The old town of Rye.

Saturday 20 September 2014 – Rye, East Sussex – Part one…

September has turned into a bit of a busy month, something I am really pleased about as I had suspected that with work now in full swing I would get a bit tired and lazy and end up not doing too much at the weekends. However, this was a weekend away that El and I booked a few weeks ago, my birthday was on Wednesday and we decided we would celebrate it by going somewhere new, and for no reason other than it looked nice we picked the village of Rye, under two hours away by train on the south east coast.

I would like to say that we picked Rye as it was a coastal town worth investigating for a property, and factually speaking Rye was a coastal town – about 2000 years ago. Since then the shoreline has slowly moved away as the shallows around the entrance to the River Rother have silted up after bad storms in the 1200s and the town is now about two miles from the sea. Isn’t the earth amazing?

We met after work on Friday at St Pancras Station with the intention to get the fast train to Ashford where we would pick up another train that would take us to Rye. We had an hour to wait until the train we planned on getting left, but saw on the board that an earlier train was about to leave so we dashed down to the platform and jumped on the train – only to find it was the slowest of the slow Ashford trains, and it ran slowly as well. One of us was not happy. The train arrived late into Ashford, but with luck on our side the train to Rye was still in the station and we managed to jump just before it left, saving us another half an hour delay.

We arrived in Rye, slightly late, but in time to unpack and settle before the 8:30 reservation we had made in the hotel restaurant. It was dark when we arrived and there was a light fog settling in as well. The hotel was five minutes from the station and it was a little eerie walking up through the narrow streets surrounded by some quite old houses. One of the reasons we chose to stay in Rye is because it had a cool looking hotel – The Mermaid Inn, which we had chosen to stay in. The hotel has a very long – and quite chequered history, originally built in the 1100s it was rebuilt in 1420.

IMG 0664

Our room was on the top floor, up some narrow and creaky stairs, in an attic space under a gabled roof. It was pretty lovely, the first thing I did was take a look out the window, then grabbed my freshly fixed camera and took a time exposure out of the window of the Tudor houses in the street. I was so excited about getting out and about tomorrow morning !

IMG 0653

IMG 0657

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and while the food was good, it was extremely expensive, and sadly in our opinion not particularly good value. If I was paying that much in London I would have expected a lot more for the money. Service, ambiance and food.

The first thing I did when I woke up was to check out the window again to see if last night’s fog was still hanging around, and I was really pleased to see that it was. We decided we would take a brief walk around the village before breakfast to see what it looked like before too many people got up and before all the fog had lifted.

IMG 0656

IMG 0660It was pretty magic outside, though the worst of the fog had gone before got out the door. The old part of the town of Rye sits on a hill overlooking the old harbour. There have been people living here since before Roman times, though most of the buildings are from the 1400’s onwards as the French destroyed the town in the late 1300s.

IMG 0665

IMG 0666

IMG 0667

IMG 0669

IMG 0671

I knew there was an old fort – Ypres Tower, in the town and it didn’t take too long to find it, and of course we planned on visiting again later in the day – during opening hours. The fort was originally built in 1259 to defend against the constantly marauding French, in fact the name Rye comes from the French word, Rie – meaning sand bank.

IMG 0672

IMG 0674

The view from the canon ramparts was not that spectacular in the fog…

IMG 0673

There was also some great doors and door signs!

IMG 0675

 IMG 0685

I loved this one…

IMG 0743

IMG 0668

After a nice pre-feed walk we went back to the hotel for breakfast before starting out on our unplanned adventure for the day. We started with a quick tour around the inside of the Mermaid Inn. It is a glorious building, home for also sorts of people from ancient pirates to more recent actors and politicians (more pirates !).

IMG 0676

IMG 0679

IMG 0681

Room 19 is supposed to be haunted, I just had a peak in the door, didn’t see anything. But I noticed the people who stayed there had left….

IMG 0741

We decided to more thoroughly walk the village, we needed some cash and a map of the area, and ended up with both. Along with two pairs of boots for me and a small clock for El – we were not planning on shopping, honest ! We did go into the local, and quite cool second hand record shop -where we didn’t buy anything…

IMG 0689

Nor did we buy anything from one of the two old school sweet shops.

IMG 0707

At the end of one side of town is the Landgate, the last remaining old town gate from what was a fully walled town. The Landgate and the wall were started in the 1340s after a French invasion. To no avail as there was a further invasion in 1370 and the town was largely destroyed.

