In the last post I promised the reader that I would be going for a walk but I shall very briefly deal with Monday 14th October and it will be brief, believe me. The whole day is best summed up in the images above which show my usual excellent breakfast in the Royal Victoria Pavilion, a murky Ramsgate beach in the early afternoon and the full-bore rainstorm that had settled over Broadstairs by early evening and did not let up. I am a fairly hardy soul but it really was too dismal to consider doing anything of note and so we shall pass quickly on.
A (not so long-distance) footpath.
A few posts ago I teased you with the image that heads this page and promised a full explanation in due course, so here it is.
For many years I had seen signposts like this round Broadstairs and never even bothered to enquire what T&D stood for. When I eventually did, I was informed that it was Turner and Dickens although many locals do not even know this as you shall see. T is the famous artist JMW Turner and D the equally famous novelist Charles Dickens. The former had a strong association with Margate and the latter with Broadstairs to the extent they now even have an annual Dickens Festival and it seems you cannot move in the town without seeing a plaque commemorating some Dickensian association.
Despite the fact that their lives overlapped by about four decades and had connections in the two adjacent towns, there is no evidence the two ever met although it is possible as they had mutual friends. I suspect it is just the local Council conflating the two histories to create the route. Whatever the facts, it matters little as this is a pleasant stroll and it is nothing more than that. Over the years I had walked the majority of it without really being aware it was a designated route.
If you do fancy a go at it your first problem will be the conflicting and often inaccurate information available on the internet. I checked the first three websites my search engine threw up and that was an education with the start and end points being given as the rail stations in the two towns (wrong) and distances varying from 6.44 km. (four miles) to 8.7 km. The route starts or finishes at The Droit House Visitor Centre in Margate and the other terminus is the Dickens House Museum on the front at Broadstairs. I would say it is closer to the former distance and it is certainly not onerous. I found this website to be one of the better ones.
I love walking and have completed the London Loop and Capital Ring (150 miles and 78 miles respectively), the vast majority of the Thames Path (184 miles) and the pinnacle of my rambling was completing the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal (100+ miles at altitude) some years ago so what was I doing wandering about four miles mostly along roads I knew intimately? A couple of reasons, really. Firstly, it would give me something to do rather than just sit in the pub all day at my computer and secondly it would “test drive” my poor old body that had been a bit knocked about. I was surprised at how weak I still felt exactly a month after being discharged from hospital. This route was ideal as it vaguely follows the Thanet Loop bus route (or vice versa) so I knew that if I got tired I could easily get to a bus stop which was a reassuring backstop.
I started good and early and the first image I took that day was absolutely nothing to do with the path and was taken about 200 yards from where I was staying. This rather unprepossessing frontage hides the restaurant that had recently achieved Thanet’s first Michelin star. It is run by a guy called Ben Crittenden who transformed the premises from a tiny sandwich bar with his Dad. The only other person involved is his wife Sophie who runs front of house.
STARK is only open in the evening four nights a week, it has twelve covers and no menu, you eat what you are given. The website states, “PLEASE NOTE THAT WE ARE UNABLE TO CATER FOR ANY DIETARY REQUIREMENTS, DISLIKES OR ALLERGIES AND WE ARE UNABLE TO OFFER ANY SUBSTITUTIONS”. Sorry about the caps, it is a c&p. All this sounded very pretentious to me but I am told by people whose opinion I respect that he is a really pleasant bloke. The rather draconian food policy derives from the fact that he has a kitchen the size of a shoebox which is equipped with one fridge, well, how much kitchen does a sandwich bar need? Gordon Ramsay, eat your heart out.
If you can get a table, and I say if as there is typically a six week wait, it will set you back £60 or £90 with a paired wine flight. Heaven knows where he keeps the wine! Whites in the fridge and reds under the sink presumably. In truth, with some of the weather we were having he could have put the whites on the back doorstep and they would have chilled nicely if they had not been washed away to the sea down Oscar Road. I doubt I shall ever dine there but good luck to them and back to my walk.
It was a mere five minutes walk from STARK to the Dickens House Museum which I have never been in and is said to be the inspiration for the home of Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. This would make sense as it is about 10 feet across a footpath to the Albion Hotel which has a Dickensian association as the plaque outside indicates. It also has a Fergian (what a word!) association as I have stayed here and played a gig in the lovely garden with my mate Tim.
I also took the image above of Bleak House which is certainly not the best one I have of it but I took it to demonstrate a point. With a little compact camera (no telephoto lens or anything) I took the images of the Museum and this one whilst standing in exactly the same spot which shows just how compact Broadstairs is for the visitor. About as compact as my camera really.
