Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dungeness and Camber Sands - what a lot to learn!

The spring seems to have vanished for the moment, and when we went on an outing to Dungeness and Camber Sands with our old friend Bill, it was very cold and windy.

   We started at Camber Sands, and puffed over the dunes to show Bill the expanse of beach. It was deserted except for a party of shivering French schoolchildren, kicking stones disconsolately.
    We often visit Camber Sands in the summer with grand daughter (see previous post), park up by the cafe and beach-goods shops and get into the traditional scene of windbreaks, castle building and sand in the sandwiches. It is the archetypal sunny sandy holiday beach, even if you do have to walk half way to France to get the water above your knees, and it is often very windy.
Camber Sands

Camber Sands

     After the beach, we called in for a coffee at the Gallivant across the road. This place features in  up-market seaside and lifestyle magazines, in lists of top seaside eateries and hotels etc., so Battleaxe wanted to see what it was like.  The bar area was very attractive and cosy, with comfy sofas, furry seats, lots of papers, board games etc.  The coffee was good, and they served us a slice of excellent lemon gateau.  Looking at the menus, they do lunch at around £15 for two courses, which looked good - we'll come back and try that.

The Gallivant - nice furry chairs
     Then we drove on to Dungeness. We've been there a good few times, and never fail to take pleasure in the strange landscape, but I have never blogged about it before.
      The huge shingle spit is a protected National Nature Reserve, home to all sorts of rare plants, birds, insects etc. We didn't see a single living thing, and only the beginnings of plant life. It was freezing cold with a biting wind - so un-springlike.  For us, the most interesting things are from human intervention - there are two lighthouses, a nuclear power station, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, all sorts of strange little houses including Derek Jarman's cottage with its garden made with found objects. Above all though, when you look across the flat landscape, it is dotted with rusted, abandoned things - strange metal winches, machines and chunks of metal, broken boats, twisted railway lines and collapsed huts.

Broken boat - Dungeness

Broken boat - Dungeness

Dungeness - looking across to the Power Station
      I've found a quirky website about Dungeness which may be written by one of the locals. You get the feeling, looking at the little houses, that they are inhabited by people who want to disappear from twenty-first century life, and totally do their own thing. Many of the houses started life as railway carriages, and according to the website, one of them  is made from Queen Victoria's personal carriage - we'll have to have a look next time we visit.
      The most famous inhabitant of Dungeness was Derek Jarman, the film maker. Although Jarman died in 1994, his garden at Prospect Cottage has been well preserved by the current owners of the house.
Prospect Cottage - Derek Jarman's former home 

Prospect Cottage garden
      The old lighthouse at Dungeness was built in 1904, decommissioned in 1960, to be replaced by the far less attractive new automatic lighthouse nearby. You can climb up the old lighthouse, and I'm sure the view from the top is spectacular, but opening times are erratic and the climb looks punishing.
Old Lighthouse, Dungeness
       The Nuclear Power Station dominates the skyline. Formerly, there were two, Dungeness A and B. A is currently being decommissioned,  but B will remain operational until 2028.  The position of the power station on the ever-shifting shingle spit provides logistical problems, as the sea tries to move the Dungeness shingle north and east. I hadn't realised until now that part of the reason for the fleets of lorries you see constantly moving shingle at Rye Harbour, Winchelsea Beach and Pett Level is to protect Dungeness, and in particular, the sea defences of the power station. Around 90,000 cubic metres of shingle are moved around each year.
       I also see on the web site that you can book tours of the power station. Battleaxe will definitely be doing that - watch this space!
Dungeness Power Station
      We've been on the little Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway several times. Although it is very sweet and good fun it does spend a lot of time chuffing past people's back gardens, which are only of limited interest.  Currently, the Dungeness Station, which is the end of the line, is being extensively reconstructed, so there was not a lot to see. However, one of the little trains was due to leave - the engine looked beautifully shiny.
Lovely little engine

I like the Brasso!

