Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 10: Day Trip to Dover and Canterbury

Bright and early this Saturday morning, I joined other British Studies Program students in hopping onto a coach bus en route to the southeast of England. After a not-too-long drive, we arrived at our first destination: Dover Castle.

Situated strategically on the white cliffs of Dover overlooking the English Channel--the point of the Isle of Brittain closest to the European mainland--Dover Castle was built during the reign of Henry II. His intentions for building such a castle were several: he wanted to send a message of English strength to the nearby French, for one; and he also wanted to strengthen his reputation with his own people, who had mixed feelings about their king after his alleged involvement in the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket.

One of the main sites of the castle is the Great Tower, a particularly impressive structure at the heart of the castle in which the kings and queens of England who stayed at Dover heald court. Nearly all of the rooms in the tower are done up as they would have been during the reign of Henry II, fires ablaze in the fireplaces and everything. The staff even go so far as to enact the parts of King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Prince John, a knight, and *ahem* Prince John's apparent lady friend. The result of all this showmanship is that visitors can really get a feel for what it might have felt like to be there in the Great Tower's heyday.

By the time I got to the top of the Great Tower and could look down toward the coast and the town, a heavy mist was rolling in off the Channel:

By the time I reached the bottom of the castle again, the mist was everywhere. Scenes like these make it easy to believe how Arthurian legend could come to be:

After another short bus ride, our group arrived in Canterbury. After a brief lunch, a friend and I made our way to (where else?) Canterbury Cathedral. We were rather taken aback at the sudden entrance gate to the Cathedral Close--this very old-looking gate is entirely wedged between shopfronts on a rather busy square in the city centre.

The scale and detail of the cathedral itself are breathtaking--Canterbury Cathedral has to be one of the most ornately carved cathedrals I've ever gone in. We weren't able to see all of the inside of the cathedral because they were preparing for a service, but we did get to walk through the crypt. Now, I'm not usually one for crypts, but this one was really remarkable. It was beautiful chapel after beautiful chapel, one right after the next, with remarkable stonemasonry and paintings on the walls and ceilings dating from the 13th century.

The rest of our time in Canterbury was spent looking about the grounds surrounding the main cathedral. Even the outside structures are extremely ornate in their stonemasonry, and there is some really beautiful modern stained glass as well. We saw ruined cathedral walls, the doors to the cathedral library and archives, and quite a few gardens to make the setting feel even more serene. Definitely worth the visit to Canterbury.

After a rather longer bus ride back into London--Saturday evening traffic, yuck--I enjoyed the reheated leftovers of last night's Indian food, went grocery shopping, and walked around a bit. I'm so excited by everything I got to see on this relaxing Saturday (even if I did forget to put on sunscreen this morning and now my nose is a little bit red).

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