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Spotlight on: Canterbury

PUBLISHED: 07:54 04 December 2015 | UPDATED: 07:54 04 December 2015

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Canterbury is a World Heritage Site, a tourist attraction and a shopper’s paradise.

There are many historic landmarks in Kent but this historic and beautiful city can boast a little more than the others. Like Stonehenge and the Tower of London, Canterbury is so significant that parts of it have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Once a Roman stronghold, the remains of Britain’s largest Roman theatre now lie some 12 feet beneath ground level. But it is not what brought fame to this little patch of Kent.

Canterbury is where, during the seventh century, St Augustine and his followers began to spread the Gospel throughout the country, becoming the birthplace of English Christianity.

Among the narrow, rambling lanes, the ancient city walls and the cobbled streets, this rich history surrounds the millions of visitors who flock to the county’s premier tourist destination each year.

In parts it’s almost unchanged from when millions of medieval pilgrims travelled to the cathedral where Thomas Becket was martyred in 1170. But while tourists still visit the magnificent cathedral, which dates back nearly 1,000 years, and still learn about the pilgrims at attractions including The Canterbury Tales (www.canterburytales.org.uk) - which was given a £20,000 refurbishment earlier this year - and Eastbridge Hospital (www.eastbridgehospital.org.uk), these days it is not the only reason they come.

Canterbury now offers some of the very best shopping in the county and some of the finest and most interesting places to eat and drink.

Christmas in Canterbury

Packed with visitors at any time of year, Canterbury really comes into its own at Christmas when traditions like the St Nicholas Parade and the open-air Lord Mayor’s Charity Christmas Carol Service mix with newer attractions like the Christmas markets at Whitefriars Square.

And where better a place in which to do your Christmas shopping? With every brand you could imagine at Whitefriars Shopping Centre and the High Street, and a warren of superb independent shops in the King’s Mile area, there is everything the discerning shopper could ask for. As Bob Jones of Canterbury Business Improvement District says: “We have great shopping in Canterbury, from global brands to unique independent traders, great eating and drinking with an amazing range of coffee houses, pubs and places to eat.

“We have marvellous Christmas days and nights out with Marlowe Theatre’s pantomime, the Whitefriars Santa’s Grotto and Christmas market and Christmas events across the city from The Canterbury Tales and the Beaney to the Saint Nicholas Parade. Canterbury really comes alive at Christmas.”

Shopping and eating

Dining possibilities are almost endless, but some to try include Ambrette (01227 200777), fronted by Kent Life and Kent on Sunday’s Chef of the Year Dev Biswal, Deeson’s (01227 767854), Oscar & Bentleys (01227 454544), Dems (01227 769018), and Café 22 (01227 479500).

When it comes to shops there is everything from a huge Fenwick department store, plus Tiger and Primark in Whitefriars Shopping Centre to every kind of independent shop in the King’s Mile quarter. Top picks include fashion retailer The Clothes Horse, The Bead Pot, the Canterbury Pottery and Canterbury Glass Art, where you can watch glass animals and jewellery being hand crafted in the glass-fronted studio.

Master jewellery maker, Ortwin Thyssen

Tell us a bit about you

I am German originally. My apprenticeship started in 1987 under a traditional Goldschmiede Meister (master jeweller/goldsmith) in Muenster, Germany, and my jewellery design degree finished in 1996 in Duesseldorf, Germany.

Then 17 years ago I moved to England with my family for the adventure. I had been to Canterbury as a teenager and had not forgotten how beautiful it is. I opened the shop and workshop in 2006, so we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary next year. We are now a team of seven people.

What do you specialise in?

Our specialty is our Mokume Gane jewellery - fusions of different colour gold alloys and platinum that create unique and wonderfully natural patterns. This rare and complex Japanese technique gives every piece its own DNA.

Everything is made by us here at the bench in our workshop on site. I am fascinated by unusual gemstones and naturally coloured diamonds. Because of the way we work the pieces it creates our own handwriting in characteristic curves, colours and contrasts.

What makes King’s Mile special?

The King’s Mile of Canterbury is a lovely line of independent and international shops, pubs and restaurants. In the historic buildings you will find a number of creative people making, cooking and selling all sorts of unique things.

There’s everything from a fine art gallery to a tailor, a bookbinder, unique fashion and, of course, jewellery. It’s a haven to anyone seeking the taste and feel of the real Canterbury.

