Day 03 30-04-2014 Wed Ashford

We had a remarkably good night’s sleep, which we badly needed. Like yesterday, the full English breakfast here is very god with really tasty bacon and grilled fresh mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. This set us up for our drive southwest through the Weald and the Sussex Downs to the Sussex heritage coast. Conditions were much like yesterday, misty.

Eastbourne
Eastbourne
Tenterden
Tenterden
Tenterden
Tenterden

All day we drove through gently undulating landscape, always with interesting things to see at every turn: oast houses, country pubs, thatched cottages, black-faced sheep and plenty of wildflowers.

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Rotating vents
Rotating vents

Our first stop was Rye, one of the Cinque Ports, now some distance from the sea. It was a charming old town with many medieval buildings and a nice church with good glass.

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River Tillingham

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Crow trapped in house after entering through the mail slot

IMG_9665We next made a pilgrimage to Hastings (Battle of) to check out the home of the TV character Inspector Foyle from the series Foyle’s War – one of our favourites.

IMG_9674 IMG_9676 IMG_9683The main game was to have another crack at the chalk cliffs, this time at Beachy Head, Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters which together comprise the Sussex Heritage Coast. On arrival at the car park near the Belle Tout lighthouse, we were dismayed to find that visibility was almost nil. However, we set off undeterred to see the Seven Sisters. Despite dire warnings from the yet-again helpful locals not to go near to the crumbling cliff edges ringing in our ears, we did approach same to see if we could see anything – not much because of the all-pervasive mist. The sun eventually broke through at about 2:30pm and we were then amazed at what could be seen.

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Mist rolling over the cliff
Mist rolling over the cliff
Tribute to one who went too close to the edge
Tribute to one who went too close to the edge

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Birling Gap below
Birling Gap below

The warnings were for real because we came across two separate wreaths marking the spot where some foolish persons had gotten too close to the edge.

Tribute to one who went too close to the edge
Tribute to one who went too close to the edge

At Birling Gap we were able to get down to the water’s edge to see the chalk and flint up close. It really is quite white (photos haven’t been “enhanced” too much). I was surprised and delighted to find a chip of flint with a very sharp edge – I’ll now be able to cut my meat.

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This is the chalk
This is the chalk

We took a different route back to Ashford mainly along minor roads, much less travelled. We even managed to pass through the town of Battle which commemorates 1066 and all that. It was actually a surprisingly attractive town with many fine buildings.

We were so late back that we again succumbed to a ready meal, this time from Sainsbury’s. This proved to be a far better standard than the previous night. The Sainsbury’s store itself was vast – I don’t think we’d ever been in such a large supermarket.

Our Sainsbury's dinner
Our Sainsbury’s dinner

Day 02 29-04-2014 Tue Ashford

Our first full day of touring and we set a cracking pace. We really wanted to see the White Cliffs of Dover, having heard of them many times over the decades. We knew the weather was going to be a problem early in the day, but decided to go there first. It wasn’t too bad when we finally got to the Cliffs visitor centre. That’s a story in itself. Dover is only about half an hour from Ashford. Along the way we passed some lovely rolling golden fields, probably canola, but could not stop to view and take pictures. Rest areas do not seem to exist in this part of the country. This is most regrettable as the countryside is worth stopping to look at.

Determined to follow the GPS we almost got ourselves in serious trouble when we realised it had mistakenly led us into the heart of the Dover ferry terminal. Joan was having a panic attack out of fear that we might land up in France. We eventually found the Cliffs Visitor Centre going an ad hoc route. I happened to be lounging about waiting for Joan when one of the staff arrived and asked if he could help. Even though the centre was not open yet, he got a walking map for us and showed us where to go. We were amazed at this degree of helpfulness. So far we have only encountered polite and helpful people. Good on ya, Poms!

The walk along the cliff tops was just delightful, even if it wasn’t a clear day. In fact the fog became worse as we set out. Luckily it’s quite transient, and the sun did eventually peek through a few times, which opened up the vista a little, even if we could not see France. Due to indentations in the cliff coastline, it is possible to get some very good views of the chalk cliff faces in both directions. The white colour of the chalk is quite starting to those like us who have not seen the like before. There were ample signs at various locations along the top that this is a very unstable material. One could see where crevices were beginning to form, many metres from the cliff face.PTDC0002

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Port of Dover from the Cliffs

 

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Not looking good for a view

 

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Unstable terrain
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You take the low road …

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The official walk goes from the visitor centre to the lighthouse, perhaps 3 Km away. We did not go all the way there because it was covered in renovation scaffolding. We thought it would be a good idea to take the paved road back that the visitor centre chap had mentioned, as we expected it to be quicker – important since we still had Sandwich and Canterbury to go. After a while on the road we began to lose confidence that this was the right way. Full of doubt we turned back and soon discovered that others must have had the same doubts as we could see where people had walked through a wheat field toward the coast. We decided to follow it even though it was green and wet with dew. The wheat grew longer the further downhill we went and our shoes and trousers became soaked. We reached a double fence line, with the nearer one having a very taught stand of barbed wire at the top, over a metre high. Joan was sure she would never get over it, but in the corner of the field was a post with slanted wooden bracing covered in wire mesh. This proved to be eminently suitable for even mobility-challenged individuals to get over.

