The lovely ruins of Bayham Abbey.

06 September 2019 – Bayham Abbey, Kent.

Bayham Abbey in Kent was founded in 1207 and existed until the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541. It was a Premonstratensian, or White Canon abbey and was built when two nearby abbeys failed and combined resources to build a new one. The ruins were modified in the 18th century after the new abbey was built to provide a better landscaping feature. Whatever was done to it, certainly did not detract from the ruins as it is a magnificent structure. One of the loveliest I have visited, and it has been a while since I visited one.

The abbey can be found just off the A21 on the way from Walthamstow to St Leonards, probably not too far off half way time wise. I have been planning to stop here for a while, and with no rush to get back to London, today was the day.

I took lot of photos, way more than I have here!

I was mostly alone during my visit, at different times three couples also walked around, but that was about it, I liked it like that. It was peaceful. I picked up the habit of walking around the outside of a ruin, before going inside when I visited the Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat. At that time it was a way of avoiding the crowds, though sometimes there are things to see on the outside that most people miss as they just charge straight through the centre. I walked round the outside first today.

On the edge of the abbey ruin is a summer house and the old gateway. I went there first.

The gate was closed and had a sign saying advising that on the other side it was ‘Private Property’, though the amount of bramble and head high nettles on the other side of the gate makes the sign rather redundant. No-one was going to pass through that mess.

There were not many original features left, this was one of the few original carved faces I found, a number of new ones have been added in modern times, as you will see later.

Entering the ruins I spent some time strolling around the various spaces, all slightly different.

I found lots of archways, I am a big fan of archways, one of the things I like the most in European ruins, particularly abbeys.

There were some small amount of detail left in the ruined walls.

My favourite bit was this tree growing on top of one of the old walls, this very much reminded me of the Wat Ta Prohm site in Cambodia where some of the trees that took over the ancient sites were left in situ, growing on and over the walls and buildings. I loved that place, and I love this one as well.

I really enjoyed the ruins, a highlight of the week, and highly recommend you visiting them if you are on the A21!

Checking out my new(ish) neighbourhood.

September 05 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

One of the unexpected joys in this inter-departmental civil service transfer that I am doing has been getting an extra week holiday, albeit in this case an unpaid week. Things are never simple in the civil service and one of the things that is more complex than it needs to be is moving to another department. This is especially so with all the Brexit changes going on, with staff being seconded and loaned all over the place. Nailing down a start date has not been easy in this transfer from the Cabinet Office to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. However, it is happening and I am starting my new role on Monday 9th, not the 2nd. The extra week off has been good.

I spent last week back in Walthamstow, getting a few things organised; buying some clothes for the office, attacking the mega ironing pile, all the little tasks that need to be done before starting a new job. I also went back to the office for the final time and handed in my laptop and security passes, it wasn’t time for a final farewell; that is happening over drinks next week.

I did go out and buy a new camera. I own three other cameras, none of them work properly;

  • The Panasonic GX1 I took travelling all those years ago, which no longer works, but does have three lenses.
  • The Canon 5d Mk1 that I dropped and broke the battery cover and is so old I cannot get a new one. It is also starting to be unreliable and I have been thinking of replacing it for ages.
  • The Canon G16 compact. Three scratches on the lens, one right in the middle which does effect image quality.

I have been thinking about new cameras for ages, the 5d is 12 years old, but I have lenses and other things that I could transfer to a newer version, a Mk4 or 5, but those camera bodies are over £2000. It is a magnificent camera, but it is really heavy and impractical for travelling or hiking. I looked at the Fuji and Sony systems, smaller and great quality, but I would end up spending similar amounts by the time I got lenses to go with the cheaper body from a different brand.

In the end I decided on going for another Panasonic Lumix – probably two of them in fact, one small and ‘pocket’ sized and a second, more professional version; though I can share lenses between them both, and having some already helps.

I bought a Lumix GX800 to start with, the cheaper ‘pocket’ sized camera. I like it because I can change the lens, which is unusual for a compact.

This week was going to be test week. My post from the gig on Tuesday night showed that its low light capabilities were excellent, way better than any of my previous cameras, which is a good sign. 

Which takes me back to the rest of the week. With another week off and El working I chose to come back down to the flat, with no tasks to do it was just going to be a relaxing time. Walking, reading, typing, photography was all I had planned, and pretty much all I achieved.

