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This is the place to start.

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Sunset over Rangoon.

Good day one and all and thank you so much for visiting my little site here and if you wish to read my latest entries please go to the paragraph immediately below this one as they go in reverse order (most recent to oldest) from there.

For those that do not know me, I am to technology what a sumo wrestler is to synchronised diving i.e. I just cannot do it. I have just conjured up a mental image there that I really wish I hadn’t.

I have owned this site for about 15 months now (as of July 2019) and have been working very hard trying to resurrect writings from long ago which were previously on other websites, one callously killed off by illegal corporate greed and the other by lack of interest by the owners.

Eventually I have worked out how to pin (I believe that is the techie term) this page so it remains at the top of my front page. I have decided that the only way for me to make any vague semblance of sense here is to backdate the entries of my various trips to the relevant dates which may make them hard to find and so I am creating this page to assist you – hopefully! I shall keep you informed here of completed travelogues and those under construction.

Firstly, I did write for a while for a decent website called blogspot.com which I know is much used by travel bloggers. If you want a look at what was admittedly a very user friendly site and looks like not being killed off any time soon, then here is a link to my pages there. They deal mainly with my trip to the Philippines in 2012 but also with an earlier trip round SE Asia which happened to coincide with my 50th birthday shortly after I retired. There is also the beginnings of a piece on a month I spent in Malta but which I never really finished there and so it will be migrated here and a link posted in due course. Note that it is still under construction.

If you want to know about rather unusual trip which happened in 2017 when I went to meet a friend for four days (and had packed accordingly) in the Southern part of the Netherlands and flew home from Rome eight countries and over three months later then look here.

If you want to know about one of the least known parts of the British Isles i.e. Lundy Island then this is where you want to start.

If you want to know about yet another trip that took rather longer than expected then have a look at my recent excursion back home to Northern Ireland which is detailed here.  A week for a family reunion turned into two and a half months but that is the way I am.

If you have any interest in narrowboats and the British canal system (a great love of mine) or more specifically the West Yorkshire canal / river navigation system then you may wish to have a look at this series of entries.

As I mentioned above I started a blog on my trip to Malta in the blogspot site but I left there before it was finished so that is my current project here (as of July 2019). If you want to have a look of what I have posted so far and keep abreast of updates then this is the place to begin. Yes, the first few days will be unashamed cut and paste from the former site (I do not believe in wasting energy) but hopefully I can bring that to a conclusion here relatively quickly.

After that, I am very much in your hands. I have three extended trips to Canada to write up, three to Sri Lanka, another couple to Northern Ireland and a few to Scotland. I have a month on Madeira to write about and many other adventures besides. If you have anything you would like to read about, please tell me. It is all the same to me, it will all take time but this really is my last chance at writing online. If this one goes wrong then I am out of here.

 

Perhaps Burma, Lao or Cambodia are you your liking or maybe a great trip through a couple of the former Yogoslav Republics (Serbia and Macedonia) with some dear friends plus the briefest of side trips to Albania. Honestly, I was there for 15 hours, border to airport via Tirana. Imagine visiting a particularly secretive country where you never had a penny of the local currency in your pocket, did not speak a word of the local language and still got where you needed to be. That was Albania, proper “flying by the seat of my pants” travel and I loved it, I must go back some day. The Algarve in Portugal, Greece and Cyprus are all in the mix as well.

Please get in touch if there is anything you would particularly like to read about and I shall certainly prioritise it. As I say, if I live long enough it will all get done sooner or later and I do not really mind what order I do it in.

As for the image which heads up this page, it is not really very relevant to anything I have written here bar a passing reference to Burma. I just wanted to liven up the page with an image and this is one of my favourites to the extent I have it as a screensaver. It was taken from the grounds of the Shwedagon paya in Rangoon, Burma at sunset which is undoubtedly the best time to visit if you happen to be there. My dear Burmese friend Zin had very graciously given up her day off to show me round that fascinating city and we had had a great time. Not only do I find it aesthetically pleasing as it is one of my few half decent amateur efforts but it stands for the reason I travel, the reason I write about it and, ultimately, the reason this site exists at all.

Right, so much to do and time I got back to work so, as always, stay tuned and spread the word.

Another Broadstairs Festival – not Folk but Food.

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It was very busy.

Strange as it may seem, I had a vague plan for the Saturday after all those days of doing very little and that was to do with another Festival that was taking place in Broadstairs, indeed it was taking place about five minutes walk from where I was staying. Instead of Folk this Festival is dedicated to Food and has been going for a number of years now. Indeed, it seems to get bigger every year.

Kent is known as the “Garden of England” and with good reason as it is an absolute treasure trove of produce from the orchards with the associated ciders and perries to the hops and the beer they produce to excellent lamb, cheeses and all manner of fruit and veg. Add in such seafood delicacies as Dover sole and Whitstable oysters, to name but two and you really cannot go wrong food wise. On my five minute walk from bedroom to festival site I actually passed the restaurant which has very recently been awarded the first Michelin star in Thanet and which I will deal with in a future post.

If you are a regular reader all this will explain the rather cryptic message I left in the last sentence of the previous post about napkins, knives and forks. I decided to go on the Saturday and was glad I did not wait for the Sunday for reasons I shall explain in due course and it was absolutely packed as the images attest even though the weather was anything but glorious. I have actually been here before and sat outside drinking in a T-shirt. All this in early October, it was great but sadly no T-shirts this year and I was well wrapped up.

I have to say that the Festival was very frustrating for me this year for a couple of reasons. Firstly, due to my medication I could only stand and look longingly into the numerous beer and cider tents, the Gin Palace, the champagne bar and even at the miniature prosecco wagon you can see in one of the images. OK, I am not really much of a one for drinking prosecco except mixed with Aperol and soda in my mates bar in Rome but it is the principle of the thing.

The second reason for my frustration was that much as I love where I am staying in the Wrotham, the sum total of my cooking facilities is a kettle. OK, I had cutlery and a tin opener with me as I always carry such things for emergencies but it somewhat limited my choice of purchase. What could I possibly do with a lovely rack of Kentish lamb for example? In the end I limited myself to a couple of excellent pieces of locally produced cheese and a bag each of red and yellow cherry tomatoes on the vine from the massive agrocentre called Thanet Earth which I have mentioned before and who had an extensive stall. I was glad to see that they were selling their produce in paper as opposed to plastic which was a good sign.  I’ll show you what I did with the toms in a future post.  I also bought a couple of pieces of cheese from the Cheesemakers of Canterbury

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Yes, we were close (to Lousia Bay that is).

I do like the way they name all the “roads” on the site with local place names as you can see in one of the images. I picked this one as the Festival site is right beside Louisa Bay where there used to be a pub of that name that I played a gig on the first year I played Folk Week which is a very long time ago. There is a block of flats there now which seems to be par for the course in Thanet, indeed in the whole of the UK.

As I was taking this image, I heard my name being called and it was my mate Jo who is one of the Festival Directors. She is the lady who used to own what is now the Magnet micropub, formerly the Reef, and who I have known for many years. I met her about a week later and she told me that she had one of those wristbands that tell you how far you have walked amongst other things like the time of High tide in Cape Town or whatever and that she had walked something ludicrous like 12 miles that day. I told her to cancel her subscription to the gym!

Jo was not the only person I was chatting to as it seems I know an awful lot of people round Broadstairs and they all happened to be at the Festival at the same time I was. It probably took me twice as long as it should have done to get round the site as I kept bumping into people, many of whom I had not seen for a long time so there was a lot of catching up to do.

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What a lovely dog with no sense of smell.

I took myself considerably less than Jo’s 12 miles back to the Wrotham for another quiet night and was sitting minding my own business when a lovely dog decided to just make itself at home on my feet which sported only a pair of flip flops (thongs). I thought dogs were meant to have a keen sense of smell but apparently not. Try as I might, I could not get the beast to turn round even slightly so I could get anything other than a back of the head image and it is not centred properly but I quite like it.
Upstairs then once again to my bed, leaving my purchases by the slightly open window by way of refrigeration and off to sleep.

The next post will be another several days rolled into one as I really had slipped into a very comfortable routine of doing very little but I’ll let you know as soon as anything good comes up so stay tuned and spread the word.

Taking time in Thanet.

