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Introduction

May 2014.

I've bought a campervan as a 60th birthday present to myself, made some curtains and a patchwork quilt, waved goodbye to my family, and set off. My aim is to explore the coastline of Britain, anti clockwise, starting in Kent. I have no idea what will happen.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Two days with Hebe


Hebe came to stay for the Bank Holiday weekend. We stayed the first night at a campsite at Robin Hood's Bay – a popular seaside resort near Whitby - and were in the family field. (I hadn't booked, and  campsites were full, and expensive.) It was wet but not miserable: there was an all-girls football match (aged about 5 – 14); happy campers squabbling and laughing, putting tents up in the rain; small children getting overtired, their parents getting over-refreshed... while the rain lashed down on the awnings. Lots of dogs, particularly spaniels and shitzus There was certainly enough to keep the keenest people-watcher amused, and Hebe is as good as her mother on that score. We went out and had excellent fish and chips in Whitby.
The next day opened to the strains of Acker Bilk (I promise!) floating out across the site. We walked to Robin Hood's Bay, about half a mile away. It's lovely, a bit Cornish, with narrow streets and stone steps, the tide was out and an ice cream van was busy on the beach. I am sure small children remember a holiday like this, crabbing and rock-pooling, just as fondly as a week in the Mediterranean with all that entails.. Not so warm though.
Beware the mixed seafood tray!
We had crab sandwiches for lunch in the pub in Staithes and earmarked a cottage on the front which we would rent for a perfect family summer holiday. This region is where the 18th century explorer and cartographer Captain James Cook came from. He went to Staithes when he was 16 to work in a shop and it is said that he first became entranced with the sea here. He obviously didn't enjoy shop work. 
Bank Holiday Monday on Scarborough beach was bustling. Deckchairs and picnics, ice-creams and donkey rides,. It's a huge sandy beach and the tide was out, perfect for sandcastles. Vast Victorian hotels look grandly out from the clifftop, and we had a good view from the top of the ferriswheel! I bought a couple of crabs from a van on the front and we thought we'd try a mixed seafood tray – £3, with a little fork. I should have know when I saw the crabsticks - crab, lobster and prawns (they were real, frozen) – that it was reconstituted. Seafood Spam, it all tasted exactly the same with a dollop of Marie Rose sauce.
I felt sad seeing Hebe off on her train from Scarborough, and headed south to Flamborough Head which I had hurried past on my way to meet her two days before. It was wonderful, the sun was out, the car park machine wasn't working, and the sheer white chalk cliffs were teeming with birds – gulls, cormorants, and puffins.
A puffin at Flamborough Head

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Holderness



This is part of Yorkshire's East Riding, its coast running down from Flamborough Head to the north shore of the Humber Estuary. It is renowned for suffering the worst coastal erosion of anywhere in Europe. It's crumbly chalk geology and the battering North Sea have meant as much as a metre per year has gone from some stretches of this coast.
I drove here from Hull through pretty, sleepy villages – Patrington, Welwick and Easington (also home to some vast, shining gas terminals). Marshland until the Middle Ages this is rich agricultural land. I drove aimlessly south off the 'main' road to see Sunk Island (now attached to the mainland), which hangs down into the Humber and is said to be some of the best farmland in Britain. It's very quiet, with endless swathes of arable and a few smart farmhouses with stabling and expensive horseboxes.
Further east Spurn Point (as far east as you can go) is a three-mile sandbar, created by the longshore drift, which curls down into the Humber and is now a nature reserve. It feels miles from anywhere (though it's less than an hour from Hull) and is incredibly bleak. At the Point there is a lighthouse station, some crumbling sea defences, a couple of cottages, and a now defunct black and white lighthouse. I met birdwatchers – this is a haven for migratory birds - who'd seen wood sandpipers, a subalpine warbler and a red-backed shrike.
The edge of the caravan park
A lady who runs the Sandy Beaches Holiday Village at Kilnsea told me about the tidal surge in early December last year when they were flooded out and lost 12 caravans. Others are now perilously close to the edge.
On past the holiday resorts of Withernsea and Hornsea and to Bridlington. I bought crab at the harbour and the lady in the shop was bemoaning the fact that we British don't eat enough shellfish – most of it goes to Europe. She said “Now the Chinese, they eat a lot of whelks.” “You export whelks to china?” I was amazed. “No,” she said, “but when they're here they'll buy the whole lot.”
Remembering a childhood at Spurn Point
I liked Bridlington and it was a sunny day. I looked for a cafe with wifi (but that's another story; one lady said “I don't think you'll get wifi in Brid, Dook!”) so I made a cup of tea in Baa. I had the door open and Lee Majors, the parking enforcement officer, stuck his head in to check I wasn't planning to stay overnight. I wasn't. And it turned out that though born in Bridlington, he had lived at Spurn Point for a couple of years as a boy when his father was a mechanic on the Lifeboat. 
Lee said it was a great place to live if you were 9; there were underground tunnels and guns left over from defending the Humber from the Germans. He had gone on to spend 25 years in the army and had recently returned to Bridlington.
I asked him where David Hockney lived. “He's got a house over there,” he said, pointing. “But he's honestly not here much. He's always saying he'd like the town to be like it used to be... but things change.” I asked what had changed in the time that he had been away. He thought for a moment,  laughed, and said “Nowt!” 

