Monday, 30 November 2015

Chatham Historic Dockyard, and Rochester revisited.

Just back from a couple of days extending our exploration of Kent. Back in the summer we went on a trip to Canterbury, Whitstable and Rochester. We meant to visit Chatham that time, but it was too much.
     I'm glad we left the Historic Dockyard until later in the season. On a dull, blustery, damp November day, just before it closed for the winter, the place was practically empty. I've often moaned on here about the crowds at various visitor attractions, but this was the complete opposite.
     We started off with the Rowland Hilder exhibition. Since we moved down here, we have often been struck by the Kent 'Hilderscapes', oast houses, vast skies, rolling hills and bare trees, still much as he painted them. He is often dismissed as a chocolate box Christmas card painter, but his work is beautiful. Here are two examples:
Rowland Hilder
 Next, the historic warships.  
    HMS Gannet is the oldest, a hybrid sailing/steam ship dating from 1878. The ship was empty except for the custodian. A very beautiful ship and interesting, but not a lot left inside.
HMS Gannet
    Battleaxe's favourite was the destroyer, HMS Cavalier. Built in 1944, she served in the Arctic and the South Pacific. She is preserved exactly as she was on the day of her decommissioning in 1972, and once again, we had the ship all to ourselves.
     Captain Battleaxe was piped aboard by Bosun Philosopher. I went a bit transgender. Women don't star in WW2 action movies, and in any case, their uniforms are just no good. As a compromise, I channelled Noel Coward 'In Which We Serve'.  Spent a happy time barking orders down speaking tubes: 'Action Stations!' 'Prepare for Rounds' etc.  Saluting, 'Sah', 'Stand down, men!'. We peered into the empty distance from the bridge, I rang the ship's bell, and we found those great ship's phones where you wind the handle and shout 'fwaugh fwaugh fwaugh' in the teeth of the raging gale. By this time, Noel Coward had changed into Jack Hawkins in his oilskins (The Cruel Sea). Then off with the oilskins, back to Noel Coward, strolling into the wardroom for a snifter, in immaculate dress uniform dripping with gold braid.
      Being a boy, the Bosun, by this time promoted to Chief Petty Officer, was more into 'Bammerbammerbam... BLAM....POWIEEEEE....BOOM......CRUMP.'  The Radio Ops room - 'Beep....bip bip bip...beep....', 'Hisssss...Ssssst.....rrroooar'  as he found various strange dials and stopcocks.
HMS Cavalier

Captain Battleaxe takes the wheel. That big red thing is the speaking tube that communicates with the bridge.

Bam bam etc.....

The NAAFI shop

Along a passageway....
The wardroom

And while you are at it, you scurvy lot, rescrub those heads ......
      Our fun was only halted by the sudden appearance of a party of school kids. We shimmied down a near-vertical ladder to escape them, and then it was time for our tour of the third ship, the submarine HMS Ocelot.
      This is a cold war sub, operational from 1962 to 1991. You can't visit on your own, but even so, there were only five of us plus the guide on a tour meant for twenty. This is a diesel electric sub, and I was astonished at the size of the engines needed just to pump fresh air, let alone propel the thing along. The hatches between the compartments were very small - this is not a tour for oldsters! The insides were crammed with machinery and equipment, but Philosopher and I had visited another smaller submarine in the 'U' Boat pens in St Nazaire a good few years ago, so we weren't surprised by the cramped interior.
    Obviously, having company was inhibiting, but we peered down (up?) the periscope and there was a certain amount of torpedo firing, muted fwaugh fwaughing, and of course pip pip peeping round the sonar compartment.

HMS Ocelot

Torpedo tubes

Small hatchways...