Hello again and welcome back to my ongoing tale of what happened when I went to Broadstairs in the summer of 2019 to play the wonderful Broadstairs Folk Week as I normally do, fell fairly seriously ill and spent nearly a month in the QEQM hospital as I have never done before! I am now writing and backdating this on the 17th of October but I am catching up slowly but surely.

If you have been keeping your wits about you (pay attention at the back there) you will have noticed that this post is some way after the last one and the reason is that nothing of much interest happened as I had settled into a bit of a routine of a fairly quiet life recuperating by the sea and I have to say there are a whole lot better places to recover from illness. In a few posts I will tell you about Queen Victoria doing the self same thing so I am in good company.

You will be bombarded with images of breakfasts which are as much to prove to people that know me that I am actually eating as to remind myself of the same. I am even debating investing in a set of weighing scales when I get back to London, a piece of kit I always spurned before on the principle I wasn’t too worried what weight I was. I was certainly never in the position of wanting to lose weight, rather the contrary as I could never bulk up enough to play the level of rugby I would have liked to. I had, however, been a little surprised when they weighed me in hospital and I found out how light I was but I have now had to ease off a notch on my belt so I might be putting on a pound or two.  Perhaps it is just my stomach swelling from all the fluid I am injecting into it.

As well as the images of the morning repast, there will also be my almost daily weather report images, again purely to save me looking up old weather reports when writing this up. OK, so there are some pleasant vistas to take these images in which helps. Please feel free to skip this post if you like, I am merely publishing it for the sake of completeness and as a personal diary. It will get interesting (relatively anyway) in the next episode.

28th September.
No images and no joy in the rugby.

A Saturday when apparently absolutely nothing happened if the images I normally use as an aide memoire are anything to go by as I took a grand total of nil but I happen to know that plenty happened and most of it not good! I suspect my failure to get shutterhappy was probably brought on by depression in the latter part of the day as I shall explain.

Regular readers will know that I love rugby and am following the Rugby World Cup in Japan avidly. This Saturday saw Ireland facing the hosts Japan in a game that they should have won on paper but, as they say, matches are played on grass and not on paper and the Japanese ran out deserved 19 -12 winners which raised the entire nation to a state of euphoria. The Japanese really are embracing this tournament with a passion. I won’t go into the whole ins and outs but effectively we needed to win this to avoid potentially meeting the New Zealand All Blacks in the quarter finals. The “Blacks” are a superb side and were my pick to win before a match was played. Oh dear, oh dear.

29th September.
Weather bad, rugby good, band brilliant.

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Just a light nibble.

The Sunday after that awful rugby Saturday saw me back in the George for yet more rugby with Wales squeezing past Australia 29 – 25 in a great match all accompanied by Dave’s Sunday lunch bar nibbles and in good company as this is very much a sports pub and I know a lot of the guys in there. Regrettably, I could not be as convivial as I normally am as I was still sticking faithfully to my new “Ciderwater” regime but I was getting slowly used to it by then. I am glad the company and the rugby was good because the weather was abysmal as you can see by my daily weather bulletin, it was a proper monsoon yet again.

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Typhoon looming in Japan, monsoon happening in Broadstairs.

There was more to the day than rugby and cheese and biscuits as I knew there was music on in the Wrotham for the 1600 -1800 slot which Jackie is trying to get up and running. Whilst she books most of the bands for the rest of the week, this slot is booked by my mate Euan who books for the Folk Week and has a lot of contacts. He had tipped me the wink about a band called the Thumping Tommys who he had booked for the Festival and had gone down a storm although I did not see them.

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Thumping Tommys at the Wrotham.

What eventually turned up was a stripped down version of three of them in a semi-unplugged mode and they turned out to be very good, a bit like Flogging Molly or the Dropkick Murphys. I say eventually because they had travelled down from London by train and fuelled, on their own admission, by gin and tonic they had managed to get off at Margate instead of Broadstairs and then wondered why they did not recognise where they were! They were only a few minutes late, made a joke out of the whole thing and nobody minded. They seem to be that sort of band, good time folk rockers who like the audience to enjoy themselves as much as they evidently do.

After they had finished they headed off for the train back to London where they had to play another gig that night. I know that route well and what public transport in London can be like on a Sunday so I really do not envy them that day’s work.
Sunday evening is always quiet in the Wrotham and that suited me fine. A couple more pints of cider spritzer, a bit of blogging and it was time for bed once again.

30th September.
A spam fritter and (a) jam.

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Yes, you read it right, a Monday afternoon jam.

Monday morning, a new week and what to do with it? Well, I knew what I was going to do with at least a part of it as it was the Monday jam in the Magnet which I may or may not have told you about previously and where I have a standing invite to play.
Before that it was rugby time again with the Scots taking on the Samoans inn the same group as Ireland were in so there was an added bit of interest there. Scotland trotted out 34 – 0 winners, collecting their bonus point on the way. With the rugby out of the way, I trekked the 100 yards or so from pub to pub and turned up at the Magnet where things were just getting underway.

The concept of playing sober is completely alien to me and I must confess to having had a touch of the butterflies which I have not suffered from for years. Fortunately, the venue really is tiny and I knew probably 70% of the “crowd”, most of whom were musicians I had played with in one shape or form over the years so I wasn’t that bad. I did manage to start one of the numbers in entirely the wrong key (why did I transpose that from G to A?) which I have not done since Captain Kirk was a space cadet but other than that I got through it pretty much unscathed. Like so much else, it is something I am just going to have to get used to for a while.

The jam really is great fun and very laid back and you really never know who is going to turn up. The idea of a jam on a Monday afternoon in shoulder season in a seaside resort should be dead in the water but it thrives and has done for some time now, long may it continue. The images show my great mate Pete Stockwell on the banjo, another guy I have never met on the guitar (very good) and another guy I don’t know with possibly the youngest rhythm section I have ever seen. That is just the kind of gig it is.

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I feel a Monty Python song coming on.

Packing up at about 1600 it was back to the George for the evening and a lovely supper of Spam fritter and chips. I love Spam fritters which used to be common in chippies but the Seafarer is the only one I know that still does them. Not only that but they deliver across the road to the pub! That’s what I call service.

1st October
Another spam fritter and some red hot blues.

Tuesday was another day of doing not very much and there wasn’t even any rugby on as it was a rest day. I was quite happy with that and another spam fritter supper (told you it was a boring post) and then it was back to the Wrotham as Tuesday night is Blues night with tonight being the Eric Ranzoni trio.

Apart from his own excellent trio he is the keyboard player for Mud Morganfield who is the son of the blues legend Muddy Waters. I knew he was a serious operator when he told a story (without showing off at all) about hanging out with John Mayall backstage at some big Scandinavian blues festival. Not too shabby and he put on a great show, full of energy. Towards the end my friend Nigel Feist got up and blew his harp (that is muso speak for played his blues harmonica!) to the extent I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel. They were really going for it.

If you were hoping for an image here I am afraid you are going to be disappointed as a combination of a large and well-deserved crowd coupled with my reticence to use flash meant that I didn’t get an image I would post here and you know how bad they must have been if you have seen some of the images I have posted in the past.
The great thing about going to gigs at the Wrotham is that it is not too far to go to bed, two flights of stairs to be exact.

2nd October.
A bit of a wasted trip to Margate.

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A sunny day in Margate

The Wednesday was quite a pleasant day weatherwise as my daily meteorological snapshot hopefully shows and I had the vaguest of plans of at least one thing I wanted to do with the day.

I mentioned that on a previous trip to Margate I had seen an impressive half-timbered tudor house which I had inexplicably missed for 30 years and that it only opened at limited hours. Well, Wednesday afternoons were amongst those limited hours and so I jumped on the bus and off I went to Margate. In the way that my mind often works I couldn’t help but think that a century ago people would look forward for months to a daytrip to Margate and here was I having a couple a week sometimes.

 

I jumped off at Cecil Square and set out on the short walk up the hill but before I got to my destination I saw something that depressed me greatly, yet another closed pub or in this case a hotel, the George by name. I have mentioned that I contribute to the Lost Pubs website and so it was a quick couple of images for that before heading to my destination just across the road but as always there is a story or two before I move on.

The first is that the George was supposed to be haunted. It was bombed by the Germans in 1943 and the room above the bar supposedly played host to a ghostly apparition of a female dressed in 1940’s attire. I wonder if she left when the hotel closed down. The second is a piece of synchronicity in that the building was home for some time to the Ambrette, a very upmarket Indian fusion restaurant which has now re-located to another closed pub called the Hoy on the seafront opposite the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery. The Hoy was previously run by my friends Dave and Bev who I have spoken of often and who now run the George in Broadstairs. It’s a small world (Thanet is anyway) but I wouldn’t like to paint it, as they say.

