Monday, 2 July 2012

Summer Holls part three

Castles and Cathedrals
We had another rest day and then we went off to have a look at Rochester.  Charles Dickens is strongly associated with Rochester, since he lived there at one time and it also happened to be the bi-centenary of his birth that week.
The first hint that something was going on was this pipe band
In Rochester we discovered a number of Dickensian characters parading about the streets and shortly after we had explored Rochester Cathedral, there was a parade with dozens of enactors dressed up as various characters, with fife and drum bearing soldiers, Victorian sailors and even a contingent of the Confederate Army as a part of the parade

Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations
A family legend has it that my mother’s great great aunt was a friend of his and went to tea with him on occasions.  Since he was thought to be a bit of a philanderer, at that time it would not have been considered respectable for a woman to visit a man without a chaperone.  Of course we have no way of knowing if she was chaperoned or not, but it is also part of the legend that she once took my great grandmother along on one visit, who was a child at the time, which suggests that the relationship may have been completely innocent.
Rochester Cathedral from as seen from the castle
Whilst these characters were assembling, we had a look at Rochester Cathedral, which whilst not huge is still quite impressive.

Inside the cathedral
 On leaving the cathedral by the front doors, you see a large tree and on a protective fence surrounding it is this plaque.
A centenarian Catalpa tree
The characteristic bean pod in amongst the leaves of the Catalpa tree
I have seen this kind of tree on several occasions and had no idea what it was.  There used to be one in my home town's shopping district, which was removed a few years ago when the place was given yet another pointless facelift, something my beloved town council seem to do on a regular basis, spending millions and getting rid of perfectly good trees.
The tree has broad leaves and grows beans and I had been curious as to what kind it was, but had not been able to find out before this.  Whilst not common, it had cropped up here and there.  We had sheltered from the sun last summer in Topeka, when we were watching TGS compete in his swimming heats whilst we were in the USA.  Also when we did the tourist bit in London, the grounds of the Houses of Parliament were full of this kind of tree. So I was quite interested to find out at last what kind of tree it was and was pleased to find that my name for the one back home was close to its common name, since I and my family had always referred to it as The Bean Tree. 

After we had explored the cathedral, the parade started and I stood along with the crowd that had gathered on the roadside and watched all the various Dickens characters and other period enactors go by.

Once this was finished we went on to the castle and found a fun fair inside the castle grounds.

From the castle you can get a great view of Rochester and the Medway and lying by a small jetty is an ancient submarine, looking a bit worse for wear.
The view of the fun fair from the top of the castle

The Medway

Yet Another Cathedral
The next outing was to Canterbury, where we visited the cathedral there.  Whilst Rochester Cathedral was splendid, it was completely eclipsed by Canterbury.  The size and splendour was verging on ostentatious and presumably was paid for by the constant stream of pilgrims who made their way there during medieval times and which were made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

So what else is new?

This is the symbol for Amnesty International and inside the cathedral they had a real candle along side an offering box for this important charity

This is just a part of the detail...

...of this
That evening, the sky stayed clear and out of the windows of the cottages we could see bats flying around the grounds.

Our last trip of the fortnight was to Leeds Castle. For some reason, Leeds Castle is not in Yorkshire where the town of Leeds is, but in rural Kent.  The weather stayed warm and bright for this trip and we were able to walk, not scamper from shelter to shelter, when out in the open for a change.  This 900 year old Norman stronghold was the home of six English queens and it was also used by Henry the Eighth but was sold to a Lady Baillie in the 1930s who redesigned much of the interior, losing the Tudor décor in many rooms.
The exterior is still much like it was for much of its life and is a splendid set of buildings built on a couple of islands on a small lake.

Our first stop was for a coffee in the Castle cafe and whilst we ate some snacks and drank coffee we were hassled by this peacock.  It would stand behind the unsuspecting visitors and annouce its desire to share in their meal with a loud honk, making some visitors jump so much they dropped what they were eating. Obviously a tactic it had honed to a high level of skill.

