On this special guided experience, John England Tours will take you to Leeds Castle and the city of Canterbury as one of our Tailor-Made Tours of South East England. Over the course of one day, you will get to experience one of England’s most iconic castles and the spiritual centre of England, Canterbury.
Across our two destinations, we will explore the fascinating medieval history of English religious life, the infamous murder of St Thomas Becket, the life of Geoffrey Chaucer, and the Tudor age. Encapsulating much of the best that England has to offer, you’ll explore many chapters from the country’s tumultuous past in the company of an expert guide.
Leeds Castle: The Quintessential English Castle
With crenellated towers, banqueting halls, and a large moat encircling the entire site, Leeds Castle is the quintessential English castle. Constructed as a Norman stronghold in the 12th century, the castle has evolved through the centuries into the breathtaking construction you see today. Later, it would be the preferred residence of King Edward I and a home to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.
Upon arriving at the castle where we’ll begin our tailor-made tour, some guests may recognise the enormous structure before them: the castle has recently featured in the popular Netflix TV show, Great British Castles, presented by the historian Dan Jones. It’s likely that the first incarnation of the castle was a motte and bailey, but through the ages, the fortifications have expanded and the surrounding swamps were dug out and transformed into an expansive moat.
The first major investment in the castle and expansion of the site was under the reign of King Edward I (also evocatively known as ‘Edward Longshanks’ and ‘the Hammer of the Scots) in the 13th century. Since that time, the castle has been owned by a variety of notable figures, most famously Henry VIII who refurbished Leeds Castle for Catherine of Aragon.
Today this treasure box of wonders invites over 200,000 guests each year. You can expect to be taken away to another time as you explore the halls, dining rooms, and book-lined library. The historical periods of the middle ages, Tudor era, and English Civil War will be brought into focus through the castle’s collections of paintings and priceless antiques. And, finally, as you explore the large grounds of the castle, you can even venture into a garden maze.
This is one of the most striking historical destinations in the UK — a must-see attraction for lovers of history.
The Cathedral City of Canterbury
Canterbury: there may be nowhere else in all of England that evokes the past quite like this ancient city. Due to its extraordinarily well-preserved built environment, the city was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status 1988. The town is situated on the River Stour and offers its residents plenty of tranquil green spaces such as Westgate Gardens. However, for the visitor, the real jewels in Canterbury’s crown are its cathedral (as featured on Tony Robinson’s Britain’s Great Cathedrals), medieval Westgate, and a further array of historic landmarks.
Originally inhabited by Celtic tribes, the city first came to prominence under the Romans. To this day, remains of Roman-built walls can be observed. The name Canterbury, though, is not Roman in origin. Instead, it comes from the Old English word Cantwareburh meaning ‘stronghold of Kentish men’. But the city’s global fame is truly rooted in its medieval past. In the 7th century, a monk named Augustine was sent from Rome to convert the pagans of Kent. This monk founded a church here and sowed the seeds that were to grow into the beautiful city you see today. Later recognised as a saint, Augustine of Canterbury (not to be confused with Augustine of Hippo) became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, a role that exists to this day and forms the chief office of the Church of England.
Today the city is most closely associated with two historic figures: Saint Thomas Becket and the great English writer Geoffrey Chaucer. And the stories of these figures are forever intertwined, despite having been born two centuries apart.
Thomas Becket was the Archbishop infamously murdered by King Henry II’s men in 1170, following conflicts between the king and church. His murder, which took place in the cathedral, sent reverberations across Europe and he was quickly canonised by Pope Alexander III. The saint’s demise consequently put Canterbury on the map, for the city became one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in medieval Christendom. Recent multidisciplinary research has shown just how massive an impact the saint’s murder had on English life, even affecting the economy. But the biggest influence the event had might have been on the country’s culture.
Geoffrey Chaucer was born in the 1340s and is remembered today for having written The Canterbury Tales. This collection of bawdy, satirical stories revolves around a group of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury to visit the relics of St Thomas Becket. The tales contained in the book provide an amazing insight into the lives of ordinary people in 14th century England, and many regard this work not only as a landmark of English literature but as one of the foundations of what would become the modern English language. (Book lovers can continue their exploration of English literary history with our tour of Charles Dickens’ Rochester.)
Our visit to Canterbury will allow you to walk in the footsteps of those medieval pilgrims, across cobblestone streets and by medieval inns — you’ll really feel transported through time!
Leeds Castle and Canterbury capture the magic of Kent! Few tour operators give you the opportunity of exploring both destinations in one day, so we’re delighted to offer our guests this unforgettable tour option. With John England Tours you’ll be given expertly guided private tours of both Leeds Castle and medieval Canterbury with plenty of time reserved for you to enjoy the experience to the fullest.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this tailor-made tour, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
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