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No luck today, Fergy.

Across the road to the Tudor House and it did not look good from the off, in fact it looked very closed which turned out to be the case and the image above explains why. Not to worry, there is always another day so I might as well go for a walk. I was walking partially because the Doctors had told me to keep active and partly because I love walking. I was still trying to get my strength back up and it was returning slowly but surely.

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What do you think this might be?

On my fairly aimless wander I came upon the sign you can see above. Now I knew what it was but I am going to tease you dear readers a little here and not tell you as it will all become apparent a few posts down the road or should I say down the footpath? Go on, work that one out.

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St. John’s churchyard, Margate.

I also stopped off in the churchyard of St. John’s church but I did not find much of interest as so many of the headstones seem to have been weathered away to the point of being illegible. I suspect it must be to do with the type of stone used locally and obviously antiquity but I really don’t know. I managed a reasonable image of the churchyard though.

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Not bad for a fiver.

All the walking was making me a bit hungry and so I headed back to the seafront and the Mechanical Elephant where I knew I could get a decent feed at a reasonable price. In Wetherspoons pubs all over the country Thursday is curry day but today htere was a manager’s special of chicken tikka masala for £4:99 so I decided to have that. It is milder than I would normally have but it was very tasty and at less than a fiver for a curry with all the trimmings I thought it was very good value.

After that it was back on the bus and straight back to the Wrotham for another quiet night and off to bed.

3rd October.
Nothing to see here folks, move right along please.

I managed the sum total of one image on the Thursday which was of the exterior of the George and I won’t bore you with it. I spent the whole day in the interior of the George, initially watching Ireland dismantle Russia in the rugby for a 35 – 0 bonus point win as expected but it was all a bit academic after the loss to Japan and the All Blacks were still looming large in the quarter finals.

4th October.
One unusual sight and not much more.

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Something you do not often see.

Again nothing much to report on the 5th except that I stopped to take an image of a sight you do not see too often, a closed Beano cafe although in truth this was not one of the traditional ones but rather a kebab / burger joint open late nights and which used to be very good some years ago. It is literally 200 yards from the more usual style of Beanos which is still going strong and which still makes a brilliant breakfast as the before and after shots here show.

As my late grandmother (RIP) used to remark, “Are you sure you don’t want to eat the design off the plate as well”? It really is a fantastic breakfast and I love Beanos. As I cannot go “collecting” pubs any more perhaps I should try to visit every Beanos instead. Well, everybody needs a hobby.

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Just when you thought you had enough medication.

The only other excitement was a visit to the pharmacy to get yet more medication to variously swallow and inject, I really was getting tired of those jabs.
After a whole lot of nothing in this post you will be glad to know that something which may be of vague interest to you happens in the next one so bring your napkins, knives and forks (all will be revealed), stay tuned and spread the word.

Bombs, booze and bumper cars – Ramsgate Tunnels.

 

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My attempt at being arty- sorry.

The 27th of September arrived and oddly for me, I had a plan of sorts. I know I did not set my alarm but the timing on my images indicates that I had awoken and showered early before jumping on the bus to Ramsgate.  I do apologise about my attempt to be arty by taking an image of a bus through another bus but I had to do it.  I made my way to the Royal Victoria Pavilion and once there I had the very tasty breakfast you can see pictured served to my favourite table 120 and all this before 0900. Yes, I know I was becoming a creature of habit but at least on this day I had a vague excuse as the place I wanted to visit was no more than about five minutes walk away. Come to think of it I don’t really need an excuse as I was eating well after a good sleep during reasonable hours and generally recovering quite well.

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Yet another tasty breakfast.

When I started visiting Thanet all those years ago, I had heard of a series of tunnels dug into the cliffs in Ramsgate which had been a railway and then converted into air raid shelters during the Second World War. I believe that, even then, it was possible to visit but very difficult as it was by appointment only and you had to have a party of a certain size and book a long way in advance so the council could provide a guide and so I never got to explore there. As the years went o I had heard word on the Thanet grapevine that there were plans to re-open the tunnels as a visitor attraction but I never enquired too much further into it until 2019 when I discovered that it was indeed open to the public, complete with guided tours and this is what I was doing here. The tours start every two hours and I had decided that the midday one sounded good as it gave me an opportunity to catch up on my internet and have a leisurely second cup of coffee in the very pleasant surroundings of the Pavilion.

 
I took the short walk along the seafront where I was slightly saddened to see that there was a plain blue hoarding covering the seemingly interminable building works here where previously there had been a series of lovely murals under the general umbrella of “the Great Wall of Ramsgate”. Still, it had been eight years since I had last walked along here so I suppose times change but I have included a couple of examples of the artworks including one of the tunnel when the railway was still working.

I went into what was very obviously the entrance to a railway tunnel and quickly located the ticket office / giftshop which is situated in what looks like a rather overgrown garden shed. The guy on duty was very helpful and promised to look after my rather heavy daysack which was a relief. I had a bit of time and so I had a look round, ignoring the lure of the rather tasty delights on offer in the coffee shop because I was still full of breakfast.  There are a few exhibits from the wartime period but not many.

Just before midday one of the guides, who are all volunteers, called us forward and issued us with hard hats before ushering us into another large garden shed where we sat down for what was an absolutely fascinating monochrome film about the Blitz produced by the famous Pathé News group. Everybody associates the Blitz with London and to a lesser extent cities like Birmingham and Liverpool and the area of the East End of London where I live suffered horribly but Ramsgate was saturation bombed before any of these, the first “Blitz” of the War against the UK. I suppose it is logical as it is in such close proximity to the then occupied Continent and also due to it’s importance as a port. The German bomber pilots could have flown over, bombed Ramsgate and been back on the ground before their coffee had gone cold!

 

I was particularly interested in the measures the Government suggested as being effective against heavy aerial bombardment.  The contraption you can see in the large image above is called a Morrison shelter, named for the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison which, as you can see, is little more than a reinforced dining table which is what it was designed to serve double duty as.  Allegedly, two adults and one child could sleep in it but I would not have thought there was much sleep to be had but by 1945 there were over one million of them in use.

The second shelter with the faux grass roof is an Anderson shelter which was designed to be erected outside and seems marginally more comfortable and safer to my untrained eye.  About 1.5 million of the self-assembly shelters were distributed before the war and a further 2.1 million during it of which a mere 13 remain in their original sites as detailed on the fascinating website I have linked here.  I love the concept that someone loves such an unusual thing as a particular  air raid shelter so much that they have created a website about them and people all over the world can learn about them.

Undoubtedly the worst raid on Ramsgate was on 24th August 1940 and I have read a couple of different versions of the events that terrible day. The Germans had flown over to bomb nearby Manston RAF base and one report claims that there was so much smoke and dust from a previous bombing run that the bomb aimers could not see the target and so jettisoned their ordnance  on Ramsgate.  A second, and to my mind less likely, scenario is that their lead aircraft had been shot down over the town and they all bombed the defenceless populace in a gesture of vengeance. I find it unlikely that highly trained pilots would do this on the outbound run and thereby ignoring the main target but it is  feasible that they jettisoned ordnance on the target of opportunity that Ramsgate presented on the return journey. No doubt the loss of their lead aircraft did not encourage them to jettisoning the ordnance over the Channel rather than on civilian targets.

However, I am getting way ahead of myself here but do remember that date as the guide encouraged us to do. We were issued with torches, donned our helmets and the tour began with a history of the railway and the tunnel were were then standing in. I do not propose to go into minute detail of the history of the tunnels which is wonderfully covered in the official website here but merely give you a brief overview and I do recommend you check out the website for the full nuts and bolts. Better still, visit the tunnels if you get the chance.

The story starts in 1863 at the height of “railwaymania” when the Kent Coast Railway built a tunnel to serve a station at Ramsgate Harbour. The long view was to make it a gateway to Europe via steam packets to Oostende in Belgium in much the way the hovercraft did a century later.

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Not the type of trains the tunnel was designed for.

