Literary City Guide | Canterbury, England
Tour Guide: Rachel Phipps
Relationship to Canterbury: I grew up in the countryside around Canterbury, I went to boarding school right in the city centre and I always find myself back every few weeks. I’ve lived in some incredible cities in the world, but only Canterbury is home.
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Anthony Bourdain. Wouldn’t he be both the most amazing and offensive dinner guess?
Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: It is a toss up between Ludo Lefebvre and Nigel Slater.
Writing soundtrack: Songs About Jane by Maroon 5.
Pen or Pencil: Pen. Specifically purple ink from a Bic four colour biro.
Coffee or Tea: Tea
Paperback or Hardback: Paperback
The Chaucer Bookshop. The best second hand book shop in the city full of rare and out of print books at reasonable prices and some beautiful bindings. It makes up for the fact we don’t have any independent bookshops for new editions left.
The Book Palace. This second hand bookstore on the King’s Mile just looks like your average charity book shop from the outside (proceeds go to Catching Lives), but it has some of the best selection of new releases, literary classics, academic texts and curious tomes I’ve found anywhere.
READINGS AND CONFERENCES
Canterbury Festival. Every year the festival hosts performances of theatre, music, poetry readings, talks from authors, stand up comedy and walks around the historic city.
The Marlowe Theatre. The theatre has recently been rebuilt, and hosts everything from visiting West End Musicals, kitchen sink theatre and figure skating performances.
Canterbury Cathedral. If you visit the Cathedral on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday you can walk past the cloisters and around Green Court, a big green in front of the Cathedral. Most of the buildings around Green Court make up The King’s School Canterbury, the oldest school in the country and where Christopher Marlowe, Somerset Maugham. Michael Morpurgo and Hugh Walpole were all educated.
You can book tours of the Cathedral through their website which are all rather interesting, but if you want to go for something a little bit out there for simply years there is a man who has been running walking Ghost Tours of our tiny city.
Greyfriars Gardens. Hidden away by the high street and over the river you’ll find Greyfriars Gardens, a lovely little series of park gardens that tourists don’t know about. It is lovely for picnics and lazy afternoons in the Summer and early Autumn.
Tiny Tim’s Tea Rooms. A quintessentially English tea room with delicious peppermint tea on the extensive tea menu, homemade cakes, full English tea and a simply divine Hot Fudge Sundae.
Brown’s Coffeehouse. Hidden away down a side street by the river Brown’s is all dark panelling, leather couches and craft coffee. The perfect hideaway to sit and write for a while.
A PROPER MEAL
The Shakespeare. What used to be one of the grimmest pubs in town has been turned into a beautiful, light space that serves up simply delicious food all day. I’d recommend their burgers, pulled pork, the seafood platter and some of the local beers and ales (my favourite is Whitstable Bay). They also have a wine bar around the corner, in front of the Cathedral that doubles as a coffee shop during the day
Deeson’s. I don’t think I have ever had a bad meal here. They serve fresh, local and seasonal produce (most of which they grow themselves) in a very British way, and also have a fantastic list of British wines.
The Goods Shed. By Canterbury West Station one of the old station barn has been turned into a brilliant indoor farmers market with a fantastic restaurant serving beautifully prepared local dishes up on the mezzanine.
Canteen. You can build practically any salad or flatbread you want here, to eat in upstairs or to take away. They also serve hot daily specials such as soups and curries.
City Fish Bar. While there are several good, traditional British fish and chip shops in the city, City Fish Bar is by far the best with the freshest fish encased in the crispiest batter, with all the trimmings.
Madame Oiseau. This chocolate shop has beautiful, handcrafted local chocolate made French style and is the perfect place for gifts, or just to pick up a chocolate bar. I love their hollow chocolate pumpkin heads at Halloween.
The Sugar Boy. Just outside the Mint Yard Gate of the Cathedral you can buy any of the hundreds of the sweet candies in the traditional jars that line practically every wall and window space of the shop, by weight in their signature maroon and white striped bags. Also, Beryl has been serving from behind the counter for as long as I can remember.
Bramley's. A Speakeasy on Orange Street that you really have to know where it is to find it. From the street all you can see is a narrow corridor, but it gives way into a beautiful bar with an impressive cocktail list.
"And specially from every shire's end / Of England they to Canterbury wend, / The holy blessed martyr there to seek / Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak." -Geoffrey Chaucer, The General Prologue, The Canterbury Tales
Rachel's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite view: Driving into the city or arriving on the train at night and seeing the Cathedral lit up and poking up through the town centre skyline.
2. Favorite place to write: At the head of the big table in the back of The Dolphin pub.
3. Favorite museum: Canterbury’s museums are not really that known or great (though I have heard good things about the newly renovated museum/ gallery The Beaney on the High Street), so I’m going to say the Cathedral. A world heritage site counts, right, and it is one of my favourite buildings in the world. I love the Cloisters at sundown. And besides, we would not have The Canterbury Tales without Canterbury Cathedral!
4. Favorite coffee shop: Tiny Tim’s Tea Rooms. They also do great brunches.
5. Favorite thing about your town: All of the beautiful old streets and buildings. The Cathedral. The fact that we are a city, not a town because of the Cathedral but Canterbury is probably the city that identifies the most with the countryside in the country. We all claim to be from the countryside when we say we’re from Canterbury, yet be get angry when people call us a town not a city!