White Cliffs of Dover and Canterbury Tales

For four months, I studied abroad in London, England. These notes are select entries from my experiences in the United Kingdom and Western Europe from that time.

Saturday, October 10 –

Since it was Saturday, I slept late and woke up at 10:30 and prepared for the day. I grabbed lunch before leaving at 11:45 for Charing Cross train station in central London Around 13:00, I caught a train to Canterbury West.

On board I made friends with a German guy from Manheim, Germany named Frank. We walked to Canterbury East and took the next train at 14:45 to Dover. As this was his first week in England, he was just beginning his doctorate degree in psychology and was going to meet his parents at the ferry port of Dover.

After saying goodbye to my new friend in Dover, I toured the East Cliffs. The cliffs are famous because they historically imposed a psychological and physical guard against invaders from continental Europe. Also since Dover was the primary route to the continent before the age of airplanes, the cliffs were often the first sight of England by travelers. I couldn’t believe how massive they were. The face of the White Cliffs of Dover reach more than 350 feet in height while spreading east and west from the town of Dover. They are composed mainly of soft, white chalk with a very fine-grained texture made of calcium carbonate. Also inside the chalk is flint and quartz. Signs warn visitors from walking to close to the edges which can easily erode under foot into the channel. More disturbingly, I learned the cliffs are historically a top suicide spot in Britain!

For some time, I watched ships and hovercraft come in from France. You could actually see Normandy and France only 22 miles from the White Cliffs of Dover. I then walked by the castle, but it was unfortunately closed. But I did see below the Eurostar trains entering the Chunnel on their journey from Kent to France.

Around 18:00 I left for Canterbury, Kent, where I arrived at about 18:30 p.m. It is a historic cathedral city and a contemporary university town. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to Canterbury Cathedral, one of the most famous religious structures in the world. For these reason, Canterbury is one of the most visited cities in Britain.

St. Augustine established an episcopal see in the city in 597 AD and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. After Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 by knights supporting the King, the cathedral became a pilgrimage destination for Christians worldwide. In fact, this pilgrimage inspired Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century literary classic, The Canterbury Tales. Today the Archbishop is the head of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

I saw many historical structures in the city. I walked the historic cobbled streets and saw remains of the city wall founded by Romans and rebuilt in the 14th century. Then I toured the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey and a Norman castle. However, the highlight was visiting Canterbury Cathedral at night. Although it was founded in 597, the cathedral was rebuilt from 1070 to 1077. After a fire in 1174, the east end was expanded and rebuilt in the Gothic style. With very few visitors around at night, I toured the Cathedral and cloisters and contemplated the history in the silence. It was both spiritual and peaceful.

After taking in the Cathedral, I decided to grab supper at a great Spanish restaurant in the heart of the old town. I ate paella con pollo, potatas con mayonnaise, and a San Miguel draft beer. Around 21:00, I headed back to the train station and took the 21:15 train back to London’s Charing Cross station before arriving at 23:00. I then took the Tube back to my residence at Gloucester Road and went to bed by 23:30. What a great day seeing some of the beautiful English countryside!

Categories: Canterbury, Dover, England, Europe

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