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{02/04/2012}   Kent: a drive, Noel Coward, bison and smugglers

What an enjoyable sunny Sunday afternoon! My friend and I wanted to see a few things: Lympne Castle, Aldington village (mainly to see Noel Coward’s former residence, which is now home to Julian Clarey), St Mary in the Marsh church (E. Nesbit’s grave), Saltwood Castle, Grigg’s beach side fishmonger (for opening times) and the hilly parts of Sandgate/Folkestone. A pub lunch was also on the agenda.

I was giddy with the amount of lambs we saw, the sunshine made the spring greens even more lovely and it all seemed so delightfully Darling Buds of May. It’s been years since I’ve spent an afternoon going for a sightseeing drive. It did make me feel quite elderly as we didn’t really stop and walk much (but I have earmarked places I want to return to), but on seeing a genuinely elderly couple sitting in a car with a flask of coffee steaming up the window, I felt positively youthful and realised I was a good few years off resorting to flask-coffee-scenery-viewing!

Lympne is a very pretty village, though there is very little to see really in terms of villagey things. The castle is privately owned so you can’t look around (I was a guest at a wedding there, it is lovely). However, the church and graveyard are extremely happily situated and from the far end of the graveyard, there are spectacular views across the Romney Marshes and out to sea. There are also lots of footpaths, ruins, sheep; great places for a sunny picnic with a fantastic view.

Walking up the road out of the village, we spotted a fairly high security fence … protecting the local residents from a field of bison! Ah, yes, Port Lympne Animal Park.

Noel Coward’s former farmhouse, Goldenhurst, (now occupied by Julian Clarey) looks lovely but we couldn’t really see it from the road and I didn’t want to try to snoop around someone’s home. But it’s a pretty area. The farm opposite was even nicer as it was higher up, a real sun trap. Noel Coward bought the property in 1927, making him a nearby neighbour to Joseph Conrad. I would loved to have lived around there then for, as he was a sociable person, his guests allegedly included Marlene Dietrich, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton. If you have the interest, here is a link to an interesting article about him and this house. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/3337128/Mad-about-the-house.html

I was underwhelmed by Aldington village but there are lots of interesting stories (smugglers) legends (the entrance to fairyland being there) and lists of famous residents (from those listed above to Vic Reeves and Paul O’Grady). The countryside below the village, ie toward the marshes and sea, is really lovely.

At St Mary in the Marsh, we easily found E. Nesbit’s grave. I now want to read The Railway Children as an adult. We went into the pub there, The Star Inn, built in 1476. Noel Coward wrote his first successful play while living in the adjacent cottage! Historically it’s interesting but they weren’t serving food at 2.30 and I wasn’t that keen on it. But there is a large grassy beer garden, which on a warmer day may have made it more tempting.

By this time we were hungry. We agreed to eat in Hythe, but just outside Dymchurch we spotted The Ship Inn so stopped there (food until 5 on a Sunday). It’s nearly 600 years old and has all manner of hidden passageways, which I would absolutely love to visit. We had an ok meal, but not destination pub food. This pub was once Russell Thorndike’s local and it features in his Dr Syn stories.

Next stop, Saltwood Castle. It’s privately owned by Jane Clark, the late Alan Clark MP’s wife. You can’t see much of it but it looks amazing. Saltwood is an interesting village and I want to explore there soon.

Grigg’s should get a mention as it is a fishmonger serving the beach fleet (assuming “fleet” is at least two boats!) of Hythe. The fish is always fresh and well presented. It’s open 7am-1.30pm during the week.

As for the hilly parts of Folkestone, lots of surprises: houses hidden in little cliff cut outs, a massive area of MOD land and barracks, far bigger than I had noticed before, some beautiful, large houses and a lot of unspoilt areas of trees and greenery.

I am enjoying discovering the area around where I live and finding out bits of history. Next time, big walk and big picnic …and maybe a flask of coffee drunk outdoors!

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