My first activity was to head back to Bexhill, and then walk to St Leonards. I wanted to see how long it would take. The answer is only 90 minutes, so it was closer than I thought. It is a great walk, mostly dead flat, but there are loads of small things to look at along the way. I may have to do a series of photos of the shelters along the Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill sea fronts. I like them.

The following day I wanted to do a longer walk and get a few hills into the legs. When I was looking at the map of East Hill the other week I saw Ecclesbourne Glen Cave, and given my surface interest in caves and in the weird history of Hastings I decide that I would endeavour to find that on this walk. The cave can be found in Hastings Country Park, which I discovered today is bigger than it looks on the map.

It was pointed out during last summer’s drought that when flying over fields of drying and dying grass you could the outlines of things that had been buried or marked in the grass. Sites of ancient interest, some previously unknown became clear through the way the grass grew on top. While this is no ancient site, I have never seen football pitch markings on East Hill before, but this Google Maps image clearly shows ghost football pitches coming out of the grass. Love it.

I walked along the seafront, it was a busy day, I had thought the kids were back at school, but discovered it was a ‘teacher only’ day so there were a lot more families out than I expected. I took the steps next to the funicular up East Hill.

I particularly liked this shadow on the wall as the steps made a turn to run perpendicular to the very bright sun.

Back on East Hill I had a quick look for any sign of the Black Arches from above and was not disappointed to not find them, I had no luck when I was properly looking. The park is narrowish, so I headed off in the general direction of the cave. I was sort of hoping to find a sign, but if not I would use a map on my phone. The first sign I came across was not helpful.

As I was wondering what to do two teenagers walking a dog came down and just crossed the fence, they told me there had been landslides but it was safe and passable. I too crossed the fence; they went down a path heading towards the beach and I went along a path traversing the hillside. Looking at the map again with more knowledge and I could clearly see the landslip, it happened two or three years ago and the path was fine. Though vague in parts it was obviously well used.

I ploughed along for a while, finding different paths to follow, vaguely heading in the right direction, before finding a sign pointing to Ecclesbourne Glen, immediately followed by another saying the path was closed. Ignoring it the same as I did the last I started down the hill, seaward, eventually stumbling across the cave by good fortune rather than by good luck.

I do not know when the cave was first dug out of the small sandstone bank but I do know that in the late 19th century there were cottages nearby and gardens up near the cave. In 1893 John Hancox came to Hastings after his business had been bankrupted in London. He was given permission by one of the landowners to live in the cave, which a door was added to.

John lived in the cave until his death in 1918. He was found in the cave, which contained almost nothing. He slept on the ground and had a small fire for cooking. Though no one officially, or otherwise lives in the cave now, it is well used, and there have been numerous small fires lit in and out the front, along with the sad but not unexpected piles of empty drink bottles and food containers.

Leaving the cave I climbed back up to the main path and carried on walking through the Country Park, it is very nice up here, cool under the trees and fairly quiet, only dog walkers seem to come this way.

I walked as far as Ecclesbourne Reservoir before deciding to turn back towards Hastings. I was hungry and had no food on me. My normal careful planning, :), though I did have water, I am not completely stupid 🙂

I didn’t do a lot else with the week, took a few photos, learning how the new camera works so I don’t have to keep stopping, digging through a bag or pocket for glasses so I work out what button I pressed. I am very much liking the new camera.

Night Beats, supported by Strange Cages @ The Piper

September 03 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

St Leonards is constantly changing, gentrifying, and in my mind improving. I know not everyone agrees that the gentrification of this, or any other area, is a good thing; but hey, I am a property owner and anything that increases the value of my investment is a good thing! I am a middle aged, middle class man who likes, and can mostly afford good coffee, nice wine, good beer and music. Therefore I am very supportive of the addition of places that provide those things to St Leonards, even if the price of a pint is a lot more expensive than others.

Since I have moved into my flat the only closed pub in the St Leonards has been renovated, reopened, renamed as The Piper and rebranded itself as a live music bar and venue. It is very much my kind of place.

