22 Jan

London, Kent

(By the way, if you click on a photo you should be able to enlarge it…)

We left Rob’s place on the 2nd of January, 2012 heading for the County of Kent.  We had five days to fill before we were needed at our first house sit job, since returning from NZ, so we decided to take a slow tour, stopping here and there on a whim, much like wombling.
We drove into Gravesend, which is on the Thames right down by the river mouth.  We found a park near a supermarket and general shopping area.  
This may seem very mundane to mention that we found a park for our van but in actual fact it can be very frustrating to do so!  Many supermarket car parks and even Council provided car parking areas have a barrier across the driveway about 2.5 metres high.  We have been told that this is to deter “travellers”, meaning Irish gypsies, from using their car parking facilities to camp up for nights on end and reputedly run a business, ripping off the locals either by begging, shoplifting and pickpocketing or all three!  We heard one story where a family would wait outside the supermarket until they find a supermarket docket left in one of the trolleys.  Mum will then take the children inside the shop and get them to read the items listed on the docket (Mum can’t read) and she will fill up the trolley to match the sales docket.  Then she will take the full trolley to the counter and give the shop assistant a sob story as to why she needs to have a refund and produce the docket as proof of purchase!   In the meantime, the children have stolen things from the isles and quietly leave the shop and join Dad in the car!  If the children get caught, they are underage for conviction.  So business owners, Councils, even car parks at the Train Stations have a barrier arm across the entrances which can make it very difficult for us to find somewhere our van will fit!

Pocahontas died in Gravesend in 1617

Anyway, we filled up our fridge and pantry in the camper van and had a quick stroll around the town.  By the way, shopping in the UK is much the same as in NZ.  Obviously different brands but mostly the same sort of items fill the supermarket shelves.  It does take me a lot longer to do the shopping as I don’t recognise the packaging and I have to stop and read them!  I’m getting better now as I get more familiar with things but it does take some getting used to.  Also, in NZ if I went to a supermarket anywhere really, they all have basically the same layout.  Not here, yesterday I was looking for jars of spices, nutmeg, etc and I walked up and down the aisles thinking that they should be sort of where the gravies and that are or at least where the baking things are.  Eventually I stopped someone and asked and they were in a separate stand between two meat fridges!  Generally, prices are similar to what I remember back home.  It gets expensive when you eat out, but we are blessed to have a good kitchen in the motorhome so we tend to cook our own lunches and dinners.  What is surprising is where all this food comes from!  In the last lot of shopping we had fresh beans from Holland, grapes from Namibia, snap peas from Kenya, spring onions from Egypt, capsicum and lettuce from Spain, English mushrooms and Irish butter.
We watched a bunch of teenagers trying their best at Parkour, jumping from one low wall  to another, over bike stands and the like and thought of Kathy’s partner, Terence.  These kids were just starting out I would say, I stood there watching with my camera in hand, but not much happened.  Terence is second in NZ and it makes me frightened to see what he can do!  Leaping over, through, around and up walls, etc.  Amazing!  Nerves of steel. http://www.freewebs.com/nzparkour/photosvideos.htm
Next stop was Rochester.  What a beautiful place, very old and quaint and FREEZING but well worth it!  Beautiful cathedral, ruins of the Castle next door, and full of history.

Rochester Cathedral Organ. The choir actually sits behind this!

Eastgate House, Rochester 1590

Side door in the Cathedral. c1340

Castle ruins with Rochester Cathedral behind

That's Dennis walking between these old buildings in Rochester

We carried on, travelling alongside the Thames, which by this stage is very wide, and stopped at a beach on the Isle of Sheppey.  By now it was very dark but that didn’t deter a fisherman, who we could see at the water’s edge, because he had a little light on the tip of his fishing rod.  He stayed out there for hours and it was so cold and extremely windy.  The forecast was for gale force winds, which proved to be accurate that night and the following day!  70-100 mile an hour wind gusts, shook our vehicle around in the night something awful.  In the morning we had to travel over the spectacular bridge that spans the Isle and the mainland and I don’t mind admitting that I was very fearful of travelling over it in the wind!  Dennis didn’t mind though, he was determined not to have to stay on this smallish island for another day.  Needless to say, thankfully we made it over okay.   

Love the design of the bridge to the Isle Of Sheppey

Wakey, wakey! It's morning and time to move again...

When you arrive in the dark late in the afternoon it’s always interesting to open up the blinds and look at your surroundings in the morning.  Looking out into the English Channel was fascinating – huge windmills, standing proud of the salt water, with a group of oil rigs in between, and all the ships waiting for the storm to pass before they ventured up the Thames!  

