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.

A weekend away in Manc and Macc.

Sunday 2 November 2014 – Manchester and Macclesfield.

It seems like an age since El and I went away for a weekend, but checking back through the blog it appears it has only been four weeks, though it has been quite a while since we booked this trip up to Manchester and Macclesfield. One of EL’s oldest friends moved to Macc many years ago and has recently moved house again. We have been invited up for the house warming party and a side trip to Manchester seemed like a good thing to do.

Even though I have lived in England for at least four years over my two visits here I have never been to Manchester, or anywhere else much north of London, something I really need to remedy. In fact I have barely seen much of the UK outside of London, and the more I think I have seen the more I realise there is so much more of this lovely country to explore, so I need to remedy that too.

We booked the train early enough that it was only a little bit more to travel first class than normal, so we took the first class option and on the way up it was really worth it. We had both taken the afternoon off work so met early at Euston and had free lemonade and some crisps in the first class lounge at the station.

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The train ride was pleasant enough, it was a high speed train and only stopped twice on the way to Manchester so it was quite a quick trip. Travelling first class on an early commuter train meant we got free coffee, sandwiches, biscuits, crisps and, as I found out far too late, wine. Well worth the extra fiver it cost. Sadly the return trip on Sunday was as not well catered for, but it was not terrible 🙂

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We arrived in Manchester late in the afternoon, I had booked a room in a hotel quite near the station, and we checked straight in once we hit town. Unfortunately I was feeling the affects of a horrid little chest cold and was not 100%, so I needed a wee rest before we went and started exploring central Manchester in the early evening. We did not really have much of a plan, just a map from hotel reception and a desire to explore.

I will have to caveat this by saying I was sick and a little grumpy after a busy week at work and I was not really in the mood, but I was not overly impressed with downtown Manchester, it just didn’t inspire me as a city centre . Maybe we just didn’t see the best bits, I know we did not go to the new Quays area, or maybe I am over cities ? I cannot explain it, but I found it all a bit uninspiring.

There was an eye, but so many cities have those these days and the Wheel of Manchester is hardly in an inspiring location, maybe the views from the top were fab ? I don’t know.

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We walked down through the main shopping area to the cathedral and the football museum, before turning round and heading back the way we came arriving at the hotel in time for our dinner reservation. This is not our hotel by the way…

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It was Halloween, a festival I despise for its American commercialness, and the hotel had a DJ in the bar and it was really loud, un-surprisingly the restaurant was fairly empty, and those that were there, like us, did not linger, though they did turn the music down a bit so we converse over our meal. I took a whisky, purely for medicinal purposes, back to the room as soon as we had finished eating and we had a quite night in, apart from me coughing all night. The room was really nice and we could not hear the bar, which was a real bonus!

Saturday morning we were up relatively early and down for breakfast soon after they started serving, breakfast was pretty good and I did the usual and over-ate a hotel breakfast…

We wanted to see a bit more of downtown Manchester before heading out to Macclesfield in the afternoon. It was a glorious start to the day, lovely clear skies above and not too many people out and about on the streets.

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I was keen to get some photos of the trams, something to like about Manchester, and of course with a bright low sun I was also keen to get some lovely flareage in at least one photo.

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We were passing Manchester art gallery just on opening time so we decided to pay it a visit. It is partly in a lovely old sandstone building and partly in an ultra modern glass and concrete building behind. I really like this new thing of mixing up old and new buildings in galleries, it provides such a variety of hanging space, and they have done it really well here.

The gallery was interestingish – bearing in mind I was not feeling 100%, there were a couple of good exhibitions on, one based on war related imagery, and one on the 1950s cotton fashion industry. Manchester was the centre of the UK cotton industry and there was a big push by the marketing board in the ’50s to promote cotton into high fashion with a number of big-name English and European designers contributing to the push, I am not sure if it was successful or not, but some of the clothes were quite cool.

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I found this Banksy painting rather bizarrely positioned in the 19th Century British artist section…

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Manchester’s (Salford) finest contribution to the art world has to be L.S. Lowry, I really like his work and there was a classic Lowry cityscape hanging in the gallery. A painting of nearby Piccadilly Gardens from 1954. The Wheel of Manchester is now in the gardens, I liked it better in the Lowry’s version.