The problem with the Harbour Station was the steep gradient to reach it along the 1.124 yard tunnel and there was always the problem of a runaway train, a terrible event that happened in 1891 and 1915. The population of Ramsgate was expanding although the station could not (there was nowhere for it to expand into) and so it was eventually closed down in 1926 with the railway being serviced by a new station which is some distance form the town (it still is, I have walked it before!). Being of no further use to the railway company, they sold the station to a leisure company who turned it into a zoo and amusement arcade called “Merrie England” and you can still see some of the cars from the rides in the image above. They turned up when the tunnels were re-opened.
I have mentioned that the new station was a long way from the front and therefore not much use to a town wishing to attract holidaymakers and daytrippers. The amusement park owners tried to get the railway company to re-open the tunnel but they refused, claiming it was too costly. Eventually a compromise plan was reached to use some of the existing tunnel and dig a new, shorter extension tunnel to emerge at Hereson Road about 250 yards from Dumpton Park station. It was all run on a narrow gauge and powered by overhead electric and served by two specially commissioned trains each capable of carrying 108 passengers.

To make it more of a holiday attraction, illuminated scenes from around the world were placed along the length of the tunnel and gave rise to the name “The World’s Scenic Railway” which had good passenger figures for the next few years but there were momentous events taking place not so far away with the rise of Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy and general uncertainty about the future of Europe. It’s strategic position and proximity to nearby RAF Manston, not to mention the Continent, made it a prime target for bombing and / or invasion.

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These men saved a lot of lives.

The Borough Engineer at the time was a man of great vision called Brimmell who had long been working on a plan for a series of tunnels based on the existing railway tunnels which would serve as a place of refuge for the populace. The plan was placed before the Council who, in the manner of local government worldwide, firstly turned it down on the basis of cost and then decided not to make a decision at all but merely defer the matter.
The Mayor was a larger than life character called Alderman A.B.C. Kempe, permanently attired in a top hat and much given to wandering about the town chatting to visitors, handing out ice creams and the like. He was in favour of the plan although it ran counter to general Governmental thinking and so he enlisted the help of the local MP H.H. Balfour who just happened to be a highly decorated (M.C. and bar no less) First World War “flying ace” and could well see the danger posed by Hitler. He exerted pressure in Parliament and Ramsgate received permission to construct the tunnels on 20th March 1939.

Work began immediately and at a great pace with the first section of tunnels being opened as soon as 1st June by the Duke of Kent. Fortunately, chalk is easy to quarry as it is so soft and work continued at a rapid rate until there was a huge network of tunnels underneath most of the town with access points to street level at many locations.  It is a testament to the efficacy of the system that fewer than 100 people lost their lives to bomb and shellfire during the war and 29 of those were during that August 1940 raid. I had not previously even thought of shellfire in the context of “the Blitz” but the Germans had heavy artillery quite capable of lobbing shells across the Channel and they did it regularly.

All of the above was imparted to us by the two excellent guides who changed over half way through as indeed was all the subsequent information but I want to tell you about the tour itself at this point.

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Here we go.

The first thing to say is that it is utterly brilliant and I am so glad I did it. I will be honest, there are not a lot of artefacts to see but the atmosphere of the place and the encyclopaedic knowledge of the guides, all volunteers as I said, coupled with their humour and obvious love of what they were doing, really brought the place to life.
I had seen a sign saying that photography was only permitted in “lit” areas and I was a bit unsure about this as it was all lit despite us all having torches in case of emergency so I did not take images for most of the tour. In any event, I was too busy watching my footing as the ground is pretty uneven so please do wear sensible footwear. Also, the temperature is a constant 11 degrees Celsius so dress appropriately for how you feel at that level.

Wheelchairs are permitted although they may be hard to manoeuvre, ditto baby buggies. I did see a special wheelchair with large pneumatic wheels so it may be worth enquiring about that. There are no toilets in the tunnels but there are public conveniences a minute or two walk along the front. The reason there are no toilets now is that there were no toilets during the war and you will get the full graphic details of the sanitation from the guides! The tour takes about 90 minutes although ours was a little longer all told as everyone wanted to chat with the guides as it was so interesting. The guides, in their turn, seemed only too happy to talk about a subject they were obviously passionate about.  In total it is a touch over a mile and there is only one gradient of any note so make sure you can handle that distance although it is really not strenuous.

Of all the fascinating things the guides told us, I think there are two that will stick in my mind and which are slightly connected. Remember the 14th August 1940? There were people who fled into the tunnels on that date and who were so traumatised they did not emerge into the daylight again until the war was over or at least until the Germans had been pushed back far enough that they were no longer a threat. Many families took up residence here either because of this fear or because their homes had been destroyed and you can see above a couple of the different types of “homes” people constructed. It was all very organised and you were allotted a space by those in charge where you set up camp, in some cases for over four years. Once you had your “pitch” number you could even have your mail delivered down here, how crazy is that?  The town of Ramsgate literally moved underground and the street signs were even re-located downthe tunnels a) to confuse the Germans should they invade and b) because far more people used the safety of the tunnels to get about than risk being caught in the open should a raid occur.

With the defeat of the Germans in 1945 the tunnels were cleared out, the new tunnels which had saved so many lives were blocked off and the main rail tunnel reverted to use as the scenic railway. In 1950 a large section of the wartime tunnel was used to “house” a main sewer so that can never be re-opened to visitors although there is another even larger section, currently blocked off by a cave-in which they are currently assessing for re-opening which will make for a very interesting longer tour.

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Keep right on till the end of the road, er, tunnel.

In the 50’s and 60’s there was a different “war” going on, the Cold War with the Soviet Union and there were serious plans to use the tunnels once again although what use they would have been against a nuclear strike is debatable if, indeed, Ramsgate was still a target. These plans were never implemented and what finally saw off the Tunnel Railway was yet another runaway train in 1965. The line closed at the end of the season and the tunnel was once again sealed up.

Throughout the post-war period the newer dug tunnels and the Railway tunnel were all favourite haunts for the towns youth and there is a huge amount of graffitii. Apparently it was a complete party town down here for years with the emergency services regularly being called out to extricate youngsters who had climbed down into the tunnels and then proceeded to get too drunk / stoned to get out again. Again, the guides will regale you with some great tales, one or two from personal experience!

There was a 1988 plan to re-open the tunnels as a tourist attraction but it came to nothing and it was not until 2011 that a group was formed by the then Mayor which, some time and a lot of hard work and fund-raising later, led to the excellent attraction it is today. The guides are at pains to point out that it is still very much a work in progress and they have several plans in the pipeline to improve the visitor experience. Frankly, I think it is great as is but any improvements can only be a good thing.

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Back to the main railway tunnel.

 

When we had finished the tunnels it was back into the main railway tunnel where there was another talk mainly referring to the various “homes” I mentioned above and a lovely story concerning a newspaper photo from the War showing a little boy in a bunk bed in the shelter with his Mother standing beside him. Somehow or another they have traced the boy, now an old man who has lived in Australia most of his life, and he is hopefully returning in 2020 to visit. That will be worth seeing.


I have left the most sombre of my images until last because it seems appropriate that they should be last and also because they were about the last images I took on my tour. It is obvious they are coffins but look closer and you will see oval hatches where the face of the deceased would be. That was so identification could take place without the family having to see what nastiness may have happened elsewhere on the body. A grisly thought but that is war for you.

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Sorry Italy, I like pineapple on pizza.

I had enjoyed a brilliant and hugely educational couple of hours and thought it worth every penny of the £7 entrance fee and I know you might find this hard to believe if you know me from when I ate virtually nothing but I was hungry again so straight back to the Pavilion for the delicious pizza you see above. I only ordered the small 8″ pizza which Wetherspoons very sensibly do as I was hungry, not ravenous and it was just the right portion size for me. Before the pizza purists start, don’t! I know that the thought of the Hawaiian pizza is utter anathema to any Americans, never mind the Italians, but I happen to like it. I have mentioned in previous posts here that my favourite pizza of all (my own construction obviously) is tuna, banana and garlic so pineapple is positively normal by those standards.

I had decided to head back to Broadstairs as it was Friday and I fancied catching a bit of music and it was whilst walking back to the bus that I saw what you can see in the image above and is a building I stand beside regularly and I had somehow not heeded my own advice that I have given often on various websites and in many conversations and that is always to look up at buildings. In truth, it is not my own advice but was learned from a wonderful teacher called Mr. Jeffrey (Fred as he was affectionately known) in either 1978 or ’79 and I can date it because it was during a sixth form lecture. I suppose the fact that I still remember it 40 years after being taught it shows how good he was, especially as I did not bother to take in much at school.

