I looked forward to this tour, comprised of visiting the world’s most romantic castle, seeing France from the top of the beautiful Cliffs of Dover, and walking the cute and historical town of Canterbury.
Unfortunately my day started on the wrong foot. I woke up late; struggled to find my glasses for ten minutes until finally giving up; the female-only showers were under maintenance; the free breakfast croissants were over-done; I was late leaving the hostel. After running to the nearest Tube stop, jumping into tubes while the doors were closing, and running to Victoria Coach Station, I made it to my Evan Evans tour on time. My tour to Leed’s Castle, Cliffs of Dover, and Canterbury was due to depart promptly at 8:45am with check-in at 8:30am. At 9:00am check-in began and we left at 9:15am. My German-esque punctuality got to me and I couldn’t help but think about all the unnecessary running.
Our tour guide Rita was excited and kind, bust mostly rambled. I stopped listening to her spiel ten minutes into the tour. Sorry Rita! Michelangelo, the Italian bus driver drove like, well, an Italian. To my suspicion and confirmed by several other passengers, he ran several red lights. I actually held my breath during several parts of the drive. The unexpected snowfall didn’t help my safety concerns, either.
As we pulled into our first stop’s parking lot, Rita quickly shared everything about Leed’s Castle. Timing is everything, and the timing was not right. We wasted tour time on the parked bus to listen to her five minute spiel about the castle. It was too much information to digest at once and there wasn’t enough time for me to take notes.
By this time, the grass was mostly covered by snow. Although I was looking forward to sunny skies for photographs, the snow complimented the castle and moat even more. Thankfully we were dropped off almost immediately in front of the castle. We began the tour as a group as Rita passed out information brochures and continued to explain parts of the castle. When she finished, we could finally tour on our own.
Leed’s Castle is small in comparison to the other castles in Europe, but it is certainly the most elegant.
It was built by the Normans, as were over 1,000 other castles in the Kingdom, in 1119. The castle passed through many royal hands until Lady Baillie bought it in 1926. The castle was in great disrepair when Lady Baillie bought it and she spent a great many years and fortune renovating it. It was her private residence until her death in 1974. Upon her death, the castle passed on to the private charitable fund she established in order to keep Leed’s Castle a “living” castle and to benefit the public forever.
Although the actual castle is small, the grounds are large. There are gardens, romantic walkways, a maze, falconry demonstrations, and much more. Of course, due to the slightly inclement weather, most of these closed temporarily. A volunteer recommended I check out the special exhibition, but wouldn’t tell me much about it. Intrigued, I quickly headed over to find *drumroll please* a dog collar exhibit. The guide’s unwarranted anticipation led to some disappointment, but considering it was the only other thing to visit during the snow I stuck around. The exhibit’s design was obviously geared towards young children with its large, colorful, and graphic wall designs. As for the actual artifacts and history, dogs wore spiked collars in the Medieval ages and heavily jeweled collars during the Renaissance.
I enjoyed the pond and its swans for the rest of my time.
Cliffs of Dover
Much to my misunderstanding and disappointment, our bus trip did not stop at the White Cliffs of Dover to walk around and explore. We stopped for a quick 10-minute photo break by the town of Dover’s boardwalk. The bus did drive by the cliffs three times. Despite my limited exposure to the cliffs, I was awed by their beauty and shape. A photo stop does not do the cliffs justice. I wish to go back sometime, something I cannot say about the other stops on my London bus tours.
The cliffs are white from chalk. It is finely grained pure limestone created gradually over millions of years. I can’t wait to learn more about their creation!
Although the rest of the tour disappointed me more than it impressed, Canterbury flipped the switch. ‘Surprisingly impressive’ best describes Canterbury.
Rita suggested the group eat at Panteli’s, a small restaurant, on the bus. If we wanted to eat at Panteli’s, Rita took our order and phoned in ahead of time. The hungry group quickly walked to the restaurant and were immediately seated and served. I ordered the impressive fish and chips, my first serving of it ever. The serving size was large and the food extremely delicious. Fish and chips I ate at other locations in London cannot compare to Panteli’s. The meal even came with a cup of coffee and apple cake, all for only 12 pounds. Quality food at a low price — surprisingly impressive.
We then shuffled to the Canterbury Cathedral and it was (surprise!) impressive.
The murder of archbishop Thomas Becket caused Canterbury Cathedral to become a major place of pilgrimage. King Henry II and Thomas Becket enjoyed a great friendship and, when the archbishop position opened, King Henry ensured Thomas Becket got the job. The King believed he could finally have his hand on the Crown and the Church, but this was not so. Thomas Becket took his title very seriously and refused several orders and requests from King Henry, who quickly became frustrated. One day, the King shouted, “Who will rid me of this turbulent Priest?” Four Knights took the King’s cry seriously. They went to the Cathedral in the night and politely asked the archbishop to visit the King. When the archbishop refused, the Knights stormed the Cathedral and martyred him.
Canterbury Cathedral is certainly a beautifully haunting cathedral. I’d call that impressive.
Evan Evans Tours
Although their slogan is, “Britain’s Finest Sightseeing” I can hardly agree.
I booked through Viator, having trusted this company after reading my favorite travel blogger’s fantastic experiences with the company. Viator’s tours are more expensive than Golden Tours’, so I decided to splurge on only one Viator tour. I’m glad I did.
Aside the tour guide’s rambling and bus driver’s unsafe navigating, the advertised bus WiFi was not working. There was also no bathroom on the bus, forcing the group to use limited time from seeing the sights to find a bathroom (this really bothered me, but maybe it shouldn’t).
For calling themselves the finest sightseeing, I didn’t notice anything spectacular about the tour. It was a decent tour, but I wouldn’t say the finest, and certainly not worth $15 more. It should at least include lunch for that price.
Overall, the day turned out better than it started. My favorite part is absolutely the lunch. Oh, yeah, and Canterbury Cathedral…and the Cliffs of Dover…and Leed’s Castle…and seeing snow in the UK…and the fact that I’m in the UK…and currently writing this from my hostel bed in London. So yeah, the tour wasn’t great. But I’m still darn grateful to have this experience.
Have you ever had a sub-average tour?