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A number of the buildings in Lowry’s painting still stand, though one of the things that I hated about Manchester was the mix and match of architecture and style – there just did not seem to be a theme to the planning and design, making it, in my opinion, quite ugly. Though of course there are some lovely parts to all cities and the section around the town hall was quite nice, almost European in style.

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Though the front of the townhall was closed off while some building work was being carried out, presumably for Christmas festivities.

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I was hoping to walk on a tow-path up the canal to the cathedral area, but there did not appear to be one to walk on, so we ended up walking up another busy road.

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I know times are tight for local councils, but there were a few signs like this around this part of town.

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We stopped for a smoothie and coffee and a sit down in a lovely tea house next to the cathedral before heading over for a look. The cathedral was nice, it was heavily refurnished in the 19th century, so it does not look particularly old from the outside, but parts of it date back to Saxon times and it has been modified and expanded ever since.

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The coolest thing about the cathedral is that they host gigs inside, stage and lighting was being set up for a gig that night, and one of my favourite bands 65 Days of static, had played there on Wednesday – that was a gig I should have gone to, I bet the sound under that massive ceiling was amazing.

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Our main goal for the day was the Football Museum, a new addition to Manchester, and though I have just criticised the mix of new and old buildings, I think the design of this building fits in with its location – just.

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Actually, I really liked the building 🙂 which was more than could be said for the museum, I was disappointed by it to be honest, I love the idea and I think it could be really interesting, it was just a bit too disjointed for me. It did seem to have a really good interactive component though and I think kids with an interest in the game would love it..

It was time to head back to the hotel and on to the station so we walked back via the northern quarter, which is the new old up and coming, hip, cool bit of Manchester. It is a bit Shoreditch, and I think will be pretty good given a bit more time and some more shops moving in.

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There are some great record shops and cafes there, so next time I am in Manc – and hopefully feeling less sick, I will check it out more. I did go and buy a record though. Muzai, one of my favourite small NZ labels has just moved to the UK’s north west and a couple of albums are available from Piccadilly Records. I bought the All seeing Hand LP. If Piccadilly was in London, I would be broke. Wow, such an awesome selection of post rock, psych, shoegaze and noise. I left in a hurry.

We caught the train out to Macclesfield in the early afternoon and it was good to slump for a while, walking around had really taken it out of me. Macclesfield is about thirty minutes by train from Manchester and Jen met us at the station and we walked for ten minutes to her new house. When we got there, after some polite chat time I snuck away for a snooze before the party started – and then fell asleep in a chair in another room at about 9:30. At that point I felt it was time to go to bed… everyone enjoyed the party apparently.

After another night of coughing and little sleep I surprised myself by feeling a little perkier on Sunday morning and with a couple of coffees and a massive breakfast at a nearby cafe inside me I was ready to go. Jen’s brother and his wife had also stayed the night so the five us went for a drive in his car to the nearby Tegg’s Nose Country Park for a brief walk before El and I had to jump on the train back to London.

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It was a lovely walk and I really enjoyed being in the countryside; breathing some fresh air, getting the shoes slightly muddy and pondering what the running and riding would be like.

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There are some great old English long horn cattle here, I do not know the particular breed, but the horns are amazing, and this fellow was quite friendly.

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The views from the hill were lovely, typical English country side. Green and lush and some autumn colours just starting to show.

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It is hard to see in this picture, but this was looking out over the Jodrell Bank space observatory.

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In far too short a time we had to turn round and head back to the car.

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And onwards to Macclesfield station and the return trip to London.

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I surprised myself, by really liking Macc. It is a nice feeling town, especially where Jen lives and I look forward to going back one day and exploring the town itself.

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It was a good weekend away, I am really pleased to have finally made it to Manchester, I didn’t enjoy it particularly, but then I wasn’t feeling the best, so I will blame me and not the small part of the city I visited.

I ended up taking the following day off of work as I was feeling pretty rubbish, finally stopping coughing enough to get a decent sleep on Thursday, when El I passed the baton on to El. Sorry…