My adventures in southern France travel blog

Panoramic view of Dover Castle on a bluff overlooking the English Channel

The fortification walls of Dover Castle

Cecelia chats with a young British soldier and his 8 1/2 mo....

World War II-era Spitfire fighter plane

This woman reenactor doesn't look too pleased with her latest orders

St. Mary De Castro, originally built in 1000 CE serves as the...

The remains of a Roman pharos (lighthouse) topped with later period crenolations

The arched gateway to St. Mary De Castro church is the oldest...

Altar in a side chapel at St. Mary De Castro Church

The main altar and vaulted ceiling of St. Mary De Castro Church

A stained glass window depicting a Roman-era soldier in St. Mary De...

A stained glass window depicting the crucified Christ in St. Mary De...

Another stained glass window in St. Mary De Castro Church (1)

Another stained glass window in St. Mary De Castro Church (2)

Another stained glass window in St. Mary De Castro Church (3)

Another stained glass window in St. Mary De Castro Church (4)

A stained glass window depicting the Madonna and child in St. Mary...

Another stained glass window in St. Mary De Castro Church (5)

Banners flying over the keep of Dover Castle

A reproduction of one of the royal sitting rooms at Dover Castle

A zoomorphic aquamanile, an ornate water pitcher used during the Middle Ages

Portraits of kings reproduced on furnishings in the keep of Dover Castle

A royal bed chamber in the Keep at Dover Castle

Fresh vegetables await preparation for a royal banquet in the kitchens of...

The king's store of ale in the keep at Dover Castle

Medieval cookware in the kitchens of Dover Castle

Examples of medieval pottery in the kitchens of Dover Castle

The main gate to the cathedral compound in Canterbury, England

This bronze Christ figure cast in 1991 replaced a statue destroyed in...

Heraldic angels on the main gateway to Canterbury Cathedral

Current shrine of St. Thomas Becket

The Chapel of Our Lady Martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral

A long vaulted hallway in Canterbury Cathedral

Choristers entering the Quire at Canterbury Cathedral

The beautiful vaulted ceiling above the Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral

Ornate tomb enclosures in Canterbury Cathedral

Ornately carved column in Canterbury Cathedral

Monumental tomb in Canterbury Cathedral

The circular Corona Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral built to house the severed...

The altar in the Corona Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral

A beautiful tomb along the outer wall of the Corona Chapel in...

The effigy of the Black Prince resting on a royal lion

The strange creature serving as a footrest for the effigy of the...

A long cope worn by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the wedding...

A closeup of the aptly named angel brocade used in the long...

Stained glass depicting Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral

Stained glass depicting a pilgrimage at Canterbury Cathedral

Ornate pulpit at Canterbury Cathedral

A memorial to the men of 16th Queen's Lancers for their sacrifice...

One of the gargoyles on Canterbury Cathedral

Sculpture of Henry VIII in a niche on the south portico of...

Queen Bertha is the only female depicted in the sculptures of the...

One of the ornate towers of Canterbury Cathedral


On my last day of this trip before flying home, we drove over to Dover Castle, arriving about 10 a.m. As it turns out, today is what my British friends call a "bank holiday" and a special salute to World War II was being presented. It was a beautiful day - warm and sunny - so thousands of people had shown up and quite overwhelmed the English Heritage admissions staff. We ended up in a long queue for quite some time.

But I finally found myself walking through the King's Barbicon Gate like Henry II, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Charles I’s Queen Henrietta Maria had done centuries before. The castle complex is in excellent condition, serving as the site for active duty garrisons until 1958 - almost 700 years from its initial construction during the reign of King Henry II in the 12th century.

As we walked down the causeway we saw bivouacs of World War II reenactors and stopped to talk with a young soldier who was actually currently serving in the British Army although he wore a vintage World War II uniform. He had brought his 8 1/2 month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy with him that was being trained to detect explosives.

We stopped into an information tent and I found a copy of a sketchbook from a British soldier that had served in WWI. I bought it for my husband thinking he would enjoy reading it and looking at the colored sketches. I also photographed a mint condition World War II-era Spitfire fighter plane.

Richard and I walked over to the Saxon church, St. Mary De Castro, that was built on the eastern heights next to the remains of a Roman pharos (lighthouse) around 1000 CE. The church serves the local population and as a garrison church for the army. As for the Roman lighthouse, I didn't know any remains of one still existed.

Extensive repairs to the church were ordered by King Henry III in 1226 CE but by 1555 it had fallen into such disrepair that it was walled up. It was partially repaired and reopened in 1582 and remained a place of worship until 1690. Once more in disrepair, it was converted first to a storehouse and cooperage then finally a coal store in 1808. But in 1860, a series of restorations began once more and it was returned to sacred service.

