Friday, 6 February 2009

Second Time Around

It's mid-afternoon and I'm walking through Canterbury town centre.

One of the odd features of trade plating is that you might go nowhere near a particular city for months or even years at a time, and then suddenly find yourself in the same part of it twice in quick succession.

I was in Canterbury last week, dropping a car off at a dealership on the Sturry Road. Today I've dropped another car off at a different dealership on the same road, and now have to collect a company car (a mercedes no less) from an estate agents near the castle. Before last week I can't remember the last time I was here.

Canterbury is littered with history, from the crumbling castle to the roman walls to the venerable cathedral where 'meddlesome priest' Thomas Becket met his end.

In the pedestrianised town centre the streets are narrow and the tall old buildings on either side seem to lean forward, carrying in the sounds of people in the surrounding streets, like the quiet background babble in a crowded cinema before the film starts, making the place seem busier than it really is on this cold afternoon.

I lose my bearings and end up taking a more circuitous route than I had intended, via the city walls. At one point along them there is a steep grassy hill, clearly man-made, which stands tall even compared to the high walls. I passed it last week and noticed from an information board that it was called the 'Dane John Mound', but I was hurrying for a train and didn't have time to read the rest.

But today I am in no rush and decide to stop for a minute and find out who Dane John was. The answer, it turns out, is that he was no-one at all.

The hill is a burial mound dating back to the first or second century. When the Romans built the wall around the town the mound was still significant enough to be incorporated into its defences. It is believed that 'Dane John' is a corruption of the french word 'donjon' meaning castle keep.

It seems strange to think that beneath here may still lie the remains of someone who was once important enough to have this mound built in their honour, but whose name is now forgotten, supplanted by a name that is not really a name at all.

dane john mound