Monday, 26 May 2014

From Norfolk into Lincolnshire


When I left Cromer I dropped in to see Susan Kydd, a friend of a friend I had never met before, who lives in Sheringham. She was so kind; we had a good chat and she gave me tea and biscuits and I had a wonderful Rose Geranium bath.
I felt sad to leave Norfolk with its cosy villages and vast seascapes. The flint buildings stop and brown ones, built from local carr stone, start somewhere around Brancaster. They're not unattractive, but the whole scene changes too. I was creeping round towards Lincolnshire and by King's Lynn the landscape is of huge farms; wide open countryside, flat as a board, the earth a rich, purple-brown.
It had been a long time since I got up to go fishing, and now I was late and didn't know where I would stay. 
I wanted to find a place called Wingland where my great- grandmother's husband (Uncle Sidney) farmed in the 1930s. My mother and aunt had spent happy christmases there as children and said it was 'in the middle of nowhere, right by the Fens'. They were right.
Terrington St Clement is a one man and a dog sort of place, and nothing was stirring at 7pm. I went into a pub to ask if anyone knew where Wingland was. There was an uncomfortable quiet; six or seven people sat at the bar looking into their drinks. A middle-aged man in vest and shorts, with long hair and a baseball cap, pointed to a woman at the end of the bar. “Ask her,” he said. “Do you know where I can find a place called Wingland?” I asked again. She blinked at me and I am not sure if she had something wrong with her or was just the wrong side of too many pints, but I couldn't understand what she said. Towards S? Bridge? Her friend said yes, towards S?? Bridge and to go on the old road, not the new one. “The old road?” I said pathetically. Turn right out of here and keep going. (It was Sutton Bridge.)
The house at Wingland
I had become increasingly tired and apprehensive, and I hadn't seen a campsite for miles. If necessary I would just have to park in a lay-by and lock all the doors, but that vast open landscape, dotted with a few farm buildings and pairs of cottages, made me feel exposed and vulnerable. 
After a couple of miles I saw a sign sticking out of the verge, pointing right...to Wingland! I knew the house was red-bricked and I could see one half a mile away and another to the right a bit further on. (You can see for miles in Lincolnshire.)
I approached the first one, and saw its name – it was Uncle Sidney's house! I drove in and a man in green overalls came across the yard. His family had lived there since 1971 and he knew about Uncle Sidney. His wife came out, and they couldn't have been nicer. What joy! One more favour, please may I park in your farmyard overnight? Yes of course I could. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Crabbing at Cromer



I parked by the lifeboat shed on the beach, so I only had to fall out of bed and I'd be ready to go at 3.30am.. The fishing boats were lined up on the beach, attached to their tractors, ready for the morning
I don't know if it was the supper I had at the Red Lion - half a pint of Polly's Folly with potted crab salad - or just general excitement, and the worry that my alarm might not go off, but I didn't sleep a wink. I thought I would be lulled by the sound of the waves rolling on the beach, but I wasn't. My alarm didn't fail me - it went off at 3.15am, and I made a flask of tea and went outside.
Soon Steve arrived, and young Chris, and they unloaded the new pots and the bait. They had a pair of oilies for me, so I felt quite the part! I watched a couple of boats go out across the faint silver band of wet sand, and could just make out a few gulls on the far side waiting for their breakfast. John arrived, having been to the shop, and I climbed aboard. The tractor pushed the trailer out into the sea and the boat slipped into the water. It was the most beautiful morning with the merest rise in the water. It's a smart catamaran, the Richard William, all kitted out with GPS and radar, named after John's father, a renowned character and fisherman who died four years ago when it was being built. 
I was lucky for my first crabbing trip – the weather was kind, and it wasn't rough. John had asked me a if I was a good sailor and I said “Mmh, not bad..” (with a slight lift in my voice...?) Because it can affect some people, the smell of the diesel.. and the bait.” There was an awful lot of bait, and I did feel pretty queasy at times, when the boat was idling as the pots were lifted, but I looked away to  the horizon, and it soon passed.
It was pretty magical watching the sun rise as the pots were pulled up, with the gulls flying overhead and perching on the stern ready for any discarded bait, and seeing Cromer church rising out of the town as the day got lighter.
Steve on the winch lifted the pots, opened them and passed them to John who tipped them on to table and sorted them (anything that doesn't measure 15cm across walks the ramp and plops back into the sea). John passed the pot to Chris who baited them – with raw fish heads, plaice without their fillets, skate without their wings – and stacked them, ready to go back in. 
The pots are heavy and it's hard work – we (they!) lifted 200 pots. Young Chris wasn't having the best of mornings, and kept being told to hurry up. I sat like Lady Muck, keeping out of the way. “It's hard work isn't it,” I said to John. “I suppose it is,” he said. “but it's what I've always done.” They caught a few lobster too, most of them were too small and went back in, and one enormous (for this area) crab - the biggest Chris (and I) had ever seen.
John told me he hasn't got much education, “All I ever wanted to do was be a fisherman,” he said. He's obviously a good one, and he's a warm, charismatic man, a good talker.  He's also skipper of the main Cromer lifeboat – a vast, multi-million pound vessel which is housed at the end of Cromer Pier, ready to attend any vessel in trouble from Wells to Gt Yarmouth and 100 miles out to sea.
John, me, and Chris, with our biggest catch