IMG 0696

IMG 0697

The village is really lovely, it is definitely a tourist destination as it has been so well preserved – so many of these buildings are listed and therefore protected by law. Thank goodness.

IMG 0692

IMG 0736

IMG 0737

IMG 0738

IMG 0744

We headed back for a fascinating tour of Ypres Tower before stopping for lunch in a small cafe, just as the tourist crowds really started to arrive.

IMG 0731

IMG 0729

IMG 0721

IMG 0726

Wow, so far so good !! It was a pretty packed day, so I will make this my first two part blog post ever 🙂

A visit to Sarfend.

Sunday 14 September 2014 – Southend-on-Sea.

While El and I were away on the Isle of Wight last weekend we started discussing the possibility of buying a small holiday home somewhere. This conversation carried on during the week and we talked about what we would want from a holiday place. It seems that in a perfect world we would be able to buy somewhere near St Ives in Cornwall, but that is just way to far away to be practical right now, but is definitely a future consideration.

Much as I am very happy living with El in her house I had become fairly used to living alone and occasionally feel the need to escape to my own pad, with my own things and just chill out. When I moved in after I returned from NZ in July it was intended that once I was working I would look for my own flat and move out. Living together has not raised any alerts and we have pretty much agreed that it would be silly for me to spend 1500-1700 pounds a month renting a flat I would only stay in half the time. This basically means I have some money to invest. So a buying a cheap flat or house somewhere on the coast but near enough to London so we could easily and cheaply visit at the weekends, or I could commute to and from on occasion, seems like a sensible thing to do.

We just need to find somewhere we like. Southend-on-Sea is not going to be one of those places, but it is close by and well worth checking out as it will give us some idea of what is out there, and what seaside towns near to London can be like.

After Steve and I did our Leigh-on-Sea to Southend photo walk back in April I had  been thinking about doing the final leg of the walk from Southend to Shoeburyness, so, as it was a nice day, El and decided to make the trip in reverse.  We caught a train into Liverpool St, walked over to Fenchurch St Station and caught the train out to Shoeburyness. Shoeburyness was interesting, the tide was out, seemingly almost as far as France, and we could see kite surfers way out on the horizon, they were so far out that at first I wondered what they were – and you cannot even see them in this photo taken on my phone. It was a nice enough place, there were some very nice apartments near the sea, but that tide is just too much for me.

20140914 122307

There was a short section of coast with the ubiquitous beach huts on it before we hit a  long section of much nicer beach that was closed to the public as it was/is an MOD testing site, there were numerous signs warning of unexploded shells and other ordinance possibly lying around. Sadly this section of coast was quite long…

20140914 122429

I did love this sign – ‘deep water’ !!! – You can barely see the water.

20140914 122500

20140914 123346

It took us about thirty minutes to walk to the outskirts of Southend, and as soon as the MOD area was over, the beach huts appeared. Quite a number of them had people gathered inside and out and there was a bit of a part time sea side community going on. Not my thing, but nice to see people getting out and about, even though the view of the estuary to the power station was not the most attractive.

20140914 125020

20140914 130210

I liked this end of Southend, there are some quite nice houses, and as there is no entertainment at this end of the beach it was all very quiet. You can see Southend Pier in the background, the longest in the world apparently – mainly because the sea goes out so far !

20140914 130806

After about an hour and a half of walking we arrived in Southend central, and like before I knew it was just not my place, far too busy for me. We walked through town, heading for the Westcliff area that I wanted to have a look at. We stopped at the famous Rossi’s ice cream shop, a long standing feature of Southend, and one my mum asked me about after she read my blog post from back in April. She used to visit here when she was young and was interested to see if it was still here. The ice cream was very nice too, as I believe it was  in my mum’s day.

20140914 135503

After Rossi’s it was time to go so wandered up through Westcliff to the station and headed back home.

Did I learn anything about buying property on the coast, not really. But I did learn that buying somewhere near the sea, means I want to hear the waves. So that rules out this section of coast!

Bush and beach, sun and sea + castles. A perfect holiday?

Sunday 7 September 2014 – Ryde, Isle of Wight.

It felt like it had been ages since El and I last had a weekend away in England together, so we were eagerly looking forward to this weekend trip to the Isle of Wight. We took a day trip there last summer and had committed to ourselves to returning and exploring some more. I holidayed there on a couple of occasions when I was a child and had retained some vague memories of visiting places on the south coast like Ventnor and Black Gang Chine. I was looking forward to revisiting both locations – though I suspect things have changed in the last forty years…

In a previous life El and her then husband owned a flat in Ryde, one of the larger towns on the island, and the destination of the Portsmouth ferry. El’s ex still owns the flat and we were going to stay there and use it as our base for exploring. In summer the prices of everything on the island increase significantly – as they do everywhere I guess, so it was really nice to have some free accommodation.

