Sunday 25 August 2019

So, so English

It's August Bank Holiday weekend, and the weather is amazingly hot and summery, so today everyone and his/her dog was out and about. I mean that about the dogs - honestly, you wouldn't believe how many dogs there are here. Everybody has one! Or several. On leads, well-behaved, well-fed, shiny and bright-eyed. It's lovely to see, if a little overwhelming.
The dogs were fine - it was the cars that got to us today. So much traffic! Not just on the big roads, but on the winding, narrow little lanes as well, crawling along, squeezing past each other, showing admirable patience and understanding. We were really glad we'd set out early on our big effort for the day, which was to walk along the top of the White Cliffs of Dover. We passed by the low but massive bulk of Dover Castle and left the car in the free! car park just above the cliffs. I'd never been here before, so it was great to see a new bit of England. The walk took almost an hour along to South Foreland Lighthouse, where we turned and came back. 
It was great. The cliffs are so high, so dazzlingly white, and the sea today was clear and blue like the Mediterranean. The ferry port was moderately busy, hemmed in by its harbour wall and totally focussed on processing car traffic. Up on the top, there were no fences or barriers, no warning signs - how refreshing, to be treated like a sensible adult! - just grass and brambles full of fat juicy blackberries, and wind-bent trees and shrubs. There were also Exmoor ponies, which was unexpected, though they were fat and crabby.
At the lighthouse, we were too early for the tea rooms, though they were getting ready and solved for us the mystery of the odd lumpy brown fabric bags hanging outside the open windows - false wasp nests, to dissuade the nasty stingers from making a nuisance of themselves. It was a new thing, so they couldn't report on their effectiveness (no pic, sorry).
Back at the National Trust visitor centre, we were also intrigued to find a freezer full of dog ice cream - pottles of almost regular vanilla ice cream with dog vitamins added. Good grief. Those Poms and their dogs, eh? 
We were almost at the end of our walk, just standing above the cliffs admiring the amazing scenery when we heard the most unexpected, yet appropriate, and instantly recognisable sound: a Spitfire! Of course we'd seen the gun emplacements that are still along the cliffs from war time, so we were already halfway in the zone, but it felt like a gift to see it buzzing overhead, and then back again, followed later by a couple of biplanes. Bank Holiday event, no doubt - but perfect timing, and so evocative.
We had also timed it well for the heat, which had really ramped up, and the crowds - not helped by a jousting event at the castle. There was no avoiding them though, and there were throngs of people everywhere we went that afternoon - to Deal's long pebble beach, and through impossible-to-park Sandwich to Ramsgate with its harbour full of boats including the sturdy Sundowner, which was one of the Dunkirk rescue vessels (and also, in a not-coincidence, once owned by the second officer on the Titanic)
The sandy beach there was heaving, typically English and so foreign to Kiwi eyes - impossible to see the crowds, the umbrellas, the wind-breaks, and not scoff at how inferior a beach experience it was. The ample expanses of skin weren't appealing, either - dazzling white, glaring red, or covered in tattoos.
We headed back inland then, to Fordwich, for no better reason than that it's the smallest town in Britain. People were playing in the river, in amongst all the weed (cue more Kiwi lip-curling) - but they were having fun, swimming, boating and kayaking. Our goal here was to have dinner at the George & Dragon pub, which was a great choice, although we can't recommend the rhubarb cider - too much like cordial. The food, however, was excellent, and the Yorkshire pudding that came with the roast beef was magnificent. I rather regretted my baked Camembert when I saw it.
We cruised back to Bramling in golden evening light, the countryside so pretty, the oast houses quaint, the cottages cute, and went to bed satisfied with our busy, outdoorsy, picturesque and very English day.

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