Have crabs got brains?” I asked him. (Of course they have, silly me, they can see, and find food, and the ones who've been caught before know how to run up that ramp and back to the sea. ) “I don't really know,” he said, “I suppose they have – but they can't be that clever, if I can catch them!”
We were back soon after 8am, for breakfast at the Lifeboat Cafe. Then I went for a little lie-down.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Camping at East Runton


When I left Cromer I booked in to the Woodhill Park campsite, just next door in East Runton. It's the biggest site I have been in, stretching from the road to the cliff top, with static holiday homes and the 'touring' section. 
My site, 236, had a Ford Sprinter in it (you have to display your number on the dashboard) and so I went to theirs, 232. The Ford Sprinter was very snazzy -  graphite with tinted windows and a '63 plate. I walked across and said they were on my pitch, but not to worry, I'd stay in theirs. Mr Tubby with pork pie straw hat and a wife-beater vest,  looked ready to kill me, whereas his partner was apologetic. They had a golden retriever, almost everyone seemed to have a dog.
I settled in and admit I felt a bit inadequate. These were really professional campers with garden furniture, not just awnings but tenty bits stuck on the same size as the van, and lots of windbreaks.  There was  a little drinks party going on up the row, and just up from me a lady was sitting outside with a glass of white, doing her embroidery - her husband had the bar set up inside and the footie on the tv. There was a very smart Ducatto Escape with two elderly blond ladies, who set off for a walk with their dogs - a yorkie and a poodle. Early evening drinks time had a real buzz - hairdryers blowing, glasses clinking, children playing football, and good cooking smells. The campsite facilities were the best yet - immaculate shower block, even a defibrilator on the wall outside,  a good shop, and WIFI!
Soon Mr and Mrs Ford Sprinter had got the chairs out (in matching graphite, as were the dog bowls) and when he opened the double doors at the back (vans park back to back) they had a wall of storage facing out: slots for the folding chairs and table on the left, and on the right hanging for jackets and storage pockets holding their work shoes etc. I'd have given a lot to check out the d├ęcor behind those tinted windows. 
Baa looked a bit forlorn sitting on her own - each pitch had room for a vehicle, tent and sitting area. When it's nice I sit with the sliding door open, but must get some chairs for when it's hotter. They'll have to be of the umbrella variety, as I have nowhere to store the folding ones.
I had a delicious Cromer crab for supper and a glass of white.

Up the coast from Great Yarmouth


There are charming old parts of Great Yarmouth; Georgian narrow streets, and cargo ships in the river which I drove by heading for the seafront. The port is busy but the herring industry which once employed so many people has long gone. And then, round the corner and down to the front, I came on to the famous Pleasure Beach – bright, loud and glitzy! It was early in the season but the Golden Mile of rides and tourist attractions – The Gold Rush, The Silver Slipper, Caesars Fun Palace, ice creams, fish & chips - were drawing huge crowds on the hottest day of the year so far. I drove up and down and left! I was heading for Cromer and the more rural delights of The Cromer & Sheringham Crab & Lobster Festival.
You can hug the coast in Norfolk like you can't in Suffolk where you have to detour off the main road to reach the sea. I went the scenic way past the eastern edge of The Broads, through rich farmland, and passed all those wonderful churches.
Norfolk is famous for its churches, it has the highest density of medieval churches of anywhere in the world, but I started really seeing them as this coast opened up before me. I stopped at some. (Still my favourite church must by Blythburgh with its clerestory and beautiful angels carved in the ceiling - but that's in Suffolk.) Despite this being real caravan-land, it also has a real ring of the ancient. Waxham's beautiful flint church and the famous Waxham barn; through South Palling, past herds of mismatched, horned cattle grazing on the marsh;beach after beautiful beach; and sometimes seeing three beautiful churches before me.
I hadn't realised how flinty this part of north Norfolk was but from now on flint was the building material used all along, until the road drops down to King's Lynn. Beaches of shingle and sand and flints picked from the sea. 
Cromer from the beach
And so I arrived in Cromer; its ancient church with a massive 160ft tower rises right out of the middle of the town, so I headed for that and found a car park.
The Crab & Lobster festival was in full swing and I went to find John Davies who Graham from the Colchester Oyster Fishery said might take me out fishing. John is a great Cromer character. He said he would certainly take me out, probably on Tuesday, and I was to ring him on Monday. Bingo! I then went in search of a cotton jumper as I was boiling in wool.



