26 July 2009

My KENT Tour

I was picked up by Nelda and her husband Mike at my boarding place in Guildford. Meeting Mike for the first time, I casually said “Hello guys..”. Apparently, it isn’t the kind of a good first-time hello to an English man who are known for their delicate and well-versed language. And his replying “Good morning” had reminded me that I was in England, not in Singapore. Oops.

Mike and Nelda were going to bring me to a number of castles across the county of Kent. They called it the ‘Kent Tour’. 

Mike is an extraordinary guy. He seems to know just about everything about the history of his country. I felt so lucky just to have him around while touring the castles that we went to. He became my impromptu tour guide.

Our first destination was the Leeds Castle. It was a castle built in the middle of a sprawling park. The park – used to be a royal park – was just the kind of royal park that had always come to my imagination when I was a little kid.

It was surrounded with beautiful gardens with a wide variety of flowers, birds, ducks and swans mingling around. Mike told me how significant swans are to the royalties and that killing them would be considered a heavy offense. I had never expected I’d find a peacock in England. Here, at the Leeds Castle, I stood just a few feet away from them.
Leeds Castle was built on the edge of a large lake. Mike told me how the lake was made so deep to provide a defense against invading enemies. I had an eerie intuition that deep down inside the murky water laid a big number of corpses. The corpses of enemies that got drown while trying to get to the castle by swimming across the lake.
Built in 1119 by Robert De Crevecoeur to replace the earlier Saxon manor of Esledes, the castle became a royal palace for King Edward I of England and his queen, Eleanor of Castile in 1278. Henry VIII transformed the castle for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
As we descended into the entrance of castle, we were welcome by this…
Wine barrels!! And they have their own explanation for being there.
The Leeds Castle was much smaller in size as compared to the Windsor Castle. It didn’t take long for us to make a full-round tour. We went through a series of rooms. The castle seemed to have a room for everything.
I especially loved the library!
And the bedroom..
It wished I had a room like this for a bedroom back at home. I knew I was daydreaming.
The daughter of King Hendry VIII Queen Elizabeth I was imprisoned in the castle for a time before her coronation. I could only imagine her looking out the window, fervently hoping that a prince would any moment come up to save and take her away - you know, like in those kid stories.
Getting out of the castle, I had come to realize that the ground compound that surrounded the castle had actually been turned into a golf field. So, it’s not all about history then. People do come to Leeds Castle to play golf and I wasn’t surprised. It has a panoramic view.

By then, it was beginning to drizzle. Mike kept asking us to move fast and stop taking too many photos. Getting back to the parking lot wouldn’t have been easy. Luckily there was a mini-train to take us close to the entrance.
Pulling out of the parking lot, we drove off towards our next destination – Deal Castle. Deal Castle, despite its quite small size for a castle, has a great significance in the history of England. It was built by Henry VIII between 1539 and 1540 as an artillery fortress to counter the threat of invasion from Catholic France and Spain. It was the risk that he had to take for marrying another woman without the consent of the Pope.
Somehow, my visit to England had been dominated by stories and historical facts related in one way or another to this guy.
Yes. He's is King Hendry VIII.
Being an artillery fortress, the walls of the castle are extremely thick and solid. Just look at this.
I am sure the Spanish and French had had a very difficult time trying to make their way into the castle.
Getting around inside the castle could be a little bit confusing. The chambers seem to lead you zigzagging behind your own tail.
Somehow, the Deal Castle seemed to be guarding the town of Deal and its residents.
The Deal Castle was built to have the shape of a Tudor rose.All the outer walls of the castle are rounded to both provide strength and to deflect shot more efficiently than flat walls. It's all about war and defensive strategy.
The view of the English Channel from on top of the castle is just so breathtakingly beautiful. I wished I could take some time to go down to the beach and do a little stroll-around but of course I couldn’t do it. The little time that we had wouldn’t permit it. We still had some other places to go.
As we returned the audio guide tools, we were recommended by the man at the counter to stop by another castle located just a few hundred yards away from the Deal Castle. It would be the Walmer Castle.

The existence of the Walmer Castle had served for the same reason as the Deal Castle did - as artillery fortress to counter the threat of invasion from Catholic France and Spain. It was part of his programme to create a chain of coastal defences along England's coast known as the Device Forts or as Henrician Castles.
Unlike the other castles that I had previously went to, Walmer Castle had seemed to be more 'inhabited'. I really thought I could never leave with a peaceful mind without taking a photo in front of it.
It has a beautiful garden that leads out to the beach. Again, the time wouldn’t permit me from even thinking about exploring it. No matter how badly I wanted to.
The highlight of the castle has to be for the fact that it was once the residence of the Duke of Wellington. In fact, the famous duke spent the last moments of his life here. He DIED right in this room.
Somehow I could still feel the existence of his spirit going about the room. Errrr, may be I was being a little bit paranoid.

After taking lunch at a restaurant on the ground floor of the castle, we drove off towards our last destination of the day – Canterbury.

Canterbury is one of the most visited places in the English county of Kent. Being a tourist magnate, one has to expect that the town of Canterbury is crowded with tourists all year long. Consequently, it is extremely difficult to get a parking space. But the Canterbury City Council is smart. They provide a vast parking area miles away from the city centre from where visitors can then take a coach to the city center.
True enough, the streets of Canterbury were quite damn packed with tourists when we got there. People come to the City of Canterbury mostly for the Canterbury Cathedral. It is where the Archbishop of Canterbury is residing. Being a position that now heads the Church of England and a symbolic leader of worldwide Anglican Church, it is just unsurprising that the cathedral has become a pilgrimage center of some kind.
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site. Its superior English Gothic architecture is something worth paying the entrance fee for.
On closer inspection, it has quite a lot of similarities with the Notre Dame in Paris. Both are of Gothic architecture.
Despite being a free thinker, Mike had warned me not to take pictures and always to keep quite when entering the cathedral. Well, I had no problem keeping my mouth shut but I couldn’t leave without taking any photos. I knew it’d regret it later if I didn’t.So I just started taking a photo.
And another..
I just couldn't stop.
The carvings all over the walls inside the cathedral were as much mind-blogging as it is on the outside. I took my time taking close looks at the mesmerizing art of Gothic carvings.
One whole day wouldn’t have been enough to check out everything in details - and I only had less than one hour!
Canterbury is full of centuries old buildings. I knew there were a lot more things worth checking out in Canterbury – but I could only wish I’d be able to come back for them some other day. Pulling out of Canterbury, we stopped briefly for a tea-break at one of the service centers off a highway before calling it a day.

I was about to bid them my final farewell when Mike kindly offered to guide me on my second part of touring Central London. I thankfully accepted his offer. Tomorrow, we'd hit into London together.

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