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Always look up, it’s worth it.

I really was very impressed by the architecture although I have not the first idea what style it is and also the condition it is in. If you look closely you will see it is a Sailors Rest and it does overlook the Royal Harbour. I know a couple of sailors “dosshouses” near where I live in the East End of London and they are ugly post WWII affairs, nothing like this although it is all flats (apartments) now and I bet they cost a pretty penny.

Back to Broadstairs then and an uneventful evening before bed. It had been a great day.

The next post will be quite a number of days rolled into one as not too much of interest to the reader happened so I shall whizz through that until we get to something that is interesting! At least it gets me into October and therefore catching up on myself so stay tuned and spread the word.

The Thanet Trinity – Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Margate.

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Sunny Broadstairs – maybe not.

As I promised in the last post (no, not the bugle call) there are going to be several days rolled into one here as not a lot happened so it is just for the sake of completeness. Appropriately it encompasses three days so I have dated it to the latest date.
The 24th of September had no World Cup Rugby so that was one option ruled out and it was tipping down with rain so any sort of walking was right out. The image shows you how unpleasant it was weatherwise. Yes, I still wanted to do a bit of walking, partially to aid my recovery and build up my strength and also because it is one of my favourite pastimes, at least it was until I started feeling unwell. What was I to do?

My newly rediscovered appetite made breakfast a must and I really fancied a pancake breakfast which meant Wetherspoons at Margate. I much prefer their outlet in Ramsgate but they have some odd ways of working there. I do eat breakfast quite a bit in JDW and my two favourite breakfasts there are the pancake breakfast or else Eggs Royale but neither are offered in Ramsgate. My preferred tipple, even under this current abstemious regime is Strongbow, one of the most popular ciders in UK and again not available in the Pavilion although it is in every other ‘Spoons that I know. I am fobbed off with Thatchers instead which is not a bad drop but not my first choice.

I am very partial to “bangers and mash” for lunch or dinner and again it is available in every other Wetherspoons I know but not Ramsgate. I believe they have exceeded it now with another outlet but when the Pavilion opened it was reputed to be the largest pub in Europe and certainly in the UK. It was very much their flagship with a customer area of a staggering 11,000 sq. ft. not to mention kitchen, staff, storage areas etc. so you would think they would offer their full range of food and drink but apparently not. It completely baffles me.

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Not their finest hour.

Off to Margate then on the Loop bus, into the Mechanical Elephant which I have mentioned here before is not my favourite of what is an excellent chain. You would think that pancakes, maple syrup substitute, bacon and blueberries is not too difficult to get out but they could not even do that right and the non-maple syrup was fridge cold. Apaprently they could not even manage a few seconds in the microwave where they cook most of their food. When I received the obligatory “Is everything OK Sir” which was as mechanical as the elephant of the pub name, I did point this out and she offered to have it sent back to the kitchen. Not a chance, I have known enough chefs to know what happens to returned food.

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Even the internet was down.

As usual, the internet was not working in the Elephant so there was nothing else for it but to head back to Broadstairs as the weather didn’t look like livening up any time soon as you can see below. I won’t bore you with my evening in the pub tapping up this stuff on my computer and nursing a pint or two of cider spritzer so we shall pass quickly on to the next day.

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Margate was as dismal as Broadstairs.

A quiet day, wired in the evening and a bit of seagull wrangling thrown in.

The 25th was not a lot better than the previous day weatherwise, it really was getting autumnal. I have mentioned before that Thanet has an odd weather system and I have known T-shirt days in October but here it was wet, blowy and none too warm.

After the slight debacle of the Wetherspoons the day before I decided to play a bit safe and return to the Pavilion for breakfast. OK, there would be no pancakes nor Eggs Royale but I had half an idea to try something I had seen on the menu which was a relatively recent innovation known as Miners Benedict which I am quite sure is something the chain had invented themselves as I had never heard of it before. It substitutes black pudding for the ham in the traditional Eggs Benedict. I was not sure how it would work as the Benedict family is served with Hollandaise sauce whereas I would normally associate brown sauce or preferably English mustard as the condiments of choice for black pudding but I am game to try anything once and so that was the order.

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Strangely it works although it shouldn’t.

No doubt Wetherspoons have very well qualified executive chefs, all sorts of focus groups and whatnot and had probably trialled the new dish before putting it on general release so I really should not have had too many misgivings about my Miners Benedict. Let’s be honest, as a man who makes tuna, banana and garlic pizza nothing should seem too odd and, against all expectation, it worked very well and provided a good start to the day.

As I was sitting allowing my breakfast to settle and doing a bit of leisurely blogging I became aware of a bit of a commotion which was a couple of members of staff making a fairly half-hearted attempt to direct a juvenile seagull, which had somehow found it’s way in, back the way it had come. The creature was obviously confused by the concept of glass and was persistently trying to get through the window to the outside world it could so clearly see. Incidentally, I apologise for the quality of the images but the beast just would not keep still, probably understandably. Lest anyone is concerned, it was eventually returned to the great outdoors, apparently none the worse for it’s visit to the Pavilion. With the excitement over, I settled down to another quiet day of blogging and attempting to keep my alcohol consumption down. I must say I was becoming increasingly good at that although I will never like it.

As I was walking back the short distance to get the Loop bus back to Broadstairs I stopped to capture the two images above. I had seen them many times before and knew the whole history but I thought I would capture them to share with you. I have told you before how much I love Ramsgate Harbour not to mention boring you with interminable images of it but in addition to it’s obvious aesthetic qualities it is packed to the gunwales (note the nautical reference there) with history and these plaques represent only a fraction of it.

I was heading home for the afternoon dozette that is becoming increasingly a part of my daily routine the older I get. I wanted to be fresh for the evening as it was “Wired” in the Wrotham so I suppose I should explain what that is.

“Wired” is a long-running open jam session which has had several venues rond the town and has now settled in the Wrotham which seems to be the centre for so much good live music. It is held on the last Wednesday of the month and is an open jam session tending towards electric music, predominantly blues and rock. It is not to be confused with “Griff’s Open Mic night” which I shall explain in a future post, nor the “Woodshed” (ditto re: explanation), both of which are also held in the Wrotham.

I know a lot of musos on the scene round Thanet and have played with most of the guys you see pictured here but I did not know the guy who provided me with a great treat that night in the shape of the Hammond organ you can see being expertly played in one of the images above. I love Hammond organs and whilst Lee (apparently that is his name) did not have the Leslie speakers (are there many originals still around?) but it still sounded great especially as he was such a good keysman. It was a great night and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A very short trip up the stairs (no, I did not literally trip up the stairs) and straight into bed for another great night’s sleep.

Two breakfasts, one rugby match, one hospital appointment and little else.

Thursday 26th rolled around and the only item in my rather full social diary (I am only semi-joking about that) was yet another hospital appointment at the QEQM in the late afternoon. I knew Dave would not be opening the George for the early rugby match of Italy vs. Canada as it was of little interest locally but England were due on at 1145 and whilst it was a foregone conclusion I fancied watching it as I love my rugby.

I awoke early and hungry which thankfully seems to be my default position now and so I took off over to Ramsgate for a quick breakfast. I only ordered the small version as I knew damn rightly that Dave would be putting food on in the bar and he does not take no for an answer when it comes to eating, at least not with me. As I told you before that the man is on a very well-intentioned and much appreciated mission to bulk me up again. My supposition proved correct on both counts and the two feeds are shown above.

The match was pretty much as expected with England running not only riot against USA but also running out 45 -7 victors. Then it was back to the QEQM hospital again for my appointment before back to the bar where it was quiz night and despite being asked I declined the offer to join a team and make a complete fool of myself.

As always, a gentle stroll home and off to bed content with another day on the road to recovery. Certainly I was not going to be entering any Ironman events in the near future but my wound was healing nicely and I was able to walk increasing distances with no ill effects. As I have described I was eating with a vengeance and an appetite I had not had for a very long time. The only downside were those annoying jabs but they were an inconvenience rather than a major problem although they were becoming gradually more uncomfortable as I was forced to revisit the same injection sites but I suppose it is preferable to a blood clot roaming around inside me.

In the next post I get to visit a fascinating place I have wanted to see for a very long time and there is inevitably yet another breakfast so stay tuned and spread the word.

