Monday, 10 August 2015

To the coast and inland: To Dover and Canterbury then on to Stonehenge and Winchester

Dateline: July 4 and 5, 2015
Places:  Saturday in Dover and Canterbury; Sunday at Stonehenge and Winchester
Times: 7ish to 7ish each day
Temperatures: Saturday was 27° C; Sunday was 23° C
Songs of the weekend: Winchester Cathedral and The White Cliffs of Dover

We are so lucky to have the chance to take two day trips this week to iconic parts of England, both arranged for us by Peter Allen, who has been with the Southern Miss British Studies Program for a while:

I wasn't sure quite what to expect and didn't do any homework before I left on these jaunts. I was willing to take things as I found them. And the trips were delightful.

I am really impressed with how English Heritage manages both Dover Castle and Stonehenge in a way that seems similar to how Parks Canada manages Canadian historical sites such as Dawson City and the Fortress of Louisbourg--it's easy to move around both places, even though Stonehenge in particular is incredibly busy--more than 1.3 million people visited in 2014.

Dover Castle overlooks the English Channel and Calais in France, which we could faintly make out through the haze of an otherwise perfectly sunny day. 

The keep: the heart of the castle.

Overlooking the English Channel.

Operation Dynamo:
saving the troops 
Vice-Admiral Ramsay

I knew it is a medieval castle and assumed that, in the way of castles, it had been used as a major defense point for centuries. 

But I didn't realize that Dover was strategic to the evacuation of allied troops from France to England in 1939-40 as German soldiers seemed poised to take France. 

As mentioned on the website, the castle was a naval command centre in WWI. 

During Operational Dynamo, Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay organised the troops from Dunkirk to Dover. He hoped to move 25,000 troops to safety and instead was able to evacuate more than 250,000!

Canterbury is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and not just because Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. As per the UNESCO criteria, the city is of "outstanding universal value, in part because it is the "cradle of English Christianity" and because the architecture is outstanding (e.g, Canterbury Christchurch Cathedral).  
Inner courtyard at
Canterbury Christchurch Cathedral.
The soaring gothic ceilings and pillars are iconic for medieval churches.
In addition, there are cobblestones to walk and other interesting sites to visit such as the 
Eastbridge Hospital, which has been (and still is!) offering sanctuary to pilgrims for centuries.
Plus, we made our way to the old city from the coach parking lot along a pretty pathway along the 
Great Stour River and I found a marvelous cafe for lunch: Kitch!
This almshouse is still a place of refuge after hundreds of years.
The fisherfolk were busy catching all manner of  beasties including carp.
Lunch was curried vegetable soup and a sandwich of
garlic & rosemary seasoned chicken with pesto and spinach. Delish!

And the best part was, this was only Saturday!  Sunday saw us leaping onto the bus again (well, not really as the coach left quite early so we more slid quietly into our seats for a snooze) for another adventure.

Stonehenge almost needs no introduction as it is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and so famous, it's almost as if I'd already been there. But, of course, I hadn't and nothing quite prepared me for actually standing in front of these majestic stones ... how on earth did these prehistoric communities move such rocks--slabs really--without the benefit of a motorized crane?

Two types of stone -- the larger sarsens and the smaller ‘bluestones’--make up the site.
The sarsens are arranged in an inner and outer circle
while the bluestones  sit between the two circles in a double arc.

Archeaologists reckon that Stonehenge was built about 5,000 years ago as a burial site. It is designed using enormous sarsens and smaller bluestones and was erected in the late Neolithic period around 2500 BC--the website does a way better job than I ever could. The stones are now cordoned off to prevent further erosion or damage (except that done by Mother Nature). It's a lovely walk to a from the stones, along a gravel pathway and I was pleased to see wild poppies that reminded me of Flanders Fields.

That day was windy and cool, so I was happy to gobble a hot sausage roll at the visitors' centre café before travelling the 52K to Winchester.

The poppies are back, after being plowed under for years.
Our journey (Google Maps)

Like Canterbury, Winchester is known for its gothic cathedral. 
The cathedral was built in the 7th century and has gone from being a small cross-shaped church called Old Minister, to a priory church of a community of monks whose chants began the English choral tradition, through many renovations that would make it one of the largest cathedrals in England. The photo above is of the mysterious "man in in the crypt."

But did you know that the cathedral is also the last resting place of author Jane Austen and a funky art gallery to boot?
Just as Christian pilgrims make their way to the cathedral, devotees of Jane Austen arrive to pay homage to one of their favourite authors. But the cathedral is also a space for other artistic endeavours and was playing host to a local art show the day I was there!
Wandering narrow, cobblestoned lanes is charming (although hard on the feet), so I was happy to get to the central square and find a young fella playing the uke ... I perched on the statue behind him for a bit and enjoyed the music--and had a chance to strum a bit too!

The wood on this uke is really interesting--although a bit hard to see from this photo. The musician isn't sure what kind it is, as he bought it when travelling in Australia.

However, the instrument has a really lovely sound and I wasn't the only one stopping at the statue to listen for a while. 

Lots of folks were eating ice cream or drinking tea but I pushed on to the Great Hall.

The hall is where King Arthur met his knights of the round table ... which curiously hangs on the wall and has no legs (photo below)!

My final stop was a wonderful café called Eat Drink Be ... made me think of my friend Michelle (whose husband was a beekeeper).
So, who goes to England and doesn't try the "Cream Tea" at least once, twice or thrice?  

Google Maps. (2015). [Stonehenge to Winchester]. Retrieved from,+UK/Stonehenge,+Amesbury,+Wiltshire+SP4+7DE/@51.1325555,-1.7240492,11z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x487405528df97463:0x67a4865d66a8eda1!2m2!1d-1.310142!2d51.059771!1m5!1m1!1s0x4873e63b850af611:0x979170e2bcd3d2dd!2m2!1d-1.8262155!2d51.1788823!3e0
Vice-Admiral Sir Bertram H. Ramsay. (n.d.) Ibilio. Retrieved from

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