Ready to leave - with the new lighthouse in the background
       We went for lunch at the Pilot Inn, which Derek Jarman thought had the best fish and chips in England.  We've been before, in mid-summer, and it was absolutely heaving. This time, on a chilly April weekday, we thought it would be just us and a few grizzled locals, but no, it was heaving again....  We really needed those fish and chips though. However, they run a very tight ship, we got served quickly and the food was indeed excellent.  I always have a lot of time for places in high profile locations that bother to be good. The Pilot could be a vile pit and still be packed. Another example is the Beachy Head Inn, which is the only pub for miles, in an absolute prime location, also very well run.
The Pilot Inn - heaving

Those fish and chips..... and that was only the medium size.
       On the way home I stopped to photograph what is quite probably the worst situated caravan park in England. It's right under one of the huge pylon lines that carries electricity from Dungeness, with a pylon actually straddling the caravans. Access to the sea is totally blocked by the huge Lydd Firing Range, stretching along the shore-line for a couple of miles, right up to Camber. Who in their right mind would want to stay here? Perhaps they love pylon architecture - actually, they are impressive.
       Aha... I see from the web site that the big draw here is not sun, sea and sand but pike fishing, on the little lakes behind the caravans. They do week-long fishing and caravan packages for £350, which still seems a lot. Those poor pike must be very special. Ah well, each to their own.
       What a lot Battleaxe learns from blogging.
Fabulous situation

I don't think so....

Good pylons, though.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Rye Harbour dazzles, Henry James at Lamb House, Rye

The weather has been amazing the last few days. Colder, but sunny with a crystal clear, brilliant light. I've read that people have been seeing France from Hastings. We have not seen that, but with our telescope chez Battleaxe we can see ships passing both ways in the Channel - we can usually only see the shipping lane closest too us.
    On Sunday we started a lovely day out with a walk down at Rye Harbour.
    The horizon is so wide and the land so flat that we were just stunned by light and the cloudscapes.
Rye Harbour

Looking towards Pett Level

Rye Harbour
     There were many, many birdwatchers down there with their kit. Birds are nesting on the reserve now. I expect many people had come to see the avocets.  Avocets disappeared from Britain in the 1840s, and only reappeared in the 1940s, in Suffolk. They are still a rare bird, with around 1500 breeding pairs in the UK, but appear plentiful at Rye Harbour. We felt a bit smug because our walk took us round the corner from the mass of birdwatchers and we encountered a pair of avocets busy shovelling away in the mud with their strange spoon-shaped beaks, only about twenty metres from us. Here they are, followed by a shelduck.
Avocets at Rye Harbour

Avocet at Rye Harbour
Shelduck taking off

      After our walk we had lunch in Simply Italian in Rye - they run a really tight ship. Service is fast and friendly, food is fresh and good.
     We had a browse round the shops, and a wander round Rye, which was looking lovely in the afternoon sun.


Rye Church
     Then, to Lamb House. I have previously written about the house, and about Henry James, after an earlier visit with my reading group.
     Philosopher volunteered there for a while, for the National Trust. He thought, being a great Henry James fan, that he would enjoy chatting to like-minded American academics et al. However, he found himself overwhelmed by visitors with no interest in Henry James, they had come to view the setting of the recent Mapp and Lucia TV dramatisation. E F Benson, who wrote the novels, lived in Lamb House.  Also, the rooms open to the public are quite few, and Philosopher got bored after a bit.
     However, he was invited to an afternoon of readings to mark 100 years since the death of Henry James, and I went along too. Battleaxe confesses she has never managed to finish a Henry James novel, but may try again. The dry wit and waspish tone of his letters are often very funny.
     We had a glass of wine and wandered in the garden for a while, then squashed into the hall for the readings - there were about 40 of us. The readings were by local group the Lamb Players, featuring guests Henry Goodman and Miriam Margolyes. It was very good indeed, both in terms of the selections they chose and the skill with which the material was delivered.  Miriam M and Henry G were totally excellent. I have to do some more poetry readings soon. Reading well is a real art.
Henry James readings at Lamb House

The readers take their bow
     One or two in the audience were fast asleep, presumably after a heavy Sunday lunch, while others, clearly James afficionados, (have I spelt that right?) were hanging on every word. One bloke in front of me kept repeating the last few words of the extracts... 'most arrangements,' 'at Torquay', 'she's always blowing at me' with a gentle little titter and a frisson of delight.
     Anyway, it was a lovely day.
     At the moment we have our old friend Bill from Birmingham staying with us. We went for a walk over the East Hill this morning, then called in to the Jerwood - Philosopher was down there doing his bit. My arrival with Bill coincided with the arrival of the Duke of Gloucester, who appeared to be visiting various things in Hastings, including the Source Park. One was met by a welcome committee of the great and the good in the Jerwood foyer, but soon realised it was not meant for me. Of course, one is not too interested in minor royals, deah.
      Tomorrow we are going to Dungeness.  More material for Hastings Battleaxe.....