On then up the High Street and I may as well have been walking to Beano’s for my breakfast as I know it so well. I have walked up and down here literally thousands of times. I thought I would include the images above for a bit of amusement. Not far up the hill is the pretty uninspiring row of shops, with J. Prentis the greengrocer at the far end. I must declare an interest in that I know John who is a really nice guy but his fruit and veg are really good with lots of locl produce. Cobnuts were the seasonal offering with a cobnut being a locally grown variant of a hazelnut.
I looked up as I knew there was another blue plaque there indicating that Dickens had stayed in a house on that site at some point but, as the image shows, it has been changed, very possibly by John to what you see above. I won’t bore you with the details but it is to do with a dispute between him and the landlord of the upstairs premises which are, frankly, an eyesore and have been for years. It certainly made me smile.
On up the hill past Pierremont Hll where the future Queen Victoria once stayed, past the War Memorial and then I stopped briefly to take the image above which indicates much of what is happening in Broadstairs. The two premises shown are both obviously former retail outlets and are both now pubs. The one on the right is Mind the Gap (a reference to the nearby train station) where I have been once or twice and played an impromptu gig with a standing invitation to do so again any time. It is one of the many micropubs I have spoken about in this series of entries. The bar on the left is Houdini’s, which I unusually have never been in. The USP here, as the name suggests is that most of the staff are practicing magicians who will amaze you with their prestidigitation at the drop of a (top) hat. I just hope the rabbit does not jump out.
I carried on past the station and Beano’s which took a serious amount of willpower and then right into St. Peter’s Park Road where I stopped to take a quick image of the rather pleasant Quaker Meeting House which houses not only Society of Friends (Quakers) but also, somewhat oddly to my mind, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. I cannot imagine there are too many practicing Calvinists in Thanet but apparently there must be enough for a congregation. I live and learn.
The path then follows some quiet residential streets until you get to St. Peters which I also know quite well having played gigs on all four pubs in the village. It is not a big place and I think it is commendable that it supports so many “boozers”. Again, two of them are micropubs (the Four Candles (the smallest brewpub in Britain) and the Yard of Ale) and the other two are more traditional establishments (the Red Lion and the Little Albion). Both the micropubs regularly win awards as the attached websites show and both are excellent. The image shows the Candles on the left and the Albion on the right. When I passed the Little Albion was undergoing a much-needed refurb as you can see by the newspapers in the windows. I could tell you all sorts of stories about it but I won’t bore you.
St. Peters and Broadstairs are now more or less joined and the local Council features both names but while Broadstairs is now the much more important entity it was not always thus. The village has a very long history with the first Church being built here in 1070 to serve the habitation in the area when Broadstairs was merely a few fisherman’s huts. Strange as it seems now, it was reputedly the largest parish East of London in the first half of the 19th century. Nowadays, it is basically a dormitory town with about 20% of the population being retired.
A short walk past the pubs I came to the charming set of mosaics pictured above, the work of well-known local artist Martin Cheek and local schoolchildren. See if you can spot which characters are depicted. This is yet another example of the very artistic nature of the area that I mentioned in the previous post.
The two images above are nothing to do with the Turner and Dickens theme other than they are on the path named for them. The first shows a detail of a hedge around a private dwelling the like of which I do not think I have ever seen. It is so thick that it has to be trimmed as shown so as not to obscure the street sign. The people here must really value their privacy! The second is of a large and presumably very old tree that I liked the look of purely because of the numerous trunks.
Another few minutes walk brought me to the Church for which the village was named and which I had been in before, notably for the wedding of my friends Simon and Becky which was quite some event as it happened during Folk Week. Becky is an excellent fiddle player and singer who is originally from the village and who I have played many gigs with and Simon dances with a folk dance side from Northumberland where they now live with their young son.
Being in Folk Week, the logistics were a bit frantic for many of the guests. If memory serves, the wedding was at 1500 and at lunchtime I had a gig with my mate Pete May in the Charles Dickens pub in Broadstairs which is yet another of the Thorley Taverns I mentioned in the last entry. People were somewhat confused by me turning up to play looking semi-respectable as I habitually play in jeans and a T-shirt and Pete was fairly smart as well. We finished the gig bang on, explained why we could not do an encore, set down in record time and then hit the traffic in Pete’s vehicle! We ended up taking a crazy detour and arrived at the Church about two minutes ahead of the bride. We did well as there were other musicians slipping in the back during the service. Everyone knew the score (musical pun absolutely intended) and it was no problem as was the state of dress of many of the congregation. Simon’s dance side turned up in full “morris” gear to provide a guard of honour and many other dancers from other sides turned up in their costumes, having danced out that lunchtime, it was quite a sight.
