It’s almost a week since I left Leiston Abbey and Dig Ventures behind and it still feels like yesterday. Our last few “official” days where mostly spent recording the trenches, cleaning the mountains of finds (to the extend that I stayed on for 2 more days to help with that) and generally getting everything ready to be closed down for the season. For all of you who would like to know more of what I have been up to – the official site videos are found here and all my photos are now online to here.
Of course our end of site/ Brendon’s and George’s surprise birthday party was the highlight of the second week, especially since the weather gods gave us the most spectacular lightning show that day – early morning and late that night. Fantastic!
As the campground emptied and old and new friends went back to their normal lives (or as some put it back to reality) we had some time to look back on two weeks of excitement, wonder and ultimately fun but also learning and discovery.
Again I found the time truly rewarding – and promised myself I’ll be back again next year – money and time provided of course.
However – this was not the end of my time in the UK – I thought to myself it would be nice to go and explore some more historic sites and ended up in Britain’s most religious town – Canterbury.
The seat of the Bishops of Canterbury (head of the Anglican Church) and home to one of the most amazing secular building the country has to offer – Canterbury Cathedral.
I managed to get a room at Kent University – with a great view over the valley and right down to the Cathedral from my window.
Just as well as the Cathedral precinct is only accessible during the day from 9.30 am – which was a bit late for my other plans. So I walked around it early morning but did not get a glimpse at all and decided to leave the close up and inside look for next time – a good reason to come back. However the room at the Becket Lodge at the Uni was great – if you are a single person traveling to Canterbury – book your room there – well worth it and very comfortable!
On my way to Canterbury I stopped at Rochester – a town with Roman origins Watling Street– for those in the know about ancient and Roman roads – runs right through it) and with a amazingly well preserved Norman Castle and of course yet another Cathedral (which I could not visit due to a function inside).
Rochester Castle castle however was well worth the 2 hours or so I spent there – with the help of the audio guide (highly recommended) I explored all 5 levels of the keep and once up on the highest point it offers sweeping views over the valley below.
I came to the conclusion that J.R.R. Tolkien must have visited the town as the Castle was largely built by Bishop Gundulf (also spelled Gandalf in some publications) and there is a bookshop “Baggins” – can’t be a coincidence:-) It is known for a fact that another famous writer Charles Dickens based some of his novels in and around this town though.
Rochester also boasts another castle (surprise, surprise) – Upnor Castle not to far from the town center and mainly used as a gun powder depot – looks really great on all photos but the same can’t be said from the inside – as that photo look can only be achieved from the other bank of the river…rather disappointing.
On this note – I love Heritage New Zealand (formerly NZ historic places trust). With my membership at home I get free or reduced entry into all UK National Trust, British Heritage, Historic Scotland and CADW sites over in the UK – normally one either pays for each or gets a separate membership for each of those 4 organizations here – trust me I saved hundreds….
Last but not least – one more historic site that has been on my list for many years now – Lullingstone Roman Villa near Eynsford, Kent. Here they found the first known signs of Christianity in Britain. They also rather lovingly pay tribute to the army of volunteers who excavated it over many years just after the war – so it’s a rather special place and in a great rural and peaceful setting. The original wall paintings are restored in the British Museum but the Villa itself still holds a stunning mosaic and since the site is roofed it’s a great place to visit on a rainy day too – just under an hours drive from central London (though no public transport to speak of).
I spend my last night in the UK in a rather unremarkable hotel near the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow – however the thing going for this place was its direct access to the new ULTra (or pod) transport system. Great thing and Auckland Airport should get one of those…. just a thought:-)