Over the Easter holidays we still kept up Daniel’s two days a week at nursery, so that we could do a couple of days out that may not be suitable for him. My husband had a week off and we had some lovely family days out together. One of the days, we were invited to take a tour around The Canterbury Tales Exhibition. The exhibition is located right in the heart of the historic city, with it’s pedestrianised high street right next to the Cathedral, a key part of the tales told. Earlier in the week we’d visited Dover Castle, and learnt about the story of Thomas Becket, so this was perfect as a follow up.
I did my Midwifery training in Canterbury, and I’ve always loved the city itself, with it’s mix of high street and independent shops, historic buildings and cobbled side streets, plus the impressive cathedral building. Parking is limited in the city centre, it’s best to take one of the park and ride services in – the kids loved taking the bus. This old fashioned sweet shop was amazing – wish we could really have giant sweets!
We had a pre-booked time, which had been organised for us. If you’re thinking of going, I highly recommend booking before you go. When we were there, there were lots of people walking in to try and get a tour and being told it would be a few hours wait. You can also save on booking two different attractions. The cathedral is free to look around. I loved the look of the outside of the building which houses the canterbury tales exhibition, with it’s colourful flags waving in the breeze. It’s based on the famous Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, and takes you through the five characters and tales taken from the book. It culminates in the shrine to St Thomas Becket.
On the inside, the historical feel prevailed, and there were outfits to dress up in. Phoebe jumped straight in, but William has always hated dressing up! He liked the swords and armour though. Phoebe wore a knight’s costume and they are allowed to keep it on throughout the tour. You are given a telephone audio guide and a person in historical costume takes you through. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside, so I’ll do my best to describe it. The detail was amazing, you really feel transported. It could do with being a little longer, and maybe some sort of workshop for the children, or making it more interactive.
You don’t need the audio for the first bit, the guide talks to you and takes you round. You go through a red velvet curtain and step back in time. There are smells and sights all around you that attack the senses. The children were nervous, but we reassured them. You are transported into the world of the pilgrims in a tavern, and introduced to all the characters. It’s dark, but not too dark that it’s scary. Each group is made up of around ten people.
The guide then leaves, and you start the audio tour. Each character has a tale to tell, and the scenery and lighting change according to the story. Different areas light up and animate as you go along. There is some seating available, but you need to be able to stand for the duration. There is wheelchair access, and a hearing loop available, but if you have more than one wheelchair user in your party it may be difficult. If you have accessibility issues, it’s best to call before visiting.
As the audio tour started, some of it was quite lewd and I was a bit worried that the children wouldn’t understand what was going on and it would make for some awkward questions later – we then discovered that the kids audio was different to the adults! One of the stories went on a bit but on the whole they were very entertaining and historically accurate. The tour lasts around half an hour, and then you’re into the shop. They sell some interesting bits and bobs, the swords were popular and we found out the history of our family name.
We were due to visit the medieval gardens that was available over the school holidays, but they were short staffed that day and we couldn’t see it. They did offer for me to come again another day when it was open, which I may do at some point. It’s definitely for older children, at least four years old I’d say, but they may be scared of the dark bits.
Let me know if you go, or if you’ve been and what you thought.
Disclosure: we were gifted the entry fee for the family for this review, all opinions are my own.