Your first view of Canterbury, if you arrive by train, may seem a little depressing: the station sits next to a dual carriageway choked with traffic, and what little you can see of the city looks gloomy and unattractive.
And yet, after London, Canterbury is currently the most visited city in the country; it's probably been on every tourist's hit-list since Chaucer's infamous day trippers pitched up. Although remarkably unspoilt, Canterbury feels plastic and the majority of the shops are there to serve the tourist trade. The high street, which is closed to traffic, must be one of the prettiest in the country and the views down the side streets are definitely picture postcard material, but this only emphasises the city's Disney-esque ambience. Several American tourists were heard to gasp "quaint" and "cute" with fevered awe as they trailed along St Margaret's street and into Mercery Lane.
The overwhelming impression is of a village not a city, so it is a surprise to stumble across Debenhams, and Boots skulking next to the Cathedral precinct. They are, however, almost unrecognisable having been denied their corporate colours in the name of heritage. C&A, Clarks, Principles, Mothercare, Miss Selfridge and Topshop are all there too, but these highstreet heavies have been corralled in shopping centres like Longmarket and The Marlow Arcade which crouch discreetly on the main thoroughfares, out of the range of the tourist camera.
Canterbury is perfect for the shopper with a consience: take a quick tour of the cathedral, or better still organise your trip to coincide with the Canterbury Festival, and you can convince yourself that the true purpose of your visit was cultural, and the shopping merely incidental.
Don't waste time on shops you can visit in any other city, it's far better to have a quick wander round the local one-offs.
46-47 High Street (01227-456 755)
Every City has its 'Nasons' - the local department store that failed to keep up with the times. Take the escalator up to the first floor and step into furniture hell: the Sliderobe display which proclaims itself to be the last word in "Luxury fitted wardrobes", and leather sofas which look like enormous cowpats. The undulating floors in the basement give the place a curious charm, but the proliferation of nick-nacks and gawdy gee jaws will soon drive you out to the safety of the High Street.
In addition to the standard highstreet clothing outlets there are two boutiques selling upmarket labels, and plenty of good secondhand shops stuffed with covetable leftovers from the 50s, 60s and 70s.
22 Sun Street (O1227-763 736)
This shop sells a good selection of Ghost, In Wear and Sara Sturgeon. A bargain basket in the corner contained a couple of slip dresses in Prada- esque fabrics for pounds 22, and a brown silk shirt by In Wear for pounds 17. There is also a basket of toys to occupy grizzling children.
32 Palace Street (01227-769 315)
Stock is chosen for its wearability, the emphasis being on understated chic. Along with the big names like Cerruti and John Rocha, there are a number of lesser knowns such as two French labels, Tehen and Philippe Adec, and beautiful knitwear by young Scottish designer, Sara Duncan. There is also a good Marina Rinaldi range which goes up to size 20.
TT Clothing Co
46 Palace Street (01227-781 720)
Very well priced second hand clothes in good nick. Chinese dresses, pounds 38- pounds 78, leopard skin coats, pounds 38 and bright feather boas, pounds 15. Masses of suede jackets and funky 70s stripey skinny rib tops. Plenty of mirrors so you can shimmy into whtever takes your fancy without having to wait for a changing room.
25 Palace Street (01227-787 899)
Fantastic selection of army surplus gear, khaki T-shirts with white stars pounds 5.99, old army boots start at around pounds 25 and faded boiler suits pounds 6.00. Green, standard issue army shirts start at pounds 2.99 and trousers from pounds 11.99. A full guardsman's uniform pounds 75 and Second World War leather jerkins with blanket linings are a bargain at pounds 29.99 as long as you're built like a house, enormous seemed to be the only size available.
Phase Eight Clearance Shop
11 Butchery Lane (01227-786 581) Excellent reductions on last season's leftovers, seconds and returned stock. Chunky knitted sweaters in burnt orange and navy, with tiny, easily repaired faults are a snip at pounds 20, but will set you back pounds 39.99 if you buy them from other Phase Eight stores. There is always a good selection of skirts, dresses, jackets and suits whatever the season.
You will find the highest concentration of antique shops along Palace Street, known locally as the King's Mile, because its mix of up-market clothes shops and antique shops is reminiscent of London's King's Road. The tourist office on St Margaret's Street has an Antiques Trail leaflet which will guide you there.
Conquest House Antiques
17 Palace Street, (01227-464 587)
This is the largest of Canterbury's antique shops and has the most spectacular premises: the main hall complete with pilgrims gallery dates back to the 14th-century and sits on a Norman undercroft which was built in 1080; the front building is, in manager Bill Horn's words "quite a modern addition" having only gone up in 1620. Mr Horn is only too pleased to tell visitors about the shop's rich history: rumour has it that the four knights who killed Thomas a Beckett slept here on December 27th 1170, the night before the murder. Bloody tales aside, Conquest House has a good selection of Georgian and Victorian furniture.