Monday, 19 May 2014

Into Suffolk

Iken Church

Old buildings are made of materials that reflect the land they are standing on, so I surmise that Orford lies on a belt of rich red clay. It's pretty rust red-bricked houses were positively glowing in the sunlight when I arrived. Its a pretty little town on the River Alde shielded from the North Sea by Orford Ness – a long shingle spit. The Ness and Havergate island are a designated National Trust Reserve – a rich habitat for seabirds, and hares! I went out on a boat called Regardless for a trip around Havergate Island with a very jolly skipper who was keen to see a boat called Pickles which had been moored at Orford a few days previously. There can only ever be one boat registered with a name and the original Pickles had landed at Orford with news of England's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, and carrying Nelson's body back. We didn't see Pickles.
On my way to Aldeburgh I had a little nostalgia trip and drove beside the estuary to Iken where I had many happy weekends at Iken Cliff in the Seventies. The house I stayed in is on bend in the estuary looking out to the beautiful Iken Church, and up towards Snape Maltings at the top of the estuary, with its famous Concert Hall -  the home of the Aldeburgh Music Festival.
I went to Aldeburgh which is lovely, brimming with yachties and people eating icecreams. Maggie Hambling's huge steel shell sculpture is on the beach between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness and caused, I am told, a degree of tutting among the locals when it was installed. I thought it was lovely.
Maggie Hambling's Shell
I planned to spend the night at Southwold and on my way there, before it was truly dusk, I found lovely Walberswick Church which my friend Chris Lloyd Owen (a fount of knowledge on all things Norfolk, and he knows about Suffolk too) told me I must see.
Walberswick Chuch
It is indeed a very fine church with a magnificent 15thC tower at one end and the ruins of the huge church it was once attached to at the other. The present church fills just a corner of the previous one.

My campsite at Southwold wasn't so great. Bad directions, nobody about when I got there, and spooky efigies hanging in the bushes. Still, it was only for one night, and I survived!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Harwich


When my Mother was a Wren during the war she was a plotter at Harwich. I rang Jean Syms, a good friend of Mum's who had been a plotter too, to find out where they'd worked. She said they'd plotted at Parkston Quay and, whether Jean said it or I imagined it, I think they worked in some sort of underground bunker. She said they lodged in a tall house on the front at Dovercourt which faced straight out to the North Sea. Mum was an expert at puttying windows and said she learned the skill at Harwich, putting back all the panes that blew out. They slept with newspapers between their skimpy blankets.
The Quay 
I also wanted to go to The Pier, a hotel on the quayside, recommended by Fiona and by Karen from The Colchester Oyster Fishery. I stopped in the main shopping street in town to find the address and reversed into a rubbish bin – kissing it, rather than knocking it over. When I realised what I had done I edged forward and the bin returned to vertical, but a small chinaman wearing a huge pair of trousers, who was waiting at the bus-stop, leapt in the air, hooting with laughter and gesticulating at me with his stick. I gave a friendly wave, thanking him for pointing out my mistake – and drove on. Luckily only a graze of black rubber on the Thetford cassette outside door, but I was cross with myself. I am still not very good at judging distance when going backwards.
I had an excellent crab for lunch at The Pier which was busy with well to do visitors and sharp-suited businessmen, and then I went for a walk. The town has a certain elegance, and a touch of Dickens about it. There's lots going on at the quayside, and the docks are busy with ships and cranes, but the town feels poor. Lots of people were hanging around with nothing to do - maybe everyone was just enjoying the sun. 
A bit of Harwich elegance!

Eventually I got out of the carpark (suffice to say it involved a lot of backwards) and went to Dovercourt, now a very nice residential part of Harwich. I tried to imagine where the Wrens had lived, but the tall houses on the front all looks very comfortable, with window-boxes and well painted windows bathed in warm sun. It could imagine how blowy it would be in the winter.
Parkston Quay, where the Navy was based, is now the International Port – very smart and new. The only old building is the railway station, but I was told that there is still some sort of bunker under the terminal, that is not accessible to the public.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Frinton on Sea