After the service we all retired across the road to the Red Lion (pictured) for a few before heading the short distance to the Village Hall where the reception was to be held. There was food laid on but Becky had not booked a band, well she had no need to as a fair proportion of the guests were musicians who were under orders to bring their instruments which we did. The entertainment effectively took the form of a ceilidh with a fairly large and constantly changing band including your humble narrator. It was one of the best weddings I have ever been to and the memory of the bride hammering her fiddle with the band whilst still in her bridal gown is one that will remain with me forever.
As I always do, I stopped to pay my respects at the War Memorial outside the church and take a few images for inclusion in the War Memorial Register. I found it amazing how many men from this small village, which must have been even smaller then, died in the First World War. Lest we forget.
I was surprised to find the church was open on a weekday out of season but I gratefully went in for a look round to find that I was understandably the only visitor. There was a man there “minding” the place which I think is a terrible shame. Churches used to be open all the time as places of sanctuary and shelter but the realities of modern society render this impossible now. He was very friendly and pointed out many things of interest but he did manage to surprise me somewhat when I told him I was walking the Turner and Dickens path and the presence of the mosaics mentioned above, he claimed to have never heard of it despite obviously being a local and a parishioner there. We got to chatting about this and that until he slightly apologetically told me he had to lock up and go for his lunch. When I checked the time I discovered that we had been chewing the fat for the best part of an hour. Still, no harm done as I had nothing specific to do except go for a walk and it was an interesting conversation. I do love never specifically planning anything.
The attached website has an excellent history of the Church but a brief precis is that the nave is the only late Norman portion of the church still extant and dates to 12th century although most of the rest is 15th century. It was extensively restored in the latter part of the 19th century and much of the stained glass, of which I am so fond, dates to this period. A couple of interesting snippets about the church are that the late former Prime Minister of the UK, Ted Heath, who was born in the village, sang in the choir here and the church was used as a naval signalling station in Napoleonic times. The latter fact means that the church retains the right to fly the white ensign (the flag of the Royal Navy) although I am not sure if it exercises this privelege. This interested me as there is a church about 15 minutes walk from my home in the East end of London that regularly flies the red ensign (flag of the merchant marine). I wonder how many churches in UK are allowed to fly naval ensigns.
To the rear of the church is the extensive graveyard which I have visited before and which I found fascinating especially as it has a number of Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) tended graves which I have a particular interest in. I did not spend too much time on them as I had examined them exhaustively on a previous visit but I took a while to look at the Garden of Remembrance and I paused to take one of the images you see above which shows a portion of the graveyard which has been left to grow pretty much wild. I don’t know the reasoning for this. It maybe deliberate policy to encourage wildlife as is becoming popular, it may be that they do not have the resources to keep the whole place up to scratch. Certainly other parts of the site are very well-kept so I really have no idea. The images below are of the well-surfaced path which passes through the rather ornate castellated gate you can see.
One piece of advice I would give to the visitor is to try to arrange one of the St. Peters walking tours which I have never been on because they are so popular. Three of them involve the graveyard, a general one (including the grave of the Giant!) and one each for graves pertaining to the World Wars. The most popular is the Village Tour when numerous volunteers from the area dress up in period costume to greet the tour with various anecdotes. I think it is a great idea and those that have been on it say it is excellent which is presumably the reason it has won so many awards. I really must get round to it some day.
The churchyard gate marks a boundary in more ways than one. Whilst in the precincts of the church you can see houses nearby and know you are in a reasonably built up area but as soon as you walk outside you are in open fields. Certainly there is constant traffic noise from the nearby A255 which is always busy but it certainly looks rural enough although utilising modern farming techniques i.e. huge fields which neither Turner nor Dickens would have recognised. Frankly, it is fairly flat, featureless and boring, especially on a cold and damp October day. The path here is called St. Peter’s Footpath and remains so until you are well into Margate.
Whilst on the Footpath I passed an area known as the Shallows for which various suggestions are given as to the origin of the name. What is not in dispute is that this is where the poor old Baptists had to meet to worship in the 17th century when they were being persecuted for being Non-Conformist. That is probably pleasant enough on a warm, summer Sunday but not much fun in the midst of winter.