9 The Borough, (01227-451 968)
Although not included on the Antiques trail, Saracen's Lantern is worth a visit. They currently have a good selection of Victorian ink wells, pounds 10-pounds 180 and lots of corkscrews, pounds 8-pounds 58. Glass-fronted cabinets and shelves are laden with china, glass, small silverware, Sheffield plate, tea caddies and curios from the mid 19th-century through to the 1930s. A tiny back room is packed with books.
The Chaucer Bookshop
6 Beer Cart Lane (O1227-453 912)
Like all good second-hand book shops, this is browser-friendly. You get a warm welcome as you come in and are then left to trawl the shelves at your leisure. A good selection of local history books.
66 Northgate (01227-452 371)
The walls of this tiny shop are covered with old bookplates, rescued from the flyleafs and covers of books brought in for re-binding and restoration work. The workshops, where books and magazines are being bound, can be spied through an archway at the back. Students come here to have their theses and dissertations bound.
accessories & gifts
Quite how the good citizens of Canterbury manage to sustain even one shop devoted to highly scented, crudely carved novelty candles is a mystery; yet this mini city boasts a candle emporium on almost every corner.
Claremont & May
2 Palace Street (01227-764 507)
This is the place to go if you must indulge in floating candles. Here you can buy bags of glass beads, large glass bowls and all manner of smelly, flower-shaped night-lights. They also stock loads of potpourri: pick and mix your own, pounds 1.45 and pounds 2.45.
The Bead Bazaar
13 Orange Street, (01227-458 080)
Hidden at the bottom of Orange street, Julia Knowles reckons that not many local people are aware her shop's existence, although it has been doing brisk business for a little over a year. Customers buy beads for their own creations, while others select them for Julia to make up. Julia also offers a re-stringing service, a single string of knotted pearls will cost about pounds 10.
Christina & Co
20 Orange Street, (01227-765 301)
Upstairs at Christina & Co it's always Christmas, trees are laden with decorations and shelves and tables display festive nick-nacks. Downstairs is a specialist gift shop aimed at the collectors' market. Here you can find limited edition teddy bears, the Little Souls range of porcelain collectors dolls from America (pounds 150-pounds 350), and the Lizzy High range of wooden dolls. Customers are Christmas addicts, people searching for Christening presents and collectors.
The Merchant Chandler
4-6 Orange Street (01227-762 644)
Many of the customers appeared to be students buying up cheap and cheerful rag rugs (pounds 9.99), bed spreads (pounds 16.99) and cushions (pounds 4.99), presumably to transform dull digs. The back of the shop is devoted to baskets in every conceivable shape and size and at the front there is a candle section in keeping with the local obsession.
food & drink
16 The Borough, 01227-472 288
A cheery brightly lit organic and vegetarian warehouse stocked with plenty to keep even meat eaters happy. A wide range rice includes Thai Scented (pounds 1.98 per Kg) and Japanese (pounds 2.50 per Kg). Loads of dried fruit and large sacks of nuts. Several shelves are devoted to fair trade goods and the fridge is filled with Cheatin' chicken and Veggie Pastrami.
Canterbury Draft Beer Shop
83 Northgate, 01227-472 288
Martyn Hillier's shrine to beer is the only place in South East Kent selling beer as you might drink it in the pub, draft, that is - straight from the barrel and into the bottle. A pint of Fullers ESB will cost a mere pounds 1.49 from Hillier, and somewhere between pounds 2.20 and pounds 2.50 in a local pub. In addition to the two-five draft beers available, Hiller stocks around 200 different bottled beers from the UK, Belgium, Germany and South Africa. Adventurous non-beer drinkers should try a little something from one of the local vineyards: Staple St James pounds 4.79 or Chilham pounds 3.99.
Culpepper Herbs and Spices
St Margaret's Street (O1227-451121)
Culpepper, well known for its wide range of herbal remedies, bath oils and soaps, is also a good source of culinary herbs and spices: cinnamon sticks are 60p a bundle, and packets of nutmegs, 50p. Four different types of real vanilla extract - Indonesian, Tahitian, Mexican and Madagascan - are recent additions. Best buys for foodies are the fantastic curry kits which include a new ginger and honey sauce, and can be made to order. On the aromatherapy front pounds l8.50 will buy you an aroma fan and two essential oils. Various oils are too expensive to have on display. Rose oil, for example, costs a cool pounds 145 for 14ml. The price reflects the fact that you need 30 rose heads to make one drop of oil.
Adams & Adams
Palace Street, 01227-786 288
The air in this tiny tobacconist is heavy with unexpected scents: black cherry, cherry vanilla and Coffee caramel. These heady smells waft from a cabinet filled with jars of flavoured tobacco (pounds 3.60 for 25g). Good selection of American cigarettes and some handmade pipes.
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