Thursday, 20 May 2010

Around the Kent coast

This post has been written for Blogtrotting.  Go along and visit to take a tour around the world!

I've lived in the south east of England for less than a year (and chose the worst winter in living memory to arrive) so I'm still in a learning phase.  From a point of view of history, it's a fascinating area because so many invasions of the island came through here or someone had hoped that they would.  Everywhere you turn you can see signs of the efforts to fight off these invasions.

I thought I'd take you on a brief and rapid tour of the coastline I've so far explored, starting at Hythe, just to the west of Folkestone.  Hythe is one of the places, there are several around here, which used to be on the sea but the centre is now well inland.  The name Hythe means haven or landing place so the sea must have been there once.  It was one of the Cinque Ports set up in 1155, coastal towns that maintained ships ready for use by the Crown.  Walking through the town, one of the first things you notice is the Military Canal.  Now it's a pleasant and attractive area for relaxing, but it was built 1804-1809 to defend against possible invasion during the Napoleonic Wars.  It's 28 miles long and had a Royal Military Road built alongside it now giving people the opportunity to walk or ride its length.

Moving along the coast to Folkestone now.  Although it suffered invasions in its time, it's witness to the opposite too, an exodus of holiday makers from the UK to France - first from being a ferry port, then a hovercraft port, and now it hosts one end of the channel tunnel.

Folkestone beach and remains of hoverport

Cars loading on to Channel Tunnel train

Folkestone has cliffs but nothing like the white cliffs of Dover, our next stop along the way. Once my parents lived on top of those cliffs so I know the fantastic views from walks along the cliff tops. The cliffs are about to undergo "refurbishment" by which they mean the removal of some of the scrub that's grown on the cliff face and spoils the "whiteness".

Dover Castle above the white cliffs

Dover is so much more than white cliffs though, with its castle high up on the cliff guarding the area from invasion ever since the 12th century right up until World War II.

Dover Castle seen from the land side

Now it's one of the main crossing points to Europe.

The Port of Dover from the castle

Cross Channel ferries continually going to and fro

You'll notice the beach at Dover - shingle, or pebbled, like so many others in this part of the world.  Shingle beaches are fairly unusual elsewhere and provide a particular habitat for wildlife, protected in some places.

Further along, and passing the place where the Romans first set foot in Britain, the small town of Deal used to be the busiest port in England, though now it's hard to imagine.  The Goodwin Sands sheltered (still do) ships' moorings and until  steam powered ships were commonplace the town (and smuggling) flourished.

Deal sea front

Middle Street, a hotbed of smuggling

Deal Castle, built by Henry VIII, is the most obvious reminder of days gone by.

The next place I'd like to show you is Sandwich, another town that was once a port and is now quite a distance from the sea.

Sandwich quay

In 1023 King Canute granted a charter to the monks of Christchurch Canterbury to operate a ferry across the river and collect fares.  The Barbican was built in 1740 and beneath it is a list of the old tolls due.

The Barbican, Sandwich, with The Crispin inn next door

There are various ancient inns nearby.  The one next to the Barbican, the Crispin, dates from 1491 but as an inn only since 1769.  Before that it was the home of the ferryman. It was named after the patron saint of shoemakers, said to have been shipwrecked nearby.

For those interested in golf, the Royal St George's golf course is in Sandwich and will host the 2011 Open Championship.

Ramsgate next, and here we have the only Harbour allowed call itself "Royal" in the country.

Until 1723 Ramsgate was just a fishing village but it became another of the Cinque Ports and during the Napoleonic Wars it was almost a garrison town.  It played a large part in the evacuation of Dunkirk 70 years ago, by the fleet of Little Ships.  Next week as many of the Little Ships that are able will mark the anniversary with a flotilla going across the Channel to Dunkirk once again.

Finally, breathe a sigh of relief, Whitstable, famous for its oysters since Roman times.  A lovely little seaside town with fish, shellfish and seafood available at every turn.

A well known and popular fish restaurant, with prices to match

Part of the fish market

It's so well known as a seafood town that the old railway (the Canterbury and Whitstable Line) used to be nicknamed the Crab and Winkle Line.

Of course the best known place in this part of Kent is Canterbury but anyone making a pilgrimage there for the Cathedral and old city could do far worse than to extend the journey for a quick look around the coastline, to the many other places of interest.
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Saturday, 15 May 2010


Two halves - shells on a beach in Brittany.

Half a circle, plus a quarter in reflection.

Half light of sunrise.

If you'd like to join in the PhotoHunt and find other players, pay a visit to TNchick's site where you can find out more.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The start of the season

The Great British summer season kicked off with a large outdoor flea market or car boot sale in traditional Great British summer weather.

The stall holders gave up trying to protect their goods from the rain.  There were many soggy bargains to be had.

A couple of days later the first concert at the bandstand.  At least the rain held off but even the band members were wearing gloves.  The two ice cream vans fought over the solitary customer, but he fed his ice cream to his dogs.

This is supposed to be May!  They say things will be better by the weekend....

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Empty houses

Photo from Flickr/kathybragg

One of the abiding memories I have of the Ireland of my childhood is of the countryside dotted with empty houses, most in ruins. My grandmother told me it was the result of the potato famine and the general emigration from Ireland which has happened in waves before and since then. In fact emigration from Ireland has been going on ever since the 17th and 18th centuries.

When Ireland joined the European Union, the country went through an enormous boom. Money was pouring into the country, jobs were plentiful and immigrants were attracted from other parts of Europe. House prices rose accordingly.

With the recession the property bubble has come to a catastrophic end. The property market has been banjaxed, as my father would have said. There are empty houses once again in Ireland. They aren't the old stone-built country cottages, they are in modern estates, now referred to as ghost estates. One in five houses in Ireland is unoccupied. Even if every Irish person in need of a home were to be given one, there would still be many left over.

This is partly the result of over-build spurred on by visions of easy gains. Planners were allowing the development, bankers were lending the money to enable it to happen. Then it all stopped.

Not only did the money stop flowing, the influx immigrants slowed right down and many returned home. Now unemployment is rising sharply, and more and more Irish are emigrating again. The difference now is that it was so unexpected to the generation most affected.
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Saturday, 1 May 2010


This morning I was very much focused on the black clouds above me, but I've just realised that Prague offers a good selection of opportunities.  It's often called the city of 100 spires and most of them are black.

There is even a tower called the Black Tower.

Not very black, I know, but that's its name.  Built in 1135, it's the oldest building in Prague. It wasn't until the big castle fire in the 16th century that it became known as the Black Tower but the name seems to have stuck.

I was intrigued to spot a black chandelier for sale in one of the shops selling Bohemian crystal.

It seems almost a contradiction in styles - black glass tells me modern, but the style of the chandelier is very traditional.  Besides, I don't think you'd get too many of them to the pound, judging by the price tag.

However, returning to the spires, they are everywhere you look, even among the modern chimney pots and satellite dishes.

But the most well known black spires are those on St Vitus Cathedral.

Because of where it is, inside the castle complex, it's really quite hard to get a close view of the cathedral.

But at a distance it's almost always there on the horizon.

To return briefly to the black clouds, they eventually disappeared but not before soaking me thoroughly.   There comes a time in the procedure of being soaked when you realise it's just not worth trying to stay dry any longer.  You may just as well walk right through the puddles and hope to dry off later.  It was that bad.

If you'd like to join in the PhotoHunt and find other players, pay a visit to TNchick's site where you can find out more.
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