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Tales of unexpected; There are stories everywhere in Canterbury, including the bloody murder of archbishop Thomas Becket and those written by Geoffrey Chaucer NEIL MURRAY.

Canterbury has a lot to thank Thomas Becket for.

The murder of the archbishop in the city's cathedral in 1170 - and subsequent canonisation - not only sparked a flood of pilgrims to his shrine for hundreds of years but, centuries later, gives tour guides ample subject matter to keep visitors intrigued and horrified by his demise.

Those pilgrims brought wealth and prosperity to the city until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Today, no guided tour in Canterbury is complete without tales of Becket's rise and slaughter.

Having been brought up on Scottish history, a lot of what I heard in Canterbury was new to me when I visited on a break with my wife Linda.

For example, I discovered that Becket was a great friend of Henry II, who promoted him to Archbishop of Canterbury before the pair fell out.

When four knights interpreted Henry's remark: "Who will rid me if this troublesome priest?" as the thumbs-up to bump off Becket, they made for Canterbury and, following a liquid lunch - so the story goes - sliced off the top of his head.

It turns out being Archbishop of Canterbury is not a safe job. On a guided tour of the cathedral, we heard that five had met their fate in a dastardly way. In the cathedral, which was established in 597AD and has been rebuilt through the years, we were shown a sculpture which marks the spot where Becket met his end and, in the crypt, an Anthony Gormley figure hovers over the area where Becket's first tomb was sited.

The cathedral is Canterbury's main attraction and we were fortunate to stay in the Cathedral Lodge in its grounds, when a cancellation moved us in from the annexe.

As well being one of the best locations in the city, the Lodge has a garden overlooking the cathedral, which, in warmer times, must be a calming and peaceful place to relax.

As well as free entrance to the cathedral and a discount in the cathedral gift shop, Lodge guests get money off meals in selected restaurants in the city. At the Cafe des Amis, we ate one of the best Mexican meals we've ever had (Spicy Pulled Pork Enchilladas and Pollo Verde) in a terrific relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

But it was a 50million-year-old fish head that was the first thing I saw on a visit to the Canterbury Heritage Museum, situated in what was a former medieval hospital for poor, sick and retired priests.

The museum follows Canterbury's history through the ages, with pictures of how it might have looked under Roman rule, with Georgian, Victorian and WWI exhibits, a Medieval Discovery Gallery and a 60ft-long frieze about Becket.

My highlight was the Rupert the Bear Museum section (creator Mary Tourtel grew up in the city), with drawings, a house and the animated feature Rupert and the Frog Song.

The city's other main claim to fame is the Canterbury Tales and the attraction of the same name highlights five of Chaucer's stories told on a 14th-century pilgrimage from London to Canterbury.

Over the years, excavations and work on buildings have unearthed evidence about the Roman way of life. The Canterbury Roman Museum recreates Roman street scenes, and tells how post-WWII digs uncovered remains of a Roman town house that had under-floor heating, mosaics and wall paintings.

While a trip to Canterbury can also be used as a base for visiting the coastal resorts of Whitstable and Herne Bay - 15 minutes away by bus - one of the main pleasures in visiting the city is simply strolling around its pedestrianised streets and cobbled lanes.

There is no shortage of pubs, it has countless cafes and coffee houses, and high street names vie for visitors' cash with unique, individual shops such as Hardy's Original Sweetshop and Mod & Rock.

One way or another, you can count on Canterbury for a good time.

Travel info | One night B&B at the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge (www.canterburycathedrallodge.org, 01227 865350) costs from PS75.

| For more information on Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay, log on to www.canterbury.co.uk

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GRAND Artist's view of Roman Canterbury

ECLECTIC One of the unusual shops

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 15, 2016
Words:708
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