I popped in their for a quiet pint last time I was down and ended up staying there for five drinks, it was the sort of place where I felt comfortable sitting alone with my laptop and writing. In that case one of the many blog posts I managed to write that week. They were also playing some of the best music I have heard in a pub – almost as if they had been referring to my Spotify playlists. I have been back since, but not staying that long again.

They started having bands play a few weeks ago, a couple of really good acts have played there, including Toy, one of my current favourites, so definitely a place to be excited about. Tonight they hosted Night Beats, an American psychedelic/garage rock three piece. Though this is my sort of music I had not heard of them before, so this was a very good reason to head to a new favourite ‘local’ and go see a band, or two.

Last week I bought myself a new camera, something to be covered in the next post, so I it along tonight. It is pretty low end, but I was hoping that as it is new technology it would have better low-light capabilities than my other cameras. I was pleasantly surprised.

I got to the venue about an hour after doors opening and was a bit gutted as to the very small number of people there, however by the time the support band, Strange Cages, came on the crowd had expanded enough for there to be a good atmosphere.

Strange Cages are from Brighton, I had checked out a couple of tracks on Youtube and didn’t like them, but will always check out a live band. They were much better than their Youtube clips gave them credit for, and subsequent listening on Spotify proved their youtube presence is bad. Their last track was a long jam, reminding me a lot of early Pink Floyd, but the synth was a bit too twiddly for me. They did however, have the best drummer I have seen in ages, extremely aggressive and very talented. Worth going to see them for him alone. Though naturally I have no photos of him, mainly the front man. As always

Strange Cages.

Night Beats are just starting a European tour, so I guess this is a bit of a warm up show for them, small venue in a small town. The place was full one they got on the low stage, though I had not left the room between sets so was close enough to take photos before the crowd made its way in front of me.

The lighting was terrible, as is always the case in small venues. Why do they insist on those awful red or blue lights?

I had fun, they are a good band, live they were a bit more 60s garage rock than full on psychedelic rock. A good night out.

Night Beats.

A view of Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill

August 25 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

I have a couple of weeks off between jobs and for this first week I am down at the flat. I wrote a little about the flat and the progress made since I bought it in March in this blog post and touched on the job I am starting. There will be more on the job at a later date.

I did not do a huge amount while I was at the flat; I did read, I did play records, I cooked and ate, drank wine, visited a couple of pubs and made a few walks. I was pretty exhausted from work and life and didn’t really feel up to much. I don’t think I spoke to anyone more than pleasantries when ordering food or drink. It was great having some space to just be in my head. It was great to have an opportunity to catch up on a backlog of posts as well 🙂 I enjoyed my time.

Yesterday I posted about a walk I took exploring some of the weirder bits of the area I live in. This post will wrap up the rest of the week, though as I said I did not do much.

The beach here is quite steep, and very stony, there is sand at the low tide mark as all the pebbles are pushed up the beach with each tide. The beach environment changes what feels like daily, particularly recently as there have been some very high tides and the wind has been blowing, what feels like all summer.

I wanted to get some photos of the sea crashing on the pillars under the pier, so walked along there just before high tide. It was not worth the effort as not a lot was happening, maybe the conditions were not quite right. I walked on up to town for a bit, and on the way back home I spotted this chap on the groyne below Goat Ledge Cafe so stopped to take a couple of pictures. He didn’t get wet which really surprised me.

The following day was a lot calmer and for my next photographic mission I wanted to see how far under the pier I could get, so went out walking at low tide. It was significantly more successful than the high tide walk. I took a number of photos of St Leonards reflected in the puddles left by the outgoing tide. It was really nice, St Leonards looks magnificent from down here.

Under the pier at low tide I was as disappointed as I was at the high. I am not sure what I was hoping to visualise down here, but it was not what I saw. Perhaps, like yesterday the light was not quite right, it was the middle of the morning, so not the best timing, though I was aiming for low tide, not the right light.

I was amazed, though not sure why I was amazed, at the amount of old fishing net and line that was caught in the struts and beams of the pier. There was a lot of it. Everywhere. Disgraceful.

Next weekend (31 August) sees the start of the Coastal Currents art festival, centred in Hastings and with exhibitions at various locations up and down the coast, it is similar to the e17 Art Trail I was involved in back in June; one day I may join in! There are some interesting exhibitions happening including one in the basement tunnels under the closed Observer building in Hastings. I have seen some intriguing images coming from the curators and am keen to have a look.

