Thanet

The late Summer is my favourite time of year, possibly, selfishly, because it coincides with my birthday. I prefer to spend as much time as possible by the seaside, but, living in the Thames Valley, our time on the coast is rare. This year my main present request was a day with just my Aussie, so we dropped the Tiny Overlord off with his East Kent dwelling grandparents and got the train to the Isle of Thanet.

First stop Broadstairs:

Broadstairs beach.

The Chapel, Broadstairs.

seagull.

Beautiful Broadstairs, with your picturesque sandy cove, your multitude of charity shops and your plethora of tasty treats. You are a fine sight for baby-weary eyes. We pottered in the sand, watched some paddle-boarding while sipping fortifying Bloody Marys in independent restaurant Wyatt & Jones (we will be back to try the cooked brunches, they looked amazing) and had a cheeky half in the amazing secondhand bookshop cum pub – The Chapel. But baby-free days are short, so we jumped back on the train…

Next stop Margate:

Dreamland Margate.

Kentish cider.

photo 5

Personally, my heart lies with a bit of faded seaside glory and from what I had been told Margate, one of the original Victorian Seaside towns, was pretty faded. We made stops at the wonderful Turner Contemporary Gallery (I even took part in the regular craft club). Took in the rather bewildering senses overload of cupcake and vintage fuelled gentrification in the old town, but found solace in the Greedy Cow and the Lifeboat. We also went to the famous weird and wonderful Shell Grotto (go, go, go!) and snaffled some real bargains for the Tiny Overlord in a reclamation yard. More on them in another post…

One of the things that got us really rather giddy was the Expo by the Dreamland Trust, a group trying to restore Margate’s rather infamous amusement park. The Aussie (who, despite the nickname, grew up in East Kent) loved the childhood nostalgia and memories of misspent youth. I (being from the other side of the Thames Estuary) admire the community tenacity that fuels such an ambitious project, when the town has clearly been through such a rough time. ‘Green shoots’, someone described Margate’s revival as, let’s hope they grow.

We keep being drawn to East Kent and our day in characterful Thanet has just fuelled my fascination with this piece of coast.

Three go to Dorset

Cows in fieldTiny CamperPaddlingSundown at EweleazeSunset at EweleazeEweleaze Beach and PontoonEweleze Farm Campsite, Dorset

Those from the Ray Mears school of camping, who might balk at staying on an organic farm with a wood-fired pizza oven, may wish to look away now. But we have just returned from one of the most magical weekends at Eweleaze Farm, near Weymouth in Dorset. Nestled on top of the spectacular cliffs of the Jurassic Coast, we found everything we needed at Eweleaze for our second family camping trip.

I’m won’t lie to you Ray, there is no need for survival suits or bushcraft here. With our 10 month old in tow, we wanted somewhere with access to a beach, animals for the little guy to be amazed by, fantastic walks, plenty of fresh air for our lungs and beautiful sea views for our souls – but also somewhere where we could easily get some hot food on a rainy evening and grab a tasty beer to sip, after the little guy had gone to bed, watching the sunsets and putting the world to rights. Eweleaze has all that.

Granted, the site’s increasing popularity (since our first trip there in 2011) means the illusive sea views are a little harder to find, especially for those of us with camper vans. And yes, at the weekend particularly, it did feel very busy at times. The increasingly popularity of ‘glamping’ means Eweleaze is ticking a lot of nouveaux campers’ boxes. I have never seen so many bell tents and bunting in one place. However, it does still have its many charms – views, the beach, the access to the Jurrassic Coast path… Lovely Weymouth is just a couple of miles walk away and on the site itself, the quality of the food (the bakery, the farm shop, the pizza oven…) and friendliness of the staff are still superb.

And for our fledgling family, it is a really really wonderful and inspiring place. In a world where I worry about too many gadgets and too much CBeebies, it was fantastic to see so many older children (and adult ‘children’!) running free, swimming in the sea, petting animals, laughing on hay bales and flying kites… For the time being you can keep your Extreme Survival, thanks Ray. I just want to paddle in the sea with my baby and have a beer watching the sun go down.

 

Rode across the desert on a bike with no name*

It’s a funny place, Kent.

I grew up in Essex so I like to think I am down with all things eastern. Lincolnshire – *high five*, Suffolk – I’m with you tractor-loving brethern. But Kent – it’s meant to be the Garden of England but those quaint cottages, rolling downs, even the white cliffs, as beautiful as they are, just don’t move me. I thought I had Kent sussed –  then I went to Dungeness.

View over Dungeness

Dungeness is the world’s largest expanse of shingle and the UK’s only desert. It is an extremely bleak, yet rather beautiful place – its flat expanse only broken by lighthouses, buildings traditionally made of old railway coaches but with the nuclear powers stations looming ominously and incongruously over the almost lunar landscape. The foreland can only be accessed by two ramshackle roads or rather eccentric miniature steam railway, complete with Royal carriage, just in case her Maj fancies a walk on the shingle.

Road bike leaning against a wall at Dungeness

We rode to Dungeness from St Mary’s Bay, about 10 miles north up the coast. We tried to follow the road all the way down the coast, but some of Coast Drive north of New Romney was just a grass track, unsuitable for the road bikes. So we just cycled down the concrete seawall instead.

The Aussie on his bike

Battling through some coastal cross winds was well rewarded with Tea and Jaffa Cakes in the Light Railway Cafe. The road surface was variable, at best and despite some the coast road through Greatstone and Lydd being a 40 speed limit, the volume was moderately low and I felt safe – which is important to me, as I am still ever so slightly wobbly at times on the new road bike.  The only other cyclists we saw were commuters from the power station, but you could tell regular vehicle users of the coast road were used to cycle traffic. I imagine they get a lot during the holiday season.

Dungeness Lighthouse

Dungeness is astonishing place and really rather evocative. On a clear day it was wonderful to be able to see from the shingle, across the marshes of Romney to the chalk downs. Getting to cycle through a a bona fide desert was a delight, though I suspect it might be a little more difficult to add to my desert-crossing list.

Kent, I take it back. You are more than just cliched green and pleasant land, you are full of surprises – miles of pebbly shingle, quirky buildings, looming nuclear monoliths and odd plants battling against the elements and thriving –  that’s much more my idea of a garden of England.

You can see more of my Dungeness photos on Flickr.

 

*For the sake of blog continuity my road bike does have name, but the title was irresistible.