For as long as I can remember I have wanted to go to three specific places in England – Brighton, Christchurch and Canterbury. Why? Because I come from the city of Christchurch in the province of Canterbury in New Zealand and spent a lot of time in the suburb of New Brighton as a kid in the 70’s so I guess it was a pilgrimage of sorts.
It’s now 2015 and I am happy to say that I have been to all three places, even if those visits were brief one day ones.
Christchurch, England – visited November 2010
The Christchurch in New Zealand sits on the flat Canterbury Plains. She is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Port Hills to the south and the mighty Southern Alps loom in the distance in the west. Our oldest building is 172 years old and the Europeans only settled there in the 1840’s. So in the grand scheme of things, Christchurch, as with the rest of European New Zealand, is very young compared to other places around the world.
It is considerably younger than its sister city, Christchurch in Dorset, UK with its castle ruins dating back to the Norman invasion. The current Priory in Christchurch has parts of the building from the 13th Century and has so much history that it is mentioned in the Doomsday Book from 1086. When Henry VIII was going around the countryside pulling down Monasteries and Abbeys, he spared the Priory at Christchurch because priest who married him to Anne Boleyn just happened to be the priest at the Priory and convinced Henry that it was a parish church and as a result the church still stands.
From the moment I walked into the Priory I felt its history jumping from the walls. It actually overwhelmed me. I have been in larger, more elaborate churches and cathedrals but there was something about this one that resonated with me more than others. Maybe it was the stories that the volunteers told about how Christchurch got its name (it started with a beam of wood believe it or not), or seeing centuries old graffiti left by choir boys through the years. Or maybe it was the piece of stone that came all the way from the Cathedral in my Christchurch (which considering the earthquakes that had happened in September of the year I was visiting and the big quake that came in February 2011, this stone is even more significant now), but whatever it was I can still remember the feeling of being in the building even after 4 years. Even the discovery that my Christchurch was in fact named after Christ Church in Oxford didn’t diminish the strong feelings I had about this church.
The rest of historic Christchurch was quaint and lovely (even on a rainy old day), as you would imagine a quintessential English town to be. Lovely sweet shops, welcoming pubs and wonderful coloured houses lined the streets. It was such a pity that my sister and I only had a morning to discover what we could before having to head back to London for our last night in England after a very memorable 17 days visiting London and South West England.
Canterbury, England – visited April 2014
I’ve been fascinated by cathedrals since I can remember. I’m constantly amazed that these huge structures have survived invasions, wars and kings hell-bent on creating a whole new kingdom for themselves. Yet they have stood the test of time despite being built in a time when technology, as we know it today, was very primitive. I walk inside a cathedral and simply marvel at how it was constructed.
One of the most famous cathedrals in the world, Canterbury Cathedral in Kent has been the destination of Religious Pilgrims for centuries. My own pilgrimage was slightly less religious and more due to my desire to visit Canterbury ever since I learnt there was a Canterbury in the UK. I found it endlessly fascinating that Christchurch in New Zealand was so English and that one day I would have to visit those places in England that lent their names to places in and around Christchurch.
It might have taken me 42 years but on a cold, wet day in April 2014 I finally succeeded in realising my dream of going to Canterbury Cathedral and I was not disappointed. The place was amazing. The high arches and columns rising above us mere mortals, the elaborately carved wood and the beautifully colourful stained glass. But the part I loved the most was the Cloisters. There had been a lot of people there the day I visited because a number of French school kids were touring, but there was one moment where I was in the Cloisters, there was no one else around and in the background I could also hear the choir practicing. It was a very eerie moment but one of those travel moments that stay with you forever.
In the little time I had in Canterbury with the tour I was on, I didn’t really get to discover too many nooks & crannies in the Cathedral and I wanted to have a look around the walled city too. I briefly walked around some of the cobblestone streets but not enough to really investigate little alleyways or take time to take in the intricacies of the City Gates. I really need to go back to Canterbury because I left kind of feeling like I hadn’t fulfilled my purpose for going.
There is so much more I could say about Canterbury but I feel like my words couldn’t do the place justice at all.
Brighton, England – visited May 2014
Brighton was exactly as I imagined it would be – colourful buildings with flats above the shops, the pebble beach and that famous pier and it all a world away from New Brighton in Christchurch. But I think the highlight for me was the one place that I was adamant I wouldn’t visit if I went to Brighton because it seemed over the top ostentatious – The Royal Pavilion.
Do yourself a favour, pay the £11 entrance fee and go witness this amazing building for yourself. The chandelier in the Banqueting Hall is worth the money alone! The Asian style interior is not as bad as I imagined it would be and there are some parts of the decorating that is rather beautiful. Don’t forget to check out a replica of the bed Queen Victoria would have slept in upstairs – I still don’t know how she would have gotten on top of all those mattresses!
The day I visited with my niece and her boyfriend was a lovely sunny day, I even got sunburnt ( something I was weirdly proud of) and we did all the touristy things – went to the Royal Pavilion, walked along the pier, had fish & chips at a beachside cafe, I even went on the observation wheel for a bird’s eye view of the place.
The iconic pier itself is amazing, filled with little shops, an arcade, restaurants and even an amusement park. Being such a nice day people were perched up the free deck chairs provided, watching the world go by. Some people were even braving the waters of the English Channel while others picnicked on the beach. It was kind of one of those days where you know it’s happening but you think it’s all part of a TV show or movie, or even a dream. It really was a lovely trip down to the seaside.
I really enjoyed my visits to all three of these places however I didn’t spend nearly enough time in each place to really feel like I’ve been there. I guess that means that my personal pilgrimage is not really over. I look forward to going back to these places sometime in the future.
Do you have any places that you must visit? If so, where are they, why are they important and have you been to them?