Why come to Canterbury for Christmas shopping?

It is possible to buy generic things online and you can even nowadays do so on your mobile. But when it comes to exiting and unexpected things, people always want to connect with all their senses and ideally talk to the human being who has made the piece to value the experience.

Canterbury offers so much authentic, historic, quirky, inspiration for all ages. Coming to Canterbury is a special way of enjoying Christmas. You can come past our shop window display and see our miniature nativity scene made from gold and platinum in a walnut-shell and round the corner visit the life-size nativity display in the Cathedral grounds.

● Ortwin’s shop is in Palace Street (CT1 2DY) or visit the website at www.jewellery-maker.co.uk

Westgate Towers

Following a £500,000 transformation, the iconic Westgate Towers is enjoying a new lease of life as part of a new museum, event venue, upmarket bar and café. The medieval gatehouse, a Grade I listed monument dating back to 1380, is part of the city walls and the last surviving gate of Canterbury’s original seven. The entire riverside site, including the gatehouse and the former gaol and police station beside it, has been redeveloped to become One Pound Lane which incorporates The Pound Bar & Kitchen, The Guard Chamber events space and Westgate Towers Museum & Viewpoint. Visitors can explore the rich history of Westgate Towers and take in the spectacular views of the city from the battlements.

The University of Kent turns 50

It’s been an outstanding year for the University of Kent. Having celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, it has been ranked as one of the best universities in the country by The Times and The Guardian, and as one of the best in the world in the QS World University Rankings.

This success comes after its 50th Festival, which was held in September and was attended by more than 1,500 alumni and friends worldwide, as well as current staff, students and members of the local community.

From a university started with some 500 students and 150 staff on a greenfield site in Canterbury, the University of Kent has grown today into an institution with more than 19,000 students and 3,000 staff.

With campuses now at Canterbury and Medway and centres in Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome, Kent is known today as ‘the UK’s European university’.

The Lord Mayor’s Christmas Gift Fund

Set up in 1952, the Lord Mayor of Canterbury’s Christmas Gift Fund was first suggested by members of the business community, who approached the then Mayor with the idea to give parcels to the elderly and needy at Christmas. In that first year the appeal raised between £200 and £300. This year the Christmas Gift Fund Committee aims to raise £15,000.

As part of the fundraising, the charity runs the annual Lord Mayor’s Charity Christmas Carol Service, held each Christmas Eve in the open air in Canterbury city centre. This event is presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury and attracts thousands to welcome in Christmas in Canterbury.

Last year funds raised during the evening exceeded £4,000 and around 3,500 people filled Rose Square to sing traditional Christmas songs, as well as the city’s very own version of Jingle Bells, accompanied by the Canterbury Salvation Army band.

Events

27 November - 10 January: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, starring Rita Simons from EastEnders and CBeebies star Phil Gallagher (Mister Maker). Call 01227 787787 or visit www.marlowetheatre.com for tickets

5 December: St Nicholas Parade through the city to the cathedral, beginning at 12 noon at Westgate Hall

5-24 December: new Santa’s Grotto experience at Whitefriars Square. Booking advised at www.whitefriars-canterbury.co.uk

8-20 December: Snow Child at the University of Kent’s Gulbenkian Theatre. A magical story suitable for children three years and over. Call 01227 769075 or visit www.gulbenkian.co.uk for bookings.

24 December: the Lord Mayor’s Charity Christmas Carol Service in Rose Square, at 6.15pm

Until 24 December: daily Christmas markets at Whitefriars Square, with more than 35 stalls

Property prices

Canterbury and its surrounding villages are surprisingly affordable considering all they have to offer. Large five/six-bedroom detached properties are available for anything around £850,000, with three-bed semis at between £250,000 and £425,000. Two-bed terraced houses are priced at around £230,000 and you can pick up a one-bedroom apartment for less than £160,000.

Getting there

Canterbury is off the A2/M2 linking London and Dover. The city has good rail connections, via two town centre stations, to Ashford, London and Dover. The city also has a brilliant park and ride scheme; head to sites at New Dover Road (CT1 3EJ), Sturry Road (CT1 1AD) or Ten Perch Road in Wincheap (CT1 3TY) and park for just £3 per car.

Sat nav for city centre: CT1 2TF

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