I headed for Frinton from Mersea island via the scenic route. At least I tried to, but I somehow ended up skimming the bottom of the Colchester rush-hour. I eventually found my way out and saw pretty Fingringhoe, and Rowhedge on the River Stour. Rowhedge now has an up-and-coming feeling, being close to Colchester and commutable to London, but once had shipbuilding and a busy fishing fleet. David Cole told me, being a sailor and knowing about it, that the owners of serious sailing boats, the Americas Cup, etc, in the early part of the 20th century, recruited many of their helmsmen and crew from the Essex fishing fleet, the ports of Rowhedge, Wivenhoe, Tilsbury and Brightlingsea, because they were such excellent men of the sea.
We stayed at Frinton when I was about 9; my grandparents booked a beachhut, and The Cedars Hotel for themselves, and put Mummy, Jane and me in a B&B round the corner. Dad wasn't there. Mum was shocked when we arrived  -  she'd had a terrible drive from Hampshire, and probably hit that Colchester rush hour too - to discover that The Cedars was dry. I don't think she had been back to Frinton since she won the under-10s mixed doubles about 30 years before. Luckily the nice B&B lady had a bottle of Dubonnet to soothe her nerves. 
Jane and I thought our lodgings were the height of sophistication; we had our own room key, pink candlewick bedspreads and grapefruit segments in little shiny steel dishes for breakfast.
Frinton beach 
Granny and Grandpa came by in the morning  – he in his tweed sports jacket and tie (never seen without) and she in her Pringle twinset - with a picnic basket from the hotel, and we went to the beach. We had seersucker swimsuits and a good covering of goosebumps and when we changed after swimming there was a howling draught through the floorboards – shivering cold, sandy wet feet on dry wooden floorboards. But we loved it!
Today Frinton feels just the same, small, neat and clean, the last word in gentility. Maybe Mum didn't realise, in 1963, that the whole town was dry. Now I believe there is a pub (possibly even two), though I didn't see it. You have to drive out of town if you want fish and chips, and carry them back under the cover of darkness.
The greensward looks just the same except there was someone kite-boarding, and a windfarm out at sea. I think I found just about where our beach hut had been, with the promenade running by, and the sturdy steps down to the beach. The fee for dog-fouling on the prom is now £500 which has probably just gone up with inflation.
I talked to a lady from Hamburg on the beach who was collecting shells. She loves Frinton  so much that, since she retired, she has rented a flat here for two months twice a year -  and taken up golf.
I walked back up to Baa who was parked beyond the greensward. It was almost completely deserted (6pm on a Tuesday in May) not a moving car in sight, just a John Lewis delivery van driving by.
 

My oyster lesson


Colchester is a Roman town, and not only did the Romans have their biggest garrison here, but they also started cultivating oysters.

I went to see the Colchester Oyster Factory at East Mersea who haven't been going quite that long, but since 1963, so are the most established oyster fishery here and one of the biggest in the country. They send oysters – most seafood: lobster and crabs, razor clams, scallops - all round the country from here. Graham showed me round.
The factory is on the Pyefleet Creek, on the River Colne and it's a beautiful stretch of water with Colchester up to the north (Wivenhoe and Rowhedge, etc) and Brightlingsea to the east. (Brightlingsea is the nearest UK point to Holland, 18 hours in a sailing boat).
Oysters are filter feeders (they can filter 35 gallons of water a day), and the rich nutrients that run down in the water from the surrounding farmland, and the temperature of the water, make this river just right for oysters. It wasn't so right in the very harsh winter of 1963 when the water froze solid and you could walk on it to Brightlingsea. All the stock died and that is when the Colchester Oyster Fishery took a lease on it from Colchester Council.

Rock Oysters were brought in later – they are bigger and more resilient that the native flat oysters (which are smaller, flatter and, some say, sweeter). The spat (minute oyster egg) attach themselves to stones and crumbled up old shell on the sea bed and it takes four years for native spat to develop into a marketable oyster, and just two years for a rock oyster. When they're brought in on the boats they go into a washing machine and then spend 48 hours being rinsed in flowing UV filtered water - I'm pretty sure it was UV, certainly no chemicals involved - which kills any bugs.
I asked Graham why some of us can't eat oysters because we've had a bad one. He told me quite quickly that the re is no such thing as a bad oyster (unless it's dead one, when it would have gone bad) but that it is in us. Our bodies set up a reaction – like Graham's has!
Lobster and crab were introduced to the Colchester Oyster Fishery more recently but they are brought in from places like Cromer which has fast-flowing clear water – crustaceans would choke to death on the river mudflats which the molluscs thrive on. Graham gave me the name of a lobster and crab fisherman in Cromer and I am hoping I may go crabbing with him...







Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Essex Coast


It was the most beautiful day when I set forth up the Essex coast, the first of a promised spell of sunshine. To me Essex is an inland place; my grandfather farmed near the Suffolk border; and I once did some work in Basildon (which hasn't got great charm). My only taste of the seaside was a trip to Frinton with my grandparents 50 years ago.
The east side of Essex is accessible only to determined motorists as it is dissected by a series of rivers – the Roach, the Crouch, the Blackwater and the Colne – but it's a haven for sailors and wildlife. I stayed in West Mersea, parked in the garden of a friend, David Cole, looking south over the Blackwater Estuary. David is a most informed person on this region having lived around here for most of his life, for many years on Osea Island, opposite Maldon. 

On the far side of the estuary, maybe three miles across the water, is a charming place called Bradwell on Sea, and the Chapel of St Peter on the Wall (right), one of the oldest christian churches in England, dating from the 7th century. In order to see it I travelled about 35m by car - up to Maldon, and out again through lush, flat farmland with grazing horses and fields of wheat and rape. Old certainly meets new here – there is a power station on the south side of the estuary and the backdrop is a windfarm: there are windfarms far out to sea (some not so far out) all along the coast. Some of them can look rather beautiful, I think, and some a bit of an eyesore. The vanes sticking up around the ancient Chapel certainly looked pretty strange.
Mud flats at Maldon
Maldon, known for its salt (heralded by many chefs as the best you can buy) has long been famous for its battle. 
In AD 991 the Vikings landed south-east of Maldon at Norsey Island, thinking it was the mainland. 
Earl Byrhtnoth led the English into  a bloody battle. The Vikings offered terms, of gold and land to withdraw, but Byrhtnoth refused. The English were defeated and Byrhtnoth was killed. 
Today Maldon is much calmer, a charming place with  a wide high street and pretty ice cream coloured houses. The road by passes by the Hythe where Thames barges are tied up, and further round The Promenade Park on the riverbank is the social hub of the town in summer. On Sunday 25 May the Annual Maldon Mud Race takes place by Promenade Park.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A Man of Kent


