Wanderer at Large: Kent, Surrey & Sussex – Canterbury

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the area south of London that includes the counties of Kent, Surrey & Sussex.


Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury
Kent

Canterbury was a small Roman town before the Jutes settled there in the 6th century. It is still a fairly small town today, but its historic renown has made it one of the world’s most famous places to visit in a religious context.

597 is the traditional date for the arrival of Bishop Augustine who is credited with bringing Roman Christianity to England. As first Archbishop of Canterbury, he baptised King Ethelbert in the River Stour that runs through the town. In return, Ethelbert donated royal lands for Augustine to build a priory. He also built an abbey outside the city walls where he was buried. In the later Anglo-Saxon period, successive Archbishops established and extended other religious buildings.

By the time of the Norman conquest, Canterbury was already England’s Christianity HQ with separate entities of an abbey, monastery and cathedral.  In 1067, the first Norman Archbishop, Lanfranc, built England’s first Norman cathedral and extended the monastery to make it the largest in the country. In 1072, the Accord of Winchester meant that Canterbury took precedence over York as the pre-eminent holy place in England.

About a century later, an incident happened that would launch Canterbury even further into the stratosphere of historic fame. In 1179, the Christian world was rocked by a shocking assassination. Thomas Beckett, one of the most powerful holy men in Europe, was murdered near the altar of his own Canterbury Cathedral on royal authority. Almost overnight, Beckett’s shrine became an important pilgrimage site.

Towards the end of the medieval era, the town found literary fame as well. Sometime in the late 14th century, a few years after the great plague had ravaged the country, a London poet began writing one of the most famous books in English literature. The Canterbury Tales is the story of a group of pilgrims who set out from London to visit the holy shrine of the now sainted Thomas Beckett. The unelected leader of this posse, the landlord of the inn they set out from, issues a challenge to the group of travellers: the one who tells the best story to while away the journey will win a free meal on their return to London. What follows is a rip-roaring and frankly rude collection of tales, as apparently recorded by one of their number, Geoffrey Chaucer.

A visit to Canterbury Cathedral, an awe-inspiring medieval masterpiece, is a pilgrimage to English history in itself.  Highlights include the site of Beckett’s murder, his shrine, and the 800-year-old stain glass windows.

There are plenty of good places to eat nearby, as the town relies on impressing visitors, but a favourite is the Panteli’s fish and chips restaurant about 200 yards from the Cathedral.

Forsooth, my fellow wayfarers, methinks Canterbury’s tale is a-worth making a pilgrimage for.


Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear next tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com


*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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