Crammed with machinery....
      We'd booked for the night at a new Premier Inn at the edge of the docks area. A bit in the middle of a building site but excellent, and only £35 for the room! As the weather was vile by this time, we stayed in - dinner, bed and breakfast only cost about £65.... Battleaxe would totally recommend.
       Next day, we revisited Rochester, and spent the morning cruising the old High Street. Totally excellent shopping experience, plus even a vintage flea market.....
       We stopped for coffee at a cool-seeming place called 'The Deaf Cat', which suffered from over-complicated menu plus too few staff syndrome.....
        Here's a final shot of the Cathedral to finish up with.
But too complicated.....

Rochester Cathedral


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Two bright days - vintage fair at the De La Warr, dazzling sun at Winchelsea Beach

After an exhausting day on Saturday at the WI Bazaar, Battleaxe enjoyed some chill-out time in two brief bursts of good weather. The Bazaar went well - it is a wonderful thing to see so many women pulling together for a common cause. When I was at work we'd have paid millions to anyone who could have told us how to get similar levels of motivation and energy. Have written about such things before...
     The weather was terrible - sleety snow and a howling gale when people should have been flocking into the hall,  but total takings were only about £300 down on last year.
      On Sunday, it was a dazzlingly bright sunny day. Philosopher and I went to Bexhill, for a bit of sun and sea on the sea-front, and then the Vintage Fair at the De La Warr Pavilion.  The fair, run by local Red Rose Vintage Fairs, was part of the Front Row Fashion event, which takes place annually.  They have a big fashion show on the Saturday night, showcasing young designers and upcycled clothes. I did think of going this year, but knew that after the Bazaar I'd be fit for nothing apart from lying like a zombie on the sofa, watching 'Strictly' with a glass of wine.
Sunny Bexhill....

Massive vintage fair

      The vintage fair was absolutely massive - filled the entire auditorium and the balconies. In many ways I don't like them that big - too much choice means I end up with nothing.
      What I really, really want right now is a classic WI President's vintage hairy tweed skirt suit, 1950s or 1960s, to make people laugh at meetings. My mother used to have a wardrobe of them, 'to wear in the show ring, deah' (she was a dog show judge....).
       I've lost weight with my gallbladder business, so now have hope of finding one in a size that will fit me, and I also won't look like the side of a house when wearing it.  A vast tweed clad bum is not a good look, even in an ironic sense.
Wanted - Presidential tweed - fur collar optional
       Needless to say there weren't any suits, but as I had tweed on my mind I ended up with a fabulous 1960s coat.  A tiny bit tight but one has to suffer for one's art.
       I tell you what drives me mad at those fairs. (Don't forget Battleaxe had a vintage clothes shop and has done many fairs, so she's talking from experience). Stallholders - for goodness sake put sizes on the price labels. Have tape measures handy. Don't cram too many clothes on your rails, making it hard to riffle through.
       Less of that. Monday was also dazzlingly bright. We went to Winchelsea Beach, and for the first time, stopped for coffee at the Winchelsea Beach Cafe.  We've always thought it looked a bit greasy-spoonish, and indeed, the fry-ups looked good value. However, the coffee was actually very good - properly strong and fresh. Views from the cafe are excellent, there is a large outside sitting area, it is right by the stairs up to the beach, and the loos are clean. No frills, but ideal for a walking or beach break. Battleaxe would recommend.

Winchelsea Beach cafe
      Went for a walk along the deserted beach, and it was just stunning. Reminded us how lucky we are to live where we do.... In a previous post I've written about natural sculptures on the beach - the wonderful forms of the sea-weathered remnants of breakwaters and groynes. Here is another picture:

Dazzling sun

Deserted beach...
     We saw these huge tractors rolling up and down the beach, carrying shingle up to Pett Level, where the beach has been washed away in recent storms. They look sinister.
      Much assorted debris had washed up onto the beach. Andy Dinsdale from the Rye Bay Beachcombing thingy is coming to the WI next year to talk about the finds on our local beaches, and we will go on a beachcombing walk with him. I'm looking forward to that. I'll send him the photo of this strange skeleton head, and this white stuff looks like the toxic soapy substance we are told to avoid?


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Hipster cool in Hastings, Rules Restaurant and almost a media luvvie...

