On the 17th September, I awoke after another excellent night’s sleep in my comfy bed in my quiet cosy room and I felt good. I knew I wanted to stay round Broadstairs and Thanet for a while as a) even getting a cab to and from the train stations at either end I was not sure if I was physically strong enough to hump all that luggage back to London and b) it is so much better an environment to aid recuperation. I was still a bit surprised as to how weak I felt but I suppose it is natural. Jackie was happy for me to stay more or less as long as I wanted so everything was set fair.
Unfortunately, there was still the problem of getting registered with a Doctor locally and getting repeat prescriptions etc. If you have not read the previous post here, I had been turned away from the local health centre despite several hospital Doctors telling me they were legally obliged to take me on. The simple fact of the matter was that I needed medication and my only option was to go back to A&E (ER) at the hospital albeit that I knew it was a ridiculous waste of the time of a Doctor already busy in an already over-stretched department. I queued up again, checked in and then sat down for the long wait with another large, good book. I was not too bothered by that as there were other people there obviously in need of much more urgent attention than me.
I was finally shown through to a small room to speak with the lovely Dr. de Giorgio who quizzed me about my current condition and wrote the script out in the matter of a few minutes. She also checked across the corridor where the door to the opposite consulting room was open and asked me if I could just say hello to her colleague, the Doctor who had initially admitted me what seemed like half a lifetime ago. Sure that was no problem until the Doctor explained that her colleague (whose name I still do not know) had spoken of me when I was admitted and said that it was a long time since she had seen anyone looking as ill as I had. I have a mirror in my room and I didn’t think I looked that bad but obviously so.
The Doctor also told me that her colleague had checked with my ward later the next day to check that the surgery had gone OK, just to be sure. I wonder if she does that for every patient she admits. Somehow I doubt it and it was a bit worrying albeit I only found after everything was sorted. Naturally I went to see the other Doctor and cracked a joke about rumours of my demise being greatly exaggerated. She said I was looking a lot better than I had been before and wished me well. Nice lady.
I know of a couple of pharmacists in Broadstairs but my friend had been telling me before how poor even the largest one was when she was trying to fill prescriptions and so I jumped on the Loop bus as I had topped up my weekly card. I reckoned that as Ramsgate was a larger place than Broadstairs I might have had a better chance of success. As it turned out that was a false hope and it was the Enaxoparin sodium syringes that were causing the problem. The first pharmacy did not have them and the second one which was the biggest in the town could only give me 20 of the 30 prescribed which would have meant a return trip so I did not bother as I had enough for the night and thought I might go to Margate the following day.
I never tire of looking at this view.
I have lost track of how many images I have of this harbour
I was in Ramsgate and waiting for a bus back to Broadstairs and took a couple of images of the harbour although I do not really know why as I already have dozens from every angle and in every weather condition you can imagine. I just love the place and, as is my way, I am going to share a little factoid with you about it. It is the only Royal Harbour in the UK and received the designation in 1821 from King George IV, a German who used to embark here en route to Hanover. He was so pleased with the rapturous welcome he got from the townspeople that he granted the title and allowed his Royal Standard to be flown three times a year, a tradition that continues to this day.
I also took a quick image of the lovely Rover you can see above. I do not know if it is my imagination but there seem to be an awful lot of wonderful old cars around Thanet, I seem to see them everywhere. From the number plate I reckon this was registered in 1970.
I got the bus back to Broadstairs and, more in hope than in expectation, went into the local chemist clutching my prescription. A quick check and the young lady told me I was in luck and that they had everything I needed. Happy days.
I could not resist taking the image above which is my personal “medicine cabinet” on the mantlepiece in my room. Terrifying, isn’t it?
The evening was taken up in the Wrotham where the excellent Cinelli Brothers Band were playing. The brothers are the drummer and the frontman with the hat who are London based Italians and the other two guys are British. They play really good basic blues and do it very well. You can have a look here to get an idea. They are also very friendly guys and I had a chat with a couple of them. Definitely recommended if you get chance to see them. I d not know how she does it but Jackie punches well above her weight with the quality of the music she puts on in what is a pretty small pub.
Having jabbed myself, filled up on various medications and dressed wounds I turned in for a few chapters of my book and another nights sleep.
I am still in Broadstairs writing this in October so if you want to know what I got up to whilst recovering please stay tuned and spread the word.
I woke up well rested again early on the morning of Thursday 15th August and due to my late arrival from London it was already the penultimate day of the Festival and I felt as if I had barely started. I had a bit of time to spare so I decided to go for a look round Spencer Square where the hotel was as someone had told me that Vincent van Gogh once lived there. It did not take me long to find the appropriate blue plaque commemorating the fact on the wall of number 11 on the opposite side of the square. I love blue plaques as I find them are endlessly interesting.
A few doors along there was another blue plaque, this time erected by the Ramsgate Society commemorating the residence of one John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854) who I had never heard of but was apparently editor of the Quarterly Review which I had similarly never heard of although internet research shows it was a journal published from 1809 -1967. It appears that Lockhart was more famous for being the son-in-law of the writer Sir Walter Scott. Not much of a claim to fame really and I think I may have an answer to why about every third building in Ramsgate “boasts” a local plaque and that is that Margate, just along the coast is exactly the same. Ramsgate and Margate have traditionally been rivals and are now competing for the tourist second home and retirement home markets amongst others and I think there is some one upmanship going on. Of course, I could be wrong and it would not be the first time.