The arched doorway looked very similar to the entry to the church I had seen in Spain. I read that it is the earliest surviving door arch in England.

I thought the church's stained glass windows were exceptionally beautiful. I also found the geometric wall designs quite distinctive and an interesting combination with the swirling designs around the altar that looked almost Islamic in nature.

We walked back towards the central keep where the World War II reenactors, some dressed as British soldiers and some dressed as German soldiers, were reenacting a German ambush of a British convoy. I must admit I jumped at the staccato sounds of machine guns and rifles firing. My British companions thought my nervousness was unjustified and a symptom of my exposure to America's violent culture. They said the gunfire didn't bother them because in their country they knew only the proper people had weapons. Personally, I thought that viewpoint was a little naive.

We were getting hungry so Richard suggested we walk over to the English Heritage cafe on the other side of the compound. We walked that direction and rounded a corner and I saw an encampment of "German" soldiers. One of the German reenactors was dutifully guarding the road into the camp with a 50-calibre machine gun. We stopped and chatted with them and I saw that they sounded quite British.

We finally got to the cafe and took our place in the rather long queue. Cecelia went on into the dining room to hold a table for us. When I finally reached the pots of steaming food I ordered what was being billed as the "World War II special". It was listed as sausage, apple and Sultana casserole, mashed potatoes and vegetables. I had to ask Richard what Sultanas were and he explained that they were very moist raisins made from white grapes. So I thought I would give it a try.

What I was served was two lean link sausages (I love European sausages because they have much less fat in them than those I have eaten at home) covered with a sauce rendered from apples and sultana raisins, a scoop of buttery mashed potatoes, and sauteed peppers, onions and slivered zucchini. It was absolutely delicious and I hungrily ate every scrap - at last, a meal my English upbringing embraced with relish!

After lunch we walked back to the keep where I saw rooms decorated with furniture and tapestries reproduced from designs of the time of King Henry II, about 1180 CE. The bedrooms of the kings, queens and offspring have been recreated along with the Great Hall and the kitchens that prepared feasts for the royal occupants and visitors.

The furniture was brightly painted in reds, blues and greens and the wall hangings and drapery was woven into scenes of heroic knights on their beautiful chargers and famous battles. Richard told me that normally there are royal reenactors there, too. But today with all of the emphasis on World War II they must have decided it wouldn't be appropriate to take attention away from the more modern military reenactors outside. I had seen medieval and renaissance costumed reenactors at the Tower of London in 2006 and again at Hampton Court in 2008 so the reenactors that are usually here are probably from a similar group.

It was getting late and I told Richard rather than explore the tunnels dug during World War II to protect officials planning the defense of Britain from German bombs, I would rather take time to drive over to nearby Canterbury and explore Canterbury Cathedral. So we left Dover Castle and headed toward the scene of the famous martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170.

When we arrived in Canterbury, Richard dropped Cecelia and me off within walking distance of the cathedral and went to park the car. Cecelia and I walked toward the cathedral and Cecelia pointed out shops she liked to browse when she was a student at the University of Kent. When we approached the main gate to the cathedral grounds I was awed by a large bronze sculpture of Christ over the arched doorway. The gate was actually built in 1517 but I have since learned that the statue is a 1991 replacement for the original Christ sculpture that was destroyed during the English Civil War (1642-1648).

Cecelia and Richard have both been to events at Canterbury Cathedral before so I told them perhaps they would rather go shopping or something and I would meet them outside the cathedral in a couple of hours. First, though, I asked Richard if he would show me the shrine to Thomas Becket. Richard did show me, though he explained that the original shrine was destroyed in 1538 during King Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, with its gold, silver and gemstones that had been lavished upon it over the years confiscated by the king. I'm afraid the modern replacement of beaten metal in the shape of swords was rather underwhelming. I also noticed that some of the stained glass windows were modernistic as well. Richard said they had to be replaced because of their destruction during the Blitz. Personally, I wish they had been replaced with reproductions of the designs that had once been there, though, rather than the rather Disney-ish modern looking ones that seemed rather out of place.

Someone announced over the intercom that the Quire area was closing so the choir could practice for Choral Evensong. We hurried over there but it was already locked. At least I got a picture of the choir entering in their red robes and had the pleasure of listening to their singing while I explored the rest of the cathedral. The choir is composed of 25 boy choristers and 12 lay clerks. Positions in the choir are highly competitive and the boys selected receive a scholarship to attend the prestigious St Edmund's School in Canterbury.

