub, which was rumoured to have had the city’s best burgers. We were let down by a mystery substance in the meat, but the chips were grand! After this, it was back on the coach to head further towards the coast, deeper into French tourist country.
Dover is a beautiful port town on the south coast of Kent just 16 miles across the Channel from France. Though that didn’t seem to stop the French, as quite a few of them had overrun both Canterbury and Dover on the day we visited. I had also been to Dover before, on that same 2002 trip, but the Castle’s exhibits and the War tunnels had been greatly improved since my last visit.
The War Tunnels especially had changed over the last 11 years. Gone were the old signs and information boards. In were the films and multimedia presentations. I much preferred the new method of telling the story of these tunnels. We then proceeded into the Castle proper, wandering its medieval lithic halls with awe for the construction and architecture. Despite the near constant use of le Français by most of the people at the Castle, the flag was not la tricolore, but another of Blue, White, and Red.
The castle itself was beseiged in 1216 by the French, with the goal of conquering England, as Guillaume le Conquérant did in 1066. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t work in 1216.
The next day we headed out once again at 7.00 for a more ancient stone site. Driving west along the old coach road out of London, we made our way to a place of gathering for the past five millennia. Once a great building site, the work here had not continued after history’s first labour dispute stopped all progress on the project. Thus Stonehenge was born. Naturally, this is what is called humour, unknown to some of our friends on the Continent, but beloved by just about everybody else. In reality, we don’t actually know how Stonehenge came to be. I personally support the theory that the early stages of what became the Druids were responsible for constructing it. And on top of that, there’s evidence that it was, like today, an international destination renowned the ancient European world over. I really quite liked Stonehenge, for the little time we had to see it. Granted, there’s not much to see for now. They’re closing it down for a time on Monday to grass over the current approach road, and to build a new visitor’s centre a few miles away. But what I can say is that there was some magic of sorts in the air. Perhaps it was just the ghosts of the ancient peoples who came here playing games by blowing very hard at all of us so the wind picked up. In any case, Stonehenge is one place that I hope to return to, perhaps at a Solstice even.
From Stonehenge, it was just a short drive west to Bath. We passed through many a pretty dale and over a fine canal before arriving in the city famous for its hot springs. We first went and got some much needed lunch, and then proceeded into the Roman Baths themselves, which are always a treat.
In June 2001, my Mom and I came here for our first times, experiencing the serene beauty in all its glory. That day there was sunshine, this day however was a nice overcast grey. The Roman Baths were built upon a hot spring, dedicated to the ancient Celtic goddess Sulis, who the Romans renamed Sulis Minerva. These Baths became a major destination in Roman Britain, attracting people from all about the Roman Empire, including one man from Syria, who died here. 2000 years later, archaeologists were able to reconstruct his head based upon his skeleton and figuring out via DNA as to where he was born.
The thing to remember is that the Roman Empire was so vast that people could very well travel about from places as far away from each other as Damascus and Bath. Even today, with the advent of the European Union and the demise of border cheque-points across the Continent, it is still almost inconceivable that one could make such a journey without carrying a passport or some form of identification.
From the Baths, our group split up, I ended up wandering about Bath for a few hours, taking in the sights, sorting out my mobile phone troubles, and enjoying a nice ice cream from a local chocolatier before returning to London by coach. The journey back was quite uncomfortable, as I slept for much of it, with my head leaning heavily down towards my chest, thus straining my neck, but I can turn my head to its normal distance again!
When we got back to London, a group of friends and I went to an Indian restaurant, Cinnamon and Spice by name, which was highly recommended by one of our group. I had, and immensely enjoyed, the buttered chicken with rice and naan. If you are in London, do try this restaurant, it’s just a block west of Baker Street and Marylebone Road and a bit north, I think too. So, until next time, may your journeys be fine and joyous, and may your camera charger fit into your converter. Tá.