To Kent we went!
Packed an overnight bag, jumped in the car at 6 am Wednesday and headed east. Our first stop was the notorious Canterbury Cathedral. Glorious. Humbling. The history here dates back nearly 1500 years, with the building of what stands there today beginning in the 11th century. The most famous bit of history there of course was the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 - precisely 800 years before Dick was born. The Cathedral is filled with amazing architecture and the resting bodies of Kings and other important people from Britain’s past.
Scenes from Canterbury Cathedral
The crypt is a magnificent place, and we nearly got thrown out of it for taking pictures there (which is not allowed). This was largely Mike’s fault. Aside: While we were making a tour of England’s historic sites in the South East, Mike was apparently on a mission to break rules and get ejected from the same. He got some great pictures in the process though. I’ll give him that. I’ll share some of his illicit photographic work below.
I’d like to take a moment here to comment on how brilliantly lit all of these venues are. It feels like they have employed a lighting designer in each place - there is always such a magnificent balance between ambient light and enhancing artificial lights. The created light is colorful but not gaudy or distracting - it’s designed to perfectly bring out the finest points of architecture, while never overpowering the lovely patterns of natural light streaming in through a stained glass or other kind of window. The light I’ve encountered in Britain’s historic indoor spaces has made photography an absolute creative pleasure. Well done, England.
After we finished in the Cathedral (I could have stayed in there all day) we wandered around the town of Canterbury for a short time, sat for a coffee and cake and visited the sweet shop. One of my favorite memories of traveling to Europe with my parents when I was a kid was ducking in to cafes and bakeries for some local sweet delicacy. I found it immensely satisfying to do so with Finn. I believe he found it more than satisfying. We made our way back to the car and set out for Leeds Castle.
Another 1000 year old castle, with notable royal connections - Henry VIII put Catherine of Aragon up here after their divorce (Could have been worse, Catherine, a LOT worse). It was then passed between several noble families, until a rich (super duper rich) Lady bought it in the 20’s I think. What’s that like? How does that whole thing go down? Do you say to your lawyer, Yes, I’m kicking the tires on Leeds Castle. I’d like to get an inspection and maybe require the seller to put in new windows and fix a few leaks, but I’d really quite like to buy it. Really, amazing.
The surrounds of Leeds is equally special and has plenty to do. A few peacocks really put on a show on our arrival, and Finn barely survived the tour of the castle itself for waiting to get to the hedgerow maze. I’d like to point out that of the 5 of us, not only was i the last one to the center, but i’m skeptical I would have made it at all if Mike hadn’t climbed up on a giant rock he was not supposed to climb (see above) and directed me through from above. Really, I might still be there. The exit from the maze (once you get to the center) is beneath it all through a fun grotto that has been Disneyfied a bit, but is entertaining and really well done. And fortunately for me, is a one-way and nearly a straight line.
The maze at Leeds, where I very nearly became a permanent resident.
After hours on our feet, we called it a day and headed to a hotel before a nice dinner at Julia’s brother’s home. It’s so special to travel to a foreign country and eat real meals in the homes of real people! And Julia’s brother, Pete, is a police officer, yes, a Bobby, in London! I had dinner with a real Bobby! How cool is that?
We got back to the hotel late. Slept in. Breakfasted, hopped back in the car and drove to Bodiam Castle. This castle is practically contemporary - built in 1380 for crying out loud. Sitting in a man made (hand dug) mote, it’s a smallish castle, in a perfect square with rooms in the turrets on each corner. A lovely open courtyard in the middle. Very reasonably sized. Not too big. This is a castle I feel I could manage. Especially with a large staff of serfs. Finn ran and climbed and loved the endless spiral staircases.
Bodiam Castle from the ground and from atop one tower
Back to the car, a stop at a pub in nowheresville for a pub lunch. Dick and Mike had the Beef & Ale pie (Hello, England) and believe it when the menu says Sizzling Prawns. They came out, sizzling. Finn had the chicken finger version of fish and chips, and every one of us cleaned our plates.
Dick had the Steak & Ale pie. See plate at right for review.
Ok John Paige - I hope these live up to your memories and expectations!Onto our last castle of this expedition: Arundel. Interesting to note how many (so many) of our towns in New England have names borrowed or stolen from England. For example, we have an Arundel, Maine. But we say it in a clunky way a-RUN-del.The Brits, being much cooler then us, and sounding even better say it Arun-DELL. It sounds like something from the ring trilogy. And once you get the habit for saying it properly down, you just want to say it all day. Arun-DELL.
At Arundel, we only saw the Keep, the Chapel and the notorious gardens. All delivered. From the Keep, spectacular views. The Chapel was a tiny and quiet delight, with interesting architectural points, and stunning grave sites. Of all of the ancient crypts and mausoleums I have visited, this tiny one may have been the most beautiful. What a delightful surprise.
Views from Arundel’s Medieval Keep
We ventured out into Arundel’s dynamic gardens. For my landscape architect friends out there, you would love this place. So much attention is paid to the layout of the gardens, trees, pathways and how they frame existing and historic buildings in the town, on the perimeter of the property. The wildflower garden set in the shadow of the town’s stunning cathedral is a perfect example, but there are so many more throughout the area.
Just a small portion of Arundel’s gardens - the wildflowers.
We finished up and headed for home, wiped. I know there was a point when everyone in the car except for Mike was asleep. Thankfully, he was driving.
We got home, snacked for dinner, looked at pictures - I shot close to 800 and Mike had a few hundred to add - and have called it a night. What a jam packed and great expedition. And Mike never officially got ejected from any sites, although he was certainly skating on thin ice a few times...He did get some fantastic photos though, and some very good ones of Dick, Finn and me, for which I am very grateful, as I rarely get photos of me! Here are just a handful of his expert work.
Mike’s photo stream
The beautiful crypt - the shot that nearly got us kicked out. Dick, Finn and I in Canterbury Cathedral.
The birds of Leeds - the showy peacock and the swans (all swans in the realm owned by HRM the Queen).
Tree hugging at Leeds. Finn barely surviving our walk through the castle before getting to the much anticipated maze.
Finn and I in the grotto beneath the maze. An artfully framed tree at Bodiam Castle.
No plans for tomorrow other than a huge (I hope) run for me and perhaps a special photo shoot in the evening....stay tuned. For now, my first priority is joining the rest of the household in a Castle-dream filled sleep.