I had not really eaten for a couple of days and so I took myself to the huge Royal Victoria Pavilion, a fairly new J.D. Wetherspoons venue (OPENED 2018) on the seafront adjacent to the Royal Harbour. It is their largest outlet by far and was the largest pub in the UK when it opened. Despite this, it has some very strange menu / drink choices and one of them impacted on me here. JDW do a number of variations on the theme of Eggs Benedict of which my favourite is Eggs Royale which substitutes salmon for the traditional ham yet this is the only Wetherspoons I know that does not offer it. Nor does it offer Strongbow cider although it is on the tabletop advertising blurb. I noticed another omission from the normal menu but I cannot recall what it is just now. I really do not understand the thinking.
Eggs Benedict it was then, beautifully cooked and served promptly and yet my ever-decreasing appetite did not even allow me to finish it, tasty as it was but at least it was some food in me and I took what was supposed to be a bit of an arty image of the beach through the window from where I was sitting. I have to say that the views from the Pavilion are stunning and there will be more in further posts in this series.
It is only a short walk to the bus and another one at the far end in Broadstairs and I was once again setting up with Paul for yet another playaround. Happy days and again there was a reasonable crowd for this late in the week. When this was over, Paul and Sue again took off somewhere and I decided to sit tight again as the afternoon act was another guy I know called Gabe so I settled in for that, again drinking little and still not feeling quite up to par.
Gabe often plays troubadour but on this occasion was backed by another guy I know and have jammed with called Jeff on bass and another couple of musos who I did not know. Gabe does a few of his own but predominantly covers and he does love James Taylor (who doesn’t?) so that got a good outing. For me, the highlight was when he got Bessie from the Dealers band up for a number, which you can see here. I am not sure if the Dealers are actually still a functioning unit but it was Bessie and a guy called Pierre and they were very, very good. I discovered them at Folk Week years ago. Don’t worry about the name, it is nothing to do with drug dealing but rather that they come from the town of Deal in Kent, simple as that!
Not long after the band had finished my ‘phone went and it was Paul asking me if I fancied joining him and Sue for a pint in the Magnet, another of the numerous micropubs in the area. As it is literally 50 yards up the road and in the direction I would eventually be going anyway, that seemed like a plan and so I said my goodbyes at the bar, picked up my guitar and moved onwards, ever onwards.
When I went into the Magnet I met quite a few people I knew as well as Sue and Paul so it was another round of handshakes and hugs all round. I suppose I should give you a quick rundown on the place which I first encountered many years ago as the Fish and Beer bar which was exactly what it was, a Belgian themed establishment with an open kitchen, limited but tasty menu and a great selection of great if expensive beers. It was owned by a guy who owned a quite upmarket fish restaurant in Ramsgate and he really did not have time to keep both projects going so he put it on the market and it was bought by my great friends John and Jo who I have known for years. They changed the name to Reef and carried on much in the same vein as before although over the several years they had it the food took a gradually less forward role but there was still a superb selection of interesting beers. In 2018 they were forced to close for a while as the cellar was flooded by a mains leak in the road outside and I was asked to play the re-opening night which I did with my dear friend Noel McAuley and we had a great night. Well, it was a great night until the point right at the end where I misjudged the relative positions of the bar stool I was playing on and the wall behind and with my final, “Thank you, goodnight” ringing in their ears the crowd were treated to me doing a not very graceful dying swan off the back of the stool, cracking my head on the wall and ending up with my legs in the air in an undignified heap but still clutching the miraculously undamaged guitar.
Thankfully there was no harm done except to my pride and I will eventually get round to writing up when I put together Broadstairs 2018 as a project here! Don’t hold your breath though.
I was introduced to Will, the new landlord, and his good lady, was made to feel most welcome and sat down for a bit of a chat and a catch up. I really had no intention of playing any more that day but, as my dear friend Suzi once remarked to me, “You are just a party waiting to happen”. There is undoubtedly more than a grain of truth in this as there is with most things she says and never moreso than when I am with Paul as we just seem to egg each other on.
The original plan was that we would just go and sit in the “Musicians Corner” and play a few tunes and songs acoustically. Well, that was the plan anyway. Somehow it escalated into having one ambient mic just for a bit of poke although between my voice and Paul’s banjo we could fill that space three times over, it really is a micro micropub. As well as being a purveyor of fine alcoholic refreshment, Will is a card-carrying sound engineer and a very good one at that. His argument was why bother with one ambient when he had the full PA rig already deployed and ready to go and so we ended up as you see us above, fully stage rigged as we would be for a proper paid gig. Why not as I was still playing catch up to a degree and was relatively fresh despite my illness? Paul is just like the Duracell bunny, he never knows when to quit.
To make a long story short, we must have played another two hours and had a jolly old time. I know we attracted a bit of passing trade as people told us so later and were asking what our band name was etc. (we have never had one in all these years although Paul is currently in Shamrock Street and I played for years with the Northern Celts until the travelling made it impossible) and so everyone was happy. Will was getting a few £££ over the bar, we were having a ball and getting a few pints for our trouble and the punters seemed to enjoy it from their reaction and kind applause and the fact that they didn’t just walk out. What’s not to like?
I suppose we probably finished about 2100 and again I was feeling the pace so off for yet another early bed. This really was getting ridiculous.
Last day of Folk Week in the next post so stay tuned and spread the word.
Wednesday 14th August arrived with reasonable weather but look at the skies told me that it was very possibly not going to remain that way, which indeed proved to be the case later on.