The entrance to the Observer basement is in Gotham Alley so it was there I headed next, hoping for a sneak preview through an open door. I don’t believe Gotham Alley is the official name of the alley, but I can see why it is called it!

It is also the host of a lot of the old graffiti and street art in Hastings. I recognise this artist but for the life of me I cannot remember who it is.

Though this is clearly a Sweet Toof, a very old Sweet Toof.

Like so much of Hastings, there are buildings on cliff edges, banks and sand stone mounds. Gotham Alley is backed at one end by a sand stone wall and like all sand stone walls this has been hollowed out. A small shelter has been carved out of the rock, how long ago I have no idea, it looks old. Was it an animal shelter or the home to a hermit? I am not sure what it us used for now, lunch time smoko for those who work in the buildings nearby? street drinkers? It does not look the most comfortable.

El joined me for the bank holiday weekend. On the Sunday we caught the train to Bexhill, the next town down the coast. We have driven through it, but not really stopped for a decent look. This was our first day trip away from the Hastings and St Leonards-on-Sea area since I took the flat. It was nice to get out and see of the surroundings.

I liked Bexhill more than El, it is an OK town, nothing special. It has two record shops and numerous second hand and book shops, which is a great thing, and loads of pubs and cafes, also a good thing. We did find a great pub for lunch, nice food, good beer and all for an excellent price.

The main reason I wanted to come to Bexhill was to visit the de la Warr Pavilion. This lovely building was opened in 1935 and is mentioned on numerous occasions in the wonderful war memoirs by one of the UK’s funniest men, the late Spike Milligan, who played concerts here while on training for the Second World War. It is a fabulous building with some lovely art deco features, I am a sucker for any building with curved walls.

On the bank holiday Monday we drive back to London quite early, avoiding the worst of the traffic and the potential for being stuck in my poorly air-conditioned car in traffic on one of the hottest day of the year. It was the longest I had stayed in the flat so far, and i very much enjoyed it!

Exploring the mysteries of Hastings.

August 25 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

The line where the bigger town of Hastings ends and St Leonards-on-Sea starts must be a very thin one and have I no idea what is St Leonards and what is Hastings. They form one larger entity, though I suspect that those who live in each of the towns identify wholly with that place. Though who wants to live in a weird place like Hastings!

Hastings is an old place, much much older than the new St Leonards. It has history, and a well documented history at that; at least as far as the events of 1066 are concerned. Think about that year for a moment, 1066. That was 953 years ago, a seriously long time, yet we all know the events of that year; invasion by the Norman French under William the Conqueror , the Battle of Hastings, and the death of King Harold. Things we all learned about in school. Hastings existed before the battle, it likely had a Roman port (now long gone due to the shifting coast line), and pre-roman bronze and iron age artifacts have been found on both east and west hills. It is an old place.

Old places, ancient places, come with history; and with history come tales of good and evil, of weirdness and the unexplained and unexplainable. Strange things have happened, sometimes those things are bad and ghosts or memories of those events remain behind. I am not saying Hastings is haunted, though over the years it has attracted a number of interesting characters who chose to make Hastings their home. Charles Dawson, the infamous Piltdown Man hoaxer was from Hastings and the ‘evilest man in Britain’ Aleister Crowley lived the last of his years, eventually dying here. Crowley supposedly cursed the town from his death bed, and this curse apparently can still be felt today, 80 plus years later.

During my home hunting I read ‘The Stone Tide’ by Gareth E. Rees who had recently moved to Hastings from London. His previous work based around Walthamstow Marshes had been a favourite read and this one was no different. The book is part fiction/part factual and contains numerous references to the weird and wonderful bits of Hastings.

With a week off between jobs and time to spare now the bulk of the spring and summer house work has been completed I decided it was time to try and find some of the odd references noted in The Stone Tide, explore some of the lesser know highlights of Hastings. My first mission was to find the Black Arches and the Minnis Rock.

The Black Arches are three arches carved into the cliff face near the top of East Hill, from West Hill apparently they look like they could be the doors of a church . The Minnis Rock is also on East Hill, so it seemed logical to try and find the both at the same time.

