Canterbury & Kent Pt 2 – continued & concluded

Right, Thursday and the Isle of Thanet was today's destination, or more accurately some of it’s seaside towns. Some may remember that we were here a few years back on a trip down memory lane – for me anyway – staying at the quaint Walpole Bay Hotel in Cliftonville, near Margate.
We started, just south of the Isle, in Sandwich, famous, apart from the name, for it’s golf course. Past the golf course is Sandwich Bay, accessed by a private road through the Sandwich Bay Estate for which you have to pay a toll – of seven quid if you are a non-resident and/or driver. We turned tail and headed north.
Ramsgate was next, but not before passing the old Pfizer factory, still standing rigidly erect (sorry, if you don’t know what Pfizer makes that’s wasted on you) despite closing and being sold off some months ago. Ferries still ply their trade from Ramsgate, now to Ostend, but years back there was a regular service to Dunkirk by an outfit called Sally Line no less. As a kid, Cliftonville was the destination of choice for about 14 years on the trot and the hotel owners used to organise booze buying day trips  (there was still duty free in Europe then)  and in later years we crossed the channel several times coming back heavily laden with Whitbread Export and Le Piat D’or  from the boats duty free shop. We stopped briefly for some photo’s, then continued on.
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Broadstairs next, a pleasant little old seaside town playing unashamedly on it’s Charles Dickens connections. Dickens loved it here and stayed regularly at Fort House – now called The Bleak House Hotel – which can be seen looking majestically over the curved beach below. Broadstairs quaint little streets are a delight to wander through and we paused for coffee at an old Italian ice cream parlour on the front. Morellis – which has been serving home made ice cream since 1932 here in Broadstairs is now a worldwide concern, with branches as far afield as the Philippines and Kuwait. Oh and Harrods.
Next up and Margate, dear old Margate. Now, where to start. You may recall, when we last visited Margate (which you can read about here) we found a once bustling seaside town in a state of decay and disrepair. I wish, really wish, that I could say that we found an improvement, but we didn’t, not really anyway. Certainly things have been happening – the much lauded Turner Contemporary art Gallery now sits on the seafront. Striking, but hardly attractive, the Turner has been pulling in visitors although we found it fairly quiet when we went in. Sea defence work is in progress and the part of the old town on the sea front looks quite smart. Work is continuing to bring Dreamland – the old amusement park - back to life complete with it’s original grade II* listed wooden framed rollercoaster. I’m not one of natures ‘thrill seekers’ when it comes to fairground rides - the waltzer is usually my limit. However I am on record as saying that I WILL go on the rollercoaster when it is operational again. Just beyond Dreamland however a grey dishevelled 1960’s tower block brings you straight back to reality. A walk up the high street with it’s pound shops and charity shops barely outnumbering the empty units (apparently, the largest percentage of any town in the country) demonstrates that Margate still has a long way to go. Having such happy and fond memories of childhood holidays here – we always came to Dreamland at least once during our weeks stay – it really was quite depressing and very sad.
** Update January 2016 ** – We returned to Margate in December 2015, and found things were certainly looking up – Dreamland had reopened too and the general vibe was much better. Read my blog HERE
A much jollier time was had that evening in Canterbury as we we went to the Christmas lights switch on party in the town centre. One or two people may have thought that I’d got the date wrong and had dressed for Halloween, clad, as usual, all in black with the new spike mohawk but with the long black trench coat getting it’s first outing of the trip too. Anyway, students from the local college played, sang and danced to some typically festive numbers and the Canterbury branch of Rock Choir joined in to get us all going. The stars of the show, were the stars of the local Panto, including Toyah Wilcox and Gareth Gates no less who performed the actual switch on. It’s fair to say, if a little churlish, that Canterbury's Christmas lights wont win any awards but they did add to the atmosphere of a very pretty city centre. We sampled some ale in some of Canterbury’s lovely old boozers stumbling across (not literally, it was still fairly early) some delicious London Pride at less than three quid a pint, and managing to avoid any of local brewer Shepherd Neame’s offerings.
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Nothing of note to report on Friday  other than a stroll around the city centre again. On Saturday we fired up the old crate and headed west up the A2. First up was The Isle of Sheppey, not an obvious choice for the casual tourist but we thought we’d have a look anyway. The town of Sheerness is functional, with industry and large dockyards providing for most of the local employment. There is a seafront promenade and according to the guide books a  loyal band of holidaymakers make it their destination of choice every year. The large marshlands too encourage a steady stream of naturalists. We actually nearly booked a campsite here before choosing Canterbury, but having located it - tucked away up a very narrow dirt track and behind a dodgy looking housing estate – glad we changed our minds.
We stopped on the way back at Faversham, another pretty little Kentish town and home to the aforementioned Shepherd Neame brewery although we resisted the lure of a tour and the usual sampling. One final stop was made, for the second time to Whitstable for a Saturday lunchtime pint and a chippy. In the evening, despite the plunging temperature, the barbeque was fired up, for the second time this trip.
So, that’s our visit to Kent concluded, but certainly not complete. There is always more to see and do, but we did get to see some new places and (for me anyway) take a trip down memory lane. It’s a lovely county and well worth a visit.
Now, where next…..

