Bank holiday weekend in London is all about escaping the city. Interested in history, venture to Kent. There are countless castles, villages and countryside views to explore. Leeds Castle, Cantebury and the Dover Cliffs are good options for a day trip by coach or by car. Coach tour options will give you a professional tour guide knowledgeable in the history and folklore of the area while trip by car offers flexibility to move around a your own leisure. Whichever option you choose, plan to leave the city early and return later to avoid the morning and evening rush hour traffic.
From Central London, Leeds Castle is about 40 miles away with Cantebury Cathedral and White Cliffs of Dover situated within 45 minutes drive from each other. While each sight is accessible by a more inexpensive train route, I recommend coach or car to get all the sights in a one day trip.
Leeds Castle was built before the 12th century and was made famous in the 13th century by King Edward I. The castle was built on two islands situated on a lake offshoot of the River Len. The castle is completely surrounded by water creating a natural mote defense and only connected to the mainland by one bridge. One of my favourite British monarchs, the dynamic Henry VIII used Leeds castle for one of his many wives in the 16th century, Catherine of Aragon. While Catherine didn’t loose her head like Henry’s other wives, she more famous for being the mother of Queen Mary I and her political involvement with the Archbishop of Cantebury and the Catholic Church in his defiance of Henry’s new Church of England.
Today Leeds Castle is a National Trust sight with self guided tours of the castle for 25 pounds for the year. Visitors can buy a pass for the year and visit all year with the same pass. Walking around an old castle may not suit you and the grounds surrounding the castle has much to offer. There is an extensive hedged maze, golf course, petting zoo, paddle boating which makes Leeds Castle perfect for family outings, romantic picnics, or a day in the sun. Leeds is also a popular music festival venue in the summer.
Cantebury Cathedral is famous for my many reasons but you may remember it most as the scene for Geoffrey Chaucer’s Cantebury Tales. Chaucer’s 14th century tail chronicled the journey of pilgrims on their way to the tomb of Thomas Beckett. While Chaucer’s story was fiction, the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett for his opposition to Henry II remains apart of Cantebury’s real history. Beckett was killed inside the Cantebury Cathedral and is enshrined near the crypt of the cathedral on the very spot he is believed to have been slain by Henry II’s men.
The cathedral has many other shrines and tombs to saints and wealthy parishioners scattered inside the main halls. The amazing ceilings architecture, painted glass windows and breath taking sculptures allow visitors to wonder and get lost in holy thoughts. Even if you’re not religious, you’ll want to pray or do something mindful in this place. You can leave a person prayer at one of the payer boards scattered around the Cathedral.
The surrounding town of Cantebury is quite modern with modern shopping malls packed with lively French teenagers that frequent Cantebury for day trips. Much of the old Cantebury town was damaged during the Baedeker Blitz of World War II where the German Luftwaffe strategically targeted English historical sights. The trip to Cantebury Cathedral is worth a two hour detour. Get some lunch in town before heading off to Dover.
White Cliffs of Dover
A half hour drive away from Cantebury along the southeast coastline of Kent are the picturesque White Cliffs of Dover. It’s situated on the Strait of Dover which has daily ferry service to France. The cliffs extend along the coast for eight miles at the narrowest point in the English Channel.
Because of the location, the cliffs have been a target of continental European invasions for centuries. Dover Castle sits on top of the cliffs and origins of the sight date back to the Iron Age before the Roman invasion. During the Napoleonic War, an intricate network of tunnels were built to abate invasion. During World War II, Winston Churchill used Dover Castle and its tunnel system as a military base in anticipation for the German invasion.
Cars are not allowed on the Cliffs so wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk a bit to get the best views of the coastline and the English Channel. Many say that the best views of the White Cliffs of Dover are on the ferry approach from France. Give yourself extra time to tour Dover Castle or save it for another day and combine it with a ferry to France. Although Dover has a beach, it’s not a resort town. The beach has large pebbles and is not made out to be a true bathing beach.
En-route back to London, you’ll see lots of yellow fields of alfalfa. Enjoy the scenery and take it slow because you’ll be stuck in traffic soon enough. Try the Blackfriars Tunnel approach if you’re heading back north of the Thames.