Visiting Canterbury, Whitstable and Rochester

We are now in the middle of Philosopher’s Birthday Festival season. All this for a man who didn’t want a birthday…..
     We reached Canterbury at lunchtime on a hot sunny day, but amazingly, managed to park at our first attempt, within 200 metres of the Cathedral. I  say amazingly, because the city was Absolutely Heaving, mostly with French schoolchildren. Do those French kids do nothing but travel about in the summer? Hastings is also full of them. We headed straight for the Cathedral. Somehow, our route took us through Primark, where I paused to grab some of their cotton/lycra teeshirts. I don’t approve of Primark but those tees are the best, and the cheapest, and come in an incredible range of colours.

Canterbury – heaving

      We had to pay a lot of money to get into the Cathedral precincts. Surely, committed C of E persons should be able to gain access to the Mother Church to obtain spiritual sustenance? It says on the web-site that they welcome modern-day pilgrims, but what would they do at the entrance kiosk if someone turned up hungry, ragged, and penniless? We certainly fulfilled all those criteria by the time we had fought our way through the hordes, queued and paid £19 to get in.
       I had been to Canterbury a couple of times before, when I was about 19, visiting my best friend from school, Plum. She was at the then Christchurch teacher training college, right by the Cathedral. At that time, Plum’s career plan was to be a country vicar’s wife, and she was determined to net herself a curate. (In those days, our plans were a little volatile. A couple of years before, we had been all for going to Israel to fight with Moshe Dayan). Anyway, I have distinct memories of skulking round the Cathedral precincts in pursuit of one particular trainee cleric. Clearly, the bloke was gay, but it didn’t occur to us back then that gayness could be an impediment to Plum’s scheme.
       Back then, the Cathedral was empty. Now it is almost too crowded to appreciate. I love soaring Gothic/perpendicular interiors – think Kings College Chapel, Cambridge. It has some lovely stained glass, although much was broken during the Civil War, and a cloister with ancient graffiti on the columns. The quietest spot was down in the crypt, where the only sounds were the rustle of my Primark carrier bag, and the murmer of prayers from a little group of the faithful. The eleventh century Romanesque crypt is the oldest part of the building. I almost caught a whiff of ancient spookiness.

Canterbury Cathedral, the nave
Stained glass
Ancient carved column in the crypt.


View from the cloister

      We had a look round the very crowded town, and then set course for Whitstable.
       Our neighbours had recommended the Marine Hotel in Tankerton to us, and indeed it was very good. Old-fashioned yet modernised, helpful staff, great sea views, good food. Tankerton is about 10 minutes walk along the sea-front to the centre of Whitstable, and is obviously much quieter. Only downside was the plumbing in our bedroom. Although we were on the top floor of the hotel, the water pressure in the shower was incredibly powerful – you turned it on and it almost blew you out of the cubicle. By the time you had wrestled the shower head into its holder, everywhere was soaking and the tray was overflowing. However, Battleaxe would recommend this hotel.

Marine Hotel, Tankerton, Whitstable

       Whitstable itself was a bit disappointing. I think it is hyped up beyond belief by Londonistas and journalists, and then of course there is the Sarah Waters connection. Hastings Old Town is much better. We cruised the harbour-side, and then the town. Oysters were on sale, but I am superstitious about eating them if there is no ‘R’ in the month.

Whitstable Harbour
Thames sailing barge in the harbour
Huge pile of oyster shells.

       The town was full of  knick-knacky shops, too many selling the same things – driftwood candle holders, plaques of chalk-painted wood engraved with positive-thinking platitudes, artisan pottery, seashells, scented thiingummies, flowing linen garments etc. However, I did find one excellent dress shop, The Whiting Post, which sold a fabulous range of repro fifties dresses at very reasonable prices. I bought one, in a great pink flamingo print.
        We felt we had seen everything Whitstable had to offer, so the next day we set out for Rochester, planning to also visit the dockyard at Chatham. However, we found Rochester so riveting we stayed there all day. Neither of us had been before, and it was a total surprise to find a beautiful, quiet, virtually untouched Georgian High Street full of fine buildings, interesting and varied shops and quirky eateries.

Rochester – blissfully empty!
Old Corn Exchange

        Clearly, the Cathedral is not in the same architectural league as Canterbury, but it is gracious, interesting and above all, quiet – and free to enter. The nave is Romanesque, but part was restored by Gilbert Scott, and there are Pugin-esque tiles and wall paintings in the Choir.  We ate lunch sitting in a leafy garden in the Cathedral tea-rooms – old fashioned and slightly shambolic.

Rochester Cathedral
West door
The nave
West front
Tiles in the Choir

         Rochester has a splendid bridge over the Medway, a castle, and many other fine old buildings, including the Restoration House, the model for Satis House in ‘Great Expectations’.  There were many other Dickens connections round the town.

Restoration House (Satis House)

         We want to see more of Rochester, and also to go to Chatham. However, I think we had both seen enough of Whitstable. With that in mind, we decided to visit Herne Bay on the way home – just to say we had visited all the places along that stretch of coast.
          We expected it to be a bit like Bognor or Hayling Island – see earlier post about those delights – and the outskirts were not inspiring. It didn’t actually look too bad when we got to the sea. It has a pier, an art-deco bandstand, a  fine clock-tower, and some nice Regency terraces on the sea-front. Amy Johnson’s plane disappeared off Herne Bay in 1941, and there is a memorial to her by the pier. However, the town is obviously quite run-down.

Herne Bay bandstand
Clock tower
Regency terrace
Amy Johnson’s bench


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