Canterbury

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Canterbury's greatest treasure is its majestic cathedral ( §§ 762862; www.canterbury-cathedral.org; Sun St; adult/concession £5/4; ® 9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 9am-2pm & 4.30-5.30pm Sun Apr-Oct, 9am-4.30pm Mon-Sat, 10am-2pm & 4.30-5.30pm Sun Nov-Mar, access may be restricted for services 9am-12.30pm Sun). Yet, despite the impressive 66m Bell Harry Tower lording it over the surrounding countryside, it's the assassination of archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 inside that made the building famous, turning it into the site of one of Europe's most important medieval pilgrimages, as immortalised by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales.

Becket clashed with Henry II over tax and then over the coronation of Henry's son. Hearing Henry mutter 'who will rid me of this turbulent priest?', four knights dispatched themselves to Canterbury, where they scalped the archbishop and amputated his limbs in the late afternoon of 29 December. The murder caused indignation throughout Europe, and Henry was forced to do penance at Becket's tomb, which was later said to be the site of many miracles.

The traditional approach to the cathedral, which dates from 1070, is along narrow Mercery Lane to Christ Church Gate. The main entrance is through the southwest porch, built in 1415 to commemorate the English victory at Agincourt. You'll pass a visitors centre before this, where you can pick up free leaflets, ask for information or book tours. One-hour guided tours (adult/concession £4/3) leave at 10.30am, noon and 2.30pm Monday to Saturday Easter to September, and noon and 2pm Monday to Saturday October to Easter. A 30-minute audioguide tour costs £2.95/1.95 per adult/child.

The perpendicular-style nave (1405) into which you enter is famous for its intricate ribbed vaulting, and there's more fabulous vaulting under the Bell Harry Tower. To your right (east) is the pulpitum screen that separates the nave from the quire.

Thomas Becket is believed to have been murdered in the northwest transept (before you reach the pulpitum); the modern Altar of the Sword's Point marks the spot. On the south side of the nave, you can descend into the Romanesque crypt, the main survivor of an earlier cathedral built by St Augustine in 597 to help convert the post-Roman English to Christianity.

Continuing eastwards through the pulpitum into the quire, you'll come to St Augustine's chair, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Behind this, in Trinity Chapel, a burning candle and a brass inscription mark the site of the former Tomb of St Thomas, which was destroyed on Henry VIII's orders during the Reformation. The chapel's stained glass is mostly 13th century, celebrating the life of St Thomas Becket.

Also in the chapel you'll find the magnificent Tomb of the Black Prince (Edward, Prince of Wales, 1330-76), with its famous effigy that includes the prince's shield, gauntlets and sword. The Corona once contained the slightly macabre relic of the part of Thomas' skull that was sliced off during his murder.

CANTERBURY

& INFORMATION

Canterbury Cathedral Canterbury Tales Museum of Canterbury Tourist Office

EATING Q)

Vièt Nam Café St Pierre Goods Shed

Outside, walk around the eastern end of the cathedral and turn right into Green Court. In the northwestern corner (far left) is the much celebrated Norman Staircase (1151).

Canterbury's other attractions are very much epilogues to the main act.

The Museum of Canterbury (§§ 452747; www.can terbury-museums.co.uk; Stour St; adult/child/£3.30/2.20; ® 10.30am-5pm Mon-Sat year-round, plus 1.30-5pm Sun Jun-Sep) has been given a thorough revamp, and is particularly aimed at children and families. New hands-on exhibits include a medieval discovery gallery (where you can look at medieval poo under the microscope) and a 'whodunnit' on the mysterious death of playwright Christopher Marlowe (originally a Canterbury lad). Children's cartoon characters Rupert Bear, Bagpuss and the Clangers also appear.

If you're really keen to acquaint or reac-quaint yourself with Chaucer's famous stories, head to the Canterbury Tales (lg 454888,479227; www .canterburytales.org.uk; St Margaret's St; adult/child £7.25/5.25; © 9.30am-5.30pm Jul & Aug, 10am-5pm Mar-Jun, Sep & Oct, 10am-4.30pm Nov-Feb), where, armed with a storytelling audioguide, you pass puppets recreating various scenes. It might be better to just buy the book, though, to read on the train back to London.

INFORMATION

Tourist office (766567,767744; www .canterbury .co.uk; 34 St Margaret's St; ® 9.30am-5.30pm Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm Sun Apr-Oct, 9.30am-5pm Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm Sun Nov & Dec, 9.30am-5pm Mon-Sat Jan-Mar)

TRANSPORT: CANTERBURY

Distance from London 56 miles (90km) Directioi Southeast

Travel time One hour 50 minutes by bus, 13/4 hours by train

Bu National Express (® 0870 580 8080; www .natlonalexpress.com) has 16 dally shuttle buses (day return £11.40).

Train Canterbury East train station Is accessible from London's Victoria station, and Canterbury West from Charing Cross and Waterloo stations. Trains (I® 0845 7484950; www.natlonalrall.co.uk) leave regularly (up to every 10 minutes); same day return is £18.70.

EATING

Goods Shed (I® 459153; Station Rd West; mains £8-16; ® lunch & dinner Tue-Sat, lunch Sun) A fantastic place overlooking a farmers market, Good Shed is, unsurprisingly, in a converted railway shed, with high ceilings, huge windows and exposed brick. The changing French country menu uses fresh produce inventively.

Bistro Viet Nam (@ 760022; Old Linen Store, White Horse Lane; mains £5-11) The modern Southeast Asian menu here includes a range of Vietnamese tapas.

Café St Pierre (l§ 456791; 40 St Peter's St; pastries £2-3.50) The perfect place for breakfast or an afternoon break, with delicious pastries, pavement seats and a shady back garden.

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