For a change we had a weekend away with no rain forecast and in a mood of total optimism I did not pack either my rain coat or an umbrella – even more optimistically I threw my togs in my bag (togs = swimming costume in NZish). I have not been in the sea for well over a year and it was definitely well over due.

We were going to catch the 5:30 train from Waterloo to Portsmouth after work on Friday, but discovered at the last minute that the large Bestival music festival was also happening on the island over the weekend so elected to sneak away from work a bit early and catch the train at 5:00. We made it to the train in time and surprisingly it was not too busy, with only a few festival goers adding to the normal number of commuters heading home. I have no idea how they do it, I find the twenty minute train ride I have in the morning to be enough, how people do the almost two hour trip each way every day I do not know. Though living by the sea must make up for it.

The flat is about 500 metres from the end of the pier at Ryde  so we were inside and unpacked before 8:00. We decided to keep it local for dinner and just headed over the road to a newish Mediterranean restaurant for pizza and wine and then back to the flat to chill. I had a big day planned for  us the following day…

We were up earlyish on Saturday, and as this was a holiday we didn’t bother with making breakfast – just popped over the road to a cafe for, in my case, a bacon and egg roll and a cup of coffee.

We had a bit of an ambitious mission in mind: Catching the train to Shanklin, walking to Ventnor for lunch, then on to Black Gang Chine, catching a bus to Newport and walking to nearby Carisbrooke Castle – then back to Newport and on to Ryde. Sweet, a nice mix of bush, beach and castle!

We headed down to the quay at Ryde and did not have to wait too long for the train to Shanklin, there is only a small line on the island and its sole train is an old London Underground ‘tube’ train.


Shanklin is on the south side of the island and is very much an old beach town, I loved the old town theatre – still thriving and still showing family pantomimes, just like when I was a child.


Before I went to New Zealand when I was eleven, I lived in North Cheam, a working class south London suburb. My neighbours on one side were an old couple Mr and Mrs Aubrey – the strawberries as I recall naming them. They were very interested in ancient history and collecting fossils and played a huge part in my fascination with old things, I still have the books they gave me as birthday presents – rare and treasured things left over from my childhood. The island and this section of Britain’s south coast are well known locations for fossil and stone hunters and it was nice to see that this is still the case.


Like many of Britain’s small towns and villages Shanklin had a ‘new’ part and a historical old part, as we were on a mission we just passed through the quaint old part of the town as we headed for the coastal track.


We found the coast walk easily enough – by following a map, one made of paper, not one made of Google – it was refreshing to work off a paper map for a change , I didn’t need to keep getting my glasses out to keep track of my location either!


Soon we were heading out of town and over the cliff tops towards Ventnor, though there was not really much of a view as the horizon just blurred into the grey of the sky.


It was a nice walk, through a mix of gentle forest and past the back of small villages and through the Bonchurch Landslips, a section of the coast that has been slowly sliding in to the sea for the past thousand of years so. Walking in rural Britain is always such a joy.







We stopped at the lovely moss laden Wishing Seat and rested our butts on the rock worn smooth and slightly concave through the wear of a thousand butts before us.


We stopped to admire the complete lack of view of the French coast, before coming into Bonchurch.


We didn’t head up into the old village itself, just paid our respects to the lovely lovely St Boniface Church between the village and sea. I love the fact this church was rebuilt in 1070!


Though in fact a lot of the church is far newer, mostly being finished only 500 or so years ago… Inside there is still some of the original fresco left.





We reluctantly left the church and its grounds and carried on through the last of the landslips till we popped back out into the 20th century (not quite the 21st here !) just outside the town of Ventnor. As I said at the start I holidayed here when I was a child, and have a photo of my dad sitting on the concrete steps somewhere around here, smoking his pipe.




I kind of like this old fashioned concreted beach front and wall – and I of course utterly hate it. It is part quaint and old fashioned and part hideously ugly and un-necessary. Neither side of the argument in my head particularly held a strong hand, and I left undecided about it. I wasn’t tempted to swim here though, hot and sweaty as I was.

We carried on walking to and then through Ventnor town, past the sort of pleasant beach and sat down for lunch in the pub at the far end of the beach.