What a week. Riotously wet and stormy weather and old friends Pete and Jacky from Birmingham sampling Hastings at its wettest. Our neighbour Angela celebrated a very big birthday, we went to London to meet old friend Alan for lunch at Rules Restaurant and took part in a TV project at the Jerwood, all while preparing for the annual WI Bazaar on Saturday.
      The TV thing is probably the most exciting, but I have promised not to write about it just yet, so sorry readers, you'll have to wait....    
      We took Pete and Jacky to look at the Saturday flea market at the old Observer Building. Very cutting-edge website, I see. Philosopher and I had never been before and we were surprised at the level of hipster cool, all derelict industrial style with a bar, food, performance space and lots of stalls. They have events and meaningful learning opportunities as well. The building has been empty for twenty-five years, and this is just a temporary occupation.
       We had a coffee and a look round. Much energy and enterprise. Battleaxe was impressed, and in the heat of the moment, gave her details to the people from the Hastings Independent, who are always looking for writers, editors etc. 
       Developers have plans to turn the building into flats plus other stuff. As this seems to involve sticking an additional seven stories on top of the existing building, it all looks highly dodgy to me in terms of feasibility as well as the appearance of the thing.  It's a fine old building that really needs sympathetic restoration, but I suppose it would be better than demolition.

Observer Building flea - very cool - not my photo....
Observer Building - the facade
       The next day we went for a walk at Pett Level. The city dwellers found it bracing and exhilarating to battle against the wind and rain. We thought it was just.... wet. Then, a visit to Rye.
Pett Level - very wild
          Next day, it was our next-door neighbour Angela's Big Birthday, so we went and helped her celebrate with champagne....
          On Tuesday we went to London, to meet our old friend Alan at Rules Restaurant. In 2013 we went with him to Simpsons-in-the-Strand, (see previous post). He has a liking for old-style English restaurants.  Opened in 1798, Rules is even more venerable than Simpsons, but felt more relaxed.  I know that Rules featured in the latest Bond movie, 'Spectre', which we have not yet seen! Here is a write-up about the filming.
          The interior is wonderfully old-fashioned, dark, and velvety opulent - particularly as they had decorated it for Christmas - but very cosy. Just the place for a dank November day. We started off upstairs in the cocktail bar, where, according to Marina O'Loughlin, they do the best martinis in London. I had a citron pressé, mixed to perfection.
          The restaurant menu majors on wild game and solid, comforting stuff like steak and kidney pudding. Don't even think of Rules if you are vegetarian, or into any sort of faddy eating.  This is a place for people who have been brought up to eat everything put in front of them. For me, finding something a bit low fat was a challenge. I had wild rabbit, but it came with delicious, but rich, creamy mash as well as a few lead shot pellets. The food was very good and not eye-wateringly expensive, but as I say, not the place for a light and healthy snack.
           Next day, the TV thing which I won't talk about, and back to pricing up bric-a-brac for the WI Bazaar, which is this Saturday, in Ore Village. As ever, everyone has pulled together to make and collect brilliant stuff to sell, but the current weather forecast is for sleet.....

Rules Restaurant.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Tenterden - nice shops on a damp day

Tenterden is excellent for a Saturday morning browse, with a good selection of shops and eateries, and of course, not forgetting Waitrose.  The High Street is just the right length for a leisurely up-and-back, with a few short diversions...
     Last Saturday was nasty, varying from torrential rain to dank drizzle to just bleakly damp. Just the day for a little retail therapy.
    As usual, we started with a coffee in Caffe Nero. Oh no - it was infested with a Yummy Mummy Nest. You often see these in Tenterden. A group of middle-class mothers gathered round several tables pushed together, with oversized 4x4 baby buggies parked around them like pioneer wagons in a Western. Toys everywhere, and small children making mayhem while their mothers sip their chai lattes, soy macchiatos or whatever, apparently oblivious to the racket.
    There was a large no-go zone of empty tables round this nest, and if we hadn't luckily bagged the best people-watching table right at the front of the shop, we would either have had to leave or go and sit upstairs. Yummy Mummy Nests rank high in Battleaxe's list of pet hates. In the eyes of the Mummies, the rights of mothers and their children are paramount. Any complaint, or effort by the venue to restrict access, would be met with total outrage.
Good people-watching spot at Caffe Nero
     Then, we hit the shops. I can't list all of them, but clothes shops include White Stuff, Monsoon, East, Phase Eight, Fat Face, Viyella, Crew Clothing and Laura Ashley, together with a few up-market independent shops. Some of these Battleaxe would go in... and some not. This day, I actually bought a skirt in White Stuff.
I always like this tiled staircase, by the door of White Stuff