The very first thing I needed to do was to get one of these microcard things for my new camera as it was about as much use as a lawnmower on a submarine without it and so time to check the internet for a suitable outlet and here I encountered another small problem with the guesthouse that could have been solved so easily with a little thought. Spencer Court boasts wifi and it may well have it but it is password protected and the only place the lengthy alphanumeric password is displayed is in the entrance hall which meant I was either going to have to run downstairs, write it down and then go back up to my room or else lug my laptop downstairs and input it there. Not a major problem certainly but it surely would not be beyond the wit of man to put a simple notice somewhere in every room. Again, it is just indicative of how they could improve the guesthouse considerably with just a little thought and without spending too much money. I took the lazy way out used my ‘phone instead.
I discovered a place called CeX which was right in the middle of town and not far from where I had to catch my bus to Broadstairs and wandered along to the shop where I spoke to a very helpful young lady who produced a 64GB SDXC cartridge which is apparently what I needed for £12 as it was second hand. I suppose the name of the business, which is presumably a contraction of Computer Exchange or something, should have given me a clue. It didn’t bother me in the slightest and a subsequent check slightly annoyed me as apparently I could have got the exact one I was sold for £9:99 online or in a Curry’s store that actually stocks them! Slightly irritating but at least I was good to go then.
A quick bus journey and I was back in the George Inn and setting up with Paul for the day’s session which turned out to be another good one with a decent crowd. The numbers of players generally tend to decrease as the week progresses when people who cannot stay the whole week drift off home but it was pretty consistent this year so in the very unlikely event that any of you may read this blog at some point, thank you all so much for coming as there is not much point in having a playaround if there is nobody there to play around!
We played away as happy as sandboys and it was getting darker and darker outside which convinced me that my earlier weather forecast was going to prove to be correct as it began to pour and when I say pour I mean it, it was positively monsoonal. Regrettably for an event that is so weather dependent Folk Week seems to suffer more than it’s fair share of appalling weather and I have been there, sometimes camping which was no fun, in conditions that would not have disgraced SE Asia in the wet season. I had been told that on the Sunday night / Monday morning there had been heavy rains and winds approaching hurricane strengths. There had been weather warnings issued by the Met Office and I have it on good authority that 33 tents were completely wiped out on the official campsite.
Amongst the victims under canvas was my mate Ted Handley from the excellent folk band Triality who are three brothers featuring a slightly unusual line-up of bass, accordian and trumpet, work that one out if you can. They are all great friends of mine and have been playing Broadstairs even longer than I have! Ted had one of these huge family marquee affairs that you need a map and compass to navigate round and he was camping with the whole family and enough kit to service a battalion but when the portable palace blew down he had to borrow his brother’s much more modest four man tent which put somewhat of a damper on things.
I’ll let the images speak for themselves regarding the weather and it was partly because of this that I didn’t fancy moving far after we had finished but the main reason I wanted to stay was that the afternoon act was the Baggy Boys who I love. If you have never experienced the Baggies, as they are known to their fanatical following, it is going to be extremely hard to describe what they are as they defy all conventional band knowledge.
The Baggies official website lists eight members although at the gig I am reporting on here they were apologising profusely that one of the band had had to return home early and there were still eight of them. I’ll swear I have seen them playing with about 14 members although it was at a previous Folk Week and in the evening of a hard day so I may conceivably have been seeing double by then. Looking at the band onstage it appears that about half the band play electro-acoustic guitars and all playing the same chords (no Eagles style duetting here), there is a decent lead guitarist and the rhythm section consists of electric bass and a cajon drum in place of the conventional kit. Various other percussive instruments are swapped around within the band and often the audience as well.
All this sounds as if it must be total chaos and it can indeed get quite hilariously disorganised onstage occasionally but the cleverly thought out repertoire of crowd-pleasing singalong numbers, hugely amusing banter between numbers and a very obvious delight in what they are doing makes this one of the most unfailingly good time pub bands I have ever seen, if you ever get a chance you should really go and check them out.
You might wonder how such an unusual outfit came into being and, frankly, so am I. Every time you ask one of them, or indeed anyone who has ever been associated with them in any capacity, you will get a different answer. Either they do it deliberately to build up a bit of mystique or they genuinely cannot remember themselves. Having met them many times I reckon either hypothesis is equally likely. The lads played to a hugely appreciative audience including Dave, the pub “guv’nor”, who you can see above strutting his stuff on the tambourine behind the bar. Like every other landlord in town he loves them and they are never short of bookings during Folk Week. Like myself, they usually manage to blag a couple more impromptu ones when they are here just for the love of the thing and they really are the Martini band – “Anytime, any place, anywhere”.
If the origins of the band itself are somewhat shrouded in mystery there is a little less controversy about how they came to be playing at Folk Week. I have it on good authority that a few of the guys were down for the Festival purely as punters and obviously had their instruments with them. Fancying a bit of a jam (I know that feeling well) they approached Chrissy, the landlady of the Prince Albert pub, and asked if they could play a few tunes. Of course they could as Chrissy is a great one for live music and was a great supporter of Folk Week and it was full steam ahead. She enjoyed them so much she booked them on the spot for the next year with the full band. As always, in the interest of fair reporting, I should say that Chrissy and her partner are great friends of mine, I still see them regularly although not in the P.A. which was taken over by an outfit called the Craft Union Pub Company and got rid of my friends. They replaced them with a manageress who quickly alienated all the regulars, most of whom left and have not returned, and turned the upstairs manager’s accommodation into a clubhouse for a local outlaw motorcycle club! Unbelievable but true. She is gone now and apparently there was a decent couple in there next whose daughter now runs it well but I will never be across the door of it again. As for the Baggies, they played the next year, ate the place and the rest, as they say, is history.
