Sunday, 23 October 2016

Canterbury Streets and Secret Parks

Whilst visiting home for the summer, I took a couple of trips to the beautiful medieval city of Canterbury.

Despite being targeted for its beauty and cultural significance during the "Baedeker Blitzes" of WWII, it has managed to retain a wonderful hotchpotch of architectural styles that lends the city a healthy dose of character. 

Lately, Michele and I have been debating the relative merits of Exeter (where we live now) and Canterbury (with me being firmly in the camp of the latter city) so whilst we were in the area, I thought I'd drag him around to prove my point...

We started off on one of my favourite streets which boasts a lovely old Waterstones complete with creaky floors and Roman ruins, one of the best fish and chip shops you'll ever find and my favourite tearoom ever, Tiny Tim's, who serve up freshly-baked scones the size of a grown man's fist.

Next, we looped over to the other side of the high street and began to walk down the (slightly) quieter roads that lead down to the Cathedral. We passed churches and pavement cafes still revelling in the last snatches of summer.

Unfortunately, you have to pay if you want to get any closer to the Cathedral than that^ although its impressive heights can be viewed against the skyline from various points around the city.

And besides, there's plenty more to see in this vibrant and colourful city!

A trip to Canterbury also wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Chocolate Cafe where you can satisfy your chocoholic cravings to your heart's delight (I inevitably end up drinking cups of melted chocolate...)

But we didn't have much time and I was on a mission! To the parks we marched...

There are plenty of signposts pointing you in the direction of various sights and landmarks but failing that (and failing Google maps), a good rule of thumb is to find a river or stream and follow it. Most of the parks in the city are wrapped around a body of water and are perfect for lazing beside with summer picnics or wrapping up warm and taking a stroll along in the colder months.

It's not bad for a bit of dream house spotting either!

My favourite park though is completely tucked away from sight. The Greyfriar's Chapel and Franciscan Gardens can be observed across the river from another little park tucked down the side of the picturesque Heritage Museum.

We could see people walking around and children playing in the gorgeous old gardens surrounding the Chapel and began to pace around the streets, searching for a way in. Eventually we found the entrance, sitting inconspicuously opposite the Old Brewery Tavern and barely signposted at all. In fact, it looked like we were wandering into somebody's private gardens...

The site played home to the first Franciscan monastery in England, the Chapel being the only remaining part that still stands today. Although the monastery was disbanded by Henry VIII, today monks live in nearby cottages and worship in the Chapel.

There's something about this city that will always be inherently and eternally beautiful to me, more so than any other in England. I think Michele's going to have a hard time convincing me otherwise!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Margate: Cheese Toasties and Shell Grotto

Following on from my last post about Broadstairs and the merits of being a tourist in your hometown, I decided that after 24 years of living (at least part-time) in Margate, it was probably time to visit the Shell Grotto.

It's within easy walking distance of Margate's Old Town and other delights such as the Tudor House so is a great addition to a day wandering around Margate.

But first, lunch!

The Greedy Cow has been a feature of the old town for a few years and never fails to impress with vibrant and delicious dishes. The cheese toastie was absolutely delicious and seemed to transcend the eternally wonderful combination of bread and cheese (if that's even possible!). But plumping for a salad won't necessarily leave you with food envy either, take a look at that delicious plate of veg and halloumi!

It's incredibly popular with tourist and locals alike.

After lunch with my family (aren't my sister and her boyfriend cuties?), Michele and I headed off to the mysterious Shell Grotto...

Your visit begins in a small museum filled with souvenirs from the grotto's past and various intricacies made from shells from around the world. I particularly loved the sailor's valentines above which the intrepid men would bring back to their loved ones back home.

Then you descend further underground into the grotto itself...

They're still not completely sure when and why the grotto was built. Various theories have been flung around but not one has managed to hold its own against various counter arguments. Many believed it to have been a copy of the beautiful shell grottoes of the Mediterranean but the land beneath which it sits was still just farmland at the time of its discovery - and if someone were to construct one of these with the sole purpose of showing off, why hide it under someone else's field?

These kinds of grottoes were popular in the 1700s and would have required a great deal of labour to construct. As such, the argument goes, why would the grotto have been completely collectively forgotten by the early 1800s when it was rediscovered?

One big clue could be the age of the shells themselves. Whilst carbon dating is a possibility, the number of specimens needed to be tested in order to produce a reliable result is incredibly high.

Another thing to note is the smoky blacks and greys of the grotto - it looks more like it has been made from the local flint than shells! This is due to the use of gas lamps in the grotto when it was first opened, covering all of the shells in a fine layer of soot. Cleaning has been considered but it is likely that the shells have lost their natural colour by now anyway and many of them are incredibly delicate so it would likely do more damage than good.

There's a decidedly eerie feel to the grotto. There is, after all, a grotto ghost - a mysterious lady has been sighted on various occasions and you can see artists' impressions of her in the museum.

We hurried back up to the land of the living.

Finally, we dragged ourselves away from the brightly coloured gift shop and headed outside to walk home in the glorious British weather.

A thunderstorm.

Of course.