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.

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!


{12/02/2012}   Cold weather picnics

     Cheese, baguette, peanut crisps then pfeffernusse and coffee.  In sub-zero temperature with snow still on the beach at Dungeness.  Fantastic picnic!  My hands were so cold I could barely move, Becky’s nose was so red it matched her gloves and my lips and cheeks were so cold I could hardly talk or eat.  But it was wonderful!

This is not my first winter picnic and it most certainly won’t be my last.  About two years ago, Fiona and I also had a picnic on Dungeness beach, in fact it was 2nd January, the day before the snow came!  I also spent a week in Finnish Lapland where we ate most of our lunches outdoors, around about -10 to -15 degrees.  When living in Clapham, I also had a few Clapham Common winter picnics.

I used to hate packed lunches and picnics because I always had them as a child and I wanted to eat out as soon as I could.  Now, I love picnics, especially winter ones.  I have memories of sitting in my parents’ car, opening up a tatty box and clipping a tray/shelf in the door-window area.  A flask would be produced, the steaming contents of which, once in the orange plastic mugs, would completely fog up the windows.  Why didn’t we just brave the cold and eat outside?  Ah, rain!  We would munch away on our lunch, usually a wealth of food, on orange plastic plates.  I probably moaned about them at the time, but now they are memories I love.

One February or March in Seasalter, four of us sat on a picnic table outside my house on the beach and had a fry up.  Admittedly it was a warm day for the time of year, but it was still a wintery meal outdoors.  On another cold day, living in Clapham at that time, I baked jacket potatoes and cooked baked beans.  The latter were kept in a food flask and the potatoes in foil.  We sat on Clapham Common and ate them.  So good!  I once had my friend Paula visiting from the US and Julie from South Korea/Australia.  We went to France for a daytrip in early January, did the obligatory pain et fromage shop and had a bitterly cold standing-up (seriously so cold we couldn’t sit down on cold sand or rocks!) picnic on the beach.  I have a chimenea of the kind that can (and has up to now successfully been) be used in winter.  Friends with a dog came round (I have a cat) so the six of us cooked a hot lunch and hot drinks over quite some hours one extremely cold winter’s afternoon.  Fortunately we had the heat from the chimenea but it was good to eat warm food when it finally got cooked!

When I was 18 a friend and I were Interrailing.  We ate pretty much all our meals on a Trangia stove outside.  Not even at a campsite because we slept on overnight trains.  We once had – and I might need to be corrected – a “pasta ‘n’ sauce” cooked on the Trangia in torrential rain sitting under a fairly dense area of trees in a park.  Memorable.  Ruth, help me: where were we?

In Finnish Lapland, we had a few lunches cooked over a fire in a designated hut.  But a few we had over an open fire outside, surrounded by snow.  A bowl of warm food (usually reindeer stew) would then be handed out, along with a hot berry “juice”.  I loved it.  There is something so comforting about hugging your food bowl or mug and eating or drinking something warm enough to make you feel all “aahhhh, that’s good”.

My friend Fiona and I once met in Leigh-on-Sea for the most windswept picnic imaginable.  The drink we poured didn’t all go into the mugs, crisps went flying and we had to hold our food down on the plate to stop it blowing away.  While eating, sitting on a raised concrete area above the sea, also very cold, we realised – I am not kidding – a bride and groom had appeared and were having their photos taken with the sea (and, cringe, possibly us) behind them.

I don’t know exactly what it is that made yesterday’s picnic or the whole idea of winter picnics so memorable, but no matter how cold I get, it’s fun.  It’s doing something out of the ordinary, it’s being a bit cave girl, it’s laughing hysterically about pretty much falling off that bit of wood we found to sit on, it’s about hardly being able to eat or talk because it’s so cold, it’s about trying to do things with gloves or mittens when only hands can do the job; it’s about sharing a lot of laughs with a really good friend.  Go on, make my day, I hope at least one person reads this and soon after goes out and has a wintery picnic!

{04/02/2012}   Snow, The Joy of

Sledges, snowmen, attempts at making an igloo, enormous snow balls, laughing, snow angels … I absolutely love snow.  Of course, in my ideal snowy world I wouldn’t have to go anywhere non-play, I wouldn’t have to deal with wet boots/wellies and there would be no slush/brown snow.   There’s not enough snow this morning for full-on snow action, but who knows what tomorrow will bring!

My dad grew up in Latvia and in winter would skate to school across a lake or ski.  When he came to the UK, he would ski in the Alps and in his one box of pre-mum belongings, he had photos of him on ski slopes and ski medals.  I grew up believing I would inherit my dad’s ability to skate and ski.  Naturally, intuitively.  So did I?  Did I heck!

Skiing disappointed me.  I went twice in Japan, no lessons.  I had two of the most hilarious, Carry On esque holidays imaginable and I loved being outside surrounded by mountains and snow.  But I can’t ski and it scares me.

Four years ago I went to Finnish Lapland for a week’s snowy adventures.  I tried snowmobiling (a tad too much of an adrenaline rush, in fact downright lethal, but largely fun), reindeer and sleigh riding (-20 that day, eyes almost froze shut, reindeer are blatantly wild and very fast), husky sledding (very, very fast, it made me retch when they pooed -think about it – and challenging; something I would love to do again), snow shoe, er, walking (unbelievably hard to get anywhere and incredibly dull), ice fishing (bitterly, excruciatingly cold activity, but the reward of Heather catching a fish we then ate after it was cooked on a fire made it worthwhile) and cross-country skiing (the best sporting activity ever: snow, full-on cardio exercise, challenging on the flat, nearly impossible up hill and un-stoppable going down hill when your skis are in the grooves, ie crouch-down-whippet-fast).