I kept walking and was glad to note that I was not flagging too badly although my knees were making their presence felt a little, and were to do so a bit more the next day, but it was flat and easy walking. Whilst I had walked under the railway line in Broadstairs I was to walk over it on a footbridge on the outskirts of Margate. The various websites make much of the local youth, under supervision, being encouraged to turn their aerosol graffiti habits to positive effect by decorating this structure. Whilst this may have been true when the websites were constructed the “artists” have either reverted to type or their less altruistic brethren have been at work as it is just a mess of ugly “tagging” graffiti now which I did not even bother taking an image of.
Just beyond the vandalised footbridge is the entrance to Dane Valley Woods which is marked by the rather pleasant carved sign you can see above. I would ordinarily have liked to explore that a little but a look at the muddy path (also pictured) and my still relatively pristine white trainers put paid to that notion. That was a bit of a shame as a look at XXXX the attached website shows the woods to be a very creditable project to “be a sustainable, community-owned wildspace in the heart of Margate encouraging participation in creating and managing the woods for enjoyment, health, learning and wildlife”. Fair play to them.
Past the woods and I was into Margate with settlement springing up as suddenly as it had disappeared in St. Peters although my way was still named St. Peter’s footpath. I knew I was due to come upon a windmill called Draper’s Mill fairly shortly as I had seen it signposted from the other direction previously and I could just see the top of the sails from a way off. I wasn’t actually expecting it to be open (if indeed it ever does open to the public but I suspected it must) although I probably wasn’t expecting what I saw which was a cherry picker and a gang of workmen dismantling the sails. Routine maintenance I suppose.
The mill was constructed in 1845 as one of a set of three on a site where a mill had stood since at least 1695. It worked in the manner intended until 1916 when the sails were superseded by a gas engine although I singularly fail to see the point of a “wind”mill that does not utilise the wind. In 1927 the disused sails and fantail were removed completely. In 1965 the mill was threatened with demolition but the Headmaster of the primary school opposite founded a charitable Trust and saved it thankfully. I am so glad he did. Just in case you are interested, those sails span 66 feet (20 metres).
I kept on walking, still on St. Peter’s footpath and then things started to unravel a bit. I don’t know Margate anywhere near as well as I know Broadstairs but I know it well enough not to get lost. Whilst I did not get lost per se, what I did lose was the path. It had been signposted well thus far and, indeed, for a long portion of the path it was the only visible route but the signage just petered out with the post above which is the same one I teased you with before.
I kept going in generally the correct direction but could find no sign of a sign if that is not appalling English. I quartered about but still nothing. Ah well, no problem and I made my own way into town. I suppose that theoretically it would have been possible to look up the route on my ‘phone but that is all a bit technical for me. Pausing briefly to take the image of yet another dead pub for the Lost Pubs website I headed down Ramsgate Road into town.
When I got into town I debated walking down to Droit House which is the official start / end point of the path but I had walked far enough and decided to jump on a bus back to Broadstairs. I knew that I could still manage a bite of brunch in Beano’s although it would have been just as easy to walk five minutes down the hill to Beano’s in Margate but back to Broadstairs I went. I know it is unusual for you to get my “breakfast” pic so late in the piece but here you go. I know you would not think it was not a proper page of mine if there was not an image of a fry-up on there somewhere!
It had been a great day in terms of me learning what I was capable of as I recovered and I was well pleased with my progress but the day was not yet over. As I have mentioned before, Jackie manages to get some great acts in the Wrotham despite it being a relatively small venue and this evening was a case in point. She had booked a guy called Keith Kenny from New Jersey and he turned out to be excellent not to mention a really nice bloke when I chatted to him afterwards.
I had noticed on his cartoon promo material that apart from a caricature image of him there was a red suitcase which I took to be merely indicative of him being a travelling muso butit is not. As you can see in the image above (again, I did not want to use flash and annoy others) it is onstage and actually hides an electronic drumkit and between that, his pedal board and his loop machine he manages to sound like an entire band all by himself.
Of all the excellent music I saw during this trip he really was one of the most impressive acts and I would definitely go to see him again. He does a short tour in the South of England every Autumn and I believe this was his third year in the Wrotham. It is a measure of how well Jackie runs the music here that not only does she get returns from international acts but I know he has already asked to play next year because he loves it there. Do yourself a favour and check out his website.
After the busy day I did not stay too long and it was a relatively early bed for Fergy.
In the next post I mange to get further than the Pavilion in Ramsgate and discover a few hidden and not so hidden gems so stay tuned and spread the word.