Aug. 8, 2017

Canterbury, Stonehenge & Salisbury

We got out of London just before a Marathon started and our street would be closed.  It was an easy drive out of the city and quick to find the highway.  Mind you, Aris is fearless and just goes...we didn't have our phone GPS working with any voice giving us directions, mostly it was me looking at my map which hadn't downloaded properly... but we made it!  The highway doesn't really give you much of a glimpse of the countryside but in some spots it does and it's simply beautiful.   Rolling hills and fields with wheat, cattle grazing, sheep, and then the villages; red rooftops and chimneys and the old churches are easy to spot.

Heading into Canterbury we drove past the first part of the stone wall surrounding the old town and then made our way back inside the walled city after looking at two or three places that had no room.   To our incredible luck, we were at the heart of the village and right next to the gate leading to the Cathedral, when Aris noticed a green TripAdvisor sticker and he disappeared inside, leaving me standing in the square.  That's when I actually noticed the gate to the Cathedral grounds!  Next thing I knew he was pulling me inside to check in and we passed over a trap door at the threshold and up a set of crooked stairs.  Actually, EVERYTHING is crooked.  And what would have been separate buildings or homes initially are all now joined on the interior, so you can see original exterior walls, steps up or down as you pass from one building into another, and the cobbled together rooftop accesses and pathways in the back, with a view of the Cathedral tower looming up in behind.  We were told that our lodgings were in the "Hospital Wing" of the building where they tended to anyone who would have had the Plague at the time...

Our bedroom at the Cathedral Gate Hotel had a floor with at least a 3" hill in it from one side to the other, nothing was level.   But it had a charming 4 poster bed, lovely windows, and a private bathroom.   We had asked if the bed was comfy upon booking it and Aris made a wisecrack about a straw bed... turns out it did have a lovely duvet but the mattress itself may as well have been a piece of lead, which would have matched the leaded glass windows and the lead roof tiles!   Not a very good wifi signal, as a result.  We locked up our stuff and headed to the Cathedral, which we then learned was 'closed to Visitors but you can attend the Evensong', which we did!    It was a lovely service and with a visiting Choir entitled Lyra Davidica and they did a wonderful job.  

We were not supposed to take photos inside the Cathedral but we were permitted a few in the entranceway after having attended the Service.   Of greater interest to me, seemed to be the grounds, the exterior of the church building itself, and the ruins of a Monastery that had stood there before.  The gardens planted in and around the property are beautifully tended and my heart had a story starting almost immediately... 

The story of this Cathedral is long and there are many, but the one of greatest intrigue is that Thomas Becket was murdered there.  Ordained at Canterbury in 1162, he disagreed with Henry II about policy...and was henceforth murdered in the very Church.  When his body was taken and laid to rest, it was found that he was wearing what appeared to be a hair shirt, which was full of lice and other creatures and would have been incredibly itchy, and was meant to be a means of constant self punishment.   He was declared a Martyr.

We stopped for a very late lunch after learning about this and ate at a charming little place on the river, called The Weaver's Inn, wherein we at roast beef and lamb with Yorkshire pudding.    Then we walked about town and up along the river, taking a few more photographs.  Neither of us slept very well, perhaps the thought of ghosts or the Plague again kept us awake.

Waking up we decided to partake of the Continental breakfast offered by the Hotel instead of venturing out anywhere else.  They brought cereal and yogurt and heaps of fresh fruit and croissants and toast and butter and was divine and we were full and ready for the road.

Onwards to Stonehenge!  We walked through the fields instead of taking the shuttle bus in to the site and were glad that we did so, getting a feel for the landscape.  It's not just a site where some random stones are upright... there are many unusual indentations in the land all around it, and other markers and stones as well.  Woodhenge!  We did not get to see this but we did notice several mounds which appeared to be burial sites.    Since there are a lot of people visiting Stonehenge and it's a quick, guarded path to walk around its perimeter, we could not really just sit there all day quietly and contemplate it the way we might have thought to.  To me, the way to truly feel the energy from that place would be to stand naked at the centre of it, and feel the wind and the rain, and watch the sun rise and fall, the stones casting their shadows about.  Think about it, it is dated to 2500BC.  What would you have been wearing then?  ;)

We traveled into Salisbury proper after this and found ourselves at the Rose and Crown hotel which was right on the river and had a room where you could see the steeple of Salisbury Cathedral across the river.  We knew we had a treat in for ourselves the next day, but we just had to take a walk into town and go around the Cathedral that evening.  So we donned our slickers and grabbed our umbrellas (now becoming the norm) and wandered into town.   Massive, it loomed up and we were in awe, looking up at the spire and wondering aloud whether it was as big as Canterbury or not.  Certainly, Canterbury is different because it dose not have a steeple, just square towers.

We ended up finding dinner again at Byron's Proper Burgers and, encore un fois, downed a milkshake, which Aris swore he would not do again!  And then trundled off back to our room to collapse.

The Rose and Crown has a medieval front but more modern furnishings.  We were not without luxury on this night and had a more comfortable bed!   And their buffet breakfast was just fine.

We then set out for the adventure of a lifetime, one I will not soon forget ~ a tour of the Cathedral and not just any tour of the floor/building, but one of the upper rafters and all levels of the bell tower.   It was incredible!!   We were educated about the type of stone that was used and where it was from, how the timbers were selected and using mortise/tenon joinery & doweled together, how most of it is oak but some pine trees were used, what the properties of lead are and how it behaves on the roof.   In the rafters, we saw that on the North side the wood slats have no gap because it doesn't heat up as much as the South side, but on the South side there are gaps in the wood so that the lead tiles can breathe when the roof becomes warm.

Some timbers are over 18" x 18" and have split apart and are now being held together by iron strapping.  Some have been replaced.  Curved ones are carefully selected from curved trees and split so that they are used symetrically across from one another for balance.  The tiny, spiral staircases that go up into the bell tower are of newer wood, thankfully, as are the floors - but that didn't ease my feeling of thinking we would all fall through and that would be the end of us.

Incidentally, no murders have taken place in this Cathedral, that we are aware of.

We were permitted to go outside at the second level of railings around the bell tower and take a look across Salisbury and the surrounding countryside, where we could actually see the site of the Old Sarum, a raised, circular mound and moat that once had a castle and the original cathedral building.   If you'd like to learn more about it, this is a good site to read:

Salisbury was everything we thought it would be, and more.  To view the photos I took, I welcome you to my Facebook Album, where they are captioned.   If the intent of these Cathedrals is to get closer to God, then it has been achieved.

After a lengthy car ride and a few convenience store sandwiches, we stopped for the night in Leicester, staying in the Mercure 'Grand Hotel' ~ a beautiful heritage building but a tiny room.    We dropped our stuff off and found our umbrellas and set out in the pouring rain for a walk about, seeing the outside of Leicester Cathedral and then settling back in for the night.   We left Leicester early the next morning and hit the road for the long trek North to York.