U.K. Day Trip: Canterbury
Being stationed at RAF Lakenheath means that you’re centrally located in England. Only a couple hours away by train or car in the southeast lies Canterbury, known for its iconic cathedral and Chaucer’s famous “Canterbury Tales.” Treat yourself to a day trip to this quaint town that is teeming with rich history dating back to the ancient Romans. A visit to Canterbury is like stepping back in time. It still has the feel of an old medieval village with its stone walls, cobblestone streets, small alleyways and large gateway.
This cathedral is not only England’s largest but also the heart of the Church of England. It remains one of the most famous places of worship in the world and is definitely worth a visit. Since its beginning in 597, it has been rebuilt many times by the Saxons and Normans over the years, but it is still easy to find parts that date back to the 12th Century. You can stand on the spot where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, check out the crypt and tombs of Henry IV and the Black Prince and see the impressive medieval stained-glass windows.
The River Stour
The River Stour flows through the heart of the city and was once one of the main trade routes connecting England to Europe in the Roman and Medieval times. Float down the river on a boat tour admiring the sights as the guide offers insights into Canterbury’s historic past. It is the perfect way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city center and discover a unique vantage point to some of the medieval architecture along the river.
Standing on the edge of the River Stour, the Westgate is the only one of Canterbury’s original seven medieval gateways still standing and the largest surviving city gate in England. Climb the Westgate Tower for a bird’s eye view from the battlements viewpoint where you can see most of the original Roman city walls that are still standing around the city. Then, cross the bridge into the former Victorian City Goal, where you can visit some of the original 1830s prison cells and look through the murder holes onto the road below. The gardens around the Westgate are also worth a visit if the weather is nice. During the spring and summer, the garden’s many flowers are in bloom and you can see plenty of ducks and swans drifting down the river with their young.
The Canterbury Tales
If you’re a fan of the book, it’s only fitting to make a stop at the Canterbury Tales exhibition.
“The Canterbury Tales” tells the humorous stories of 24 pilgrims as they travel to the shrine of martyr Saint Thomas Becket at the cathedral in Canterbury and gives a great insight into what life was like during the middle ages. The exhibition’s costumed guides take you through Chaucer’s tales with a complete recreation of five different pilgrim’s stories along the way.
On your way out of town, take a short detour to Leeds Castle. It’s a remarkable castle built to span two islands and complete with a huge moat. Whether you decide to explore the gardens, get lost in the maze, visit the birds at the falconry or take a tour on Elsie the Castle Train it’s easy to understand why it’s known as the “loveliest castle in the world.”
Canterbury is full of wonderful things to do and see, but one of the real pleasures is simply wandering around. You never know what you’ll find off-the-beaten-path!