All the ships out riding the storm before moving up the Thames

Windmills just by the mouth of the Thames, oil rigs between the turbines

Roman Fort established in AD200 and used for 200 years then abandoned. Reculver Monastrywas built in the 7th century using the same stones and bricks on same site

Back on the mainland the small paddocks of grass divided with stone  or plant hedgerows here and there gave way to completely unfenced land.  Sometimes there was a hedge alongside the road but most of time it was just open land where they were growing all sorts of horticultural crops.  Hops, currants, raspberries, strawberries and many hectares of tilled soil waiting for seeds of some sort in spring.    Also large stretches of fresh pasture, which seemed odd considering there were no fences, thus no animals.  But then we saw huge haymaking machines stored in huge sheds, with huge stocks of hay stored alongside and concluded that the farmer was growing grass for hay commercially.  We really enjoy the countryside

I like recycling

around England, admittedly it’s basically all the same (so far), rolling green hills, lots of woodlands, beautiful small villages with cute wee houses, it’s all very beautiful.
We stopped for lunch at Herne Bay.  What a pretty wee town.  Along the waterfront there was a big sign extolling the clean air: “Herne Bay air – straight from the Arctic Circle, better than champagne!”  Lots of these smalls towns along the sea-side have long piers which stretch out into the ocean, often with a tacky amusement park included.  This time we parked in a legal parking stop outside residential housing.  No sooner had I jumped out onto the pavement, leaping over a huge puddle, when a little old lady opened her window and wanted to know, “Why had we parked there?You are blocking my view!  I’m sick of big trucks blocking my view! When would we move that big truck?”  Across the road was a small park, consisting of grass and a few trees, where a small boy might kick a ball! We were only stopping for lunch.

It's surprising how often you see these along this coast

And this brand new house is having it's very own brand new working windmill as well

From time to time we will listen to the radio as we travel along.  It’s hilarious when all of a sudden, you hear the opening bars to the theme of The Archers!  I remember my brother, Ron, racing home from College, hoping to hear the latest installment of this long running radio drama, every week day just after the 4p.m. news bulletin!!
Once again we parked alongside the shingle beach for the night.  This time, along with the lights of many ships, we could see the glow from France quite clearly.  It’s so nice to be able to view the stars again!  In London what with the smog and the light pollution I rarely saw any stars – if my memory serves me well I think it was only twice in six or seven weeks that I saw a few stars, not a sky full, and I miss them!  Next morning was bright and fine, with a high of 9 degrees C expected.  The first stop was a visit to Walmer Castle and Gardens, only to find it closed till Easter… nevermind there’ll be plenty more. 

Big sign on the gate "Private Castle" Notice the White Cliffs of Dover and the erosion! (this is not Walmer Castle)

This nuclear plant is being dismantled

Once more the paddocks are large and unfenced but this time we saw a few very long glasshouses, which set our hearts a fluttering.  We were excited to be visiting Dover Castle.  This castle is huge, really looking the part with crenelations, etc.  But, oh no, at this time of year it’s only open on weekends, and today is Wednesday!

Dover Castle

Continual loading and unloading of English Channel ferries

Dover beach is beautiful.  The Council have recently renovated the waterfront and they have made an excellent job of it.  We were astonished at how busy the ferry wharves were.  We could just make out the white cliffs on the Continent, which mirror the White Cliffs of Dover!  
With all our travelling along narrow, country lanes we lost our All Black flag to an overhanging branch somewhere along the way. Talking about narrow lanes, we stumbled upon a war memorial site near Folkestone.  It happened to be the Battle of Britain Memorial Park and it was so moving.  We often feel visiting museums, statues and other memorials that they tend to exalt war and we come away feeling a bit uncomfortable about how they glorify the violence of war.  But this site was perfect.  Set high on one of the cliffs, looking straight out towards France, is a lone airman gazing out to sea, contemplating his future.  He is sitting on a mound representing the hub of a propeller, with the three white blades radiating out.  Well behind him is a black wall, with all the names of the pilots who perished during the Battle of Britain (July-October 1940).  LH Bartlett was named and right beside him (not included in the photo) was a Mr Baird, (no relations, I think).  At the far end of the Memorial Wall was a bust of Sir Keith Park.  We were very proud to see him there as we had spent a bit of time in  and around the vicinity of Hyde Park looking for this particular statue.  Sir Keith Park was a New Zealand solider who served at Gallipoli, then joined the British Army and later the Air Force to fly in WW1.  He was the Commander of the  Battle of Britain campaign during WW2 and has been credited for winning the air war for Britain.  We remembered watching Helen Clark unveiling his statue in the NZ section of Waterloo Place, opposite Hyde Park, on TV some time back and knew that after a year it was due to be moved somewhere permanently.  This was the ideal spot!

Our neighbours in the campsite! It's about the size of a Newmans bus no doubt with all the modcoms

The contemplative airman looking out to France

For the fallen, almost all very young men

Sir Keith Park a Kiwi hero 1892-1975

That night we stayed at one of the Cavarvan Camping sites.  Our motor home is invariably the oldest, plainest one there!  We woke up in the night to a most beautiful bird call – the owl!  This was the first time we have ever listened to an owl and it’s just like the children’s’ books describe it, to whit, to whoo, to whoo, to whoo…..three whoos to one whit!   

The memorial site had many mole hills around it! You see lots of these around the pasture in England


One Response to “Wombling….”

  1. kathy January 23, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    Great update, Ma! Here’s a better link to show what pakour is maybe? http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sJom4RWszHc
    xx k

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