Some Canterbury Tales (with apologies to Chaucer)

Trip Start Jul 01, 2009
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Trip End Jul 01, 2010


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Where I stayed
Flint Cottage

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Friday, October 16, 2009

"It's that you each, to shorten the long journey,
Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury,
And, coming homeward, another two,
Stories of things that happened long ago.
Whoever best acquits himself, and tells
The most amusing and instructive tale,
Shall have a dinner, paid by us all,
Here in this roof, and under this roof-tree,
When we come back again from Canterbury."

- Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

Once upon a time (OK, so that's more Grimm than Chaucer, but we had to start somehow), there were two travelers on their way from London to Canterbury. During their weeklong Odyssey, they had many different adventures and assumed many different roles. These are their tales.

The Roadie and Groupie's Tale

Two weekends ago, we got into Gatwick late from Greece (after midnight).  We got through customs and made our way to the rental car area, where Avis had a little Nissan job waiting for us.  Note to self: When renting a car in England, you might want to do so the first time earlier than 1:00am.  Fortunately, small children were safely in bed.  It’s hard enough remembering to stay on the left side of the road, but they have this sick sense of humor here where they only rent standard transmission cars (at least to foreigners).  That means the driver sits on the right side of the car and shifts gears with his/her left hand.  Fortunately, we only had a 10-minute drive – everyone survived. 

We stayed at the Cumberland Guest house (www.cumberlandhs.com) for the second time in a week. Carmel and Clive are great hosts and the English Breakfast was outstanding (the British like to get their entire daily calorie intake covered in the first hour of the day).  Clive let us borrow his road atlas and he made a number of suggestions about where we might go whilst in Kent (did you notice that little "whilst" thrown in there – we’ve become so British).  He reminded us to drive on the left side of the road, and off we went.

After a few wrong turns, we eventually ended up at Flint Cottage on Cork Farm (on Long Hill in Old Wives Lees Village, in the Parish of Chilham, in the region of Canterbury, in the County of Kent, in England on the island of Great Britain in the United Kingdom – it’s kind of a wonder we made any wrong turns).  We’ll share more about the amazing Flint Cottage in a later tale below, but in keeping with the name of this particular tale, we need to jump right to what happened after we got there.  Jan and Andy (our wonderful hosts – more about them later as well), made us feel right at home with tea and biscuits.  Andy mentioned that he and his band were leaving in 15 minutes to play on a Paddle Steamer from the mouth of the Thames to London and would we like to come along.  Let’s see, a beautiful, free 5-hour boat ride up the river Thames to Tower Bridge in London, watching the sunset and all the sites along the way (Greenwich, Millennium Dome, Tower of London) and all we have to do is hang out with the band … uh… okay.  So, we took on the role of their roadie and groupie.

The trip was more than advertised.  We sat with Richard and Liz (whose son is married to Andy and Jan’s daughter), and greatly enjoyed getting to know them.  We listened to Andy’s band (Roy, Glen and Malcolm were great fun).  And we wandered around this amazing mid-century Paddle Steamer.  The engine room is wide open, so you can see the giant pistons turning the two large paddlewheels.  We got a couple of sandwiches and drinks on-board and just enjoyed the ride.  It was an incredible gift.  Upon arriving in London, we helped the band get all of their gear off the boat, loaded it into waiting buses and then boarded the buses for the 90 minute ride back to Whitstable.  Once we got there, we went out for drinks and headed back to Flint Cottage.  Our first real look around the place was after midnight – more than 9 hours after we first drove into Cork Farm.  It was an amazing day.

The Pilgrims’ Tale

Cork Farm is surrounded by amazing walking trails.  We took advantage of them whenever we weren’t exhausted from walking in other parts of Kent.  The ancient North Down’s Way National Trail (a 153 mile walking trail from Farnham to Dover) passes right in front of the farm, and we walked parts of it daily.  Parts of the North Downs Way are also said to be part of the Pilgrim’s Way, which was reportedly one of the trails that pilgrims took to Canterbury Cathedral to pray where Thomas Becket was murdered (remember your early English history?).  We averaged more than 5 miles a day of walking, just for pure enjoyment.  Some highlights:

Oast Houses – which have conical roofs and were used to dry hops for beer-making

Orchards – It is harvesting time for apples; about half the orchards were picked, and the others were ripe and ready for picking; Kent is known as the Garden of England, so there’s a lot of agriculture here

Pubs – the one closest to our cottage is just a few hundred yards up the road, and was a great way to end our walks

Public Foot Paths – you can follow these through private farms, past houses, and through orchards and gardens; it’s something you wouldn’t much see in the US.

Stiles – little stairs or ladders used to help walkers climb over fences (used to keep sheep and other animals fenced in); we walked past many sheep.  After the trip to Alaska, and making sure to 1) not run if a black bear or grizzly came towards you and 2) look really big when a cougar appears on your walk path (none of these happened---this is purely to make a point), when Jenny saw the sheep starting to walk towards us, well, she wasn’t sure what to do so she just stopped in her tracks and started singing 'Baa Baa Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool?’  Paul suggested saying "Baa-Ram-Ewe" (Babe reference).