     There is a lovely jewellery shop on the High Street, Bill Skinner - but only for big presents. Some of the stuff is really blingin', but some quite delicate - foxes, hares etc.
Bill Skinner jewellery

     There are a  couple of independent shoe shops, and Moshulu, which sells bright, comfy footwear.
     Philosopher likes to look in the two men's shops pretty much opposite Cafe Nero. There is Swaines, which sells women's country stuff and shoes as well as very reasonably priced men's stuff, and County Clothes, which is lovely for a browse, but, eer - not so reasonably priced.
     If you have ever wondered where men buy those red cord trousers - worn, of course, with Church's brogues and mis-matched stripy socks, and a Barbour slung over the top, then look no further. They are all in this shop.  Up the other end of town is Orvis, which is more of the same, but also think tweed shooting jackets, waistcoats with lots of pockets, and breeks. Breeks? They are sort of like old-fashioned plus-fours, designed to be tucked into boots
Orvis man... Breeks tucked into boots.
     There are lots of nicky-nacky shops, and of course the excellent Webb's. Their main shop sadly burned down a few years ago but has now been rebuilt. Ironmongery and hardware is in another building nearby.

      Tenterden has some very classy home and furnishing shops. Probably the best for browsing is Tenterden House Interiors - much sumptuous swag and drapery, but plenty to look at.
      Finally, there are some nice antique shops, all bunched together on the church side of the High Street. Interesting stock and reasonable prices.
      As I said, this list is not remotely exhaustive. There is a good Tenterden town website that lists all the shops, and all the pubs and eateries.
      Although there are plenty of pubs on the High Street, we tend to favour the White Lion. Food in there is good, but on occasions we have had to wait quite a long time for our food.... and suffer wasps outside in the front... we should try some different places, really. On Saturday, the White Lion was gearing up for a wedding, so we ended up at the Cafe Rouge down the road - it was fine. Lots of tea shops and assorted restaurants, too.

White Lion

Cafe Rouge - surprisingly empty
      What else is there besides shops, pubs and eateries? The medieval parish church, St Mildred's, is a fine building - its massive tower dominates the town. The size of the church gives a clue to Tenterden's former importance as a centre for the wool trade.

Imposing church....
     It is hard to believe now, but in medieval times Tenterden was linked to the sea, and ships were built at nearby Smallhythe. The town was actually a cinque port, designated a 'limb' of Rye. Battleaxe has written about Smallhythe - see this post. Then, we visited with our friends John and Jan - John was brought up at Morghew Farm, on the Smallhythe Road out of Tenterden. We drove up there and had a snoop round - John even looked round his old house.
      Tenterden is also the home of the Kent and East Sussex Railway. Battleaxe loves railways.... I want to learn to drive a steam engine before I get too old. The KESR does this, but the engines are quite small - I want a full-size fire-belching monster.
       As usual, we ended our Tenterden trip with a cruise round Waitrose. After months- nay years - when we suffered extreme Waitrose deprivation, there is now nothing we really miss. What does this signify?  I think they'd better open one in Hastings before it is finally too late and we lose interest altogether.....


