mission: MUSE - "where i live"
by guest muse gilly
Canterbury is a very beautiful, very old, and very small city in the UK. I’ve lived here for about twenty years – I came here to study for an MA at the University of Kent and liked it so much I never left. The city’s been in existence since pre-Roman times, and there are so many layers of history here that building work can take years because they have to allow the archaeologists time to excavate everything first. In Waterstone’s bookshop in St Margaret’s St, you can view the remains of a Roman bathhouse in the basement while buying your books.
This photo is taken from one of Canterbury’s parks, Westgate Gardens. It’s a long, thin park that runs alongside the River Stour, and the opposite end to the one you see here disappears into open countryside
The river runs right through Canterbury and although it’s really very shallow and not much more than a stream, there are punts operating along its navigable length. This makes for some idyllic scenes in summer.
Canterbury was once a walled city and you can still walk along much of the old city wall. Westgate Towers is the only remaining mediaeval gate to the city, and the road now runs through the archway underneath it. This is one place where the modern and the very old have an uneasy co-existence: double-decker buses have to inch slowly through the arch, occasionally getting stuck and entertaining passers-by. This photo shows the wider end of the archway – the far side is smaller and buses and large trucks only have inches to spare on each side.
Canterbury is best known for its Cathedral, which dominates the city and is a stunningly beautiful building. I’ve taken so many photos of the Cathedral and its surroundings that it’s almost impossible to choose just one, but this is my current favourite shot of it. You can see the Cathedral interior reflected in the sphere – this is part of the lectern right at the head of the Choir and it’s formed of a golden eagle which supports a bible on its back and holds this ball in its feet. It reminds me of some lines from Ted Hughes’ poem Hawk Roosting:
‘It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot’
I could fill a whole book with the huge variety of ancient and picturesque buildings we have here. The following picture shows how well the black and white timbered Tudor style buildings show up when we get a rare fall of snow. Although it’s often wet in winter and we do occasionally get light snow showers, it’s very unusual for snow to lie, so we don’t see this very often:
The snow also makes it easier to see the mediaeval ducking stool in the next image – you can spot it sticking out high over the river, just above the boat. The ducking stool was both a form of punishment and a way of testing to see if someone was a witch. It was used to punish nagging wives and cheating businessmen by dunking them in the river. However, more worryingly it was also used to determine whether or not someone was a witch. The accused woman would be strapped to the chair and lowered beneath the surface of the water for 2-3 minutes. If she survived then it was thought that she had used her powers to stay alive and she would then be burned at the stake. If the woman was dead when they brought her up again, then clearly she was not a witch and her name would be cleared and her family given an apology from the church. There are times when you just can’t win……
The main shopping streets are lined with loads of quirky and colourful cafes and tearooms. This is just one of them, but I particularly like it because of its brightly coloured chairs, tables and tablecloths.
This is just a tiny taste of where I live – there’s so much more I could have shown you – but I hope it gives you a flavour of the kind of place it is and how much history we have here. I fell in love with Canterbury when I first came here and I still love it after twenty years – it feels like home now.