We’ve been to Dover to board the hovercraft to Calais, France when we were still leading groups of high school students on European adventures. It’s been a long time. This stop is advertised on this cruise as a way to see London, but it’s 70 miles away and once you get there, there’s too much to see. We heard that Dover itself doesn’t have much to offer a tourist, so we chose a tour that went to nearby Leeds Castle, a place we’ve never been and then took us to Salisbury for some free time. This seemed like an ideal tour. We like to learn about new areas, but being lead around by a guide all day can get tiresome. Today we had the best of both.
Leeds Castle has existed in its earliest iteration since the 1600’s. The infamous Henry VIII sent the first of his many wives, Catherine of Aragon, to live there after he was disappointed by her lack of son production. His son Edward VI died young and his widow as well as five other widowed queens lived there over the years. As with many of these old buildings, it burned down, was remodeled, modernized and otherwise altered over the years. Its final inhabitant was a Lady Baillie, one of those rich Americans who brought her fortune here to buy herself a title and rescue a stately home. (Sounds a bit like Downtown Abbey.) She lived there from 1926 - 1990 and today the contents of the house mostly reflect the possessions she brought to the place. They were a combination of royal furniture from earlier times and fairly modern stuff you could imagine a rich old lady enjoying in her goldenest years. She left the home to a foundation which is working hard to raise enough funds to preserve it all.
We enjoyed the garden as much as we enjoyed the castle and there was a fleet of workers, planting, pruning and fertilizing. Some of the out buildings are used for conferences and wealthy brides can rent the place for a story book wedding. The royal lifestyle is expensive. Peacocks, black and white swans and more ordinary waterfowl put on a show in the ponds along the path. We keep hearing that last winter was especially nasty in Europe and spring is a month behind, but the flowers were certainly blooming today.
Salisbury is famous for its cathedral, one of the first built when Christianity was brought to England in 597. Salisbury is known as a city because it has a cathedral, but it really is town-sized. Remains of the original walls built during medieval times mark the earliest perimeter, but people live in a more modern manner outside the walls today. We are beginning to think that we are not really here during low season as we had assumed, because the place swarmed with tourists, many speaking French. France is only 23 miles away and ferries and hovercraft can make this an easy day trip.
The city has grown up around the cathedral walls and it is hard to see the building from the outside. We probably should have paid the $15 to do in, but we have been to a lot of great cathedrals so we opted for a coffee shop and a bit of free internet. Shame on us!!