Having grown up nearby, I am aware that Canterbury struggles to retain the appearance of affluence which it still manages to convey to non-locals. In contrast with places like Windsor, which drip with money as well as history lessons, Canterbury is most definitely not the top dollar dog, despite its roaring tourist trade. I visited recently on a warm but spring day, the high street bustling, the crowd moving almost as one entity as it filed towards the centre of town. Packed with tourists. Corporate brands at every step. But branch a few streets out of the centre and things seem remarkably less plush. I imagine the tourist trade keeps the place above water; stopping Tesco from barging in and trying to ‘ regenerate’ the city by turning the Cathedral into a multi level superstore. It reminds me a bit of Chatham, too separated from London to develop the eclectic trendiness arising from an influx of young professionals, but still with enough cultural history to distinguish it from the Dartfords of the world (though being so close to Canterbury, and on the pilgrim trail, Dartford does indeed have its own history to tell).
I don’t mean to imply I am putting Canterbury down in any way. Certainly not, it is a beautiful city. Getting lost in the classic British rabbit-warren road layouts, the creaking old 16thC shops leaning so far into their neighbour you wonder if they’ll be there the next time you come, the recently finished and actually pretty smart-looking new Marlowe Theatre, boat trips up the small canal with a young Richard O’Brian type boatman making you cackle and of course, that stunner of a Cathedral to finish off; a building beautiful enough, a space poignant enough, to make any old hardened atheist such as myself concede that, OK, there is ONE good thing to come out of organised religion.
But it still doesn’t fool me. Behind the shiny coffee bars, endless pasta chains and stonking architecture lies a city that is actually Kentish to the bone. A through-town just like Dartford and Chatham; a stopover with a history of vagrant clientele and a pretty rough reputation outside the tourist trail. But that legacy also comes with far less of the bourgeois trendy snobbishness which often abounds in the affluence of centrality. It’s why for all its faults I still love Dartford, and it’s why Kent will always be home to me.
It’s also pretty great for taking photos, especially when combined with a bright sunny day. We took a detour via Folkestone on the way back so a couple of these were taken there (hence the boats). Enjoy.
All photos taken on a Nikon D60