After morning tea at the visitor centre we motored off to Sandwich, once on the coast in the middle ages, now 6 Km inland. We walked around for a while admiring the old buildings before having another fish-and-chips lunch.

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Rather a misnomer

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Then it was off to the day’s main event – Canterbury Cathedral. By good fortune we managed to park adjacent to the city wall that encloses the cathedral precinct. A helpful local walked! us in the right direction.

Alternate blogger here:

The Cathedral is an overwhelming structure that brings tears to the eyes. We both felt that it was the one of the most exquisite that we have seen [and we have clocked up quite a few!]. Its history begins with St. Augustine, and is most famous for being the site of the murder of St Thomas a Becket, making it a place of pilgrimage associated with “The Canterbury Tales”. Again, we encountered two very eager and informative guides who spontaneously gave us a detailed history of the area we were standing in. The stained glass windows that have managed to survive the Puritans are exceptional.

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Cathedral Gate
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Quire seat cushion
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Quire stall carving

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After visiting the cloisters, our legs were telling us to call it a day, so we drove back through the beautiful Kent country lanes, awash with all the wild flowers that I remember from my youth. This part of the country is the appropriate setting for “The Darling Buds of May”.

On the way back to Ashford we stopped briefly in Chilham to admire its medieval buildings.

IMG_9629 IMG_9633Back at base in Ashford we were informed that we had been promoted yet again, from our temporary upgrade to the top floor apartment. Incredibly spacious with two bedrooms and five beds, full kitchen, bathroom with shower, bath, and his and hers sinks.

Electing not to eat out, we set out to find the Sainburys store we had seen yesterday on the way into Ashford, in order to buy some ready meals. We couldn’t find it again, so looked for other supermarkets. The first was too primitive, the second, a Lidl, was closed for renovations, and then we found a Waitrose that had what we wanted, plus some extras. As luck would have it, on the way back we passed the Sainsburys that we had been looking for.

The ready meal was blah but the Montepulciano wine was very good.

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Canterbury stained glass

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Day 01 28-04-2014 Mon Ashford

The flights were okay and the safety video was highly entertaining. Is it just me or have the seats gotten narrower and closer together. I was stiff and sore on arrival. The walk from the aircraft A340-600 to immigration and customs must have been over a kilometre.

We had booked ourselves for a fresh-up and four-hour bed rest in the in-airport Yotel. The room was hilarious: the bed is partway recessed into the wall to allow people movement within the room. The room was dark – so dark that we couldn’t see where the light switch was – we had to call reception to be advised that it is in the bed enclosure. With the bed extended, movement was indeed a little cramped. After ablution we crept into bed hoping for some well-earned sleep. That didn’t happen but we got quite a good rest.

After checkout at 11:30 we had a lunch of fish and chips with garden peas in the adjacent Wetherspoons (Andy’s recommendation). That was quite good, so thank you Andy.

The young lady at the car rental desk was friendly and helpful, falling for our Aussie charm and giving us the second driver for free (normally £10 per day!!). The car is a black(!!) Hyundair i30 with six-speed manual and only 2743 miles on the clock. Naturally we expended the first fifteen minutes in the car missing a turn and having to drive for eight miles back onto the A25 South. It’s a maze there at Heathrow.

It’s quite easy to drive and has no trouble maintaining freeway speeds. Not sure about hills – we haven’t had to go up any decent ones yet. Speaking of freeways, most of the M25 was advertised as having “variable speed limit”, but nowhere did it specify what that meant. We mostly did between 65 and 70 mph. The road is very good and quite scenic in the latter half, once in The Weald. The hedgerows are in bloom with May blossom {Hawthorn}, so that even the motorway was attractive to drive along.

We had decided beforehand that since our accommodation did not allow check-in before 4pm, we would visit Leeds Castle en route, just outside Maidstone. Once we got there the sun came out for us. It’s a very attractively landscaped site with a number of small and large ponds supporting a host of waterfowl, mostly various kinds of geese. Plus a few peacocks (no peahens in evidence). It was lovely to be walking in English woodland, complete with bluebells and a few remaining daffodils.

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The castle itself is from three different eras – from the 12th century to the 19/20th centuries. Mercifully for our level of fatigue it took only an hour to view the castle, but well worth it. We feel that the holiday is off to a good start.

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Day 00 27-04-2014 Sun Sydney – Hong Kong – London LHR

Nothing of note to report on the journey to London: the airport shuttle picked us up half an hour late but that suited us well. With online check-in, passing through airline formalities at the airport is a comparative breeze.

We had a two hour transit pause in Hong Kong while the aircraft was refuelled. Departure was delayed for half an hour or so due to “Chinese airspace issues”.

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