Sunday, 3 January 2016

Of Charles Dickens, parrots and volcanoes did my New Year's Day Adventure go?

I'll admit at once that it wasn't completely successful. I didn't make it to North Foreland in time to see the sun rising from the cold morning sea. Despite leaving home at 5.20am, the same time as I did last year, and with not so far to go, I ended up a few miles short and had to witness the dawn at Ramsgate. This is what I saw:

At least there was a sun to see! Last year at Stonehenge it was dull and overcast, and there was no sun at all. So this genuine sunrise was a big fat plus point. And I might have made it to North Foreland if (a) time hadn't been lost clearing the frost on Fiona's windows before setting off from home; (b) I'd used motorways all the way to Ashford - the M23, M25 and M20 - and not just from Ashford; (c) if the Folkestone Services building on the M20 had been designed differently; and (d) they hadn't imposed an incomprehensible 40 mph speed limit on the fast A20 dual carriageway between Folkestone and Dover.

Another thing. Last year I'd set off westwards, racing ahead of the following sun, which had to 'catch up' with me. In fact it was still dark enough to need a torch when I arrived at my carefully-chosen parking spot on the A303 near Stonehenge. This time, the sky was already getting quite light (in a pre-dawn way) as I approached Ramsgate. The sun beat me to it.

I know...lots of lame excuses. I should simply have planned this better!

But it had been the first frosty night in many weeks - quite a surprise! - and I had to pussyfoot around outside my home, wiping the frost off Fiona's windows with tepid water from a bucket, as quietly as possible. Scraping the stuff off would have been much too noisy. I didn't want to wake my neighbours.

The route I took was fairly direct as cross-country routes go, but I should have known better. Wealden roads twist and turn alarmingly, and you can't rush them. But motorways are dull and monotonous, and boredom and high adventure do not mix.

Folkestone Services was a very long building, quite new, rather like a posh warehouse. Having parked one end, close to the entrance, it wasn't clear where the toilets were. Unbelievably they were right at the far end. The walking distance there and back cost me precious minutes. It was an eerie experience, too, with nobody about, like dropping in on a deserted film set:

At the far end, behind their shutters, two bleary-eyed young men were already at their bureau-de-change desks. It was at least some sign of human life.

The M20 motorway ends above Folkestone, but continues seamlessly as the A20. It looked fit for a high-speed dash north-eastwards, but I had to hold Fiona at 40 mph for the entire six miles into Dover. Why? They didn't explain. But I kept my foot on the brake and held Fiona back. We both grew very irritated. Grrrrrr.

These cumulative delays meant that I made it to Ramsgate just as dawn broke. I had to stop there, to see what might be seen, parking Fiona illegally on the pavement overlooking the harbour:

I wasn't alone. An entwined couple were there, cameras out; and an ambulance drew up nearby, the woman driving it leaping out to snap the sunrise with her phone. Well, that was more company than I had last year! I drove down the hill, and parked at the east end of the harbour. It was just after 8.00am. I ate the first batch of sandwiches I'd made. Then I got out to wander around the harbour and then the town centre.

I hadn't been here at Ramsgate for ages, maybe not for twenty years. It hadn't changed much. Still a bit tatty. Perhaps it would look better after the street cleaners had done their stuff, and more people were around to give it some life.

I think I can defer my next visit for another twenty years, and not miss anything vital. It'll still look like this in 2036.

I drove on to Broadstairs. What a difference!

Actually, the first thing I did was to search for a place to have coffee. I soon saw this establishment overlooking the beach:

Morelli's turned out to be a pukka Italian ice-cream-and-coffee parlour, clearly very popular with early-rising locals. I splashed out on a mocha. It was very good. I'll go there again. (Walking around, I was struck how many Italian-sounding names there were on shops and restaurants. Just like Swansea. Or Weston-super-Mare. But then I suppose this is the same with any Traditional British Seaside Resort)

Broadstairs is also very strong on Charles Dickens. There's a Dickens Museum:

And a pub called The Charles Dickens, no doubt where the famous author wrote Bleak House:  

And lo, Broadstairs is the location of Bleak House itself, presently a hotel. It's that brown-and-white crenellated building overlooking the beach:

As you can see, Broadstairs looks sunnier, brighter, better-swept, neater and nicer than Ramsgate. And you can take it from me that it looks sunnier, brighter, better-swept, neater and nicer than nearby Margate too. Putting this another way, if you felt - for some reason - compelled to move to Thanet (which is what this far eastern tip of Kent is called), then your money should be on Broadstairs as the plum place to live, forsaking all other choices. Trust me. Look, the local feral parrots have made Broadstairs their especial home. I saw them:

Would you argue with a parrot?

North Foreland was just a short distance north along the coast. It was mid-morning by now, but I still made the effort to trek along the clifftop to where the easternmost bit of Kent must be. I was anticipating quite a view. I was still fresh-faced and cheerful.

It was by a cabbage field. Or at any rate greens of some sort. The field stretched all the way inland to the lighthouse. Something about the aroma of the crop told me that it had gone rotten, and wasn't likely to be harvested. Poo!

And the sea view that I could have seen at dawn, had I made it there on time?

The Easternmost Extremity Of South East England. Hmm. Not even the most dazzling sunrise could have redeemed this dull scene! Not even if France - just out of sight over the horizon - upended, blew up, and sank with a gigantic gurgle. It's irredeemably boring.

But then, it's so often the way. When in New Zealand in 2007, M--- and I raced hell-for-leather along a dirt track in our hired Maui campervan to view the Second-Westernmost point of North Island, Cape Egmont. And it too was underwhelming:

As with North Foreland, the view inland was much more interesting. There was a jolly lighthouse, and a huge volcanic mountain eighteen miles distant, Mount Egmont, aka Mount Taranaki:

The North Foreland lighthouse knocked the spots off the Cape Egmont lighthouse...

...but, alas, there was no brooding volcano. I consoled myself with a KitKat.

Well, that's the end of the Adventure. Or at least the main bit. I did some other things on New Year's Day, but they'll have to await a future post.

And do I revere the many works of Charles Dickens? I'm afraid not. They are so nineteenth-century and Victorian. I have no affinity with homely English character-types with funny names. And I dislike beards, no matter how high-minded the wearer.


  1. Sometimes I have felt like I was the only English speaker who disliked Dickens, now at last I know that I am not alone...

    He did write one good piece about the horrible state of Railway food, epic, and show that time may pass but little changes.

    On the subject of food, Lucy, have you ever cooked a cauliflower?

  2. The combined wisdom of the Kay family is that your North Foreland 'cabbages' are cauliflowers, some of which appear to have been harvested. Nice with white sauce, Coline.

    I once set out to read A Tale of Two Cities as it has a rather good opening line, but gave up somewhere around chapter 4.

  3. My ignorance exposed! But in mitigation I must reveal that I never cook cauliflower at home.


  4. Worth it all the same for that fantastic sunrise photo. Thank you for sharing it. x


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