Friday, 6 November 2015

Hastings - Cliff Lifts and Miniature Railways

I just read on Facebook that Hastings Miniature Railway is taking over the Alexandra Park Miniature Railway. Battleaxe loves things like that. It sounds the most horrendously nerdy confession, but part of the attraction of Hastings was that it had two funicular railways and two miniature railways......
      Time for a nerdy post now, I think - the weather is horrible outside...

      Very few seaside resorts have one remaining Victorian funicular, let alone two. Hastings should be proud. I think, as residents, we tend to take these things for granted, and forget the pleasure they give to newcomers.
      When we first came here, on holiday in 2008, we rode up in the West Hill funicular and had a coffee in the cafe at the top. Sitting in the sun on the cafe terrace, admiring the view, is still one of Battleaxe's favourite occupations. I won't go on about how they need to improve that cafe - have done it to death in previous posts.  At least they have some new, less rickety tables now.....

      To digress slightly, I was just looking for photos of the views from the top of the lifts, and came across this post - Favourite Views of Hastings - produced in 2012. Early Battleaxe posts never got the same attention as recent ones. It shows the views well, despite some of the photos not being the best quality.
      In 2009, renting a little house in Plynlimmon Road on the West Hill, we actually had an annual season ticket for the West Hill Lift. This felt terribly exotic, but it was hardly cost-effective. The lift doesn't run for a couple of months in the winter, and we only came down every other weekend.  The season ticket application form from Hastings BC made us laugh, particularly the question about whether your gender now was the same as it was at birth. Is that really relevant for riding on a funicular railway?  Perhaps they are worried about a shortage of trans-gender persons buying West Hill Lift season tickets.....
      The West Hill Lift is the oldest of the two Hastings funiculars, opened in 1891. It is quite hidden from view, running up from George Street in a tunnel inside the cliff, and the top station is tucked away below the cafe. We got quite friendly with the folk who operated the lift, who, like typical council employees, moaned on happily about their jobs. I suppose it must get repetitive - I think we could have done the job ourselves by the end.
      The East Hill Lift makes far more of a visible statement - I've heard many tourists mistake the upper station for the Castle. It features in many, many photographs and paintings of Hastings. It's strange how many painters struggle to depict the perspective of the track on the cliff-side - I won't put anyone on the spot by showing examples.  
     When we arrived in Hastings, the lift was closed, and it did not reopen until 2010. By chance, we were in the Old Town for the opening ceremony.
Re-opening of East Hill Lift 2010

      Sadly, there is no cafe at the top. A few years ago the Council asked people to apply for the franchise to run one, but it never happened.  A real pity.
      The East Hill Lift, originally opened in 1903, is the steepest funicular in Britain. It broke down the other day, and passengers had to be rescued from the cars by firemen. Must have been quite scary for the passengers, and given the lift staff a bit of job variation....
       The Rock-a-Nore Miniature Railway also makes quite a statement as it rattles busily along past and under the net huts, beneath the balcony of the Jerwood, past the Lifeboat House and the Stade Open Space and round past the boating lake.  Opened in 1948, it is a popular attraction. We've ridden on it several times, including with grand daughter Eve, and it features in many of our photos of the Stade.  I like the one below of the night-time repairs. Only downside of the railway - the lack of real steam engines. They do appear on special occasions, but it would be nice to see (and smell) steam all the time.

       Finally, then, the Alexandra Park Railway, which gave me the idea for this post. This makes no sort of statement at all, and must be the least publicised attraction ever. Hidden in the thick trees at the top end of the park, it was operated by a somewhat eccentric band of volunteers. It only seemed to run once a month when the moon was full and Mars was aligned with Saturn. Now, it has ceased to run at all, which is such a shame.
      It is a lovely little railway, with a long, winding track running across streams and through tunnels. Smaller than the other railway, it is the sort you sit on.  (Battleaxe may be nerdy sometimes,  but not sufficiently nerdy to know about railway sizes and gauges).  We actually managed to go on it once, and were only charged 50p each.  I don't have any pictures, this is from the internet.  I do hope it can be made to work by its new operators.