By early evening the weather was not as bad as it had been but still not great and I didn’t fancy trekking all the way up to St. Peter’s where Paul was trying to get some sort of a session together. I still was not feeling great, nothing I could put my finger on but just a general malaise and I certainly was not drinking a whole lot so I decided to stay put in the George as the evening act was anther guy I know called Paul Messenger. Paul’s stage name Paul One Love, which probably gives you an idea as to what kind of stuff he plays. Paul is a troubadour i.e. one man and his guitar and plays to backing tracks from a seriously state of the art backing track machine. I’ll swear NASA could launch rockets with that piece of kit. His set is all covers with a heavy emphasis on reggae and ska, particularly UB40 and Bob Marley. He is very good and has a large local following wherever he plays. Rumour has it that he is also an excellent cook but I have never been invited to dinner yet!
Paul is one of the hardest working musicians I know and he will do a three or three and a half hour set with one very short break, he really does give value for money. I watched most of it until it was time to go and get the last bus home as taxis are like hen’s teeth during the Festival. A couple more chapters of my book and it was sleepy time again in that rather comfortable bed.
Still another couple of days of the Festival to go and a bit of an adventure thereafter so stay tuned and spread the word.
Well, Broadstairs Folk Week has been and gone again and I am actually writing this as the dust settles in the aftermath. I know I have mentioned it many times before on various pages on this site but for newcomers a) welcome and b) a quick word of explanation. This is undoubtedly my favourite festival in the world and I have been playing it in one guise or another for 30 of the last 31 years. I missed 2016 as I was in Canada travelling and playing the odd gig so I reckon that was a reasonable excuse. On that occasion my travelling companion told me I was like a bear with a sore head (she knows all about bears with sore heads as she is Canadian herself) because I was fretting about not being on the Kent coast making a noise on my guitar.
As you will know from previous entries here I had returned from visiting family in Northern Ireland in good time for the festival which is not always the case as I have been known to get back from there at about 0100 on a Saturday morning and been on a train to Broadstairs shortly after 0900 the next morning having stopped off at home briefly to ignore the bills piling up on my doorstep, swap clean laundry for soiled and pick up my guitar. Despite my best efforts, everything just seemed to conspire against me and it was an odd Folk Week in many respects. I was having a bit of difficulty getting in touch with my wonderful friends who put me up every year for the week and, indeed, far beyond but I had eventually contacted them although because of personal circumstances they were unable to host me this year so now I had a problem.
The area of Thanet which is basically Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate is a very seasonal seaside tourist region and accommodation can be hard enough to find in the summer but it is impossible in Broadstairs during Folk Week. Actually, that is not strictly true, I could get a single room for about £120 a night and upwards which is way outside my budget. I tried every site I knew including homestays and there was nothing with the nearest affordable options being Whitstable and Canterbury, neither of which are feasible commutes especially if you play late in the evening as I often do. The best I could manage was a B&B in Ramsgate from the Monday to the Friday which meant the week would not be a total washout anyway. I got in touch with my mate Paul and told him what had happened and he said that was fine as I was not actually booked and we do sessions / playarounds so it is not as if it was essential I be there much as I would have loved to.
I woke up on the Monday morning all ready to go but not a chance. As I say, everything was conspiring against me and I had the most unpleasant stomach upset, there was literally no way I was going to be able to travel. Straight back on the ‘phone to Paul to explain and lay in bed all day feeling wretched on a number of levels. I had paid for the room in advance so I called the B&B and they kindly agreed to hold the room even though I would not be there. Time is now running.
Tuesday morning and I still was not feeling anything like 100% but I was damned if I was going to miss another day so I jumped in a cab and headed to Stratford International to finally get moving East and this is where another issue that is close to my heart crops up. I had got there in good time (about 0830) and asked the friendly young lady for a return to Broadstairs. She asked me was I in a hurry to get there and I told her that I needed to arrive no later than 1130 so she told me that if I could afford to wait until after 0930 I could get an off-peak ticket which would save me a lot of money. I knew about these tickets but when she told me the comparative prices I was astounded. I bought the off-peak for £44.70, which I still think is disgusting for a 70 mile journey, on the nicely timed 0932 but had I travelled on the preceding train about 15 minutes before it would have cost me an obscene £92. How can they possibly justify that? How can our Government allow it, not to mention annual fare increases above the rate of inflation (using the higher and less accurate RPI index)? The predominantly foreign owned companies running these cash cows must be laughing all the way to the bank.
Stratford International is in the middle of Westfield shopping centre which, when it was built, was either the largest or one of the largest in Europe. It was all tied up with the 2012 Olympics redevelopment as the stadium is right next door and so I took off for a look round although it was not merely an aimless wander as I shall explain.
I have long used a series of great little Canon Ixus compact cameras which I have been very happy with but a couple of years ago I happened to have been in my local Curry’s PC World outlet, not because I like them and they have messed me about badly before but because they are so convenient to my home and I bought a Samsung WB36F as it seemed to have a lot of functions and was on sale at an absolute steal of a price. I had stuck it on the shelf at home as I didn’t see any point in breaking it out when the Canon was still going great but it had just about had it’s last days and I thought it was time to change over. I got the Samsung out of the box and charged it with no problem. I opened it up expecting to just transfer my SD card from the Canon but, oh no, that would have been far too simple as it does not take an SD card, it takes one of these idiotic and extremely fiddly “microcards” which I did not have so I took myself back to the shop I had bought the camera in to buy one. Not a chance. The guy looked at it with a slightly bemused look on his face (amazing in such a shop) and then called his mate who told me what was required and then, when asked, informed me that they did not stock them. What is the point of selling a camera that you do not have the accessories for? He suggested I go about a mile and a half down the road to Argos to get one. Sod that.