Canterbury & Kent - City, coast & countryside

So, where are we? Well, the title should narrow it down a bit. We are on the Camping & Caravan Club site about a mile and a half east of Canterbury. It’s Wednesday afternoon and the sun is shining. It’s been largely good fun, at least up to now, so here goes:

The sun was shining when we left home Sunday morning, turning - for the first time with Patsy anyway - left, instead of right, on to the coast road. The journey was pretty straightforward - for me anyway as Trev was driving - instead of going all the way along the coast, or up and around on the M25, we cut through Tunbridge Wells, arriving at the site around one-ish. It’s a large site, with some 200 or so pitches, parcelled in to smaller blocks divided by varying combinations of hedgerows and trees. Popular, no doubt with those going to, or coming from, Dover it was fairly quiet when we arrived. Pretty enough at the best of times I’m sure but with Autumn in full swing, the combination of colours was pretty special.

Having successfully sited and with tannins absorbed we put up the awning - only a small erection this time, but it is handy to keep stuff in and certainly helps to keep the van warmer. The sun was disappearing below the tree line as we finished and the degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit, depending on your age) were doing their own vanishing act too. A cold night was in prospect.


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It was still early for tea, but we’d had nowt since breakfast and whilst Trev was willing to cook, I wasn’t willing to wait so we looked online for some fast food options, and headed out.

It was dark by the time we returned and extremely cold too. The freestanding halogen heater, although emitting a pleasant warming glow couldn’t shift the chill even with both bars going. The on board blown air system, not used since the early days of the ‘The Tour’ was pressed in to service and soon proved effective in warming up her ladyship.

It was equally as cold first thing Monday as we surfaced and availed ourselves of the sites facilities. Clean and tidy, but clearly getting on a bit, you’d have got wetter standing under a drooling Labrador than you would in the showers here. The water was at least hot  - reviews of the site suggest this has been an issue at times so maybe the flow rate has been tinkered with.

Many will know that I was waiting on the result of a job interview, so the mobile was never far away as we had our first look around Canterbury. It certainly is a charming city, compact enough to negotiate on foot and some lovely narrow streets to explore too. It has that ‘Oxbridge’ feel about it too. There is quite a large student population here, some of whom certainly add to the er, scenery. We paused by the Cathedral but decided to put it off for another day - to be honest my mind was elsewhere anyway waiting for the bloody phone to ring.

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We had an early tea and then finally the phone call came and I knew within a couple of seconds that I hadn’t got the job and  was pretty disappointed too - quite apart from the money - which was far from great, but that didn’t matter - it would have done wonders for my self esteem knowing that an employer had decided to put their faith in me .Still, there it is. Hopefully they’ll be others. The champagne, brought along especially, stayed in the fridge. The London Pride however, was brought in from the awning. With nothing taking our fancy on the telly, we span the hard drive in to life and watched a couple of old episodes of Rebus. Well, Trev watched a couple. I saw the first but snoozed through at least half of the second. We managed, most of the evening and all night, without heating, such was the change in the weather.

Tuesday, and having dealt, at least partially with the City side of things, it was time for the coast. Whitstable, just a few miles away was the first port of call. At one time, you could get train from Canterbury. Dubbed the ‘Crab & Winkle’ Line, for obvious reasons it was the third railway line to be built in Britain and the first to offer season tickets. Whitstable, as you may have guessed, or already know, is famous for it’s seafood. You can buy freshly caught oysters, crabs, winkles, whelks and much more from the quayside straight off the boats. Popular, according to my guide book, with middle class Londoners escaping the capital for some sea air it was understandably quiet on a cloudy Monday in November, but you could certainly see it’s appeal and I bet it’s buzzing in the summer. We parked in the harbour and had a trawl around passing the smartly painted beach huts by the er, beach.


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Next up was Herne Bay. Certainly not as pretty as Whitstable but pleasant enough. Attractive regency and Victorian seafront terraces are separated by a monstrous grey tower block in-between. Most of what remains of the pier here must be in competition for the most boring ever. A large section of it was lost in the seventies but the end still remains, way out to sea and stubbornly inaccessible.


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Ashford was to be our final destination of the day, for a visit to the cinema. The journey across county certainly demonstrated why Kent is called the Garden of England. It is beautiful, particularly at this time of year when all the leaves are changing colour. Autumn has got to be good for something I suppose. Anyway, famous mainly - well probably only - for a rather big railway station, we killed time in Ashford before the start of the film by wandering around the outlet centre. I tried on a couple of pairs of jeans - in black you may be surprised to learn - but came away empty handed. For the record, the film; ‘Argo’ was excellent and well worth a look.

Right, back to today. With the weather set fair, we headed back in to Canterbury to the Cathedral. I was here, many years ago as a kid and didn’t fully appreciate it’s majesty then, but it really is stunning. The sun really set off the outside and, from inside made the stained glass windows look awesome. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking but will add that it’s a must see, it really is.

So, that’s it for now. The Isle of Thanet beckons tomorrow with a return to Margate and a look at the Turner Contemporary and Broadstairs and Ramsgate should get a look in too.


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