Beautiful weather – it was gorgeous pretty much the entire week

The Historian’s Tale

There is so much to see and do around Canterbury for the history buff.  We went into Canterbury a few times.  We toured the beautiful cathedral – Thomas Becket was murdered there in 1170; many kings are buried there; the archbishop of the cathedral is the bishop of the Church of England.  We also walked around the old Norman Castle in Canterbury – we love old castle ruins almost more than the refurbished castles.  Canterbury is also where St. Augustine set up his first church and abbey when he arrived from Rome to convert England to Christianity in 597 – the ruins of the old abbey are there.  St. Martin’s church also claims to be the oldest church in continuous use in England (from Augustine’s time – about 1400 years).  There are some absolutely beautiful tapestries in St. Martin’s church, near the altar.  And, since we happened to visit this church on Saturday and the Chilham church on a Saturday, we were able to watch the church ladies decorate with fresh Autumnal floral arrangements.  It was a real treat.

We also drove into Dover a few times.  Dover Castle is pretty amazing.  They just re-opened the tower with a well-done depiction of what it would have looked like in Henry II’s day (the 1180s).  There are some films that are a little Disneyfied, but still quite English.  The most amazing parts of Dover castle, though, were the secret wartime tunnels underneath the grounds.   During World War II, England built miles of tunnels in the limestone and ran much of their operations (and a hospital) out of the area.  The 1-hour tour is definitely worth the time.

We also hiked on the White Cliffs of Dover.  They’re pretty remarkable just for their beauty and for welcoming everyone to England across the English Channel.  We could see France very clearly as we walked the 4 mile hike above them.  It was a beautiful day.

We did much more as well (St. Margaret’s at Cliffe, Chilham village and castle, and greyfriars to name a few), but these were the highlights of the week.  Kent is a lovely part of England that we had not explored together before.

The Ciderers’ Tale

Now to brag more about Flint Cottage and Cork Farm.  We encourage you to look at the link at  www.corkfarm.com ; you can see the amazing place we got to live in for a week.  We recommend it highly.

Andy and Jan MacLean run a wonderful working farm – they keep horses and sheep, have a lovely garden, and an orchard.  The three types of apples grown are not sent to market for eating, they are used to make cider.  Now, in the US, cider is a quaint term for apple juice with a little “bite” to it.  In England, that bite is at least 5% alcohol.  The week we were there, the cidery was going whole hog, and we offered to pitch in.  On Thursday, we spent a few hours helping to pick some of the last apples of the season.  The process involves someone climbing the tree and shaking the branches to get all the apples to drop; everyone else then gathers and dumps the apples in boxes behind the tractor.  Paul took his turn shaking a few trees.  He noted that it’s always nice to learn that you didn’t miss your calling – apple tree shaking is not how he should make a living.

We spent the day with Andy, Liz and Richard (whom we had met earlier that week in the Roadie & Groupie’s Tale), David, and Simon and Annie.  Annie is an artist, therapist, and ex-pat who grew up in Corvallis, Oregon.  Jenny and she are only a few years apart, but they went to different high schools there.  Amazing coincidence.  We loved getting to know all of them; it felt pretty cool to be a part of their cider-making process.  You can learn more about them (and vote for them as best cider in Kent) at: www.rougholdwife.com

The Sad Musician’s Tale

It is with heavy heart that we report the demise of Paul’s strumstick.  This three-stringed instrument (looks like a small traveling guitar or a ukulele on steroids) traveled with him around the world 11 years ago without incident.  After only our 3rd week overseas, however, it did not make the flight.  When we arrived in Gatwick from Athens, it was demolished—broken and splintered in two.  Andy agreed to toss it on the bonfire on November 6th in celebration of Guy Fawkes Night (also called Bonfire Night in England).  We decided that was a suitable way to bid it farewell. 

Gumby’s Tale

Some of you have been asking about Gumby.  We have been trying to take pictures of him everywhere we go, but we’re not batting 1000 on that.  Gumby was a gift from Paul’s workplace (CORP).  He has accoutrements from many of the specialists from CORP: a cane and glasses from the vision team; an ILY sign on his chest from the deaf/hard of hearing team; an assistive technology device from the AT team; an autism awareness sticker on his back from the autism team; a car check-out form from the office staff; and a therapy ball glued to his butt from the OTs and PTs.  On this trip, we got pictures of him at Dover Castle and Canterbury Cathedral.  We’ll keep trying to include him on our trips.

Our next Tale

Well, we’re on to our next adventures.  We left England on Sunday and flew to Krakow, Poland.  We’ll detail that in a later blog.  We’re not sure if we’ll be able to blog every week, but we’ll try to do at least 2 per month.

Please keep in touch (reply to this blog and we’ll get it).  Let us know if anyone wants to be sent our blogs (hey, if you have to get it, you might as well subject others to it).

To Whet your appetite:  We have worn our wool hats and gloves along with several layers of clothing since our arrival to Krakow.  Since Poland is not yet using the Euro (we read it is to happen in 2012), we’ll actually be able to bring home a few Zlotys (their form of currency).  In one of the areas we visited, Jenny needed to use the restroom and it cost 1 Zloty.  Standing with the bathroom door open (you could see the toilet), the gentleman with the mop, standing next to the plate of Zlotys, was patiently waiting while Jenny dug around in her travel wallet for the correct coinage.  She pulled out a coin, and to the best of her ability, thought it was a Zloty, handed it to the man, who shouted, 'That is NOT from here!’  Well, anyway, it was a little embarrassing.  The coin was a british pence and so, Jenny did not use the bathroom there, but, waited until returning to the hostel a little while later. 

Keep living the dream – this ain’t no dress rehearsal.

- Paul and Jenny
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