Back then to Westfield on the Tuesday morning and I wandered all round it dragging my suitcase, daypack and guitar to find out that none of the several electronics shops opened until 1000 by which point I intended to be somewhere the far side of Ebbsfleet and travelling East. Back then to catch my much cheaper train and finally make BFW.
In light of all the above and in my desire to be totally honest on this site, the images at the head of this paragraph are from previous years but I can assure you that you could never tell as absolutely nothing has changed on that journey except for the price rises.
I got to my destination in good order and headed straight to the George Inn where Paul runs an open playaround every day during Folk Week. This is always very well-attended as it gives players of all abilities a chance to come and play in a group environment and one of the booked artistes from the main roster is always detailed to play so it is great fun. When I wandered into the pub it was just as if I had left the day before although it had actually been the previous November as I had got somewhat marooned after Folk Week. Most of the wonderful staff were the same, including Dave and Bev who run the place so well and look after us brilliantly and Paul and his lovely wife Sue both greeted me with big hugs. As the place began to fill up it was just one old face after another in the same way as it has been for so many years now, albeit the venue of the playaround has changed a few times, and I felt instantly at home as I always do in this venue and this town.
Paul always has the booked guest sitting on his left and he always insists I sit on his right as he seems to like me as his “wingman” albeit he is a far superior musician to me but it is a great honour all the same. I still was not feeling great but I managed to play well enough which pleased me as I had not played in public for about nine months for one reason and another. Ordinarily, Folk Week gigs would be a signal for me to hit the bar in no uncertain manner but I really did not feel like it and only had a couple of pints before the session finished at 1500.
In years past, we would have just kept on playing but Dave had booked afternoon acts for a 1600 – 1800 set and obviously they have to get their gear set up so we needed to vacate the “stage” area pretty sharpish. We sat and had a quiet drink and a bit of a catch up with some friends and Paul announced that we were heading round to the 39 Steps micropub (or tiny tavern as I have recently heard it described) to play some more which is about par for the course. We were not booked to play there nor advertised in the programme but we are friendly with Kevin the owner and we just pitch up and ask can we play to which he invariably agrees and very decently supplies the musicians with a few pints along the way. Despite the mind-boggling selection of ciders on display (have you ever tried mango cider?) I still was not feeling up to scratch and so was still taking it very easy.
I have explained the concept of the playaround earlier and I love it with people of all abilities getting a chance to play in a group environment and hopefully learn some new tunes or ways of playing or whatever but when we move on in the afternoon to wherever we are going (Paul seems to have an ongoing arrangement with half the publicans in town) it is usually only a small group of us who are all used to playing in public and all of us have been doing so for many years and so we can afford to get a little more adventurous in our choice of tunes and also throw in a few songs which we normally do not do in the playaround. If people want to sing at lunchtime then there is an excellent singaround in the Neptune’s Hall pub, just across the road from the George, which shows you how much choice there is at Folk Week.
When it got round to about 1900 we were going to get evicted again by an incoming booked act although not as swiftly as earlier as we just sit about in the middle of the bar and the bands set up in the corner so we can work round each other easily enough. Paul and Sue were heading out that night for a family get-together so I thought that would be an ideal opportunity for me to get booked into my digs and dump my kit at least. I really could not be bothered humping all that gear on the bus so I got a cab which deposited me at the door of the Spencer Court Hotel which was one of a terrace in what had obviously been a rather grand square in days past and much of it still was although the guesthouse itself (it would never merit the term hotel) was a little scuffed round the edges.
Goodbye to one hotel bed………..
I rang the doorbell and waited, and then waited some more. Another try and another whole lot of nothing. I had noticed a handwritten sign in the window saying that if reservations were required then to ring the given mobile (cell) ‘phone number. I did not need a reservation as I already had one but, in the absence of any sign of life in the building I tried it anyway and was told to stay put and someone would be with me shortly. Sure enough, about ten minutes later a guy came sauntering round the corner, greeted me and let me into my room, asked me if I wanted breakfast which I declined and subsequently disappeared again leaving me to settle in. Remember that due to the inexplicable incompetence of my local electronics store I was still without a camera and my technological ineptitude totally precludes my using my ‘phone as a camera I was unable to take any images that evening and those that you see here were taken on subsequent days but it makes sense to the narrative to place them here. Again, I like to be totally upfront about how I throw this site together!
I would describe the room and the whole guesthouse as having seen better days and perhaps not for a while although I must stress that it was spotlessly clean. The room was furnished with a comfy double bed, TV, tea and coffee making facilities and an almost comically tiny en-suite bathroom. Looking at the outside of the building I would suggest that there had once been a large room with a balcony here which had been split into two to make a couple of bedrooms and then bathrooms had been squeezed in wherever possible. On the first evening I could see that I had the only small piece of balcony and there was a table and a couple of chairs there although they obviously had not been used for a while but the patio doors looked to me as if they were painted shut and so I was running up and down the stairs to go outside fora smoke which was a bit of a nuisance. It was only the next morning in the daylight that I worked out how to open the thing and I was quite content to sit out there for a smoke with the vista that just about included a sea view between some buildings but it was definitely pleasant on a good day although they were to be few and far between as we shall see.
I debated going back over to Broadstairs for the evening as I knew there would be plenty going on but I still was feeling far from 100% and I decided the sensible option was to have an early night despite it being my first at the Festival. I reckon I had five pints all day and was in bed by 2130 which is totally unheard of behaviour for me at any time and in any place, much less here during Folk Week but that is what I did. A few chapters of my book and off to the Land of Nod.
