From Saints and martyrs to Rupert Bear

THE SUNDAY WALK: Canterbury, cradle of Christianity and birthplace of a children's favourite, is in festive mood. By Leigh Hatts

THIS weekend, the two-week Canterbury Festival opens with a programme featuring Humphrey Littleton, Rodney Bewes, Angharad Rees, Ned Sherrin and Rabbi Lionel Blue. This is the 1,400th anniversary of St Augustine's arrival in Kent and this circular walk goes to England's oldest church where Canterbury's famous figures of Augustine, Becket, and Rupert Bear are being honoured during the Festival.

The walk starts at the West Gate, handy for Canterbury West Station. Walk ahead along St Peter's Street. On the left is the Sidney Cooper Centre. A plaque by the door recalls that this was where Mary Tourtel, creator of Rupert Bear, studied art in the 1890s.

Look left by the medieval Weavers restaurant to see a braid of the Stour which flows under the facing Eastbridge Hospital, founded just after Becket's murder. Go left by Boots, which has 13th-century foundations, to walk down narrow Mercery Street with its overhanging houses. Turn right through the square and along Burgate. Beneath St Mary Magdalene Tower is St Thomas's Roman Catholic Church which has both a relic of Thomas a Becket and a vestment worn by the 20th-century martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered in his cathedral in El Salvador. At the end of the road, breach the city walls to cross the main road and head up Church Street towards the now filled in gateway of St Augustine's Abbey. Bear right and left into Langport for a view of the Abbey remains. Continue along the road to pass between the grand entrance to Canterbury Prison and a row of almshouses. Go left with the prison wall up a short road to go through the lychgate of St Martin's Church.

St Martin's, which has a Roman doorway and windows, was built for Queen Bertha who welcomed Augustine. Her husband King Ethelbert, may have been baptised at the font. This year's Festival will climax here when a one act, one man play This Turbulent Priest, about the life and death of Becket, starring Robert McCrea, is performed in the church.

At the back of the church a notice gives directions to the tomb of Mary Tourtel, of Rupert fame. She lies at the top of the churchyard with a view down to the cathedral where her father restored the stained glass, and where as a student she painted a water-colour in the cloisters.

On leaving the churchyard turn right and right again to follow the Stour Valley Walk waymarks. The road climbs and becomes rough. Suddenly a view opens out to the left and down below can be seen the remains of the conduit house which carried water to the Abbey. Turn left down the brick road and left into St Martin's Road towards Christ Church College. Turn right down North Holmes following the wall marking the old boundary of the Abbey precincts. At the bottom the road turns the corner to cross Old Ruttington Lane which offers a dramatic view of the cathedral. At the main Military Road turn left and use the crossing to continue on the far side in order to be able to go right into Broad Street.

At the end turn left along The Burough which at a double bend gives a view of a leaning 17th-century building. Beyond here the road is called Palace Street as it passes the Archbishop of Canterbury's backdoor. On the same side is a plaque on a shop recording Mary Tourtel's birthplace. At the road junction go ahead up Guildhall Street and right along St Peter's Street.

Use OS Explorer 150 Canterbury or the free map from the Tourist Information Centre in St Margaret's Street (01227 766567). The TIC is also hosting Rupert Bear Day events on Saturday 8 November. Canterbury East and West stations are served by Connex trains (01233 617640). Festival details are available on 01227 455600.

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