More of Margate – and the hospital!

Monday morning and I was up early again and again it was on purpose but regrettably for me it was not for the Rugby World Cup which was offering Wales vs. Georgia at 1115. I could have made it back in time for kickoff easily enough but I didn’t bother as you shall find out if you care to read on a bit. Back from where you may wonder? Go on, take a guess. Yes, you’ve probably got it, I was back to the QEQM hospital for another outpatients appointment and before I even got in the door I was thinking about this blog and I reckoned you were probably all sick of looking at the same generic image of the main entrance so I took one of the helipad just to break up the monotony. Don’t say I don’t think about my small band of faithful readers, I do. Sorry I could not hang around until a helicopter turned up but I had places to go and people to see.

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Sorry, no chopper in sight.

I won’t bore you with the details of my appointment except to tell you that it was another chapter in the ongoing game of ping-pong between QEQM and Broadstairs Health Centre in which I had taken on the role of the ball. There was much talk of legal obligation, temporary patient status, in fact all the apparently incorrect information I had already been carrying around with me. As always, they seemed to feel the need to take blood which they did at the second rather uncomfortable attempt and told me to come back at 1130 (it had just gone 1000). I actually had the vaguest of plans for the day which is unlike me and I knew I could fit the first part in before my blood had been analysed.

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Where the Beano mystery is solved.

Part one of the plan involved the Beano Cafe which I have mentioned before as I knew there was one on the front, 10 Marine Crescent to be exact and not to be confused with the Best Beano Cafe in Dane Road or even the Beano Cafe in nearby Westgate. It seems a little confusing but I am going to explain it all to you now but first the breakfast. One of the set offerings was egg, bacon, beans and bubble which is what I went for as I had not had bubble for literally years and I love it.

Do you know about Bubble?

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Bubble brekkie in the Beano.

Readers from London and the Southeast and probably most of England will have an idea of what Bubble is but perhaps readers from further afield will not so here is a bit of an introduction. Bubble is a contraction of Bubble and Squeak and is the square item you can see in the image. Irish readers may recognise it as Colcannon which is near enough the same thing although served loose and not normally formed into cakes like Bubble. There are variants all over Europe like Stamppot in Netherlands (which I have had) and stoemp from Belgium.

Whatever you want to call it, this predominantly breakfast dish was a way of using up leftovers from a roast dinner, if you were rich enough to afford such a luxury. It is often viewed as a poor man’s food but it is popping up in various forms in restaurants nowadays. Traditionally it was mashed potatoes and cabbage mixed together and pan fried although any vegetables can be thrown in if you have them and I have had it made with leftover Brussels sprouts which was gorgeous although I know they are a bit of an acquired taste. If you are wondering about the odd name, apparently it refers to the noise the cabbage makes as it cooks. Now you know all about Bubble, let’s get back to the “Beano Cafe Mystery” as I named it in the last post.

I got talking to the guy behind the counter when I was paying the bill (the meal was superb incidentally) and asked him were they associated with the Broadstairs and Ramsgate Beanos as they looked very much the same with the signage etc. and served much the same menu. I did not mention that the staff all spoke with the same Eastern Mediterranean accent. The story he told me was fascinating and just goes to show what you can find out if you are prepared to talk to people.

He told me that they are sort of connected but not owned by the same person. They are something like a franchise without a central franchising body. All the Beanos Cafes in Kent are run by members of a very extended Turkish family (I was right about the accent) from one village and the closely surrounding area. I asked how many there were as I knew of three and he told me 15 or maybe 20, even he did not know for sure. He told me there was one in Sheerness, which is miles away and I have found out there is one in Canterbury as well. I think they are on a mission to take over Kent and with the food they serve, the standards of hygiene, the prices and the friendly service, good luck to them say I!

With the Beano mystery solved and a bellyful of Bubble (there must be a song lyric or title in that) I jumped back on the Loop bus. All this hopping on and off buses didn’t bother me as the good old “rover” ticket covered everything.
I set out on the second part of my little plan which took me on the Loop again through Margate centre, up the hill out of town towards Northdown and back the way the bus comes from Broadstairs.

Mining in Margate?

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Let’s go underground.

On my various trips to the QEQM hospital in particular and Margate in general I had noticed something that I could not remember seeing before and that was the rather smart building you can see in the image above. I had heard about the Margate Shell Grotto and was wondering if I was getting confused and this was it with a fancy frontage but then I had seen signs elsewhere for it so that could not be the case. For once my old mind was not playing tricks on me and it transpired that this building had only been opened about a month. As I have mentioned, there is not too much to do here so I thought I would go and pay a visit.

I went in to what was a very pleasant coffee bar type of space which I believe also doubles as a community facility. I spoke to a charming lady who told me a bit about the caves, sold me my entrance ticket and readily agreed to look after my rather heavy daysack for me as it was becoming a bit of a burden in my slightly weakened state. I really must get something lighter than my laptop to write up my blog for you good people.

The first room was on the ground floor adjacent to the ticket desk and obligatory gift shop and gave a general overview of the caves. I got the impression that it was mainly aimed at children as there were a lot of “hands on” exhibits, mostly at small person height near the floor. It was nicely mixed up though and there was enough information to keep not so small persons like me interested. With my brief overview finished I made my way to the stairs where there were a couple exiting accompanied by the volunteer guide who asked me to wait a moment whilst she changed over with her colleague. No problem, I was in no rush. Barring the guide, these two visitors were the only other people I saw which made for a pleasant experience.

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Mind your step- sensible shoes essential.

Despite the introductory room, I still was not entirely sure what to expect as I descended the stairs and followed the new guide along a narrow walkway which was a little uneven underfoot into the caves. I should mention here that because of the nature of this attraction it is entirely unsuitable for those with mobility problems or baby buggies etc.

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It is quite cathedral like, I thought.

As I entered the main chamber I was immediately struck with the thought, which persisted throughout my stay, that it was like a cathedral with it’s vaulted roof, quiet from the outside world and so on. It is not huge and the artworks are hardly going to rival the Sistine Chapel but that was my over-riding impression.

In contrast to the Margate Museum which I have mentioned elsewhere in these posts and where photography is banned, it is positively encouraged here with signs exhorting you to go image mad and post everything on anti-social media as I call it. Whilst I do not subscribe to any of those sites, I am happy to do so here albeit that it will not generate anything like the traffic the others would but every little helps as they say.

The caves were originally dug out as a small chalk mine in the late 17th and early 18th centuries although not much is known about them then as they were an illegal venture and nothing was recorded officially. They then fell into disuse and were more or less forgotten about until a chap called Francis Foster “rediscovered” them. He was the man who built nearby Northdown House, a listed building which survives today as a wedding and conference venue.

There are various stories told about how he located them ranging from a family pet disappearing down a hole in the grounds of the house to ground subsidence to observations of rabbits but nobody really knows. Foster re-opened the caves and used them as a wine cellar and ice house both of which were guaranteed to impress his visitors. There are stories that the caves were used as a prison during the Napoleonic Wars with prisoners manacled to the walls but the flaw in this tale is instantly apparent. Chalk is one of the softest types of stone in existence, why do you think we use it on blackboards? The thought of anchoring manacles to it is laughable as they would just fall out!

Eventually the caves metamorphosed into a tourist attraction in the 19th century with the advent of the tourist trade here and this continued on and off for many years with a secondary use as a shelter from German aerial attack in both world wars. In 2004 the hated “health and safety police” closed the caves down but the local people banded together and after a serious amount of fundraising they got the caves fully compliant with the multitude of regulations placed in their way and the wonderful new visitor centre / community facility. It is a credit to them.

During the time they were originally a tourist draw various paintings were added to the bare walls and they range in quality from, shall we say, of the naive school to the frankly appallingly amateur but they do have a certain charm.  I should add that they had all been professionally restored in the original style prior to the re-opening.  I have reproduced a selection here so you can make up your own mind.

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King Vortigern? Probably not.

I believe that the image above is supposed to represent King Vortigern and this is the name given to the caves by an enterprising entrepreneur in the mid 19th century in a bid to attract customers.  There is much myth surrounding Vortigern (or any one of the myriad alternate spellings of his name) but he is believed to have invited the Saxons Hengist and Herta to Britain effectively as mercenaries to defeat the Picts but they turned on him and founded what is now Kent.  Or so the story goes.  Whilst it may have impressed the Victorian daytripper, there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever to support Vortigern’s presence here.