On my last day in Kent I saw Winchelsea Bay which is vast and shingly, and, further east, Camber Sands which is vast and sandy. Camber Sands faces due south and way off to the west we could see Fairlight, towards Hastings and, to the east, Dungeness. This is a favourite holiday spot and I assume the wind abates a bit in the summer. The light was incredibly beautiful and a thin veil of silvery sand blew across the ribbed beach. It got into my shoes and my ears and everywhere between, but what a special beach.
Camber Sands
I couldn't hang about, as I was heading for a farm on the edge of the marsh to meet Deryck Body, a friend of a friend, who said I could park in his yard. Deryck has lived on this farm for all of his 87 years and, while his grandsons now do the farming, he is still plays an active part and lives in an annexe. The borders in front of the farm house are all perfect and the grass and edges the envy of anyone with a lawn. This is all Deryck's work, as is the vegetable garden and the asparagus beds, and the neatly clipped hedges.
We sat in his parlour drinking tea and he told me about farming on the marsh, his parents, and his beloved with Betty who died 12 years ago.
Having run pretty wild, helping on the farm, Deryck was sent, aged eight, to a boarding school, 21 miles away, in Goudhurst. He stayed until he was 14. The school, with just 14 pupils, had been started by a Reverend J J Kendon who had worked in the mid 19th century to improve the living conditions of the hop-pickers who came from London to work. Deryck may not have been in school for long (long enough he felt, I am sure!), but he is the most educated and intelligent man to talk to; he knows what he needs to know and a lot more besides.
Deryck's annexe
The vegetable patch
The Cottage and its garden

He says he is a 'peasant farmer', and that his was a proper sustainable farm, “mainly sheep, but you did a bit of everything”. He gets up with the light and he enjoys his work. The sheep fertilise the land (“the richest pasture in England”) and “fertility is your bank as a farmer”. Betty was a farmer's daughter from Somerset and she did a bit of everything too – cured hams, made jams, milked the cow. “She wouldn't have me in the kitchen!” 

He could barely make a cup of tea when Betty died, but he can now.
When their two sons grew up Deryck passed the farm on to them and took up his second career. “I had always looked forward to thatching in the winter months so I looked to improve my methods of long straw thatching.” In the early 80s he built a Cottage – in miniature but big enough for an adult to stand up in - for his grandchildren, timber framed with a thatched roof, and a perfect little kitchen with miniature table and chairs. It has chestnut palings round it to keep the sheep out of its beautiful garden and asparagus beds.
I felt truly enriched for talking with Deryck, and sad to say goodbye the next morning. He lent me a couple of his books.  I felt a bit ashamed of my 21st century lifestyle, as I checked my emails and switched on my satnav!

Monday, 12 May 2014

A day on Romney Marsh


It was a beautiful day when Fiona, my hotel critic friend, and I set off to see the medieval churches of Romney Marsh. She was sandwiching her night in Baa between a visit to Church House, a chic B&B in Midhurst, and a visit to The George in Rye. We planned dinner as we gasped at the crystal clear views across the Sussex Downs over cow parsley hedgerows – you do get marvellous views from high up in Baa's cab. We were headed first for St Thomas a Becket at Fairfield and stopped for lunch at Jo's excellent and spotless Cafe in an ex RAF camp off a bend in the road north of Rye. We asked for directions to the church. “What, that one?” she pointed across the way to 'The Cup of Hope and Truth Foundation Spiritual Church', “They're a funny lot.” (Another hut sold french brocante, and Jo's hut used to be a Philippine Craft Centre.) No, not that one, the one on the marsh. It was just a little further up the lane.
St Thomas a Becket Church, Fairfield
Once you're on the road Fairfield church is unmissable, sitting alone out in the marsh with sheep grazing all around it - it's approach makes it so magical. On to St Augustine at Brookland with its bell tower built next to the church, and then we had a ride on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. It's an adorable miniature steam train and for that reason I am glad we did it, but Fiona's glowing memories of Dymchurch, of cottagey guest houses and sweet shops, soon faded. It's all chippies and amusement arcades (we had the wrong coins for every single machine) – probably better in the summer months.
We saw St Georges Church at Ivychurch and nearby St Mary in the Marsh (where E Nesbit is buried) before heading for Old Romney. These churches tell such tales of life in this fascinating region over the centuries.  It is still hard to fathom quite why there are so many marsh churches (13) but they were central to a much larger community than exists here today - and there were many rich wool barons.
Chris Finn-Kelcey
We stayed with Chris Finn-Kelcey. We'd never met him before but he invited us in for tea, after we'd tucked Baa in beside his barn. His family have lived in this house and farmed sheep for more than 200 years. Now it's just him, and his twin brother, Patrick, lives nearby. Their father, who died 13 years ago, was obviously a powerful and charismatic man who was churchwarden at St Clements, Old Romney, for 75 years - a world record. Chris did not wish to carry on this mantle; he locks and unlocks the church but isn't a churchgoer. "My God", he said, pointing out of the window, "is all you see out there - nature." He is fit and lean with a neat beard and blue eyes - he's been a 'looker' (the local term for a shepherd) all his life, as well as working as a builder and a gardener. He lives a simple but very busy life and told about his work, his family and his travels – he's been all over the world and climbed up to Everest's base camp; and, somewhat surprising, he's a naturist. He has been a life model for 24 years and is passionate about the joy and the freedom he feels being naked..
We said goodnight and set off to prepare our ratatouille and Romney lamb with a Rye crab starter, certainly the most ambitious dinner yet attempted with Baa's neat, but very small kitchen facility. It was excellent and we slept like tops. If we'd woken earlier we'd probably have seen Chris going off naked for an early morning run. Shame!
One comfortable, happy camper!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Dungeness