St Leonards is to the west of Hastings, so it made sense to start by walking to the top of West Hill. The hill separates Hastings Old Town and the new town. Hastings Castle sits on the top of West Hill, and there are great views over the sea and up and down the coast.

Just along from the castle , and over a low fence is a sand stone cliff edge, cracked and gullied; slowly collapsing and being worn away by the elements. I stopped to take some photos of the names that have been carved into the sand stone over decades and worn down by the feet and bums of thousands of visitors ever since. Letters carved on top of old letters. Nothing was very obvious, it was hard to read any of the messages. Note of undying love, going the way of most youthful undying love.

I had read that the Black Aches were visible from West Hill, though only in winter. Summer foliage made it impossible to see them from both afar and up close. They were right, I could not see them from the hill, but there was a good view over the old town that sits in the valley between. Below my feet are a series of caves, that make up part of a paid for attraction, one that I will wait to visit with El.

There are two paths to the top of East Hill from the western side, one is steep and stepped and near the funicular on the sea front, the other runs up behind All Saints Church, I headed to All Saints, I don’t like steep. Entering the churchyard from The Bourne I passed what appears to be the most recent grave stone, it is at least the most looked after one. It had an Illuminati eye symbol on it, coincidence as to its condition? Maybe an early sign that some mysterious and secretive forces have been at play in Hastings.

The churchyard was in a sad state of repair, it is obviously old, most of the grave stones are so worn by the weather that nothing, or virtually nothing can be read on most of them. Some had fallen down, thankfully not many, and a lot had vines and bramble growing over, across and around. I quite liked it. It was peaceful and shady in the quite relenting sun.

Only two of the stones, had anything recognisable, one a broken angel and the other a Masonic symbol.

I walked up the path behind the churchyard, a gentle gradient towards the top of East Hill. I was trying to see any sign of the Black Arches or Minnis Rock, though the advice that summer was not a good time was very good. Everything was covered in brambles and ferns, ivy and a variety of trees and shrubs I am not going to even attempt to name. Hopeless.

Rather than look for caves or sign of caves I was looking for paths off the main track, thinking that whatever was there would have been accessed from this main path. Spotting a well worn side path I ducked under a branch and headed up towards the cliff face, and found something. I am not sure what it was, it definitely was neither of the things I was looking for, but it was a something. A very shallow cave carved into the sandstone, hidden behind trees.

I got up close to have a look at some of the things carved into the face. Like the sand stone cliff edge of West Hill this rock face has been visited and defaced for centuries. The clearest I could read was 1882.

The newest, and freshest, it looked as if it were carved yesterday, which it could well have been was from this year.

Needless to say I am going to go back when the winter has come and the trees are free of leaves and the brambles have died back a bit. I spent a bit of time walking around the cliff top and the paths below, trying to find any sign of the Black Arches or Minnis Rock, but nothing was visible through the dense undergrowth and trees. There were numerous paths and I tried all of them without successfully finding either of my objectives.

I finally gave up and took the lower path back towards the road, cutting up a set of steps to High Wickham, a short road with houses on one side that was very popular with artists in Victorian times. I crossed back over East Hill and down the steps to the sea front. Totally unsuccessful in my mission. Though the lovely old, saggy, Tudor houses on All Saints are always worth walking past.

On the way back home I stopped to take a photo of the Burton Tomb on West Hill Rd in St Leonards-on-Sea and just down the hill from my flat. This is not to be confused with the West Hill in Hastings by the way. So many hills! James Burton and his son Decimus and other members of the family are interred here in this very Masonic looking structure.

James Burton was the founder of what is now known as Burton St Leonards, the area of the town I live in, he was responsible for the design of the streets and building some of the wonderful houses, his son Decimus carried on the building after his death. There will be more on Burton St Leonards in a future post.

That night I spent a little more time researching the location of Minnis Rock and the Black Arches and returned the following day. Realising that 20 ft past the steps I cut up to High Wickham was the location of Minnis Rock. I am not sure why this is call a rock, it is three small and shall caves, linked internally.

There is confusion as to their history. One claim is they were cut in the 18th century, though a painting from 1663 shows something similar. Some say they were built for hermits, some as a place of worship and others as a place to shelter livestock before entering the town itself. I have also seen reference to Three Bears Caves, but for life of me cannot find that reference. Confusion and mystery abounds !