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  • Janette Frawley

'Nothing ventured, nothing gained'

30 December 2021


The train speeds through the Kent countryside; strange round-shaped buildings litter the countryside and pique my curiosity. I find out that these are oast houses or hop kilns. Kent's fertile and well-drained soil, as well as a mild climate, is perfect for growing hops. The first English hop gardens are believed to have been set up near Canterbury around 1520 and the first oast house was allegedly built over fifty years later in 1574. The round-shaped buildings had been constructed of red brick or sandstone and were designed to include a wood or charcoal fire pit below a perforated floor. Freshly-picked hops were spread out upon the floor and the heat from the fire below passed through the layer of hops before escaping through a cowl in the peak of the conical roof, which turned with the wind. I cannot help but marvel at the technology available at the time.


Of course, there are not nearly enough oast houses located along the train line, but I take great delight in seeing these unique buildings. I'd like the opportunity to look inside one, but am unable to do so today.

Within a short time - just over an hour - we reach our destination of Canterbury.


Canterbury is not just the seat of the Anglican Church. It's an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site. We arrive at the East Station and take the overpass to the base of the city's Roman-built walls. Canterbury's history is long; the area surrounding it has been inhabited since paleolithic times. It was captured in the First Century AD by the Romans and they rebuilt it with streets in a grid pattern. They added a theatre, a temple, a forum, and public baths. They also built the wall to defend the city from attacks by the 'barbarians'.


We follow cobble-stone roads into the centre of the quaint shopping region. Very old buildings appear to sag as more modern ones prop them up in this shopping centre. As we turn into a narrow lane, I catch sight of the most famous building in the city - Canterbury Cathedral, which is the seat of the Anglican Church. The Anglican Archbishop is perhaps one of the highest-ranking people in Britain and is also recognised as the symbolic international head of the Anglican Communion.


Opting for a quick lunch in an ancient pub called 'The Shakespeare', we quickly order and use the warmth inside to thaw out a little after our walk through drizzle and bone-chilling dampness.


Merely stepping across the cobblestones from the pub, we are immediately immersed in the Roman history of Canterbury. Canterbury did not begin as a Roman town. In fact, there is evidence of Iron-Age occupation, but was fortified by the Romans in AD 43 and military occupation continued until the mid-fifth century. It was not just a military fort either. There is evidence that the ports of Dover, Richborough, Reculver, and Lympne were used to import and export foodstuffs and other commodities.


The museum is located upon the remains of a Roman townhouse and we are rewarded with the ability to view one of the only in situ Roman mosaic pavements. Archaeologists have also uncovered under-floor heating systems and wall paintings. This appears to be the residence of a rich and important person. I'm fascinated by the collection of artifacts that have been gleaned from the area, including pottery, jewellery, weapons, and even an iron-age helmet.

Amazing glass urns had been used by the Romans to store the cremated remains of their loved ones; many of which are still in pristine condition.


I'm still thinking about the 2,000-year-old mosaic when we return to the street level and continue to walk towards the Cathedral.


The cost to visit Britain's Churches and Cathedrals is a point of contention for me. I have visited many of them over the years - before an admission charge was added. Personally, I feel that these are too expensive. For example, it costs £14.00 to visit Canterbury Cathedral. By the time I convert this to Australian dollars, the tickets cost almost $26.00 per person. Whilst I do acknowledge the enormous amounts of money required to maintain these buildings, I believe that a smaller admission would attract more visitors. In fact, I would love it if there I could pre-purchase a pass that would enable me to visit all British Cathedrals. Having said that, I think the Cathedral had stopped admitting visitors for the day and we walked past before exploring some of the old shopping streets.


Sir John Boys House, was built in 1617, some five years after his death. This is one quirky story connected to this askew house. The house started to lean as a result of alterations to an internal chimney, which caused the structure to lean sideways. Over the years it continued to lean until 1988 when the chimney collapsed. If it had been in Australia, the house would have been demolished, but this is England where they respect the old and quirky. A steel frame was inserted internally, which prevents it from further movement. Added to the delightful view of the house is the bright red front door, which leans at an alarming angle and a quote from Charles Dickens' 'David Copperfield' is painted above the door;

'a very old house bulging over the road...leaning forward, trying to see who was passing on the narrow pavement below...'


The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge is housed in the city's library. It is a museum, art gallery, and public space for several exhibitions. I especially enjoy looking at the Christmas Lego display and the children's book illustrations exhibitions, which are housed in some of the rooms currently. The building itself dates from 1897 and is of the Tudor Revival architectural style. Protruding windows are a prominent feature of the first floor; the casement windows are backlit against the darkening sky of the day. It was funded by Dr. James George Beaney, who left £10,000 to build an institute in his name. Born and educated in Canterbury, Beaney eventually made his way to Australia, where he became a prominent doctor, surgeon, politician, and philanthropist. He never made it back to his native Britain, dying in Melbourne, Australia in 1891.


Canterbury is also famous for Geoffrey Chaucer's collection of twenty-four stories written between 1387 and 1400. I remember reading them when I was at secondary school, so I won't mention them here, except to mention that the title quote I used for this blog entry supposedly derived from the tales and is still in use today.


We have just one more place to visit in Canterbury before our train ride back home. Although it is only just after 5 pm, it is dark, really dark and it feels as if it is 9 o'clock at night. We find it!


The Parrot is one of Canterbury's oldest buildings. It was built on Roman foundations at the same time that the Cathedral was under construction. From outside, we can see a lofty upper floor with high dark brown wooden beams. However, when we enter, the ceilings are almost touching our heads. Through the beer and the other 'pub' smells, it is easy to absorb the age of the building. Ever watchful of the time, we enjoy a couple of drinks before returning to our train station in time to catch our train back to London.


Our day is full. We manage to fill our day exploring streets whilst immersing ourselves in ancient to current history. We've had a great day, and whilst the rain pelts at our window as we move towards London, we are delighted to find a destination that ticks many boxes and has many diverse and interesting activities to do whilst we are there.


May we have many more of these unique and very special memories during this visit to the United Kingdom.



Title Quote: Geoffrey Chaucer



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