One of the things I loved about Ventor and its beach is that it summed all that is great about parts of the English coast. A kind of average beach, sort of sand, beach huts and deck chairs. Fabulous.



Realising we would not be able to walk to Black Gang in the time we had left in the day, while we waited for lunch we checked out the bus timetable from Ventnor and then onwards to Newport. Public transport on the island is notoriously bad and off season on a Saturday was even worse, so we decided to flag Black Gang – much to my dismay ! Black Gang is one of the few real memories I have of my childhood holidays and I was quite looking forward to going there. We will just have to come back to the island again.

After a very average, yet expensive lunch we walked up the hill into central Ventnor with leaden legs and full bellies and just arrived in time to get the half hourly bus through to the administrative capital and centre(ish) of the island in Newport. From a tourist point of view there are few features in Newport, but a short walk from the busy bus centre is Carisbrooke Castle and a castle is always something to get excited about in my book.

I got into the habit of walking around the outside of ruins when I was in Cambodia looking at the Khymer ruins around Angkor. There was always less people on the perimeter and it provided a different perspective on what I saw, before following the more usual route through and around the centre.




There has been a castle at Carisbrooke since Saxon times but construction of the castle we visited today was started around 1100 by the de Redvers family when they were gifted the island by the crown. The outer walls were added much later in 1588 when the infamous Spanish Armada came close to the island.


Carisbrooke’s main claim to fame is being were the ex-king Charles 1 was imprisoned after his defeat in the English Civil War in 1647. It is a pretty awesome place and we really enjoyed our visit, though due to time pressure and being a bit knackered we did not stay as long as we could have.

Naturally I took a LOT of photos…









After the castle visit, walking back into Newport and catching the bus to Ryde we did a bit of family visiting before heading out for a tea at a new local Thai place. The service was slow due to a few staffing issues, but we were not in a rush and the food was really really good, some of the best Thai I have had in the UK, it was also incredibly cheap and they gave us a free glass of wine each for making us wait – a very nice touch. I very rarely mention places I have eaten in or stayed at, but Ryde Thai – you were great !! We took a half an hour walk along the Esplanade after dinner to allow all that food to digest a bit before bed.

We were up pretty early on Sunday, the flat is on the main road in Ryde and it a bit noisy at night. With my complete lack of ability to sleep in anything other than ideal conditions I had a couple of restless nights, the street sweeper coming through about 5:30 am didn’t help much either. The streets were pretty quiet when we left for a pre-breakfast walk. The flat was above a shop.



We walked back up the Esplanade again, looking for somewhere to stop for breakfast while I waited for the sun to crack through the low cloud, giving me a reason to get into the sea. The beach along here has some lovely sections and these are groomed over night to really make them shine.


As I had damaged my new Canon G16 camera on my microadventure I had brought my increasingly unreliable Panasonic GX1 with me, and after a few moments yesterday it finally stopped working altogether this morning and this was the last photo I got.


We had an incredibly average breakfast at a place on the waterfront, and then came across a cafe further along the beach at Puckpool that looked really nice, damnit… By this time the sun had finally hit the beach and it was soon time to be brave, take a concrete pill and get into the sea. El grabbed a picture on her phone of me shivering my way in to commemorate the occasion.

IMG 3552

It was a very quick swim, but I did get all the way in and made an effort. My swim for 2014 has been done !!

And that was it really. Weekend over. We walked back to the flat, packed and cleaned and headed back down to the ferry. A lovely weekend away. Sea, sand, sun, bush and beach – and castles. Magic.

Microadventure !

Thursday 21 August 2014 – Somewhere near Dorking, Surrey.

In my last post I mentioned that I recently had interviews for two IT based roles, and that I had been called back to both for second round interviews. As it turned out I did not get either of those jobs, which to be honest was a pretty good thing as I was rung later that week about a third job… Bizarrely this was the best out of all the jobs I have interviewed for lately and after a process lasting a mere three days a contract was signed and I started as an application systems manager the next day. It has great money, great people, interesting work and being based in Covent Garden just adds to all the good things about the job. I have been there for a week now, and it was pay day yesterday. My bank account and I are so very very happy:

Anyway, back on subject…. Via someone I follow on Twitter I recently discovered adventurer and author, Alastair Humphreys just as he was releasing his new book entitled “Microadventures” . I was intrigued by some of the things he wrote about in his blog so I bought the book to read on the plane when I went to New Zealand in July. His idea is that people with limited recreation hours should make the most of the time between the 9 – 5 hours of the working day, those spare hours between 5 and 9, for small adventures. Not all of us are fortunate enough to be able to take off for days or weeks on end and do something out side of our own box, and now that I have settled into work the opportunity for adventuring is a lot less. I have also realised that after so much travel I am not entirely ‘normal’ anymore and like to get out and explore off the beaten track every now and then.