There are still a few days of the Festival to go so stay tuned and spread the word.
After another excellent night’s sleep in John’s place and a cup of his almost lethally strong morning coffee, I was up and ready to face the day. As I mentioned earlier in these travelogues, John had been kind enough to take his day off to coincide with my visit but had to return to work that day. No problem, I had more or less got my bearings by then and knew I couldn’t really get that lost on such a small island. Having had a wonderful tour of the Northern portion of the place. I had determined myself to take on the much smaller Southern portion i.e. that part South of what passes for a village.
The first port of call had to be the only Church on the island, dedicated to St. Helen(a). I have put the a in brackets as I have seen it referred to by both names.
The Church, which is Anglican, is no longer in regular use although I believe occasional special services are held here. The image of the saint here suggests Helena as the proper name but that may just be a linguistic thing as I believe the inscription is in Latin.
A rather imposing but unlocked door opened to admit me to the place and the first thing I noticed was a pretty musty smell. It is obvious this place does not get much use nor even a good airing.
The font, simple as it is and is probably expected to be, is worth a look. It is interesting to see the various forms of crosses on it as opposed to the traditional.
The interior of the building is fairly sparse, and I had created a full review on the place for another website which I reproduce here should you be interested. It was initially entitled “The Kingdom of Heaven”.
“When you approach the “village” on Lundy initially on leaving the boat, there are two buildings that dominate the skyline. Away to the left you can see the Old Light which I have mentioned before but the building that most catches the eye is the much closer St. Helena’s Church, also known as St. Helen’s. As your stay on the island continues, you become increasingly aware of it, not least as it is a very handy landmark when you wander around, sometimes off the paths.
I am certainly no expert but I did not find it architecturally outstanding, built in 1896 to the design of Gothic architect John Norton out of stone apparently salvaged from demolished cottages. This in itself is something of a precursor of the current island mentality of recycling, which I have mentioned elsewhere on these pages. What sets it apart from so many parish churches on the mainland is the stunning location it occupies. There can be few churches of any denomination in the UK with a better situation. I hope the images give some idea and, again, an apology for the standard due to technical problems with my camera.
The first thing I noticed was that the Church was open, which is not the case in so many places on the mainland for reasons as regrettable as they are understandable. I suspect St. Helena’s is never locked, Lundy is not like that.
Entering the Church, I was immediately aware of a slightly musty smell such as you get in a place that is not often used. This is hardly surprising as the it is what is called an extra-parochial building. That means, I believe, that it is a consecrated building but does not have an attendant cleric nor regular services. At time of writing the original piece in September 2013, the incumbent was the Reverend Shirley Henderson from Hartland on the mainland but as far as I am aware, there are only very occasional services held here. (An update as I edit this in September 2018 is that The Reverend Brenda Jacobs is currently the incumbent). It appears they like female clerics here which could lead me onto another whole debate about the role of females in the Christian Church but I shall refrain.
I had the place entirely to myself and I plenty of time and quietude for a look round. I must confess to being slightly surprised at the interior decoration, which I found slightly incongruous with the exterior and surroundings. It was very pleasant and with what I thought was a slightly odd style for an Anglican church as it seems to be geometric tiling. I wandered around and saw what looked like a very grand organ although I subsequently found out that it no longer functions due to the salt air having affected it. Another feature affected by decay was the peal of eight bells which were installed the year after consecration but became unsafe in the 1920’s. They were actually removed in the 1950’s but a charity appeal managed to restore them in 1994. I must say, I would love to hear them peal out over the island.
The font is worth a look as it shows various forms of a cross which are not the standard cruciform of the Christian church.
I have often noted elsewhere on websites that I am of no religious faith but I do find places of worship (of whatever persuasion) fascinating and St. Helena’s was no exception. As for the slightly obscure heading for this entry, please allow me to explain. From 1834 to 1918, the island was in the private ownership of the Heaven family and the church was the brainchild of the Reverend Hudson Grosset Heaven and funded with financial assistance by another member of the Heaven family. The island and church were therefore known locally as the “Kingdom of Heaven”. You really should visit if you are on the island.
With my usual inquisitive spirit (for which read nosiness) I simply had to look up St. Helen(a) and found out that she was born of common stock, being referred to in at least one history as a “stablemaid”, and ended up as the concubine (i.e. whore) of the Emperor Constantius. She is probably best known for being Mother to the debatably bastard Emperor Constantine (accounts differ as to whether or not she actually married Constnatius) who only converted to Christianity on his deathbed. Apart from being in possession of various allegedly sacred relics of dubious provenance I can find nothing else that would mark her out for such veneration but such is the way of organised religion. Again, in the way of all things going round in cirlcles which I firmly believe in, she gave birth to Constantine in a place called Nis in modern day Serbia which I had the pleasure of visiting in 2011 and is credited with bringing a number of cats to the island of Cyprus which still has a massive population of them and boasts the St. Nicholas of the Cats monastery which I have also visited. Again, these places will feature in future blogs here if I live long enough to write them!
Having had a good look round the Church, I took off in a vaguely Southerly direction. That is one of the very many great things about Lundy, you cannot really get too far lost. You know you are lost when you get wet because you are in the sea!
Looking back, I was treated to a lovely view of the village which you can see here. I also managed some absolutely stunning coastal views (apologies again for the quality of the images) and the sense of isolation was wonderful. I also managed a lovely vista of the jetty where I had landed what seemed like so long before although it was only a few days. it just felt like I had been there forever, Lundy gets you like that.
