Sunday, July 10, 2011

Daytrip to Dover Castle & Canterbury

Today, I signed up for the Day Trip to Dover Castle and Canterbury. Once the bus arrived at Dover, you could see the harbor and the ferries leaving to traverse the English Channel to France and other destinations. It was a bit too hazy on the horizon to actually see the French shoreline, but on a clear day I imagine it is visible. After departing the bus at Dover Castle, I first toured the Medieval tunnels. Next, I walked through the museum that highlighted Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and two of their troublesome sons, John and Richard the Lionheart. It’s funny to think that five years ago this month I spent the fourteenth of July, France’s Independence Day, with my family outside of Richard the Lionheart’s castle at Talmont-Saint Hilaire. I remember that the fireworks display was beautiful as it lit up the old castle ruins.

Dover Castle has a layered history like so many places in this corner of the world. Driving up towards the town of Dover, our guide pointed out a prehistoric settlement on top of hill, now grown over with grass, but to a trained eye recognizable. The area of Dover Castle itself was originally where a Roman lighthouse stood. Then the Saxons came built a church and turned the remains of the lighthouse into the bell tower. Next came the Norman Invasion of 1066. After that came Henry II and the castle was built. Fast forward to the twentieth century when the castle was used during WWII for Operation Dynamo to rescue British and French troupes from the German assault at Dunkirk.

The castle is a very impressive structure. As we were walking down the hill to depart I couldn’t help but notice all the trees that were growing up beneath the walls, and it reminded me of the Maya ruins at Uxmal in Yucatan, Mexico. I imagine if this area wasn’t still populated that in a few hundred years it would be reclaimed by nature, another lost remnant of the past. Of course this isn’t likely to happen this century.

The next stop was the town of Canterbury, famous for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the murder and sainthood of Thomas Becket. After having a delicious lunch of lamb tagine, I went to the Canterbury Museum. As the name implies it is a museum about Canterbury, first as a Roman settlement, then as a Saxon settlement, throughout the Medieval Ages as a popular pilgrim site, to the present. Most surprising to me was a collection of tiny gold Saxon coins perfectly formed. Actually most all of the Saxon artifacts showed a great deal of craftsmanship. For some reason I’d always thought the Saxons were somewhat primitive with crude skills.

The museum was definitely geared towards children. There were a lot of hands on displays and a timeline showing a very simplified version of how Henry II and Thomas Becket had a falling out. Hardly anyone was in there but a single family, a couple of older ladies, and myself.

Feeling a bit tired I meandered through the streets to the entrance of the Canterbury Cathedral. The fee was more than what I was willing to pay, and I didn’t have a lot of time left, so I decided not to go in. Later, I might regret this decision. Instead I decided to make my way back to where the bus was parked. The ride back was relatively quick and without incident. It sure made up for the miserable trip back from yesterday’s excursion.

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