On a less adventurous level, snow covers otherwise ugly or bland things in a beautiful sparkly blanket and creates a wonderland, the stuff of favourite children’s stories, the stuff of magic.

Two years ago, I was living in a house on the beach in Seasalter near Whitstable, from where the photo was taken.  It snowed so much that a friend and I got snowed in.  We took lots of snow jumping photos and made a snowman with seaweed, pebble and shell accessories (seaweed is great for dreadlocks!).  Without doubt, those few days will remain as favourite memories.

Many, many years ago, a friend and I who lived opposite each other (maybe aged 11ish) met up to play in the exceptionally deep snow that year.  As I remember it, we made a snowball half my height, which we couldn’t roll once it got too big and heavy, we tried to make an igloo but the building of snow bricks was just too laborious when we began to realise the enormity of the undertaking.  We then went sledding.  In a blizzard.  I remember my parents having been very worried while we were out.  I remember it being painfully cold but we were children of the Antarctic and carried on taking it in turns to pull the sledge (I wonder if this is how Carolyn remembers this?!) in a most heroic fashion.

I also remember the hill at the back of The Landway.  And the palings fence at the bottom.  And the stream beyond that.  Crash carnage!

While studying at Ol’ Miss in Oxford, Mississippi, there was a freak snow storm whereby the thick snow froze so we went sledging on ice, except we had trays rather than sleds so it was all very exciting.

These are just a tiny number of happy snow memories.  Another great thing about them is that they were all made even better by the presence of friends.  So, in no particular order, thank you Heather, Carolyn, Fiona, Nicky, Catherine P, Angela, Carla and my parents, and everyone else who doesn’t feature in these snowy tales but still have a place in my beloved snowy memories!

Most times I see the sea I sing “La Mer”, occasionally “Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside”.  As I live very near the sea, finding myself hum these songs on an almost daily basis has led me to question further my obsession with the sea.

My first foray with seaside living was two years ago for six months.  It was an interesting and half lovely house in a dream location: my back garden led directly onto the beach at Seasalter (near Whitstable).  The quickest (and of course nicest) way to walk into Whitstable was out my back door and along the beach.  The quickest way to walk to the best pub (Old Neptune, located on the beach) was along the beach. The best place to have a mug of tea was standing on the beach looking out to sea/the estuary.

I moved there to fulfill my obsession with living on a beach and to write.  I was there from October to May (I am a cold weather person so, no, I wasn’t disappointed to leave before summer).  I drank my tea and/or coffee most days on the beach, I had a beach walk, sit or sea-stare pretty much every day and if not outside, I could sit from either of my two living rooms (one ground floor, one first floor, but the middle floor one should really have been a bedroom) and look out to sea.  I was so happy living there I resented going out.  I only ever had the house for six months and I couldn’t have afforded it for longer.  It was my most prolific creative time, more craft than writing though.

I now live in an ordinary flat which merely has oblique sea views from one room and only in winter when the trees have no leaves!  I am about a three minute walk to a cliff top promenade (how grand and Victorian does that sound!) and a further five minute walk down a cliff path to the beach.  I often detour to walk along the prom and watch the sea. Here its’s proper sea rather than Whitstable’s tamer estuary.  While I see the sea most days, I might as well be living in London and visiting the seaside, to an extent.

I have realised that I need to be properly close to the sea where I live. I need to open the windows and hear it and smell it. It is not enough to live a few minutes from it. Ridiculous really and incredibly annoying because it’s far too expensive for me to live on the beach and near a train service to London.

I can sit and stare at the sea all day, it never bores me.  I have made most of my biggest decisions in life looking out to sea (at age 18 I went to Brighton and decided, as I looked out to sea, that I would take a job in Germany. Four years later, same place, I made a decision to go and work in Japan.  Relationship break ups have also been decided there. Brighton has in fact been a recurring place. Maybe I should live there one day).

What is it about the sea that makes you think?  A friend said the sea makes you melancholy.  Sometimes it does.  But like at Dungeness the other day, particularly if it’s windy, it really does feel like it blows away the cobwebs, giving you clarity.  It can’t just be the vastness of it because I get the same feeling at Whitstable where Sheppey and Essex are fairly close across the water.  I don’t feel a need to be in it or on it, I just want to be by the sea.  Is it that it’s constant?  Is there a degree of awe at its power?  Is the sound of it soothing?  Is it because it’s (superficially at least) unscathed and unconquerable by humans?  Does it have a kind of reset facility in our head in that it makes you focus on the sound, the relative monotony of the waves, it kind of cleans your mind and allows focus?  Sometimes it does make me feel melancholy, sometimes horribly so.  But sometimes it makes me feel a kind of childlike joy.  But usually it inspires me in some way.  The problem is that the moment passes by the time I get home.  Aha, so maybe that’s why I was more creative in Seasalter, I got the inspiration then could turn round and do it, rather than walking back home, etc, etc.

Today’s summary: I love the sea, it makes me either melancholy or creative but I need to live ON the beach for the creativity to be realised.  Groovy.  I need more money seems to be the answer again.  Grrrr.  Maybe I’ll investigate static caravan living?

et cetera