The next thing of note I saw was South Light, one of the two lights which were built to replace the fairly ineffective Old Light, which I mentioned earlier on in this travelogue. Due to it being a working installation and apparently fenced off, I didn’t try to get near it but it was interesting to look at.
Walking on, I came upon this pleasant little pond. Now, I already knew that there was no natural water on Lundy except rainwater as there is nothing in the way of a river, stream or spring. I subsequently discovered that this was actually a test quarry pit for granite during the building of Old Light. Like the pond I had seen the previous day with my friend John, this pond has a population of carp that nobody appears to know the origin of and nobody knows how they survive with no apparent source of food. I really suspect someone is feeding them secretly but maybe it is just another Lundy oddity!
Right beside the pond is this rather odd looking thing. I took the obligatory photo and determined to discover what it was later. Well I have now so I shall explain.
This is a rocket pole, of all things. Rocket poles were used in the 19th century as a means of saving life at sea. Basically, the idea was that you fired a line to a stricken vessel via a rocket and then you could rescue survivors using it, thereby avoiding the need to launch lifeboats or whatever. I have spent much time around the various coastlines of the UK over the years and never seen the like of it but I had never seen anywhere quite like Lundy before either!
I am a firm believer in the concept of everything going round in circles and so, if I live long enough to post up all the writings that I managed to salvage from the remnants of two former commercial sites (14 years worth!), then I shall link this picture to a park in Southwest London, a British general from about 20 miles from where my remaining family live in Northern Ireland and whose grave I have visited in Canada plus the American national anthem. Go on, I know just about all of my (now) 18 readers and I know you are all smart people so work that one out!
The path seems to go on forever on Lundy. Along I wandered on a lovely day in July and was completely happy and contented, it really is an otherwordly place, it seems somewhat inconceivable that anyone could get stressed here.
Almost inevitably, I came upon Old Light again fairly soon, it really does dominate this part of the island. Again I shall reproduce a piece I originally wrote for the now sadly murdered Virtual Tourist website. I have been rummaging about in my files and found all these bits and pieces which took me literally hundreds of man hours to write and it seems like a shame just to waste them.
“The not very imaginatively named Old Light on Lundy is, as you have probably guessed, a lighthouse and is not so much a thing to do as a thing you cannot avoid. It dominates the skyline to the West of the village and is well worth a visit. Old Light has a fairly interesting history most of which was related to me by the wonderful John Gayton.
As I have mentioned many times elsewhere on these pages, Lundy is a most beautiful place but, frankly, it is a damned nuisance for shipping sitting where it does and has a most appalling record of shipwrecks, not all accidental! In the early 19th century, it was obvious that something needed to be done and so a group of Bristolian shipowners offered to construct a lighthouse if the landowners would provide somewhere to build it. This was duly done and the light was finished in 1820 to the design of one Daniel Asher Alexander, the chap who also designed the fairly grim Dartmoor Prison. As well as the lighthouse itself, which is fairly impressive, he also provided quarters for the lighthouse keepers adjacent to the light. These have been very sensitively restored and are now available as some of the excellent holiday lets which keep the island financially viable.
The only problem with the light was that it was effectively pretty useless! Basically, the fog that often engulfs the place rendered it none too visible and the lighthouse keepers had to resort to firing a cannon at regular intervals to warn shipping of their presence.
Like so many other places on Lundy, they don’t lock the door so you can just wander in whenever you like. A word of warning however, the stairs are pretty steep and if, like me, you are not great with heights then you might not enjoy it too much at the top despite the stunning views. If you are not worried by the vertiginous climb and fancy relaxing and enjoying the vista, they have even very helpfully left a couple of deckchairs up there on the platform that formerly housed the light. I am glad I saw it but I don’t think I’ll be going up there again!”
Here is yet another image of this wonderful building.
Having done it the previous day, I didn’t feel the need to climb it again, so I contented myself with a few photos and then went back to the adjacent Old Cemetery for a better look.
On the way back to the Old Cemetery I saw a quad bike which seems to be the preferred mode of transport for a lot of the Wardens on Lundy. In a place without a proper paved road and a very limited amount of vehicles, it seems like a pretty good option to me.
Relatively untended and with various crosses (many of Celtic design) rising from thick grass and undergrowth, the cemetery really is a mystical place and made all the moreso when you read a little of the history of it and the attendant mythology.
Again, I shall reproduce my original tip here if the reader is interested.
“It will come as no surprise to regular readers of my travel pages but I love pottering about in graveyeards, churchyards, cemeteries, call them what you will. I find them endlessly fascinating and great sources of social history. Like just about everything else on Lundy, the old cemetery is unusual and slightly mysterious and I loved it.
It is unusual insofar as there are appear to be two distinct periods of burials, early Christian and 19th / 20th century, at least as best I could make out the stones. What happened to all the burials in the intervening period, were they all taken to the mainland? Even on an island as small as this, it really is a small plot to have had that period of use.
There are a number of early Christian stones standing here but with no graves, and it is believed they were moved here after being elsewhere, nobody really knows. They are all inscribed with Latin inscriptions (some time after the Romans had left Britain) and there are various theories about who they may have been.
Whilst researching this piece, I came upon another mystery. There was a grave here of a semi-hermit, originally of high birth, who went by the name of St. Nectan and is believed to have inhabited the island in the 5th century. I say there was a grave as the remains were eventually disinterred and moved to Hartland in Devon. However, I have read a contrary view that Nectan had lived in Hartland all the time and was murdered there and buried locally after the rather grisly scene of having walked a distance carrying his head which had been severed by a robber! Miracles were associated with his burial place there and there is no mention of Lundy at all. I am no archaeologist or historian so I won’t offer an opinion and shall as always leave it to those better qualified and to the reader to make up their own minds.
