• Start: Church of St George the Martyr
  • End: Church of St George the Martyr
  • Country: England
  • County: Kent
  • Type: Country
  • Nearest pub:
  • Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer 150
  • Difficulty: Medium
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Join us on a walk around Christopher Marlowe's Canterbury, where the poet's star still burns brightly in the city of his birth more than 400 years after his death Words by Kelly Law pictures by Jon Miller

Walk of the month: Canterbury

Join us on a walk around Christopher Marlowes Canterbury, where the poets star still burns brightly in the city of his birth more than 400 years after his death


Location: Canterbury, Wincheap Park and Ride CT1 3TQ, New Dover Road Park and Ride CT1 3EL

Distance: 1.6 miles (2.6km)

OS Explorer Map: 150

Terrain: mainly pavement around the city centre

Step count: approx 3,700

Our walk this month celebrates the playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe, who was born in Canterbury in 1564. His groundbreaking use of blank verse and dynamic plotlines paved the way for William Shakespeare, yet he is remembered also for his roistering lifestyle, a heady mixture of scandal, religion, and espionage.

Based around the centre of Canterbury, this walk is easy to access and can make a lovely day out in the winter months. After your walk, why not enjoy a spot of shopping and relax in one of the citys great pubs or eateries?

Our journey starts at what remains of the Church of St George the Martyr, where Christopher Marlowe was baptised in February 1564. His parents John and Catherine were also married here in 1561, a union that lasted nearly 44 years until their deaths in 1605. Close by you cannot help but notice the imposing stature of Fenwick department store. It is believed the Marlowe family home once stood here.

At the time of Marlowes birth, Canterbury was a small town of about 700 households, with wooden framed buildings like the Sun Inn. This was once the home of Marlowes contemporary from the Kings School, the writer John Lyly.

When he was 14, Marlowe became a Kings Scholar, one of fifty boys both destitute of the help of friends and endowed with mind apt for learning. The school is housed in the Cathedral grounds, as are the Cathedral archives that hold several documents relating to Marlowes time spent in the area.

At the age of 16, Marlowe won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge becoming Bachelor of the Arts in 1584. His time at Kings is commemorated by a plaque in the grounds.

On the main High Street you may notice a building adorned with elaborate plasterwork; this was the focus of great excitement in 1573 when Queen Elizabeth stayed here for several days, including her birthday, which was celebrated with a feast at the Archbishops Palace.

Christopher Marlowe would have then been nine years old and the pageantry and majesty of the Queens visit would later provide inspiration for scenes of lavish wealth and power in his play Tamburlaine the Great.

The Queen would touch Marlowes life once again when he was recruited by the English secret service while a student at Corpus Christi College. As your walk continues around this bustling city take time to relax at the Greyfriars and walk around the Franciscan Garden, a peaceful, hidden oasis in the centre of the city.

The 16th century was a dangerous time in England. People could be executed for holding religious beliefs that were not in line with the governments views. Marlowe was arrested in 1593 but later released on bail when government informers claimed he had been converting people to atheism and making jokes about the bible.

Nearing the end of this walk you will happen upon Mercery Lane. Here the vast Chequers and Hope Inn stretched 90 metres from the corner of the Lane. Built to make money from the influx of visitors to the city, the ground floor was like a marketplace with small shop units and the two floors above contained rooms for visiting pilgrims.

On Friday 15 September 1592 on a visit home to Canterbury, Marlowe was involved in an altercation in Mercery Lane where he is said to have attacked a tailor with a staff and dagger.

On 30 May 1593 in Deptford, Marlowe is said to have met his demise. After spending the day with three fellow government agents, an argument broke out and one of the men; Ingram Fraser stabbed Marlowe in self defence.

However some people believe Marlowe didnt die in Deptford and that, aided by powerful friends; he fled the country and lived in exile on the continent. Here, it is said, he kept writing plays that were sent back to be published. It has been suggested that Shakespeares sonnets are a cryptic account of Marlowes life in exile.

Whatever the truth behind the events in Deptford, no one can question Marlowes incredible impact on Elizabethan drama and his legacy to the English language.

This walk is one of two new literary circular walks produced by Kent Libraries and Archives in association with Explore Kent. The other walk follows the life of Jane Austen in Tonbridge. To order a copy or to find more free walks in Kent, 08458 247600.

Wildlife Watch

The outlines of bare trees in the winter landscape are a distinctive feature of a December walk in Kent, but high up in the branches you may see a ball of green vegetation. This is likely to be mistletoe, a sure sign of the season and a fascinating 'semi-parasitic' plant. This means that the mistletoe will take water and sustenance from the tree, but will also create its own food through sunlight, like other green plants.

Tall thin poplar trees are a feature of our countryside and this is a preferred host for mistletoe, along with limes, willows and hawthorn.

Mistletoe has male and female plants, both have green flowers from December to March, but it is the female plant which has sticky white berries in December; shunned by many birds, but the favourite food of the mistle thrush of course!

Christmas traditions mean that this species is popular at parties and events, but mistletoe is a threatened species and harvesting from the wild is not encouraged.

What else to look out for in December

Marsh Harriers were once a rarity in Kent, now they are a regular sight on the North Kent Marshes; small numbers breed, but in winter the numbers swell with migrants from Europe. They can be seen well from Capel Fleet Raptor View Point on The Isle of Sheppey, where 30-50 birds may be seen at dusk as they gather to roost.

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