Canterbury and Other Tales
05.04.2017 - 09.04.2017 20 °C
We awoke Wednesday, a bit excited, as we had read a little regarding Ely, our intended destination for the morning. Apparently, it rose on a clay bank above the surrounding marshlands from which it gained it's name: they were a rich source of eels. We fully expected to be accosted by eel mongers and as neither of us were particularly fond of eels, we envisaged a morning of "No thanks, I've had a rather large breakfast. We've come up from Herringswell way. You have heard about the sublime bacon?" As it happened, Ely was a gorgeous city. The cathedral can be seen quite clearly as one approaches the city, rising as it does, on the clay bank. Driving in, you are immediately presented with the need to avoid getting stuck in the small streets and lanes surrounding it. As it happens we were quite fortunate, parking quite near and then enjoying the opportunity of a long and relaxing stroll around the cathedral and the bishop's pasture surrounding it, before emerging into the quaint town centre. The cathedral is, of course, stunning. The sandstone, from which much of the surrounding architecture is constructed gives a very relaxing and bucolic effect and as we wandered around the lawns we felt transported back to a time when people walked or rode horses.
Emerging from the cathedral grounds, we strolled around the city centre, enjoying the ancient buildings, before heading off past Oliver Cromwell's house and back to the car. It seems there are several cities that claim Oliver. Apparently his family resided here for ten years or so, before decamping for another village in need of some notoriety.
We resolved after Ely to see Colchester. True it was a couple of hours away, but as the oldest recorded city in England it did deserve investigation. It was an uneventful drive, which proved to presage a rather uneventful town, very busy, nowhere to park and rather crowded. We didn't last long there, shame on us, before heading on to Clacton On Sea. Oh dear.... Clacton appears to be a town whose main attraction is the rather run down version of Brighton's seaside carnival, complete with an amazing collection of people squeezing into outfits two sizes too small, brought out sans tan by the promise of a little sunshine. To be fair, the weather has apparently been unseasonably warm....
We made a rather hasty retreat from Clacton, up the coast to Holland By The Sea, which actually had the distinction of making Clacton look not too bad. After that we decided it was time to head for home, which we did via our favourite local, the White Hart in Tuddenham, where we enjoyed a couple of pints, whilst getting involved in a raffle for the Grand National. The locals as always were a pleasure to spend some time with, particularly an amusing chap who turned out to be one of the country's leading farriers. It is one of the great things about the English, the camaraderie local people share - and of course the odd pint or two. Wednesday came to a close over a smooth bottle of French red, Chateauneuf du Papes.
Ian was highly excited by Thursday. We were off to London to visit his son Callan, who had been away for a year and a half. Ian missed him terribly and couldn't wait. As a result, we found ourselves out of bed at 6:00am and travelling down the highway by 7:00am. We had resolved to catch the train at the outermost limit of the underground, Epping. Cath had utilised an App on the phone to find a park at a nearby house, which was cheap and all day. Alas it turned out the five minutes walk to the station was in fact twenty minutes, nevertheless we were on the way just after 8:00am and made London by 9:00ish. We changed lines at Holborn and caught the Picadilly line to Knightsbridge, from where we strolled about very stately apartments via Mayfair to... Harrods.
Harrods is a regular lifestyle on its own. Every department strives to outdo the preceding one in glamour and prestige. But of course for Ian it was the technology department. And for Cath? Well the toy department of course! Particularly the huge stuffed animals. It took a rather large effort from Ian to ensure we left without Cath riding a giant stuffed giraffe all the way home. After that it was back on the underground and off to Clerkenwell, where at last we arrived at the establishment Ian's son worked at. He is a barrista and took great delight in making us a great couple of coffees, before taking us for a tour of East London, the lanes, byways and canals which positively glowed in the unseasonally warm weather. We finally ended up in the Fields of London park before enjoying a yummy pizza dinner and then strolling back to Bethnal Green Underground. An emotional parting and we were once again on our way back out to Epping, a walk and another hour and a half drive found us finally back at Herringswell.
Friday was a rest day, phone hookups to home and a certain amount of red wine.
Saturday however found us ready for a new challenge. We decided to see Canterbury and Dover. So it was another early start and a long drive which took us through outer London and a confusing number of interconnecting freeways before finally arriving at Canterbury. It is a very pretty medieval city with wonky buildings and meandering streets all leading to the Cathedral but not before one was reminded of its literary history, Shakespeare and Dickens on every corner, even Shakespeare's mates got a building with a plaque on it. The beautiful weather, yes we are still in England, had brought out the best and the worst of the English and some of the local lads thought it a perfect day for shirtless strolling, which one cannot unsee once the eyes have been assaulted. Yet again we were disappointed to find that the Cathedral and its grounds were subject to a large fee and determined not to break our 'no paying for churches' rule, we wandered off down the cobbled alleys to the ancient Roman West Gate and the canal where we were delighted to find punters, a riot of flowers along the banks and a huge park with ancient trees, that may in fact have met the Bard. We had a lovely stroll along the banks before heading off for fish 'n chips, or battered sausage and chips in Ian's case (ewww)!
The white cliffs of Dover were calling and we headed off on another grand trek along highways and byways toward France. Dover castle looms over a pretty town of terraced houses where the residents must paint there doors so as to tell which is their house. We headed past the ferries, up into the hills to see the cliffs and the view, Cath constantly reminding Ian, France is just there! Ian, ever the canny Scot, decided we would not be supporting the National Trust and paying to get into the White Cliffs of Dover, but would head on up the hill to a free spot. It wasn't long before we were passing sheep and then heading down the hill. Pleasingly we found ourselves at the bottom of the cliffs in St Margaret's Bay, a very pleasant beachside village where we found a park bench on the promenade from where we could watch the crazy Poms frolicking in the freezing water, walking their dogs and generally just enjoy the view across the Channel. Cath even joined in the fun, getting her lily white legs out for some sun, it really was quite warm. Warm enough to need a couple of beers thoughtfully packed in the picnic by Cath.
We had thought we would head home via the coast but quickly learnt that all roads lead to London, when you are down south, mostly it seems as though there are very few Thames crossings, so we decided we would pay the tolls on the M25. We would normally choose to avoid tolls and large motorways but on this occasion thought it reasonable. For many miles leading up to the Dartmoor crossing of the Thames we could see a huge bridge and were quite excited to think that we would be able to view the Thames and its estuary from up there; it wasn't until we were heading down into the tunnel we realised that in fact we were going under the Thames, only those travelling South got to view the river. Damn!
We had planned for Sunday to be a lazy day at home, or as we term it a work day, but yet again it was sunny and warm. We just cannot waste the beautiful weather whilst we have it, so we headed off to our nearest 'big' town, Cambridge. We have visited Cambridge before and therefore didn't need to see the sites in the historical centre, so we spent a couple of hours meandering along the River Cam, along with everyone else in Cambridge it seemed; there were thousands of people in the parks enjoying the sun, BBQing, sipping beers and of course sun baking. And of course there were the rowers and the bike riders, it was Cambridge after all. Our exercise complete and vitamin D stores replenished we headed for a Sunday roast and a good lie down. Such is life in the south of England.