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Kent's premier visitor attraction
Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction (Canterbury)
Member Name: weebagpuss
Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction (Canterbury)
Date: 18/07/01, updated on 18/07/01 (430 review reads)
Advantages: sounds, smells and sights, good value, introducing you in a non educational way to this period in history
Disadvantages: can get busy in summer - you might have to queue
I am almost certain that those of you reading this will have heard of Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of the well known Canterbury Tales. These are a collection of stories told by a fictional group of pilgrims, on their way to Canterbury in the fourteenth century to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. Becket of course was the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been murdered in Canterbury Cathedral at the end of the twelfth century, for standing up for the rights of Church. Though if you ask me, and I studied this a couple of years ago, it was sheer bloody-mindedness which led to his death. Nonetheless, pilgrims immediately flocked to Canterbury in huge numbers after his death, some of whom made the trip as a type of ‘holiday’. The journey of Chaucer’s pilgrims, from Southwark to Canterbury was the occasion of much jollity and merriment, and they kept themselves amused, by telling each other stories on the way.
Located in St Margaret’s Street, in the centre of Canterbury, if you visit the Canterbury Tales attraction, you can join a selection of the pilgrims on their journey and see the tales come to life. This is suitable for all ages, and if you enjoy places such as the Jorvik Viking centre, then you will love this – it is a similar type of experience. It’s open all year round, and costs £5.90 for an adult to visit, and £4.90 for a child or student. Personally I think this is great value – and if you are a family of 4, you can get a ticket for just £18.50. However, look in the local papers too, such as the Kent Messenger for example – as often you will find some discount vouchers.
If you visit in the winter months, you won’t have any problems with queuing, and indeed, could find yourself alone in the Canterbury Tales – definitely the best time of year to visit, and is when I usually go – sometimes at Christmas you might get a free glass of mulled wine afterwards. In the summer however i
t’s the opposite – long queues into the street, with many visitors, especially foreign tourists. Canterbury is as much as a tourist magnet today as 700 years ago! But don’t worry, it won’t be too crowded inside, as the number of visitors allowed in at one time is carefully controlled. Unlike some other places I’ve visited, there never seems to be a problem with the temperature inside either, I never come out of here feeling too hot or sweaty!
Once inside, you will be given a headset to wear. This is a particularly good idea – you can set it to which ever language you want and set the volume to the level you want. You will then be taken into a recreation of the Tabard Inn in Southwark, from where the pilgrims began their journey, and be introduced to the world of Chaucer. As in the Jorvik centre, smells, sounds, moving models and movement will all add to your experience. The only difference is that you walk round here rather than going in a timecar. The doors between each section open automatically, and lights change, so you do know where to go! You will go round in a group – up to about 14 people – unless of course you do as I recommend, and go in winter, then it could be just you alone!
After this, you will be introduced to the pilgrims themselves. There is a great choice of characters here – someone for everyone. My personal favourite is the Wife of Bath, a large, jocular women, who has already had 4 husbands! Her reason for joining the pilgrimage is to find her 5th! Other pilgrims include the Pardoner, the Nun’s Priest, the Miller, and the Reeve – an interesting mix of different social types in the fourteenth century.
This attraction is set out superbly – once you have joined the pilgrims, who are all very realistic looking, and dressed in accurate replica C14th clothing, you really do feel as if you are walking along a street in this period. Rats poke their littl
e heads out, and there are conversations of people in the street – shouted from window to window. You can smell what it was like too – but thankfully the smells are not too overpowering here!
The main part of the experience is listening to five separate tales. I won’t go into detail as to what these are about, since I don’t want to spoil the surprise. However, each tale takes place in a separate area of the experience, and you can have a seat whilst you listen. Excellent use is made of audiovisuals, and of moving models, with each tale you will find something for all of your senses to enjoy! My personal favourite is the Miller’s Tale – very very amusing!! If anyone has been here, they’ll know what I mean! All the tales are very easy to listen to, and don’t worry, they are not in Chaucerian English – don’t think many people could cope with that, I know I certainly couldn’t, even after studying it at school. A couple are amusing, some more serious, but they all seem to have a moral message in them, as I believe was common in this period.
Towards the end of the experience, you walk past the hostel where the pilgrims stay, and along to the shrine of Thomas Becket – this of course is a replica – the real one was in the Cathedral until destroyed during the Reformation. (Once you’ve finished here, you might want to go to the Cathedral and see the spot where Becket died – although it’s a bit of a let down, only a small slab marks it). Everything is superbly recreated here, and even though I have been here more times than I care to remember, the models never seem to look shabby, the upkeep really is very good.
Finally, you enter a marketplace. If you’re squeamish, take note – there is a particularly gruesome scene, where a medieval dentist is extracting some teeth! However, there are many other traditional market place activities going on,
with pilgrim badges being sold for example. Again, the smells and sounds work alongside the models and scenes to make it feel as if you are in a real medieval city.
This is an amazing place to visit. You really are transported back in time – the medieval recreation is so accurate and well thought out that for an hour or so you can completely forget the real world and imagine that you too are on the pilgrimage, judging which tale you think to be the best. This attraction would, I think, appeal to people of all different backgrounds, nationalities and ages. It’s certainly not too intellectual, and most of the history that you get from here will be by absorbing your surroundings. There is nothing to read, so even people who might get bored by a traditional museum can enjoy it here. It’s billed as “Kent’s Premier Visitor Attraction” and rightly so!