For the last year or so I have lived in Canterbury having never visited the place before, so I have been an extended and happy tourist exploring its crevices and discovering its secrets. The place is simply steeped in history with it a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to its stunning and significant buildings including the Cathedral, where Archbishop Becket was murdered, the ruins of St Augustine Abbey and the oldest church in the English speaking world! (St Martins) Only the church of these is free to visit however, with the Cathedral a costly visit (though not for me as a local student) and the Abbey setting you back a few quid also. There are other ways to spend your money in the city too with punting trips along the Stour and a number of fascinating museums exploring the history of the place including the Heritage museum and the Roman museum. However, here I am going to give you a cheap walking guide for the place on a sunny day starting from the main station where you can get a javelin to London in under an hour.
Stepping out of the station stretch out in the glorious Kent sun (which we always have) and then take a right along the road towards the town. At the end of the short road turn to your left and you are instantly facing the city centre. Right before you is the imposing Westgate that grants access into the city through its thick walls. Opened in 1380 it still grants access to the city with cars driving through its 18m arch and pedestrians walking through it on the left hand side. Once you’re through the arch you are in the city walls and its pedestrianised high-street. This is a narrow street of modern shops and cafes, some of which are fantastic and good value, but if you look up you will see the old buildings that remain – some hanging over the street, others set back in their splendour. There a couple worthy of special note. The first is tucked low on your right and is Eastbridge hospital. Founded in 1190 it was a hospital for pilgrims and then a school and church. Today its almhouses remain and you can have a look round this small piece of history for just a couple of quid. Soon after this on your left you cross the river and have gorgeous views of one of its little inlets over the railings on your left. Certainly a key photo opportunity. Further along on the left is The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. This is a very impressive building from 1899 and was designed in the Tudor Revival style as a gift to the city in the form of a venue for knowledge. It still holds this role today with free galleries, a free museum and exhibition space upstairs and the public library at the back.
Keep going up the high-street enjoying the views and stop off at any of the cafes or pubs that grab your fancy now for your drink if you fancy – but no need to get anything to eat!
This is because we are going to get a packed lunch from one of the conveniently located supermarkets in town in the modern shopping section which is clearly signposted – Whitefriars. Options include Tesco and Marks and Sparks. Once you’ve got your food, and of course at least a bottle of water each as we are about to go for a country walk, take the road to the side of Tesco out of the centre. Go left at the end and then look to cross the road and enter Dane John Gardens. These free gardens date back to 1551 and are always expensively and exquisitely maintained. Walk along its central path enjoying the landscaping and look to your left and you will see the high city walls which run the length of the park and help the feel of safe cosy seclusion. These walls have surrounded the city since the Romans first built them in around 270 AD. They have since been built up and restored by various people including the Normans who built the Castle. When the children’s play park is on your left, look for one of the sloping paths up onto the wall and take it. Follow this path all the way up and you will find yourself upon the Dane John Mound. This is an old Roman Burial mound believed to be from the first century. On a clear day the view from the top lets you see 360 the entire city and its surrounding villages and countryside. Just lovely.
Once you’ve had your fill of the view and taken your snaps, head back down and walk right along the top of the old city wall stepping down off it at the end. Cross this road and take the alleyway, cross the road at the end and you are at Gas Street. Walk down this road and you will be at the Norman Castle! Begun by William the Conqueror in around 1070 it is now a ruin, but it is free to walk around with lots of information boards. You can also head inside it and go up a little way into one of the old turrets. Once done, head out and further down Gas Street. There is an old church at the end, go left at this and then right. You are now by a busy main road but don’t worry, this is for just a very short amount of time. Walk along the path and you will hit the river, go over the bridge and under the underpass into the park. Follow the path, cross the river and then go left at Toddler Cove Playground. You are now entering The Great Stour Way which is a stunning country walk of three miles between Canterbury and Chartham. River, Fields, Sheep, Wildlife, Horses, Stunning old Kent thatched houses backing onto the river and punters along the water. Its just lovely. Walk along here as long as you fancy until you find a spot for your lunch and set up shop with the sun on your faces and the birds singing around you.
Head back the way you came when you’re done but this time go straight past the Toddler Cove and follow the river into Westgate Gardens. These garden spaces can be traced back to the Roman time and have in them a plane tree over 200 years old and a Victorian Tower House. Punters continually go along the river here and have to duck very low to get under the small bridges. By now you are entering the evening probably, so go back right into the high street and this time take a left off of it and head towards the signposted Cathedral. Whilst it costs during the day, once the clock has struck 5:30 however it is free to enter the grounds and get up close and personal to the building. Head on in and get your snaps here – it can look gorgeous especially with the sun setting behind.
Now it depends on which train you wish to get back and what your plans are. Either head back to the station the reverse of where we began, or head to one of the pubs or restaurants for your dinner!
I hope you have enjoyed this virtual walking tour of Canterbury. Keep checking the blog for future posts as I will no doubt share more of Kent’s wonders.