We ventured out on our first group excursion on Friday with a trip to Rochester, Kent, a town (formerly, a city, but more on that later) about 3o miles this side of London (northwest of Canterbury, southeast of London).
A little background information about these excursions. Almost every Friday, my group of 10 students from Missouri, the group of 9 or so from Illinois and their mentor (Todd), another group from Illinois (slightly different program and no mentor), and I will go on a day trip to a historical/cultural site. For this first trip, we were led by Steve, a CCCU part-time lecturer. I don't plan to spend much time writing about the actual sites we visit, as you can find out anything I can share (and much more) online; I will focus more on the other aspects of our outings.
When I walked out of the flat at 8:00 Friday, I was greeted by the coldest temperatures we've had since our arrival (probably in the low 40's), a steady rain, and a fairly brisk wind. I'm not a cold-weather fan, and I detest being out in the wind and the rain, but I was so excited about the excursion that I barely noticed any of it! Fortunately, we left the worst of the rain and cold behind us as we motored away from Canterbury; throughout the day the weather vacillated between cool & sunny and cooler & either drizzle or overcast skies.
The countryside we drove through was hilly & green and reminded me of southeast Missouri in the Spring or Summer. We sped past several fields filled with rows of grape vines and even more fields filled with rows of some sort of short crop, but I didn't see a single structure that looked like the barns back home.
We rounded a curve, and below us was the River Medway with Rochester nestled along the hills on the other side. It's an absolutely beautiful view! As we drove through Rochester to our first stop, I tried to take in everything I could of the homes and businesses crowded closely to the streets, but there was simply too much to see.
We toured both Rochester Castle (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/rochester-castle/) and Fort Amherst (http://www.fortamherst.com). The Rochester Castle tour was unguided; fortunately, there were small placards explaining what we were looking at and sketches of what that particular area/room would have looked like back when it was in use.
The tour at Fort Amherst was guided, and our guide was absolutely delightful -- informative, patient, etc.; her love for the area, for the fort and its history, was evident throughout the 90-minute tour. I do want to share one little snippet with you.
At the beginning of the tour, our guide explained that the fort was built in the early t0 mid-1700's in response to the 1667 Dutch invasion in which the Royal Charles, the flagship of the fleet, was captured (and 13 other ships destroyed). With great chagrin, our guide explained that this is the only time in British Naval history that a British flagship has been captured and, she added dolefully, the hull of the Royal Charles is still on display in an Amsterdam museum. One of the students asked why Great Britain just doesn't ask the Dutch to return it. The guide sadly replied, "They won't, you know. They captured it and to this day consider it quite a feather in their cap." Her dismay at this "loss of face", if you will, was so very evident.
After touring the castle, Steve took 8 or 9 students and I to visit Baggins Book Bazaar, the largest 2nd-hand bookstore in England. I could have stayed and browsed in Baggins' for days and spent quite a sum of money, I'm sure, but my stomach was beginning to grumble, so after wandering around the extremely-well organized stacks for 10 or 15 minutes, I joined Steve, and we headed up the high street (the name given to the main street of towns, no matter what their actual name is) to find a pub. We happened on a place that looked promising and went in; Todd and 6 students were already there, so we joined them.
The pub was charming, and the food was excellent. I intend to try new things and to eat as many local dishes as I can when eating out, so I ordered a bacon, brie, and cranberry sandwich (even though I don't care for cranberry sauce) and tea. The sandwich was delicious (so were the side dishes of coleslaw, chips, and salad)! The bacon wasn't cut into strips that wrinkle when cooked; it was more one large, flat piece.
After lunch, I stopped in a few shops on my way back to our meeting-up place. In a charity shop (more on those in a later post), I got a little lesson on villages, towns, and cities. From what I had already gathered, distinction as a city is given to communities which have a cathedral; a town not only doesn't have a cathedral, but also is (I think) smaller than a city, and villages are smaller than towns. I mentioned to the lady working in a charity shop (more on those in a later post) that Rochester was a "lovely city" (Rochester Cathedral is located directly across the street from the castle), and she thanked me. She then said, "Well, unfortunately, we aren't actually a city any longer. Someone [she pursed her lips and looked quite disapproving] forgot to file the necessary paperwork this past year, you see, and we've lost our status as a city." (By the way, try to "hear" the dialogue with a British accent -- it makes it much better! :)) I made a few of what I hope were appropriately-commiserating noises and asked if "someone" couldn't just file this year, and she responded, with a sniff, "Well, one would hope so, my dear." Then she smiled brightly and asked me about the states.
Another little shop in particular was delightful. The large window display of "Hometown" was like something out of the British edition of a cottage-type home decor magazine I pick up at Barnes and Noble from time to time (the name escapes me right now -- sorry). Beautiful fabrics and notions -- colors and patterns reminiscent of Cath Kidstone (one of my favorite designers and British) and a garden in the Spring. I glanced at my cell, saw I had 7 minutes to spare, and zipped in. Oh, my! If only I could put a cot in the storeroom, I could live in that shop. There were absolutely beautiful wool blankets, various sewing and needlepoint caddies, and more things than I could absorb in one short visit. The proprietress was very gracious and shared with me the names of a few "wool" (yarn) shops to visit -- one in London, the other two in Tenterden and Whitstable (both in Kent).
I'm definitely planning a day trip back to Rochester to explore at a more leisurely pace. Whitstable was already on my "must visit" list, but Tenterden was a new name to me; needless to say, it's been added to my "must visit" list as well!
At the end of the day, as I watched the scenery fly by on our trip home to Canterbury, I reflected on the experiences of the day. So much to absorb . . . so much yet to come!
I had hoped to include pictures in this post but for some reason get error messages from WordPress when I follow the instructions given. Hopefully, I'll get this figured out soon and will add pictures as soon as I can. Thank you for your patience!