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Hastings to Birmingham - another road trip with Battleaxe

Recently, I wrote about our road trip from Hastings to Lands End.  It was very popular, so I thought I'd do another similar post. We've done the 185 mile drive from Hastings to Birmingham, our former home, so many times... on the A21, now apparently one of the most dangerous 'A' roads in the country, the notorious London Orbital M25, almost the whole length of the M40, and then onto the Birmingham Orbital M42 before turning off into the city. It may not be as scenic as the drive to the West Country, but it has plenty of excitement. 
Nearly home again - leaving the M25
   Sometimes we get caught in terrible traffic, and other times we whizz straight through. Wet weather on the motorway is horrible, with the lorries throwing out spray etc.
   Philosopher tends to drive for the Birmingham trips. I'm not sure he totally enjoys being a passenger with Battleaxe at the wheel. Athough he contains himself, he does emit the odd muffled hissing intake of breath. I didn't pass my test until I was in my late 30's, went straight from nowhere to aggressive speed-maniac, until I had an accident (my fault) in the fast lane of the M5. I wasn't hurt, but it slowed me down and made me sensible. I think I'm an OK driver, but I guess everyone says that about themselves.... Philosopher is a good driver, he's been at it since he was 17, but he does do much effing and blinding....
Horrible spray.....
   The pictures here were taken on our most recent two-way journey - taking grand daughter home to Birmingham, and then our return, after spending time with friends, a couple of days later.  They were all taken on the move - my iPhone 6 is remarkably good at that. However, on the way up I had to sit in the back - GD prefers the front - and on the way home it was raining, so a few of the photos are added from the internet.
    The first section of the A21 is the narrowest, and the most potentially dangerous, as it drops down a long hill from the Hastings Ridge, and winds up and across the High Weald.  I described stopping places on the road in an earlier post on farm shops, so I won't spend too much time here.  Much of the way is heavily wooded, in some places with steep banks and a rural over-arching tree effect - great on a country lane, but not so good on a major trunk road.
     Many of the trees are sweet chestnut, formerly heavily coppiced for building, chestnut paling fencing - and Sussex trugs.  This lovely photograph is actually from a coppiced  Hampshire wood, but is typical - it was a bit early for bluebells on our trip, but we saw plenty of wood anemones.
Coppiced sweet chestnut wood- not my photo
    The Wealden views are often beautiful. In the old days, before we moved to Hastings full-time, we saw the A21 as the transition between frantic Birmingham and the slower pace of Hastings. These days, we just want to get it over with.
Country lane? No, the A21

Wealden view
     At Flimwell, you glimpse the brilliant line-up of recovery lorry rigs belonging to Mick Gould Commercials. The bright red monsters, all chrome and massive radiators, are a familar sight round here. They're like an American road movie.

     After Flimwell, the road opens out a bit. We pass Scotney Castle - see previous post, and under the first ever wild-life 'Land Bridge', built in 2005, carrying the ancient driveway to the Castle across the A21.  We've been there, of course, but I never realised until now that you actually drive across the bridge to reach the Castle. It is covered in greenery, and you can't see the road below at all.  Apparently the bridge is home to rare dormice and shrews - you won't be glimpsing them from the road, I guess....
Scotney Castle Land Bridge
     Soon enough, you reach the massive road works between Pembury and Tonbridge - upgrading the road to a dual carriageway. The works go on for about a mile, and it is strange that they needed to turn such a wide swathe of woodland into a lunar landscape in order to widen the road... (the word 'swathe' is interesting. Why does it now appear so often in print as 'swath'? Illiterate....).
Lunar landscape....
Joing the M25 is always stressful - you never know what the traffic is going to be like, but we soon pull in to Clacket Lane Services for a break. It's one of the more peaceful, old-style service areas. It was going to be called Titsey, (ooh, I wonder why they changed it?) after the wood/Roman villa/road they tore apart to build the motorway and the service area. Here's the archaelogical map, and there are various Roman artefacts on display:

