My apologies for the photographs: it was late on a wet, grey January afternoon when I finally found this beautiful stone staircase.
The 'Norman staircase' dates from the 1000s and originally led to dormitory accommodation. Now it leads to a much later building (1800s) associated with King's School. The staircase is thought to be the only exterior staircase of that type and period still remaining in England.
The staircase is constructed of flints and ashlar blocks and there are eighteen stone steps. There is a tiled roof and gable, supported by four columns columns, beautifully-carved (though very worn) arches and a balustrade of small carved pillars.
It's an exquisite example of early Norman building and well worth seeking out. To find it, go into Green Court (part of the cathedral precincts) either via the Mint Gate or via the cloisters and 'Dark Entry' to the north of the cathedral. The staircase is right next to the Mint Gate, on the extreme left as you stand with your back to the cathedral itself.
Green Court is also worth a look just for itself; many of the buildings of King's School are ancient (1500s and earlier) and all are beautiful. Historical information about the school and its architecture can be found under the 'school' tab on the website below.
The ruins of the Infirmary of Canterbury's original monastery lie to the north-east of the cathedral. You can find them by following the path through the cloisters and onwards, or by walking around the exterior of the cathedral on the southern side (lovely gardens and some pretty ancient trees).
The infirmary (for monks who were ill) and its associated chapel were first built in the 1200s, but were later modified several times. They lie in ruins now, the shape of the remaining walls bringing about the name 'Becket's Crown'
The infirmary had its own cloister area, as well as its kitchen, common room and dormitory area for the aged, inform and ill monks.
This ancient and atmospheric passageway leads from the cathedral to Green Court, around which much of King's School is set.
'Dark Entry' is supposedly haunted by one Nell Cook, possibly buried alive here after committing murder. If you are foolish enough to walk the Dark Entry on a dark Friday night and see her ghost, you will die within the year.....
>But one thing's clear – that all the year on every Friday night,
Throughout that Entry dark doth roam Nell Cook's unquiet Sprite...
And whoso in that Entry dark doth feel that fatal breath,
He ever dies within the year, some dire, untimely death
It's not true, of course, and not even a real legend (if such a thing exists). It was almost certainly completely made-up by John Batram, who included it in his 'Ingoldsby Legends' published in 1837.
Don't worry about seeing the ghost of poor Nell, but do seek out the Dark Entry. It's hugely atmospheric and makes for some superb photo opportunities.
The Romanesque Medieval water tower was once the centre of the monastery's water supply and is a most lovely building, intricately arched and still in very good condition...which is amazing, as it dates from the 1000s.
You'll find the Water Tower if you follow the passage from the cloisters which is signed 'Cathedral Archive', walking past the Norman columns (shown in the following tip) and along the ancient monastery corridors.
Although I've written about the cathedral cloisters in the 'things to do' section I suspect most people venture no further than the cloisters themselves and, maybe, the Chapter House.
Once you've looked at the Chapter House (if it's open), keep going: follow the sign 'Cathedral Archives'. You'll find a wealth of atmospheric Medieval structures, the remains of the original monastery buildings which onc stood on the site.
The first things to notice are the small (maybe 1.5m) but intricately carved Norman stone columns mostly tucked into later stonework. You'll pass several of them as you wander on (there's a smaller but equally beautiful column by a doorway in the cloisters themselves).
Yes, the Normans had metal tools. But even so, imagine how much skill and effort it took to create such lovely, detailed carving. Medieval masons were simply amazing.
It may be part of of the Canterbury UNESCO World Heritage site but I bet most people don't make the trip out to St Martin's.
The church is about 20 minutes' walk from the cathedral and is very special indeed. It is the oldest parish church in continuous use still in existence in England.
Of course, the church itself is not the original 6th century chapel which was built for Queen Bertha of Kent, who was allowed to continue practising her Christian faith by her husband King Aethelbert of Kent. When Augustine arrived with his monks in 597AD, Bertha gave him the chapel for their use as they began their mission to bring Christianity to England.
It is possible, though not proven that at least part of the existing church dates from that first 6th century building. The website linked below gives a detailed explanation of how the church structure has changed and grown over the centuries...but parts of it certainly date back to at least the 7th century (600s).
The church was closed when I visited so I missed out on its ancient interior, its Medieval stained glass and its brasses. But I found it an atmospheric and peaceful site. I loved the way the church is fully encircled by old yew trees...quite probably the descendants of those planted on the site long before Bertha's chapel was built. Almost all ancient English churches have been built on sites which were originally sacred to pagans and yew trees are often, for found their presence keeps evils spirits away. It's unusual to find a church with yew trees so close to the building, and so fully encircling it.
If you get the opportunity, walk (or drive, I suppose) to St Martin's. You;ll find it off Longport, the road to Sandwich. It's signed from that road. Take the small road to the left just after the prison and the John Smith Almshouses mentioned in my other tip.