The place, as you can see, is fairly unkempt but I know the wardens have plenty else to keep them busy and it is probably not a priority. Anyway, to me it only added to the appeal. Apart from the ancient gravestones, there are many graves and memorials to members of the families that owned the island, and again I was struck by the fact I could find no marker for (ordinary) islanders. I am not actually sure how many of these stones are actual graves and how many merely memorial stones as I did read that the last interment here was 1978 and there are certainly memorials post-dating that.
Given it’s position and solitude, it certainly exudes an air of spirituality of one sort or another. You certainly should have a look round here if you are walking round Lundy”.
Onward, ever onward on a reasonably decent track and back towards the village, having completed my loop of the South of the island. Back to the village and a couple of pints of something reviving in the delightful beer garden of the Marisco Tavern. I don’t think I could have been any happier just then. I even spied something I had inexplicably missed before behind the bar, the pickled eggs!
This is going to be one of the slightly odder observations I am going to make about Lundy but it is something the visitor may easily miss and really should do. Allow me to explain.
I love eggs and I simply adore pickled eggs which have been a staple of pub snacks for as long as I can remember. Heaven knows, I have even been known to pickle my own now and again and very nice they were if I may say so myself. For those of you who do not know the concept, and there may be many, pickled eggs are basically shelled hard boiled eggs pickled in vinegar and whatever spices you fancy, I normally use black pepper, a few chillis and a couple of cloves of garlic but you can suit yourself.
I like eggs so much I have even eaten balut in the Philippines. Again, for the unitiated, balut is a partially fertlised hen’s egg which you crack the top off to reveal a semi-formed chicken foetus which you then liberally dose with chilli vinegar and eat. Sounds pretty awful I know but it tastes gorgeous and is a national delicacy.
Anyway, back to Lundy and the pickled Lundy duck eggs. Well, that is an absolute must do for me. I had seen a few ducks wandering about, free range like just about everything on the island and I had spoken to the farmer who rears them. I love duck eggs on the odd occasions I can get them fresh as they are far tastier than chicken eggs in my opinion. I paid my 60 pence, applied a bit of white pepper (must always be white pepper for pickled eggs, never black) and bit into it. I don’t want to start gushing here but I have never tasted a pickled egg like it, it was superb. A beautiful pickling mix, wonderfully tasty egg and the yolk was even ever so slightly soft, not dry and powdery as is so often the case with the commercial varieties.
I am not expert on many things but I do know a thing or two about pickled eggs and you really should try them. I didn’t notice if they were available in the shop for you to take home or are merely for local consumption. Pickled egg heaven!
Whilst enjoying my pint and a smoke in the most wonderful beer garden, I actually managed to do something I had been attempting for days.
I know it is never going to win Wildlife Photographer of the Year but I am very proud of the image above. I mentioned in an earlier portion of the piece that there is a colony (if that is the right collective noun) of sparrows on the island which are invaluable for ornithological research and I had been trying for days to get a picture of one of them. Two problems arose. One, I was only using a little compact camera and secondly, have you ever seen a sparrow sit still for more than about three seconds? If you think of moving towards one (even at a distance), they are off! So here it is, my one and only Lundy sparrow image. Thank you so much Mr. or Mrs. Sparrow.
Back into the Tavern and I simply had to have another one of the beauties called Lundy pickled eggs. Well, that was dinner sorted for the evening.
The day was winding down nicely but as always it was not over yet. During a lull in dinner service, John popped out of the kitchen and asked me, in his delightful Scottish way, when I was going to get that f***ing guitar out of the case. It was my last night on the island and I hadn’t played a note yet, probably to the great relief of the drinkers in the Tavern. It was the last opportunity I would have and I had dragged the thing all the way here so it made sense and I popped across the main street to the other side of the village which was a round trip of about 200 yards, if that, and returned with my beloved Tanglewood. I do own guitars that are supposedly better and certainly more expensive than this baby but they are all gathering dust in my flat. I love this thing so much, battered and bruised as it undoubtedly is. Any guitarist of any standard, including my appalling one, will tell you the same. You just get one and it feels right. This one (bought in an emergency where I had limited funds and was going to tour Scandinavia with my Takemine laid up in the sick guitar hospital) is a case in point.
By this point I had had enough throat oil / Dutch courage (pints of cider) inside me and so out it came, quick tune up and I took off on one of the stranger gigs I have played and believe me there have been some strange ones. The gig itself was not odd as I ran through some of my fairly limited repertoire, it was just the location and the vibe of a group of people who had all chosen to be “stranded” in this beautiful and remote spot. Obviously everyone present “got” Lundy as I did and the vibe was superb, any musicians reading this will understand, you just know when it is “right” and this was as right as it was ever going to be.
I was lucky in that one of the group of divers who were camping out the back of where I was staying turned out to be a very competent guitarist so we ended up sharing the musical duties and it turned out to be a great night. I would include the one image I have of the man, whose name I regrettably never learnt, but it really is too awful due to my refusal to use flash, even in the dark in late night pubs.
Perhaps the highlight came late in the piece when John, having finished for the evening, persuaded the affable bar manager to join him in a rendition of “Flower of Scotland” which was memorable to say the least. The bar closed bang on time as always although we did play on for a bit but quit just before midnight to allow everyone to get home before the power went. For my last evening on Lundy it was a cracker and John and I took off for a nightcap and then to my makeshift bed on the floor for another great nights sleep. This really had been some trip.
I get off the island in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.