A bandit bird
 In the large grounds there is a maze and of course we had to give it a try.  There is a legend that any maze can be tackled by simply turning left at every branch, but whoever designed this maze was wise to that strategy so those of the party who tried that method made no better progress than the random turning group.  In the end, close to the centre but frustrated and getting footsore, we were shown which direction by some kind hearted soul already in the centre.
It looks so simple from up here
Once having reached the centre, you are above the maze and so can see where to go, but you return by going underground into a grotto and exit the maze via a series of strangely decorated tunnels.

The Green Man inside the grotto.  The Green man is a persistant country image in the UK, a character who lives in the woodland and features on many cathedral carvings and country inn names.

At 2PM there was to be a falconry exhibition and so we ate some sandwiches and waited for the show.  They started with a Harris Hawk which demonstrated how smart it was by finding food under pots and on one occasion getting into a dustbin to find food placed there by its trainer.

This kind of hawk does a lot of its hunting on the ground

This was followed by an owl, which was much less smart but survives, so we were told, by having sensitive hearing, sensitive enough to pick up the heartbeat of its prey.

The owl was also able to fly very quietly and so take its prey by suprise.  To demonstrate this, they got several children, includiong TGD and TGS to sit in the areana whilst they got the owl to fly over them.  They were asked what they could hear and all agreed there was no sound as it flew over them.
The final display was a smaller falcon which flew around like a jet plane and took a lure being whirled around the trainer on the end of a string whilst in flight.

After the show we walked around the grounds and formal gardens and then returned to our holiday cottages.

Finally it was time to pack up and get ready for our individual trips home.

Travelling both there and home was complicated since there were three parties in our family group, three from the US, three from Cumbria and the two of us grandparents from Wiltshire. The Better Half (TBH) and I had arrived in separate cars since one car would not have carried all the luggage we needed.  The American contingent had been collected from Heathrow by TBH, who had an empty car and so could take their luggage, whilst I had driven in my own car with all our luggage.   We rendezvoused at the wonderfully named motorway service station Clacket Lane which is on the south M25.  Here we had a comfort break and then went on to our holiday cottages in Kent.

Meanwhile the Cumbrian contingent were driving down from the north and joined the M25 north side.  This meant they had to cross the Thames at Dartford, where you go across the QEII bridge when travelling clockwise and the older Dartford Tunnel when traveling anti-clockwise.  They had to use the bridge and so passed very close to a place I had worked at in the 90s, where lorries going onto the bridge had caused an unpleasant strobing of the sunlight in my office window as they drove across the start of the bridge in the afternoons.
The Queen Elizabeth II bridge looking North.  Borrowed from the 2012 charity swim from Teddington Lock to Calais web site

Both bridge and tunnel are a toll and so you pay £1.50 for the privilege of going from Essex to Kent or vice versa.   This is considerably cheaper than the cost of going over the Severn Bridge into Wales, which is £6, exactly twice as much since you only pay one way there.
The Queen Elizabeth the second bridge (QEII) features in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, showing in the background during the funeral sequence in the film where they all gather at Gareth’s family home.  The church they used is also in that area and can be found only by driving into an immense factory and dock area, where the medieval building is dwarfed by immense modern industrial buildings and chimneys.
Our return journey was as complex as the start, each going our separate ways.  TBH and her son’s family had to be at Gatwick for their return flight before 8AM, so we all arose at the crack of dawn to allow her and the US contingent to start out with enough time to allow for traffic on the M25 and all the uncertainties that it brings on that route.
So after loading TBH’s car and a tearful farewell TBH set off with her son’s family.
I remained behind to pack up our own stuff and sort out the final checkout and pay for the extras, such as electricity, which was metered by the owners.
The Cumbrian family, TBH’s daughter and family said their goodbyes and set off whilst I finished off and finally I set out for home.
So that’s it folks, all our adventures for the summer holls, but our feet only touched the ground briefly, because it was my old firm’s annual reunion the following weekend.
So stay tuned folks, for our next exciting post.


  1. Looks like a great time was had by all! It's been years since I went to Rochester but I remember it as a great place.

    The guy striding along in his frock coat and topper really looks the part. You got a perfect setting for him.

  2. What a fantastic holiday you all had! The cathedrals and castles are something we are sadly lacking over here, being a much younger country. The maze really sounds like a lot of fun, and I know ChrisJ and I would love the falconry exhibition!

    You had to be really well organized to get the family from and to their various destinations!

    Thanks for the historic ejourney, once again!