Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Madhouse diaries : Hunting out Canterbury's hidden gems

As you may have noticed on this week's #MySundayPhoto post, last week I took part in a class trip to Canterbury, a medieval town that I love because it has the perfect blend of beautiful buildings and great shopping so it keeps everyone happy.

By the time we arrived, it was about 11am and the kids were already starving so we headed straight over to Greyfriars Gardens where they devoured their packed lunches. This little oasis of calm is tucked away down the end of Stour Street, almost opposite the famous Weavers' House (that you can see in the top photo - more about that in a moment).

Walking over the little bridge into the park, I pointed out a common architectural feature in Canterbury - houses that are built spanning the River Stour with archways that boats can pass through.

On the other side of the bridge, we spotted some punts, which is one way of exploring the river.

Coming out of the park we passed by the Canterbury Heritage Museum which looks worth a visit.

Just a few metres further down the road is an unassuming black door in the wall which leads into Greyfriars, an old Franciscan friary that was the first one to be set up in England in the 1200's.

There are also Blackfriars and Whitefriars in Canterbury and the Greyfriars didn't actually wear grey, according to our river guide. They grey referred to the drab brown outfits that the friars wore because they had taken a vow of poverty, unlike the Blackfriars who did wear black, the second most prized colour at the time (after purple which was reserved for royalty) which was a sign of their wealth and power.

Even the kids were impressed by this beautiful wisteria plant, but mainly because they were convinced there was a secret prison hiding in there, rather than a locked gate into the neighbouring primary school !

The only remaining building is the Greyfriars Chapel, which is still used for services by the Anglican Franciscans.

We got a closer look at the river passing under the house and discovered that it is full of eels - they can grow up to two metres long in the winter apparently.

The friars still work in the gardens so sometimes, the door is locked and you're not allowed in.

As we wandered back down to the High Street, this old Rolls Royce arrived for a wedding, which had all the kids oohing and aahing and asking if they could take photos. The driver looked very chuffed with all the attention and admiring glances !

In amongst all the high street stores are some remarkable buildings, including the Eastbridge Hospital (apparently not a hospital at all - it refers to hospitality because pilgrims to the cathedral could stay there for free for up to three nights) and the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in the picture above, which is the central museum, library and art gallery.

The most impressive building in Canterbury is obviously the cathedral though, so we headed down to Christ Church Gate.

I love the details, from the carved angels and huge blue statue of Christ ...

... to the heraldic shields along the top of the door.

You have to pay to visit the cathedral now but the people at the ticket office are usually quite happy for you to stick your head through to take a quick snap.

I loved the look of this old-fashioned looking ice cream van parked opposite the cathedral gate, but not the prices - £2 for a single, £3.50 for a double and a whopping £4.50 for a triple scoop, which sounded like daylight robbery to me !

By now it was time for us to go on our Historic River Cruise, so we headed back to The Old Weavers' House. According to the sign on the wall, this house dates back to 1500 but our guide told us that this is only half true. While the inside is that old, the black timber and white colouring was added on in Victorian times.

It's still beautiful though and we were happy to take in the view while waiting for our boats to be free.

Being rowed along the river taking in the beautiful scenery is really calming and the guides have some great stories to tell, with the perfect blend of factual information and light-hearted banter.

The kids were more interested in spotting the baby pigeons and ducklings than listening to the historic commentary though !

It seemed quite strange passing underneath the houses and the guides have a spooky sixth sense, knowing exactly when to duck their heads or stop the boats just before bashing into a wall without even turning round !

We went past the Marlowe Theatre with its huge face sculpture.

Our hilarious guide James even demonstrated walking the boat through one of the low tunnels, to show how children were used to carry huge slabs of stone along the rivers during the construction of the cathedral !

By now it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful scenery and let the kids loose in the High Street for a little bit of souvenir hunting.

Dragons and Fairy Dust


  1. So, so beautiful. Thank you for this glimpse of Canterbury, I hope I can get there one day.

  2. That brings back memories of being a student in Canterbury 20 years ago. I did MA in KIAD, and loved that beautiful old town. The cathedral is worth the visit, if you have another chance.

    1. I did visit when I was a kid but I must admit, I can't remember much about it so I probably wasn't paying attention !

  3. Looks like a wonderful place to visit, so much to see. Thanks for linking to out and about

  4. What a gorgeous place to visit...There is so much to see.
    Those houses over the river are so interesting. x