Saturday, November 20, 2010

Leeds Castle, Canterbury, and the White Cliffs of Dover

So the horizons of England keep opening up before me... Today's adventure: a trip all the way from Oxford to London and through the countryside of Kent, to the banks of the English Channel itself!

I got up at a rather unearthly hour to catch a bus to London for a day tour heading out from Victoria Station - making the trip alone this time because of irreconcilable issues with my friends' schedules, but so much the better. It ended up being a good day to go solo for a number of reasons, not least of all the opportunity for self-reflection and taking obscene numbers of pictures. My first stop was Leeds Castle, an absolutely resplendent medieval castle built on top of a small lake. The walls extend out over the water, and the view (both from inside the castle and outside) is so magical, it's like something out of a fairy tale. Plus I have personal reasons for liking this castle: besides supposedly being one of the most breathtaking in England, it was the topic of a final class project my little sister did a few years ago. She researched and constructed a scale model of it (which is still around our house somewhere - even if useless, things like that take so much work you never want to throw them away), so I felt a bit surreal seeing it in person.

After Leeds, I was on my way to Canterbury, which I'd mostly wanted to visit out of interest in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Though I haven't taken a class in Chaucer yet, I almost certainly will for my English major, and hopefully having seen the place itself will help! Canterbury was charming, a bustling little medieval town, very similar to Winchester and York. I visited the cathedral, which was the site for many pilgrimages back in medieval times, and then roamed around the city, seeing the walls/river/shops/ streets/etc., and trying to imagine what it would have felt like to live there centuries ago. To have that tiny place be your whole world. It's hard for us twenty-first century people to picture.

Canterbury is surprisingly close to the ocean, and after getting back on the bus a final time I ended up at Dover and the English Channel. The white cliffs are indeed white, and jump up so suddenly out of rolling English countryside that the effect is startling. It's as if the British Isles, without warning, have decided to throw themselves into the sea. Being from the American West, though, I have to say I was a bit underwhelmed by the scale of these cliffs, which I'd imagined as being massive. (Hello, Grand Canyon - hello, Rocky Mountains and Yosemite - you knock this British pretender out of the water!) In terms of scale, the West trumps all. Still, the cliffs of Dover were neat to look at, and I was unreasonably pleased to have set foot on the banks of the English Channel - and seen France way over there on the other side!

Now I'm nestled back at Oxford, dead tired, and heading off to bed...

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