After delving into this microadventure thing further I found a small group of people who have been sneaking out after work, jumping on a train out into the counties outside London, walking up a hill and sleeping on it. Heading back into the office with a big grin the following day. This all sounded extremely cool to me so I made contact and the following Thursday…

For the past week the forecast for tonight had been looking really good and it was still showing a clear night as I had breakfast before leaving for work with a backpack loaded for sleeping out. However, when I left the office at 6:00 to walk to the meeting point at Waterloo Station the skies had clouded over and a shower just happened to pass by as I crossed over the Thames – Damn!

IMG 0650

I had taken my new camera on the trip and this was the only photo I took with it. With a very full backpack I somehow managed to damage one of the leaf shutters that protect the lens. As you would expect I was not very happy with myself for that. All the rest of the photos are taken on my phone.

I met Anna, who has been organising things, and Lara under the big clock in Waterloo station and while we waited for others to show up Lara and I went to M and S to grab some basic snacks for a shared dinner. When we got back to Anna we discovered that the four other people who were to meet at the station had all bailed out – I guess due to the weather, suckers ! As we were getting tickets for the return trip to Dorking we heard the announcer calling the train – at the furthest platform from where we were standing. We made a mad dash for it, got through the ticket barrier and watched the doors close and the train ease out of the station…

With thirty minutes to wait until the next train at 19:24 we sat on the platform, ate some of the food we had just bought and introduced ourselves to each other until the train arrived. Three total strangers heading off to sleep in a field, awesome.

The train arrived in Dorking a few minutes late at 20:20 and we met the fourth member of our small party, Glenn, who had been waiting patiently after driving in from a nearby town. Night had fallen before we arrived so the original plan to walk from Dorking station to “God’s Seat” just off the North Downs Way for sunset was thrown out the window. As a plan B we headed towards the downs and looked for a convenient hill that would give us a view of the morning’s sunrise as well as trees nearby in case the now forecasted light showers turned into something more unpleasant in the wee hours.

After half an hour of vaguely planned walking around we came across a field in a National Trust park that seemed to be facing the right direction for sunrise, had some trees for rain cover if needed and some nice soft long grass for lying on. Strictly speaking it is against National Trust rules to sleep in their parks, but this was kind of out of the way, and I am a member, so…..

We found a patch on the far side of the field and unpacked food and drink and settled in for a chat, a feed and a laugh before finally organising to settle in for the night around 11:30. As this was a very light weight trip there was no tents involved, I had a sleeping mat and slipped my sleeping bag into a recently purchased bivvy bag. The bivvy is basically a large waterproof bag that fully covers the sleeping bag as well as having a head cover to snuggle into – in case of rain and cold. Mine was long enough to allow me to stuff my pack down into the bottom if the rain got too hard, but for tonight I was using my bag as a very hard pillow.

I must say I did not get a lot of sleep, though this was well within expectation – I mean I sleep badly in a nice bed, there was little hope of a great night sleep while in a field! I did get some sleep, between a couple of light showers, the bird noise and the sun rising way too early. It was lovely to be sleeping out, something I should have done before – especially when I was in Africa and had some great opportunities to get out of the tent and sleep under the stars. It was a reasonably comfortable night, I stayed completely dry, considering it did rain a bit – and having bought wisely, my bivvy breathed well as well. Something I was quite pleased.

2014-08-22 05.48

The sun started to rise just before 5:00 and that was when I discovered my camera wasn’t working anymore. I grabbed a couple of blurry pictures with my phone before the others got up and the rising sun started to colour the horizon.

2014-08-22 05.51

2014-08-22 06.00

2014-08-22 06.02

I spent a vast amount of the night staring at these two trees, in the dull light of the night they really looked like two dinosaurs fighting.

2014-08-22 06.04

We were all up, packed and off just after 6:00, taking a slow walk back to Dorking station from Denbies Hillside before jumping on a train back into the city – and in the office for a shower before starting my day at the desk at 8:30. A happy grin on my face all day, though my new colleagues did think I was a bit mad…

2014-08-22 06.12