 

The caves were supposed to open in time for the summer season 2019 but due to them being let down by various contractors they did not manage to unlock the doors until mid August thereby missing a good proportion of the “season”. This is a shame and I hope it does not damage them too much financially.

I had a long chat with the guide who was delightful and who I would have said was in her late teens or early 20’s and I asked her if she enjoyed being down here. In an answer that surprised and heartened me in about equal measure coming form one of her age she said she loved it especially as her mobile (cell) ‘phone didn’t work down there. I would not have believed that possible (her mindset not the lack of signal as I struggle at ground level in Thanet).

As you have probably guessed from the tone of my writing I enjoyed the caves and would recommend a visit. No, it is not a full day activity and I would suggest an hour would easily cover it but I am so impressed with the ethos behind it that I believe it deserves all the support it can get.

Lest we forget not once but four times.

With the caves ticked off my list I decided to walk back into town as it is not too far and all downhill, plus which I had spotted a war memorial en route and wished to visit. regular readers of my submissions here and elsewhere will know that I like to visit war memorials for a couple of reasons. The first is that I believe it right to pay my respects to those who died in former conflicts and, regrettably and occasionally current ones, and secondly I contribute to the excellent War Memorials website which is under the overall supervision of the Imperial War Museum. The linked website gives much fuller details but it is basically a website and resource dedicated to recording every war memorial in the UK. Whilst it does include the traditional war memorials you see in towns and villages the length and breadth of the country, it also includes numerous items you would not expect and it is a fascinating site to visit or even contribute to if you feel so inclined.

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War Memorial, Margate.

The war memorial is a traditional obelisk set in what looks like a park although I worked out later that the park is in fact the site of the Holy Trinity Church which was destroyed in a German air raid in 1943 which I suppose makes it a somewhat appropriate site.

I walked in through the “uphill” gate to a well-tended green space regrettably bearing the signs of misuse by the locals as it appears it is used as some sort of drinking den.

Before I even made it to the main memorial I had to pause at not one but two other memorials to the fallen. The first I chanced upon was in memory of those killed in the Korean War of 1950 – 1953 and which has been slightly forgotten by history, overshadowed I suppose by the Second World War which had preceeded it a mere five years earlier.


The second memorial was to a theatre of operations in that global conflict which has been dubbed “the Forgotten War” and that is the war in the Far East, particularly Burma and a conflict that has particular resonance for me. I have visited Burma (before the new regime) and loved the country and the people. That trip will form the basis of another series of posts here if I ever get time but that is not the main reason for my connection to the fighting there. My uncle Tommy was serving with the RAF regiment in the Far East campaign, was captured and died due to maltreatment at the hands of the Japanese in the infamous Changi prison camp in Singapore. He is commemorated on the memorial there. I was a little dismayed at the slightly rundown appearance of some of the lettering on the memorial as you can see in the images but I shall report it to the appropriate body through the memorials website (another of it’s functions) and hopefully something can be done about it.

I deliberately left the rum bottle and polythene bag in situ as I took the image to shw the complete lack of respect some people have for places like this and which I mentioned above. I did remove and bin them but no doubt there were more deposited that evening. Sad really.

I didn’t even bother replacing my headgear as it was only a few steps to the largest memorial, the one I had seen from the bus so often. It is of a fairly typical design of such structures erected after the First World War and was apparently erected in 1922 by public subscription as they all were.

TTo the rear of the obelisk is the series of tablets you can see in the images which are dedicated “In memory of those of this town who lost their lives in the 1939 – 1945 war…..” and this leads me to believe that both service personnel and civilians are commemorated here. Certainly there is a Master Bernard Evans, a Councillor W.R.P. Avery and, most tragically, a Baby J. Denton noted but in the absence of a separate memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice whilst serving I can only surmise that they are noted here without rank.

To the bottom right of the WWII memorial, presumably where there was space, is the single name Alistair Leighton, again with no rank indicated, a victim of the Falklands War. A quick internet search shows him to be a MEM(M)2 [Marine Engineer Mechanical (Mechanical) Class 2 ] in the Royal Navy whose body was lost at sea following the sinking of HMS Ardent in 1982. He had joined the Navy at 16, served three years and was 19 when he perished which made him younger than me and certainly gave me pause for thought when I just discovered that.

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How did I miss this for over 30 years?

With all three memorials duly recorded and respects paid, I continued my walk back into town and was confronted with a most lovely sight and something I cannot believe I had never seen before as I like to think of myself as being pretty observant but apparently this is not the case. I shall let the image above show you how it seems incredible I had not noticed it. I checked it out but it appeared it was only open at very limited timesand this was not one of them. Still, another one for the “to do” list.

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Is Turner stalking me from beyond the grave?

The day was not yet done though and I chanced upon the blue plaque you can see above which was attached to a rather nondescript modern block of flats and which made me smile somewhat as to the “interconnectedness of all things” as the late Douglas Adams once wrote. There are some famous people who seem to follow me around or perhaps I follow them around although I do not do it consciously and the noted painter J.M.W. Turner after whom both the prestigious Turner Prize and the Turner Contemporary (the large art gallery in Margate) are named. Some years ago I lived in an area of the East End called Wapping and my local pub was named “Turner’s Old Star” where Turner once lived under an assumed name with his mistresses Sophia Booth and which still stands. Interestingly, she was a widowed landlady from Margate. Then I come to Thanet and the good Mr. Turner has followed me. Another such historical “stalker” is Karl Marx but that is a story for another time.

My next “find” was a building which proved to be of great interest. What first drew my attention to the gable wall of what was to prove to be rather a large building I saw two rather dilapidated plaques, one on either side of a door which bore the legends, “The Ruby” and “Buvette” respectively. I know that buvette means bar in French and a bit of research on the excellent Lost Pubs website, to which I also contribute, shows a Ruby Bar here which closed c. 2014. It was subsequently renamed and went for another few years but is once again closed.

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Where are the men on the hill now?

Looking up, as I tend to do when exploring, I saw the blue plaque you can see in the image which showed that Prince Frederick aka “The Grand Old Duke of York” of nursery rhyme fame, or infamy if you prefer, lived here and I must say that he had a very decent view. If you are wondering about the nursery rhyme it refers to the abortive Anglo – Russian invasion of Holland in 1799 where the indecisiveness of his actions were due more to political influence than incompetence on his part as he was generally regarded as a very good career officer.

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Royal York Mansions.

Frederick’s residence here gives rise to the naming of the street I was on as Duke Street and, when I walked round to the front of the rather grand building I discovered that it was named Royal York Mansions, presumably for the same reason. It has actually been mansions for some time as the hotel closed in 1909 and whilst researching the building I found out that a dwelling there will cost you a pretty penny indeed. Perhaps you still need to be a Prince to afford to live on the Parade at Margate.

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Three bars in a row and not one open. Shocking.

Taking a walk back along the front I was confronted by yet more bars, three to be precise and none of which was open for various reasons but which tell a story about the state of the licensed trade in East Kent. To the extreme left of the image is the Imperial Lounge and I do not know if it is permanently closed or not although it was when I went past at just after 1300 on a Monday in September. I do know there are recent plans to turn it into a boutique hotel. Next to that is XYLO’s, another of the crop of micropubs that are proliferating like Japanese Knotweed in the area and directly adjacent to it is, you’ve guessed it, yet another micropub called Halves. Micropubs generally do not open at lunchtime as they do not make enough profit so they only open in the evenings and weekends.  I do not know where it is all gong to end but I do not see it being a happy ending for the independently run traditional freehouse.

 

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Dave is feeding me up again.

Heading back to Broadstairs, it was back into the George where Dave once again took it upon himself to feed me up with a good dose of leftover chilli which, as always, he had “livened up” especially for me. He is such a nice guy and he and Bev really do run a great pub. I know I go on about it but he does not even ask any more, he just produces food as he thinks I need feeding up and it is much appreciated.

Back off to what I was now considering as home in my lovely little room in the Wrotham and it was yet again a very contented Fergy that drifted off to sleep.
The next post will be another composite where we can whizz through a few days before getting back to the touristy stuff so stay tuned and spread the word.

Broadstairs Ball Fest (rugby balls, that is).