Probably the most exciting thing I saw in the cathedral was the tomb of the famous "Black Prince", Edward Plantagenet, son of King Edward III and father of King Richard II, who died in 1376. A latten (an alloy of copper and zinc) effigy of the prince in full royal armor reclines atop his tomb. The armor is not depicted as the black armor, "en armure noire en fer bruni", though, that was described by the French at the famous battle of Crecy. In fact, as there is but one historical reference to the iconic black armor, most modern scholars doubt it existed. It is thought Edward was dubbed the "Black Prince" by later historians either because of his heraldry that was depicted on a field of black or his brutal behavior, particularly towards the French in Aquitaine. His cruel siege of Limoges is said to have resulted in the massacre of 3,000 residents of the town. But this has not prevented subsequent historians from romanticizing his life. Perhaps the loss of 3,000 civilians in one incident was not viewed as particularly excessive during the Hundred Years War.

Like other tomb effigies I have seen at Yorkminster, the Black Prince was depicted with what I thought was a dog at his feet - but what a strange dog! It looked grotesque almost like the animals my neighbor used to draw on our skim boards (I think they call them boogie boards now) when I was a child - bulging eyes and a slavering tongue. Wikipedia says in medieval times the effigy's feet were supported by stylised animals, usually either a lion indicating valour and nobility (generally for men), or a dog indicative of loyalty (generally for women). Sometimes the footrest was an heraldic beast from the deceased's family coat of arms. So maybe this strange creature was supposed to be a stylized lion, especially since the Prince was of noble blood and a lion is the only animal on his coat of arms. But his head rested on what was obviously a lion and it didn't look like the animal under his feet. I took a couple of pictures but the tomb is not lighted and surrounded by a metal cage with thick square bars so getting any type of decent image is difficult.

I noticed marble effigies marking some of the other tombs placed around the central knave appeared to be partially melted. They must have also been victims of the World War II bombings.

Another particularly interesting space within the cathedral is the Corona, the rounded chapel built in the shape of a crown at the north end of the cathedral named after the severed crown of Thomas Becket. It originally contained the severed crown and some pilgrim offerings left for the saint but now has only a simple square altar draped with a richly embroidered cloth. I thought the near emptiness of the chapel served to emphasize the loss of the shrine and the man it represented. Of course most of the main relics from the shrine of Thomas Becket were originally kept in the adjoining Trinity Chapel. When King Henry VIII confiscated the shrine made of gold and silver and the treasures left there by so many pilgrims, including the gold crown of Scotland left by King Edward I, it took two coffers and 26 carts to haul away the plunder.

I photographed as much of the beautifully ornate architecture and stained glass as I could before my last camera battery in the Sony gave out. Since all I had left was my Panasonic Superzoom and it was getting late, I headed for the door so I could photograph the sculptures of English kings, knights and bishops that adorned the south portico where I had first entered. Most of these sculptures of historical figures connected to the cathedral were added in the 1860s. I thought it was a little ironic that one of them is Henry VIII. The only female figure I found was Queen Bertha.

Of course I also made a point of photographing the gargoyles. One was not nearly as worn away as the other I found. Perhaps one was replaced at some time and the other barely recognizable one is an original.

It was soon time to meet Richard and Cecelia and as I emerged from the main gate I found Richard already waiting there for me. Together we waited for Cecelia a little while longer then took off down the street toward the Olive Grove, a restaurant where I planned to treat Richard and Cecelia to dinner since I would fly home tomorrow and I wanted to thank them for hosting me. We walked past a number of buildings that were often a combination of very old architecture with modern add-ons. The library was particularly beautiful. Cecelia said renovations had just been completed there. Surprisingly, the streets were almost deserted since the tourists apparently left when the shops closed at 5 p.m. If I hadn't been so tired I would have loved to have walked around longer and photographed more of the architecture and gardens. But, alas, I was beginning to feel a bit wobbly so I told Richard I really needed to sit down.

We arrived at the restaurant a little earlier than our reservation but the restaurant owner didn't seem to mind. The restaurant features a combination of Italian and North African food - kind of a strange combination but not when you realize the partners that own it are from those different parts of the world.

I love falavel and saw it as an appetizer offering so I ordered that for a starter then selected chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce flavored with white wine for my main entree. Richard and Cecelia both chose kebabs, lamb for Richard and chicken for Cecelia. They looked delicious and were so large Cecelia boxed up the left overs for their dinner tomorrow.

We were too full for dessert so with the light fading, we made our way back to the car park and headed back to Chatham. I tried to stay up a while and write another journal article but my eyes kept blurring so I finally logged out and turned out the light. I'll need all the sleep I can get to navigate Heathrow tomorrow as its almost a half hour walk from security to my boarding gate. Then I'll need to endure a nine hour flight to San Francisco, a three-hour layover to navigate through customs and wait for my connecting flight, then two hours to Portland. My brother and his wife will pick me up and I'll stay overnight with them so I can drive the last two hours safely to Eugene Wednesday morning .

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