I am fortunate to be staying in the Canterbury City Centre, mostly defined by the original Roman city walls, built between 270-280 AD, and rebuilt in the 14th century. I love wandering. Come explore with me; the city centre is very walkable. (While my photos imply a lot of greenery, most of the city centre looks more like Hospital Lane and High Street – no sweet little front gardens, just cobblestone or blacktop. Where do they go with all the rain when it comes down?)
Because it’s a very old city, the street names are simple and often mean what they say. For example, Water Lane is right off the Stour River. This is the spot where you pick up the Canterbury Punting Company’s river tour. A group was just leaving as I arrived. No worries, they set off every 20 minutes. I’ll catch another later.
Lanes are smaller than streets, and from the examples I see, they’re only a block long. My flat’s doorway, on Hospital Lane, steps right out onto a small sidewalk with the narrow driving lane just beyond.
There’s only room for vehicles to pass if one of them gets onto the sidewalk. The double yellow lines mean no parking, but that’s self-evident; if you park there, no one else is going to get through.
Yes, there was a hospital on this lane at one time. The building is still there. But I found out that hospital does not mean the same thing as we think of in this capacity. Here the meaning of hospital is hospitality. There are a alms houses in Canterbury where people still live. Hospital Lane is just two blocks off High Street, the main street through the city centre.
On the south side of the city centre on Castle and Gas Streets, sits the Norman Castle. When William the Conqueror came through after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the people of Canterbury sensibly did not put up a fight. Soon after, King William put up defensive castles in several key cities, including Canterbury, first wooden, then stone. Its ruins remain, and you can even go into it and up a couple flights of stairs. This is free, and by the way, all unsupervised. In the US it would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. And what about the cross street, Gas Street? In 1825, the gas company purchased the castle to use as a storage center for gas. It now belongs to the city.
Near the castle, on Church Street, is St. Mildred’s, the only pre-Norman Church in the city; i.e., it existed when King William got here. It was an Anglo-Saxon church dating from the 11th century, substantially restored in 1861. I found the mummy-shaped monuments in the church yard unusual. There’s a practical boot scraper at two of the church entrances. I wonder why we don’t see these more often; probably deemed a safety hazard.
North of High Street we find Butchery Lane, but you won’t find any butcher shops there now. The closest thing to a butchery is a restaurant that shows different cuts of beef on a tile wall, the cow head on a building in the lane, and another restaurant that claims to provide fine and proper hamburgers, whatever they are. Presumably, a butcher would know.
And on Beer Cart Lane . . . a letdown. There’s no brewery anymore though at one time there was a “Rigden and Delmar’s Superior Canterbury Ales & Beer with a Porter equal to any sent out of London, and at a much less price.” But there is a great used bookstore (The Chaucer Bookshop). I went in to purchase a book by Jane Austin. The owner apologized that he had no first editions or signed copies, then apologized again when he discovered all he had were paperbacks. That’s okay. He had three copies of the book I wanted, Persuasion, so I had my choice of font sizes and price.
I ended my walking tour on the north end of the city centre, on Mill Lane, where there was once a grain mill. The city has turned the picturesque area with the sluices and some of the mill’s remains into a park. There’s a project afoot to restore the mill.
Meanwhile, this is the turn-around point for the Canterbury Punting Company’s river tour. Hey, that’s the same group I saw starting their tour on Water Lane! What are the chances of that? I didn’t even know I was headed here.
Interestingly, there are no roads called Cathedral Street. Presumably one either knew where it was or could see it towering over every other building in town.
For other essays on this trip to England see:
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