If you are looking for a short staycation, the South East of the UK provides the perfect getaway. Within easy reach of London and the surrounding counties you will find a mixture of quaint cities, countryside and coastal paths all offering opportunities to blow the cobwebs away.
After another cancelled trip, and refusal to spend any annual leave vegging on the sofa, I decided to visit a couple of locations that have been on the list for some time.
The cathedral city of Canterbury was the first stop on my list. Having not visited since my school years, when we were studying the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, I could only vaguely recall the visit. I remember seeing the cathedral and the sights related to the tales themselves. But, as with most school trips, you don’t take time to appreciate your surroundings as much as you could.
My first port of call when visiting was Canterbury cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral became a major focus of pilgrimage following the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170. The journey of the pilgrims to Becket’s shrine, which then went on to be the framework of Chaucer’s tales.
With social distancing restrictions in place I arrived to find the Christ Church Gate closed, and staff asking visitors if they had pre booked tickets. Stupidly, I didn’t think to check to book online, so thought I would be missing out. Luckily, being a quiet Friday morning, I was allowed to purchase tickets on the door. Though, I would recommend booking in advance if you can!
Once inside, it is recommended to give yourself as much time as possible exploring both inside and the cathedral grounds. With restrictions in place, I imagine it was quieter than it would be normally, and therefore rather tranquil. I was able to roam through the cloisters, side chapels and admire the stain glassed windows, dating back to the 12th century, without worry of holding other visitors up or people being in the way of pictures.
Westgate and Westgate Gardens offers a serene spot on the banks of the River Stour. The Medieval gates, defending the city, were constructed in the 14th century. Build from Kentish ragstone and blue-grey limestone, with a drawbridge that is still marshalled by wooden doors and a portcullis.
If you wander through the gardens you will be able to explore the manicured gardens, the Victoria Tower House (now home to the Lord Mayors offices), a Norman Arch from the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey and even the former London Road Gate.
A tranquil spot to stop for lunch and watch the activity on the river, you can even take to a spot of punting or a row boat tour from the high street.
If time is on your hands there is plenty to explore in the city, including St Augustines Abbey, Beany House of Art & Knowledge, the Roman Museum and even the Canterbury Tales attraction (which I remember from the school days). Should none of this take your fancy, simply enjoy wandering the medieval cobbled streets, stopping in the local cheese and food stores. At the time of my visit there was even a street food festival to add to the atmosphere.
Without a doubt, any trip to the city will be one for all to enjoy.
Just an hours drive from Canterbury you will reach the pretty coastal town of Rye, West Sussex.
Start your visit wandering through The Landgate, the last remaining of two gates build to defend Rye from invading forces, which started in 1066, before taking your time to amble the picturesque cobbled high street. Here you will find an abundance of pubs, tea shops, cafes, local stores and chocolate shops, and even some antique stores too.
Venture off the main street and you will discover Mermaid Street, probably one of the most instagrammed streets within the town. The chocolate box houses teamed with a steep, cobbled road is simply stunning. A good pair or trainers or walking shoes are needed to explore here, heels will be of no use!
Explore further and you will discover the redbrick Lamb House, once owned by writer Henry Tower, (sadly closed during my visit), St Mary’s Church overlooking the town and the 14th century Ypres Tower, which formed part of Rye’s defences.
Now the tower is Rye Castle museum, with paintings and displays detailing local history and even a ‘Gun Garden” with views out to the harbour and the English Channel in the far distance.
The small town was busy, despite being a week day, so I would recommend visiting off peak and arriving early to make most of your day.
I simply spent my time wandering the quaint town and making the most of the early Autumn sunshine, a picture perfect setting for the end of my whistle stop staycation.
Both locations are filled with history and have plenty to keep all entertained. Though, as with most attractions in current times, it is worth checking restrictions for entry and where possible book ahead to avoid disappointment.