    Then the M25 proper. It can take as little as 40 minutes or as much as two hours to get from the A21 to the M40 junction, and we hate it.  The overhead gantries post messages that are either mysterious or depressing: 'Debris on road' - where? 'Incident' - where? 'Congestion' - uh oh, 'Queue after Jct' - oh no, 'Accident', OMG. I wish people would just stop having accidents.  They should enforce speed limits more fiercely.
     Passing Heathrow is interesting - the planes pass low over the motorway. I was lucky enough to snap this one:

     I always like these cherry-pickers near the M4 junction. They are like flamingos or something.
    One of the two great wild-life spotting moments on the journey comes where the slip road peels off the M25 to join the M40. A population of muntjac deer live in a wooded area next to the carriageway. Virtually every time we pass I see one, and tell Philosopher. Negotiating the slip road, he just grunts disbelievingly. This time, however, we saw at least six, he saw them as well, and I actually managed to photograph one - not very well, but plainly it's a deer.  As they live on the motorway side of the boundary fence, I wonder that they don't cause more accidents, but they seem quite happy.
    Muntjacs are a small deer with a characteristic barking call. Native to South Asia, they are an introduced species, now widespread, having first escaped from a herd at Woburn Abbey in 1925.
Muntjac deer, M25/M40
    Then, onto the M40, and the dreaded Beaconsfield Services. We often stop here. It is half-way to Brimingham, and we often collect GD from her father, or just have a break if we are by ourselves. The place is utter Hades. A huge, incredibly noisy shed, with piped music competing with the racket of the people,screaming kids, the crash of crockery, the scrape of chairs on hard floors. The loos are even worse. They must have the noisiest hand-dryers in the world. Not surprisingly, GD finds the noise very stressful. She won't go in the Ladies, and uses the disabled loo. One time I had a hideous row with some woman who said she shouldn't be using the disabled because she 'hadn't got a disability'. Me shouting and yelling with this woman only made poor GD worse. When she eventually got into the disabled loo she refused to come out for about 20 minutes....
    Having said all that, they do have a nice sitting out area and a walk around a lake, with ducks, but clearly that's only for fine weather. Just for nerds, Beaconsfield has the largest petrol filling station in the country, and is the only service area with a pub - a Wetherspoons.
    Past Beaconsfield, the motorway passes through an area with special memories for me, the Chiltern Hills. For many years I lived with my parents firstly near Radnage, near High Wycombe, and then in a little village called South Western, near Tetsworth. I learned to ride at Radnage, and spent happy times riding through the beech woods. I find those woods very beautiful, with the towering grey trunks, pale leaves, copper leaf mould. Here's a photo which shows exactly what I mean.
Chiltern beech wood - not my photo
     Here, also, is the second great wildlife sight - the red kites. Reintroduced to the Chilterns in around 1990, there are now estimated to be around 1000 breeding pairs.  Being carrion eaters, they are inevitably attracted to motorway roadkill, sometimes with fatal results, but it means that the enormous birds often swoop about near the carriageway. Since we have been travelling up and down, the birds have spread for miles beyond their original release sites, and some alarmed householders must now be faced with kites visiting their bird tables... 
    This time, of course, they were not co-operative, and I only managed this distant sighting:
Very distant red kite
     The motorway runs down a deep chalk cutting and then opens out into an amazing view of the Oxford plain. If you are quick, you can glimpse South Western in the distance, beyond Lewknor. Here's the view from the back seat of the car!
View from the Stokenchurch gap cutting
  Not much to say about the rest of the journey on the M40 - amazing cloudscapes, and often a lovely malty smell from the Kraft/General Foods factory at Banbury.
Clouds on the M40
Obelisk on the M40
   There's one more interesting feature just before the M40 morphs into the M42, near Hockley Heath. This obelisk was built in 1749 by someone called Lord Archer, who lived at nearby Umberslake Hall. Nobody knows why he built it.
    In the rush hour, the M42 can be nearly as bad as the M25, but fortunately we don't stay on it very long, turning off onto the A435 for the last few miles to south Birmingham.
    The first glimpses of the city are not edifying, past Maypole, the Druids Heath estate.

Druid's Heath
 A few miles further on, we drive through Kings Heath, and finally reach leafy Moseley, our destination.
Billesley Lane, Kings Heath

Looking down our old road, in Moseley