6 – 11th May

After the revelry of Cambridge, the coast was calling. This required some backtracking via London due to the scarcity of hostels in the upper eastern part of the country. This detour turned out to be advantageous because it was just long enough to see an extraordinary production of “The Tempest” at the Globe Theatre and to spot some royals. “The Tempest” was absolutely stunning, with complete viewer immersion achieved using only the natural volume of the actors’ voices and man-made sound effects. Having never studied the play before, I was surprised how well I could follow the action and how genuinely hilarious it was. The actors breached the barrier between the play and the audience by frequently moving through the standing audience (groundlings) and picking on individual audience members.

Spirit from “The Tempest” with awesome spirit-hound. Image courtesy of http://www.londontown.com

In addition to a healthy dose of the bard, I just so happened to pass by THE Prince Harry as he went on an early morning horse ride in Hyde Park, while Lyndsay managed to tick off nearly every other royal as she watched the hoity-toity procession to the Houses of Parliament for the Queen’s opening speech, complete with Cinderella pumpkin carriages and marching bands, of course. Can’t get more British than that, surely.

After the royal-spotting and excellent Shakespeare, we (again) said goodbye to the bustle of London and ventured to Kent, a county wedged in the southeastern part of England that has also been dubbed “The Garden of England”. Canterbury, nestled kind of in the middle, was an excellent spot from which to base our wanderings. Much of Canterbury is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why by walking around the ancient streets, city walls and castle ruins. We arrived on Thursday 9th May, which just so happened to be Ascension Thursday. With that in mind, we attended the special evening Sung Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral which was spectacular. The colossal, skywards-reaching cathedral seemed to further expand with the exquisite choir singing. It was mesmerizing and deeply moving.

Canterbury Cathedral

No exploration of Kent is complete without a visit to Dover, where we hiked up the hill to Dover Castle, the perfect vantage point for views of the sea and Dover’s famous White Cliffs. Dover itself seemed a bit desolate and deserted but the looming defensive castle was anything but. Lyndsay and I were convinced to become members of English Heritage, the organisation responsible for the preservation and upkeep of the UK’s historic sites. Membership promises free or reduced cost entry to all English Heritage sites, of which there are hundreds. Lots of ancient stuff in the UK (who’d have thought?), with castles casually dotted around the countryside almost within stumbling distance of each other. Although the weather was rather atrocious, we battled the extreme wind to explore the Great Tower, restored to the 12th century splendour that would have been enjoyed by King Henry II and his squabbling family. We also walked along the battlements, visited the Chapel and ventured deep underground into a series of tunnels used in World War I and II. The tunnels form a huge underground warren used as barracks, commands unit and communications base. On a clear day, you can actually see across to France. It would have been a little terrifying during the war.

Dover Castle, the largest castle in England! It’s rather impressive. Image courtesy of http://www.english-heritage.org.uk
Inside the Great Tower. Image courtesy of http://www.english-heritage.org.uk
The Chapel at Dover Castle, facing the sea (and France!)

Venturing northwards, we also spent a day exploring Ramsgate and Margate. Ramsgate exuded a vaguely bleak and industrial vibe, although a walk along the cliff tops revealed some gorgeous Victorian buildings designed by Augustus Pugin, the same chap responsible for the interior of the Houses of Parliament, and a lovely big park filled with happy, skylarking dogs and their owners. Popping over to Margate, we tracked down the quirky Shell Grotto, or “Shellhenge”. It’s a mysterious underground cavern lined with intricate shell mosaics apparently discovered in the 1820s and preserved as a curious oddity ever since. No one knows who built it, or why, but it must have been truly stunning before the natural colours in the shells faded. Gotta love a good mystery. Especially a marine-themed, underground mystery. It’s definitely Famous-Five-worthy.

Shell Grotto

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