A couple of days on the Kent coast.

Thursday 13 November 2014 – various bits of Kent.

After our weekend away on the Isle of Wight in September I have been pondering the possibility of buying a small flat somewhere on the coast within a couple of hours of London by train. I have spent many hours in front of the computer since, and some of that time was even spent researching potential locations. I had drawn up a bit of a short list of possibilities and El and decided to take a couple of days off of work, hire and car and go and explore some of the Kent coast and have a look for ourselves. Naturally something else has come up since so buying may be off the cards for now, but it was still a good excuse to rent a car and hit the countryside.

We waited until the worst of the rush hour before picking up the car from a car rental place that is conveniently just down the road and then hitting the road. Our first stop was at a delightful truck stop just outside of Folkestone, we had planned on stopping for coffee and a delicious motorway service centre lunch at Maccas on the way, but the first services area we came across was closed so we ended up here. It was pretty sad with half the shops closed. We won’t go back…

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The first planned visit for the day was the historic town of Dover, not to look for property – this isn’t my sort of town, but I really wanted to see the castle and was also really looking forward to seeing the famous ‘white cliffs’. Getting through Dover was a bit of a challenge, it is a small town with a small but extremely busy ferry port and the truck queue was massive, once we passed the port turn off the town seemed deserted.

I could clearly the see the castle as we drove down into town and sitting in the traffic looking up at it on the far cliffs overlooking the port was quite exciting, it is a huge complex, with loads of buildings and I was really looking forward to seeing it. However…..

As seems to be norm with me visiting English Heritage managed sights, it was closed, and only open at the weekends over autumn. Needless to say I said some bad words as we drove around trying to find a decent vantage point to get a photo. Disappointed again, and unlike Camber Castle that was closed when we visited it on our Rye weekend, Dover Castle is fenced off so I could not even take a walk around the perimeter.

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I snapped a couple of photos by illegally stopping on roads and leaping out of the car, and that was my Dover Castle experience. I must come back some time.

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Just along the way from the castle is the viewing point at Langdon Cliffs, which looks out over the port of Dover and the northwards up some of the famous chalk white cliffs. The cliffs make up a large part of the Kent coast line, being made of a soft chalk rock they erode quickly and in some places are disappearing at half a metre a year. They are of course spectacular!

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Even on a cloudy day you see the French coast from here, maybe not in my wide angle lens photo. But I assure you, it was there…

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We went for a brief walk along the top before a slightly unexpected rain storm blew in, it had been cloudy all morning without rain, so we did not linger up there.

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We jumped back in the car and headed down to the beach at St Margaret’s at UnderCliff. I wasn’t sure what we would see from there so it was a bit of a random guess that there may be some nice cliff viewing, but wow. It was a pretty special little spot. So special that some bloke was even having a swim. Madness!

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I really enjoyed the interplay between the sun and the clouds, the sort of dramatic sky and light that I like the best. I took a few photos…

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We reluctantly pulled ourselves away from this lovely little beach side spot and drove a few miles up the road to Deal. Deal is one of the main towns I had been seriously looking at as a possible place to buy a flat. It is cheap, on the coast with easy access to hills and grass and not too far from London on the train. OK, the beach isn’t soft white sand, but it is a nice beach considering and we both really liked the old part of town and there are flats for sale in the white building right at the end of this photo.

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Deal seamed fairly quiet – it was early afternoon on an autumn Wednesday mind, but it didn’t have the narrow hillside streets of Broadstairs that would be a nightmare in summer time. We stopped for coffee and cake in a little traditional tea shop that seemed to be quite popular with the locals before heading out for a walk along the front and to have a walk around the building that had flats for sale.

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I wanted to see the castle, but knew that it would be closed (English bloody Heritage again) – and it was, but at least we could see around the outside of it.

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Our next objective was the “isle” of Thanet, which has not been an island for a few hundred years. The Roman fort at Reculver, which we visit tomorrow, was built to watch over the Wantsum channel that cut Thanet off from the mainland. The isle has the beach towns of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate, amongst others in it. It was an area I have thought about looking in as well, but had been put off until we spoke to one of El’s colleagues who visits regularly. The drive through the outer suburbs of Ramsgate hardly inspired and with traffic a bit mad we decided to carry on going and look for our B and B in Broadstairs before it got dark.

We had decided to stay in Bleak House, a B and B/Hotel on the cliff tops above the town, and a summer home to Charles Dickens, who wrote a novel of the same name. The B and B had been decked out like it would have been in Dickens’ time and it was quite nice. There had been a couple of cancellations so we were the only people there. It had the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on in a hotel… It was a struggle to get out!

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In the morning we took a rather fresh walk before breakfast, the morning was lovely, with the only clear skies we saw while we were away.

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I had not realised that the white cliffs extended so far up the coast, I had always thought it was a phenomenon local to Dover, so I was pleasantly surprised to find them all the way up here, nice spot I really liked Broadstairs.

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It has a nice mix of old town and new, nice beaches and cafes – but I am sure it is utter madness in summer time. And Bleak House is positioned really nicely above one side of the town.

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Like most of the south east coast of England, Margate has had some rough times and has become a bit run down, and this was really obvious as we drove in through the coastal road from the much more upmarket Broadstairs. In 2011 a big and brash new art gallery was opened on the waterfront – the Turner Contemporary. This has brought a slightly more upmarket clientele to the area and started a cycle of regeneration. We parked up above the old town and walked down through its narrow streets to the waterfront and out along the wharf to look back over the town.

I loved the sign in Jane Jone s shop, sort of summed up the area – almost but not quite.

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The Turner opened at 10.00 and we were there right on opening, I was hoping to see a good collection of Turners paintings, especially from the period when he lived here, but there was only a couple on display. I am not a fan of Turner at all, but was hoping to have my mind changed in a gallery named after him.

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The gallery had the big ‘English Magic’ exhibition by Jeremy Deller – English Magic which was first shown at the Venice Biennial in 2013, including this piece “We sit starving amongst our gold” that we saw in the William Morris Gallery near home a few months ago – though this version is much much bigger.

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I also really liked this piece entitled “A good day for cyclists” With its endangered bird carrying away one of my hated Range Rovers.

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I liked the gallery, it is airy and light and I would definitely come back again for the right exhibition.

After the gallery we started on a slow journey back towards home, I wanted to see the abbey at Reculver on the way so we drove along the coast as much as possible to Whitstable with the aim to stop for lunch there.  Though after Reculver we just ended up driving all the way home. I had read that Reculver Abbey was also an English Heritage building so I was dreading driving there to find that we could not even walk around the outside, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was access all areas all the time – Yay…

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The 12th century abbey was built on the ruins of an old Roman fort, which was converted into a Saxon abbey in the 7th century before being abandoned again, falling into ruin and finally being revived and rebuilt as the parish church in the 12th century. When it was built the abbey was quite a way inland, but over time and tide the coast moved closer to the abbey and sections of it fell into the sea. The ruins are lovely – as were the clouds.

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We arrived back in London in the early afternoon, deciding to shoot straight through as there was no easy parking in Whitstable and missing school traffic was worth the early arrival home. Plus we went for lunch at our local cafe Bygga Bo, which is always a treat!

It was a great couple of days out the city, I won’t be looking at buying a house at the moment as I am probably going to help my son in NZ buy one instead. But if I do I have some ideas of where to look more seriously.

About wheresphil

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, now living in London.
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