I was really looking forward to going to Dungeness, to see the biggest shingle beach in Europe, the looming spectacle of its power station, and Derek Jarman's pebbly garden. Fiona and I had arranged to meet friends for lunch at The Britannia pub – famous for its excellent fish and chips and its huge and unique collection of keyrings. The weather was appalling: strong winds are the norm at Dungeness but we had specially terrible ones that day, and sideways rain too. It was a bit of a white knuckle ride from Rye (Baa is 10ft tall – I may have mentioned that before – and doesn't much like a crosswind) and the landscape became increasingly barren. Visibility was so poor that we took a wrong turn down to the power station and found ourselves, having seen nothing taller than a sheep for several miles, in the employees very full carpark, under the shadow of all the pylons that converge there. It felt rather alarming.
We turned round and headed for the lighthouse and saw rows of houses near the sea. Do people live there? Or rent holiday cottages? Does the wind ever stop? As we got near our destination we saw more activity: a fish stall, two men mending a car, boats (on land, they must have been strapped down) and black-painted clapperboard houses like big black beetles in the shingle. Derek Jarman's, Prospect Cottage, is one of these. I had imagined it would be more remote, on its own, but it's easy to spot because it has plants and things in the garden, and yellow windowframes – (note on window saying you can look at the garden but don't peer in the window).
On to the pub and the van door was almost ripped out of my hand – there's no chance we would walk on the biggest shingle beach in Europe without taking off like kites - the wind blew our eyelids shut. But we had a lovely time – Mickey and Kitten were there, sitting amongst the keyrings, and the fish and chips didn't disappoint.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Sheppey


Well that was a rough night! I stayed in the main Camping and Caravanning Club site at Canterbury which is excellent – they get better and better. The rain lashed down all afternoon,  and didn't stop all that night. I felt too sick to contemplate the supper I had planned, so sat shivering in my coat, unable to remember how to put the heater on. Pathetic!  So I had a long, hot shower in the lovely bathroom block, filled a hot water bottle, and prepared for bed. And then I was very, very sick. Thank goodness! I don't know what the problem was... but at least it was soon over.
In the morning, still a bit wobbly, I packed up and set off to meet Sylvia (see first blog). We decided to visit the Isle of Sheppey. Sylvia used to live in Kent, and is about to move back, but neither of us knew much about Sheppey... except that Kent and London folk pour there on holiday to huge caravan parks. And I remember last year, when there was a terrible pile-up in fog on the Sheppey crossing, thinking what a good-looking bridge it was. I had been advised by wildfowler Dave to try the Harty Ferry Inn for lunch, so that's where we headed.
Sheppey Bridge looking south
The bridge is as nice as I thought, curling high across the Swale in the sunlight, and The Harty Ferry Inn is good too. It sits in a remote spot on the south of Sheppey looking across to Faversham, and the drive there is through low, open farmland, as rural as can be! Sheppey is a part farming - sheep and cattle on smallholdings, fields of rape and hedgerows bursting with cow parsley; part power station; and part dense holiday-land. The wind blows across the flat land, telegraph poles blown askew and the wild rural parts just doesn't relate to the holiday parks.
Yet just up the road Leysdown on Sea is trailer parks all the way, with a touch of Las Vegas, thick with take-aways and amusement arcades. We tried to book in to a caravan park, but they wanted £26 for one night, so we thought the price was too high to be funny. We visited the Abbey on a hill (the only one on Sheppey) at Minster, looked in at the jellied eel stall next door (but couldn't face those) and headed back via Sheerness to supper and spend the night in the Harty Ferry Inn car park. Sylvia's friends Martin and Judith from Canterbury were in the bar! They had sailed over from Faversham – so nowhere is really so remote!
Next day the Bank Holiday crowds were pouring north over the bridge to their holiday homes as we headed towards Faversham. Little did we know, as we were making a small detour into a Saturday morning car boot sale for a little bit of local colour, that 'Skull Cracker' was making his exit from HM Open Prison just down the road. As I write.. he's been incarcerated again.




