Reculver towers, Kent
Reculver towers, Kent

Oliver Gilkes & Dr Simon Elliott On Their Return To Travel

We've been missing travel here in the Andante office, so when our Behind the Scenes in Roman Kent tour was able to depart in early June we were absolutely delighted – as were the tour's Guide Lecturers, Dr Simon Elliott and Oliver Gilkes. 

What Dr Simon Elliott thought of the departure

As with many people, I really missed being able to meet friends through the various lockdowns over the past year as we all navigated our way through the most challenging of times in the shadow of the Covid pandemic. In particular, I really missed Guide Lecturing for all of our fabulous clients at Andante Travels in many of the world’s most wonderful archaeological and historical sites. You can therefore imagine how joyous it was to recently lead Andante’s first tour of 2021, especially because it was a tour close to my own heart which takes in the key Roman sites in lovely Kent where I live.

‘Behind the Scenes in Roman Kent’ is a tour I worked with Andante to develop a year ago, and should first have run in 2020, but for obvious reasons didn’t! For Andante customers with a passion for Roman Britain it is a must-see tour given Kent formed the vital link between the often-wayward province of Britannia and the continental Empire. Roman Kent was not only densely populated but also featured a strong military presence, all reflected in this tour which takes in many of the key sites including the Saxon Shore forts at Reculver (Roman Regulbium) and Richborough (Roman Rutupiae), the latter one of the most powerful places in Roman Britain given it marked the place where (in my opinion) much of the AD 43 Roman invasion took place but also where one of the last coin hoards here was found dating to the early 5th century AD. The tour also explores the Classis Britannica fort and naval base at Dover (Roman Dubris), later another Saxon Shore fort and the location of two pharos lighthouses, and Canterbury (Roman Durovernum Cantiacorum) where in the tour local experts give us great insight into the regional Roman capital. Along the way the tour also visits other sites of local interest, for example St Augustine’s Cross.

You can imagine my excitement as the day dawned to travel to Canterbury for our tour in early June. Even the usual mixed British weather improved to the point where sun cream was needed from Saturday afternoon onwards! Further, given the existing Covid restrictions on numbers indoors (for example at dinner), I was joined as a fellow Guide Lecturer by my friend and leading Andante Travels guide Oliver Gilkes. An A Team indeed, ready to overcome all obstacles!

In the event, happily there was no need to worry about anything. We spent our two nights at a wonderful hotel in Canterbury, our base as we headed out across Roman Kent. All of our guests were so enthusiastic about not only the sites we visited, and the talks to accompany them, but also simply by being out and about and able to do what we all love. Everyone was very responsible when it came to wearing masks as appropriate, taking temperature checks each day and so on, and I am happy to say that all began and ended the tour in the best of health. Indeed, their spirits were fortified by once more being out on road of archaeological investigation. All of our feedback has been wonderful, and I can’t wait to lead the tour again in September, and three times next year. Meanwhile, in October the Roman Bay of Naples with Andante Travels awaits… what a fabulous prospect to look forward to!

A guest on the tour:

"My fourth trip with Oliver. He is excellent, very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. Simon Elliott was interesting, excellent, knowledgeable and very friendly and helpful too. My first tour with him but will definitely book with him again too. The Dream Team!"


View our Behind the Scenes in Roman Kent tour

Oliver Gilkes shares his recent tour experience

The 'Garden of England' is also the place traditionally reserved for invasions. From the beach where Caesar's standard bearer flung himself into the surf, to 'Hellfire Corner' of the Second World War, Kent is an intensely fought-over tract of the island 'set in a shining sea'. With Simon Elliott and, for Canterbury, Andrew Richardson of the CAT to guide us we explored forts, cities and the Kentish countryside.
Highlights were undoubtedly the very overawing (without doubt the effect it was intended to project) castle at Dover with its unique Roman lighthouse. Shame on me I have not seen this before, as it is a unique survival standing five stories high. At Richborough one could see the whole history of Roman Britain laid out before us, from the ditches of Emperor Claudius' beachhead, through the great triumphal arch (probably the largest in the Roman world), to the fort erected by Carausius the self-made emperor who tried to lever Britain away from the empire, in what has been described as the first Brexit! 
An unexpected highlight occurred when a wrong turn by our driver gave us a full on panorama of Pegwell Bay, with beach and chalk cliff, now known to be one of Caesar's landing places. Overall, in two-and-a-bit days, we got a really good grounding in the background and aftermath of Roman Britain. There was even time to visit St. Augustine's cross, which marks the spot where the emissary of Pope Gregory the Great met King Aethelberht of Kent to begin the conversion of the heathen English. 
Nice weather and a comfy convenient hotel in Canterbury made this a fun and memorable first excursion. We all followed the social distancing guidelines and so mostly did everyone else. If you fancy an introduction to Roman Kent, this is a good place to begin!

Another guest from the tour:

"Many thanks Simon, and in particular thank you for making it such a great weekend. Your enthusiasm and knowledge really added to this feeling like a full Andante holiday, despite the brevity."


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Oliver Gilkes & Dr Simon Elliott On Their Return To Travel was published on 21 June 2021