February 06 2016 – Folkestone.
I have made two further trips to Folkestone since I last wrote about flat hunting reconnaissance missions on January 15. Sadly the weather did not play ball on either of those occasions and that crisp blue sky day was not to be repeated.
My first visit was on the 22nd Jan, it was grey and miserable, the cloud was really low and there was no view at all. In a way it was good to visit on such a day, get an understanding of what an area feels like when it is all a bit crap outside. It actually wasn’t too bad, there were still people walking dogs on the cliff tops, I expect some of the walkers out and about were also visitors like myself.
The high street is a bit grim and uninspiring at the best of times, so I pretty much avoided that, but I did do a circuit of the Creative Quarter and there were a few folk looking into shop windows, and all the cafes were busy enough. I took that as a good sign for such a rubbish day.
I had arranged to see a couple of flats, they were both in the same block and were both vacant. I didn’t like either of them. I also hated the block. It looks OK on the outside, but it stank of cigarette smoke in the hallways, and had that air of tenanted neglect in the foyer. I left feeling pretty miserable about the whole thing. My worst fears were met. I might find a great flat but the building and the other residents may ruin that good will.
I am also having second thoughts about my chosen area due to the number of cheap hotels now acting as boarding houses for the homeless, or temporary accommodation for those who have been kicked out of, or otherwise left, council housing. It is a complex emotion and situation, I firmly believe everyone has a right to a roof over their head, to be safe and to be warm and dry, but I am also a bit NIMBY as well. I am investing most of my money, I have to make sure it is a wise investment, plus I also want to live there and sadly some of those residents bring baggage or have ideas and lifestyles that do not gel with mine.
I went back to London confused and a bit down on it all.
The good thing was I was not totally put off, I am slightly more resilient than that! What is scaring me off buying is the state of the economy, and specifically the impact it is having on my employer. I work for a language school and we are being severely impacted by the high value of the British pound against other currencies and also by the UK Govt making it harder to get a visa to come to the UK study. It is a tough time to be trading with Europe at the moment. It is not really mentioned but I am sure all the xenophobic comments coming out of the UK are detracting potential visitors as well.
Not wanting to quit before I really got started I have kept my eye on the market and earlier this week arranged to see three more flats today, all in the same area as the flats I saw two weeks ago. It is the area I want to buy in.
I finally got around to buying myself a Network Rail Card today, it cost £30 and saved me £10 on my return journey to Folkestone. If had bought one when I first decided to last year, I would already be saving money. I have been really slack lately, and have now promised myself to be more organised and committed to doing the things I need to do, when I need to do them. Less procrastinating !
I actually quite like the ride to Folkestone from St Pancras, on the high speed train it takes just under an hour, it doesn’t stop much and the scenery is not terrible. I do like the Dartford Bridge.
I arrived in a grey old Folkestone an hour and a half before my first viewing was due, I wanted to do a bit more of a walk around, and check out the near-eastern cliffs. As I have said before, one of the things I like about the town is its proximity to the countryside, and right outside the station is a sign advertising it.
I had seen some photos of the Foord Viaduct, and had thought about trying to find it, but it all looked a bit surrounded by dull suburbia so I had not bothered to work out its location. Stumbling up on it, was I suppose, inevitable, Folkestone is hardly big. I was very impressed, it is really cool up close! Built in 1843 in under 6 months, it is comprised of 19 arches, with the highest at over 100ft. It is the tallest arched viaduct in the world. I must say I would not want to live too close !
After my slight detour to walk under the viaduct I walked down to the sea front, and to Sunny Beach, which I believe is man made?, well the sand part anyway. I took a photo of the Folkestone Mermaid when El and I came here a few weeks ago, it was created for the triennial in 2011 by Cornelia Parker. I decided to take another photo as I like it.
It is really windy today, really really windy, so there was a bit of a swell going and I was surprised to see surfers out, I did not picture Folkestone as a surfing town, but you learn something new every day, another positive.
I walked along the wall above Sunny Beach, and then up the stairs to the cliff top. I am not sure if the sign or the seat was first….
At the top there are a few second world war pill boxes or coast watch buildings one of which is still being used not sure if it by the coast card or the RNLI, but I like the way it is all hunkered down in the cliff top, It needed to be in this wind.
With its proximity to France this section of coast has long had a military presence, with small forts and large castles like Dover dotted all around. There is also a long string of Martello Towers, small 19th century coastal forts, in between the large forts all along the coast here.
The view up and down the coast from here was nice, and one day I could see myself exploring up and down those cliff tops !
It was drawing close to time for the first viewing so, I headed back the way I came, and once off the water front, decided to wander up through the Creative Quarter, which was really busy again.
I just happened to pass by Salvation Records and had to go in, and this time was forced into buying couple of things. When I come back, I must try and stay clear, or stay strong if I do visit ! To be fair to myself, I have wanted that second Telescopes LP for a while and it was on sale…
My first viewing was a real let down, it was a basement flat, which I will admit I was not interested in anyway, wanting to be at least first floor, but it was in a real state. It would need tens of thousands to sort out, I was wondering why it was so cheap! I was informed by the real estate agent that the second viewing was off as the sellers had taken the property off the market. This was not working out well at all. The second viewing was the ground floor in this building.
There was another guy looking at the basement flat while I was there. He wasn’t interested either, but he did live in the street, and has been renting for a year and is now looking to buy. He loves the street, he said the low rent hotels do not cause any real issues, and he is keen to buy there. This was great news and made me feel a whole lot better about my choice of location. We had quite a good chat and compared notes on our experiences with agents and areas. It was very worthwhile.
After a break for coffee and cake I met the agent for the last viewing and quite liked the flat, clearly the best I have seen and well within my price range. It needs some work, decorating and a shower fitted, nothing major and is in a nice spot, with a view out to sea of you look sideways out the bay window. It is a Victorian conversion so has some of those nice Victorian features, like high ceilings and a fireplace. To be considered.
I went home feeling a lot better about the experience. As this was my fourth (fifth ?) visit to the town, I am more familiar with the streets, and with knowledge comes some comfort, I felt less like it was an alien place.
I will organise myself some more viewings now, and maybe a follow visit to the one I sort of liked, this time with El.