Last year we borrowed a copy of ‘Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams’ from our local library. The boys were hooked by the mixture of great stories and earthy humour, so we were very excited to have the chance to visit The Canterbury Tales visitor attraction this week as part of the launch of a new feature, the Medieval Story Garden.
I’m sure everyone will know the basic idea of the book, but just in case you have forgotten, The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories told by fictional pilgrims to entertain themselves on the road to Canterbury Cathedral. Geoffrey Chaucer set it in his own time when, to ensure swift passage into heaven, it was considered wise to clean your slate of sins by doing good deeds such as visiting holy sites. It was a highly unusual book because it was written in English at a time when writing was only produced in either Latin or French.
At the Canterbury Tales you join a small group of fellow pilgrims to take a journey around a beautifully restored church in which medieval streets have been lovingly recreated. A costumed guide helps start you on your way as you discover the world of Geoffrey Chaucer. With the aid of a hand held listening device (programmed to be for either an adult or a child, and with your own language of preference) plus audio-visual elements and moving scenery you experience five of Chaucer’s pilgrim’s tales.
The kids were enthralled by being immersed into a world of narrow streets with overhanging building, gloomy taverns, a woodland glade, and a hostel where visitors would sleep five to a bed. Their favourite part (being young boys and therefore having a distinctly medieval sense of humour) was the decidedly cheeky part of the Millar’s Tale which had made them laugh when we read the book, and which was the main thing they asked after on being told we would be visiting today.
It was interesting to note that although Ollie has in the past been upset by the atmosphere and sound effects in other attractions (notably one of the caves at Cheddar Gorge, and also the Mary Rose experience where he had to rush through with his hands over his ears) he was comfortable in the Canterbury Tales, so the sound effects in the Canterbury Tales were well thought out so as to be loud enough to hear but without being distressing.
The tour ended in the recreated tomb of murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket where a costumed guide told of how and why he met his grisly end and a few years later was made a Saint
The guides were excellent, dressed in period costumes and with very engaging mannerisms that drew our group in to feel we were truly part of the fictional pilgrimage. The stories were well chosen to be entertaining, memorable and diverse, and the pace of the storytelling was spot on to keep the children interested. Upon finishing the tour, we exited through a temptingly stocked gift shop.
In the past this would have been the end of the visit, but new for this season we could go back around the building, past the front door, and into a great little place called the Medieval Story Garden.
A knowledgeable costumed guide (who happens to be a Medieval reenactor, so perfect for this job) taught the kids to fight with
a sword and shield in the Knight’s School underneath a spreading Yew tree. They learned the basics of sword fighting, plus how to use a shield for both attack and defence.
This was followed by a fun activity working out medieval cures in the apothecary ‘s garden area. I think the boys had worms and therefore would require a purge. They may be resistant to this ‘cure’.
Then came our favourite part, a family maypole dancing session that saw us prancing and giggling as we got in a tangle with
another family around a maypole set out in front of the storytelling tent. The Story Garden will have these activities available between Monday 3rd and Friday 14th April 2017 from 11am to 3pm, followed by a calendar of further events running during the other school holidays.
Even if you haven’t looked at the Canterbury Tales stories with your kids, this is an unmissable introduction to Geoffrey Chaucer and his writing, and superb insight into the sights and sounds (and but thankfully not too many of the smells) of London and Canterbury in the Middle Ages, and I would highly recommend it as a place you shouldn’t miss as part of any day out to the historic town of Canterbury.
Notes: we received free entry into the venue in exchange for a fair and honest review of the attraction, all images and opinions are my own. The venue has toilets at the entrance and a well stocked gift shop at the exit. There are steps and stairs inside the venue and fairly narrow passages, but there are lifts to enable wheelchair users to enjoy the venue, full accessibility info here. The building in which the Canterbury Tales is housed ceased being used as a church after sustaining damage during WW2 (now repaired), and the Story Garden is set in it’s peaceful former cemetery. Tickets with a time slot can be booked in advance for the main attraction, which is useful at busy times if you want to avoid queuing. The events being held in the Medieval Story Garden are listed here, and are including at no extra charge with a ticket to the main attraction.