Monday, 5 May 2014

Westbere and Canterbury


The campsite at Bragg Lane south of Herne Bay is 4star -  flat, easy hook-up, trees all around and excellent washing etc facilities. A kind man from Whitby helped me put 15L in my tank with his jerry can. He and his wife spend weeks at a time at this site, and their caravan never moves from it, as their daughter lives two nearby. Lots of caravans have no cars attached so I presume the owners are out visiting or perhaps, like my friend, leave them permanently and return for holidays. I had a good hot shower before supper. This was to be my first night alone in Baa.
It wasn't a bad night.. but not great. I have been troubled with my hip (old injury, I have a large metal plate and a screw) on Baa's firm cushions. At 3am I decided to take Mum's advice – when she had 'a hip' she slept with an extra pillow between her knees. This definitely improved things, but I only had my Michael Caine cushion to hand, which felt a little strange when I woke and pulled him out from under the duvet … Next time I will have my stripey cushion to hand.
I met Dave Thorpe from The Kent Wildfowling and Conservation Association at Westbere, just 10 minutes from Braggs Lane. This 100 acre site is a real haven for wildlife after a big clearing and regeneration programme over 30 years by the KWCA. It had become very overgrown, simply by wildfowlers coming for a bit of sport and breaking off a few branches of willow to make a hide, and the willow growing into woodland. The KWA team of volunteers have dug out the ditches (see below) which had virtually disappeared, cleared areas of trees and vegetation in order to give the marshes a chance and are hoping to attract birds such as the Bittern and Marsh Buntings back in greater numbers. This is a quiet time of year when the birds are all nesting so conservation work won't start again until the summer.

It was torrenting when Dave and I walked round, so I went back later when the sun had come out to take a photograph and the noise of the birds was wonderful – I think I heard the Cetti's Warbler, but I can't be sure, and I definitely saw a Coot, Mallard and lots of geese.
Then the rain started again so I drove to Canterbury to see the Cathedral. I saw the place where poor Thomas Becket met his dreadful end and the extraordinary fan vaulted Bell Harry tower... how on earth did they achieve that 500+ years ago? or the symmetry in those amazing pillars and arches in the nave.. well, all of it. It truly is a humbling, beautiful place. I left Canterbury full of wonder, and then started to feel very unwell.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Lovely Sandwich


Sandwich is a classy place! I took a rural route from Sittingbourne (which isn't quite so classy) on a beautiful spring day. I saw my first Oast House – just one, most are further south – acres of blossoming apple orchards and pretty villages. Littlebourne in particular with its streets lined with Jane Austen soft pink brick houses, cow parsley waving across the churchyard.
Sandwich is enchanting - it felt largely Georgian, but it's roots are Medieval -  nothing raggedy or down at heel here. I parked in a residential street of old terraced, now gentrified, cottages in the centre of town.The battery had charged so I could wash up, etc. My problem now is that I had almost no water in the tank. I thought I had filled the tank (it holds 60L) before I left home, but obviously I hadn't.. I will have to find water tonight.
River Stour at Sandwich
After wandering round the town I headed for Sandwich Bay, past The Royal Sandwich Golf Club and the Tennis Club and all the wisteria clad houses. Sandwich Bay Estate doesn't welcome riff raff, there's a toll of £7 to go in which seemed a bit steep, but I wanted to see the beach and there is a coast road to Deal.
The bay is a wonderful 180 degree stretch of pebble beach, with Ramsgate five miles to the left and Deal pier visible to the south. The wind blew hard across the sea and the sky was a cloudless blue. I talked to a father and son from Dartford, who were fishing for bass. Had he caught anything? I asked the older man. No. His son had caught three. With a spinner? The son looked a bit blank. 'We call it an egg whisk.' Much better name.
On to Deal on the coastal lane, narrow with passing places, the sea on my left and flat open grassland on the right. Small farms and a hotch potch herd of grazing cattle made me think of a Dutch painting – with one eye half shut to blot out the view of another static caravan park. Past the Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club (they play a lot of golf in Kent) and I was in Deal.
Quaint and charming, Deal is more Dickensian than Jane Austen, with narrow workmanlike streets and overhanging buildings and a sense of a faded past. I parked on the seafront with the usual number of amusement arcades, bait shops and chippies but a posh looking bookshop too.
There was a mining community here until 40 years ago and Deal has a great maritime history, but now it doesn't feel so prosperous. Still the main street was busy for a Wednesday, healthfood shops, vintage clothes and teashops, with plenty of people milling about.
I drove on to Walmer, south of the town, where the Royal Marines Barracks once was. I know Dad used to go to Deal when we lived at Chatham Barracks, but there is nothing of the Barracks left now, just smart new housing. Back via Sandwich  – I left the cosiness of the town, over the River Stour, and past the stark edifice that was once a large part of Pfizer.
I 'm staying near Herne Bay and hope I can get some water.