The church itself is open for visiting:
Tuesdays: 11.00 am - 3.00 pm
Thursdays: 11.00 am - 3.00 pm
Saturdays: 11.00 am - 3.00 pm
Sundays: 9.50 am approx - 10.30 am
but you can see the exterior, and the terraced churchyard, at any time.
Almshouses were long an ancient English tradition. The building of small houses for the poor (but worthy) inhabitants of a parish was a way of disposing of one's money whilst ensuring that not only did one behave in a 'Christian' manner but also ensured that one's name was remembered.
There are hundreds of almshouses still functional across England. In fact, I've written an England to about them here
The row in the photo were the only almshouses I noticed in Canterbury, but I am certain there are plenty more (certainly there are some behind Eastbridge Hospital). I just didn't spot them during my wanders.
The John Smith Almshouses (originally called John Smith Hospital) are on Longport (the road to Sandwich), opposite Canterbury prison. They date from 1657 (clearly marked on the gable end) and the benefactors were John and Ann Smith. The two left a sum of 200 pounds to build them and 32 pounds per year to maintain them. The original intention was that four poor (but worthy) men and four poor (but worthy) women of the parish of Barton should be housed.
Although the almshouses now face a busy road they do have small gardens at the back and must still be pleasant places in which to spend one's twilight years.
It's quite possible you won't even spot this very ancient church as you wander Canterbury. It's tucked away off St Peter's Street (which leads from High Street to Westgate Towers) and is barely visible.
It'a a very ancient church indeed, almost certainly standing on the site of a Christian church built during Roman times. The church was rebuilt during the Saxon period (perhaps by St Augustine and his followers). You can see bits of Roman tile incorporated into the tower (1100) and Saxon cornerstones (possibly re-used from the ruins of Roman Canterbury).
The tower has four ancient bells dating from 1325, 1430, 1599 and 1637.
The south and west walls are probably original, but the windows were added in the 1300s. I didn't manage to see the interior (nor could I find any information about when the church is open) but if you are lucky enough to get inside you will find some 14th (1300s) and 15th century (1400s) stained glass.
The tiny churchyard behind the church is worth a look, if only for the odd-shaped tombs. I saw several of these in other churchyards in this part of Kent and suspect their 'sarcophagus' shape comes from the early 1800s fashion for all things Egyptian. Enterprising local stonemasons must have been catering to the whims of the fashionable!
At Shirkoak Farm they have built 2.5 acres of brand new lake, where they have over 10,000 fish, recently stocked wth seven different types of fish! The B&B is currently closed, as they have a break and focus on the fishing lake.
The address is: Shirkoak Farm, Woodchurch, Nr. Ashford, Kent, TN26 3PZ England
Behind Canterbury museum, walking through a narrow street which crosses over the river, you enter this very nice, quiet and peaceful place, a small park that invites to relax. A delightful environment -another one- in this ancient city.
In the way and very near of the Norman castle you find this romantic and ancient environment: St. Mildred's Church and its churchyard which is at the same time a small beautiful cemetery. The building is really old, from the saxon age, but was destroyed by fire in XIII century so it was rebuilt.
A nice walking through the tree shadows, the wind moving the branches and birds singing, an old english church at one side with a cemetery full of small stone plates over the grass. Byron should be inspired here.
Howletts Wild Animal Park was set up as a private zoo in 1958 by John Aspinall and was opened to the public in 1975.
The collection is known for the breeding of rare and endangered species including a large collection of western lowland gorillas.
The gate inn is a good family inn on the outskirts of Canterbury, its in easy reach of the city but out of the way from all the city noise. We only had a beer at this place but it looks the perfect place for a family meal or an overnight stay
Located by the new Dover road park and ride, just off the A2
I'm not sure how many people actually come here in the height of the tourist season, but when I visited it was totally deserted, albeit that there were many people visiting the Cathedral itself. For this reason I have made it an off the beaten path tip.
It is a war memorial and cloistered garden laid out at the rear of the Cathedral (assuming you've entered through the main gate) and is dedicated to the men and women of Kent who fell in the Great War 1914 - 1918.
The monument itself is of a fairly typical design, but there are a few interesting things to be seen.
The memorial was the idea of George Robert Canning, 4th Lord Harris, and a plaque to him is on the wall outside the garden (see second photo). I particularly like the smaller plaque (the upper of the two on the right) which depicts his love of cricket!
Within the garden and set in a wall to the rear is a stone (see third photo). If you look closely, you can just about make out that it was taken from the Cloth Hall in Ypres (Flanders) which was the scene of a horrendous batle in WW1. I can only assume that the stone was "liberated" as the building had suffered damage during the war.
The last photo shows a door set into the Cathedral precinct wall at the rear of the garden, which I just found aesthetically pleasing and photographed. I have no idea as to it's age or history.
The countryside surrounding the city of Canterbury is beautiful...whatever season you decide to visit.
If venture out of the city centre you will find rollong fields and traditional English villages all around!