Sunday 22nd September and I was up very early for the second morning in a row but this time by design rather than accident. It was one of the few occasions in a very long time I had set my alarm for anything but this was important stuff as I mentioned at the end of my last post. You may know that I am following the Rugby World Cup in Japan and Ireland were playing Scotland to open their campaign with kickoff at 0845 due to the time difference. It is an unholy hour for a rugby match but not as bad as it might be as some of the games start at 0545 but thankfully not too many.

The Ireland game was immediately followed by England vs. Tonga at a more respectable 1115 so it was going to be a busy day one way and another. I had roused myself and got ready so early that I had time for a wander along the front and my obligatory couple of images which I have included at the top of the page just to kick off and give the page a half-decent look.  (Kick off, rugby, get it?  I don’t just throw this stuff together you know.  OK, I lied, I do just throw this stuff together).

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What has my life become?

Under the old regime I would have been straight into the cider but times have changed radically and it was coffee first. I am drinking so much coffee now it is unreal. I suppose they will tell me now that coffee is no good for me either! Dave made me up a large one in the rather cute Winnie the Pooh mug and quickly followed that with a tasty sausage roll just to keep the wolf from the door. The day started well with Ireland completely dismantling a Scottish side who were very disappointing. I cannot see them doing anything in this competition.

Sausage roll, George Inn, Broadstairs.
Rugby breakfast Mk. I.

It is pretty well worked out that there is only a short gap between games, allowing the experts in the studio to have a few words of a roundup and then change over to the next lot and so it was almost immediately on to England vs. Tonga at 1115. The pub had filled up well for this game because a) it was England and b) it was a much more civilised hour and once again Dave produced trays laden with sausage rolls which were devoured in short order. By this time I was on to “ciderwater” and if you do not know what this is please check back on my previous posts. It is interesting to compare and contrast Breakfasts Mk. I and II which were timed at 0853 and 1124 respectively.

Sausage roll, George Inn, Broadstairs.
Compare and contrast. Rugby Breakfast Mk. II. Note the marked improvement.

Unsurprisingly, England ran out easy winners by 35 to 3 and they really are looking good this time around after a rather ignominious pool stage exit in their home tournament in 2015 after being beaten by Wales and Australia. I know the English sporting press are notorious for over-hyping any home side in any competition but I honestly think that the team coached by Eddie Jones has as good a chance this time round as at any time since they won it in 2003. Their back row particularly is explosive and they appear strong in every department with a strong bench to cope with injury and allow for rotation. this will be an interesting competition.

Enough of the rugby. If you are a fan, you will already know all this by the time I publish the post and if you are not then you do not want to know it! As for a travel blog entry I am afraid there is little more to add today as it was just another day spent in the pub trying desperately not to drink too much. It is certainly not the way I would wish to live but it has been forced on me and I shall have to make the best of it.

Wrotham Arms, Broadstairs.
Home sweet home away from home.

Back home to the Wrotham, which was feeling more and more like home with each passing day, a quick snack and a couple of chapters of my book and then head down for another peaceful night’s sleep.

Tomorrow, I go back to Margate and make an interesting discovery plus I get to the bottom of the “Mystery of the Beano Cafe” which you will know about if you have read my previous posts so stay tuned and spread the word.

Gluttony in the George.

Viking Bay, Broadstairs.
My attempt at being arty.

I do not know if you have reached this page through following my exploits chronologically / sequentially or if you just landed here by reason of something very bad you did in a previous life! If it is the former you will know that I had been up eating snacks at 0430 on this morning and if it is the latter you will not have known this but you do now! Despite all this nocturnal noshing I still managed to awake at some ridiculously early hour and I knew I would not get back to sleep so it was up and shower and out to face a pretty decent if chilly autumnal morning.

You may know that I am following the Rugby World Cup when I can. Dave the manager opens the George pub early (his normal time is 1100) if there is a match of particular interest on but I could not for the life of me remember if he was opening before time on that particular day so I took a bit of a wander along the front and had a try at taking an “arty” type shot or two of the sun reflecting off the water. I’m not sure if this is arty or just a mess but I quite like it. The rather safer options of the pier and Viking Bay and the information board at least turned out vaguely competent

I eventually ambled up to the pub in time for the 1045 kick off New Zealand vs. South Africa fixture. If you don’t follow rugby, these are two big hitters either of whom could win the competition and it was always going to be a bruising affair. The NZ All Blacks are my tip for the Cup as they are just so consistently good. The game was as tough as it had looked on paper and NZ ran out eventual winners 23 – 13. Although it will dent their confidence a bit this is not a major setback for the Springboks (South Africa) as both teams should progress from the group stage to the quarter finals.

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Breakfast is served.

If it is an early kick off, Dave knocks up bacon or bacon and sausage rolls (free, gratis and for nothing) which he dishes up to all and sundry and much appreciated they are. He was not doing that on this day but he seems to have taken it upon himself to feed me up following my recent illness. In truth, I am a bit thin at present. To this end produced a huge bowl of chilli con carne which was left over from the quiz night on the Thursday although he had spiced it up just a little as he knows I like a bit of a kick to my food but it was still not terribly hot. What it was, though, was completely gorgeous as anything in the stew / casserole / curry etc. line is when left overnight and re-heated. I know that proper recipes for certain French dishes actually call for them to be left overnight to let the flavours “get to know each other” as I like to put it.

My dear friend Poetry the barmaid was in the pub although not in a working capacity and she had been partying all night. I remember the days I was her age and could do it as well. As it happens, I reckon I probably still could if the Doctors would let me. Well, for one night anyway. There was no way I could finish all that Dave had given me although I had a good go at it and Poetry asked could she finish it. I wish she had asked me earlier as we could have got another plate and shared it while it was still hot. She took one spoonful of it and what happened next was spectacular. I wish I had had the presence of mind to film it as it was comical. As I said , it was not really hot at all but she reacted as if it was a Phall curry with extra naga chillies on the side. She was fanning her mouth, gasping, calling for water and all sorts of antics, it really was hysterical. When she had eventually calmed down sh told me that she cannot eat spicy food at all. I would love to see her face off a proper Thai jungle curry some time, that would be worth watching.
After the rugby I had a bit of a catch up on this blog and about half three in the afternoon I was hungry again despite the huge amount of chilli I had consumed not five hours previously. Back across the road to the Seafarer which I have mentioned previously and a battered sausage and chips was soon enough delivered to my table in the pub, I love this system!

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A late lunch is then served.

More online activity and a couple of pints of my new tipple followed so I suppose I should tell you about that. I was in the Wrotham one evening and lamenting the fact that I had been forced to cut down on my consumption so radically to Mira the barmaid. I have known Mira for a long time and her husband is a musician in a couple of prog rock bands so we all get along very well. Mira asked me if if I fancied a “ciderwater”. A what? Mira is a cider drinker herself and she told me that she sometimes drinks it when she is working. It is effectively a cider shandy but made half and half with soda water instead of lemonade, hence the name. It sounded disgusting and I told her so but Mira has a habit of talking me into doing things I don’t want to do which hitherto had normally meant me having another pint of real cider and so I had one.

What can I tell you about “ciderwater” other than that I was right? It did taste disgusting although I am still drinking it and actually getting used to it a bit now. Certainly it is not a patch on the proper stuff but you can still taste a little something. I just could not spend a whole evening drinking soda water and lime or orange juice or whatever. Added to that it looks like a pint, albeit somewhat anaemic so I do not have the psychological thing of everybody knowing I am not drinking. I know it is not a problem but everybody round here knows my backstory and it would just take too long to keep explaining it. I must admit I still feel a bit embarrassed asking barstaff for it but they do not bat an eyelid. Changed times from when I was a young man when even driving was not deemed an excuse for not drinking, ridiculous as that is.

Of course there is the financial aspect of drinking and I reckon that with my new ciderwater regime coupled with the vaping instead of lining the Government’s pockets with their unjustifiable tobacco taxes I must be saving a fortune. Ordinarily I would put a windfall like this towards another overseas trip but obviously that is not currently an option. I’ll let you know what happens.

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An early evening snack is served.

Come about half past eight in the evening and that appetite of mine was rearing it’s not so ugly head again. Seafarer time again for a “snack” of two fishcakes, just to keep me going you understand. Being a Saturday night, it was a little later to bed that night although I still managed yet another few late night munchies before I got my head down.

There is important rugby in the next post (yes, more important than NZ vs. RSA) so stay tuned and spread the word.