Back Home to Whitstable

On July 5, 2013, we returned to the charming seaside town that had been our home for the 2011-2012 academic year.  It had been 14 months since we had been back, and it felt as if no time had passed.

We said fond farewells to our Norwegian friends in Dungeness and walked to the bus stop in Lydd-on-Sea, in front of the Pilot Inn.  Our friends were on bicycle and making their way to Brighton to continue their holiday.  We’ll see them again soon, I’m sure.

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From Lydd-on-Sea, we rode the bus into Folkstone, where we changed busses to Canterbury, and then boarded a very familiar bus from Canterbury to Whitstable.  The whole journey took a bit under 3 hours.

It was quite a thrill to be on familiar territory.  It was fun to stop briefly in Canterbury and remind ourselves how wonderful that town is, and how well we came to know it.  But even more exciting was the ride down the hill into Whitstable, on a beautiful, sunny day.  It truly felt like coming home.

When we arrived in Whitstable, we immediately made our way to the house we were letting, and then ventured out to walk through our old neighborhood. (Actually, that should probably be neighboUrhood…)

Windy Corner Stores, the cafe just down the road from our old house, had been refurbished, but was as cheerful and welcoming as ever.

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Our old house is still there, let out to some other family…

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And the beach was glorious.

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And the Old Neptune is still keeping watch.

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The seafront cottages, as lovely as ever.

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The playground at Cornwallis Circle was busy, and the kids were so happy to see it!

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We did not expect to feel so easy and so at-home immediately upon returning to Whitstable. We discussed it with each other, and we all felt the same. It was truly as if no time had passed, and things were just as they had always been. Friends came to call on us the day we arrived, and welcomed us with home-baked sweets, fresh groceries, and lovely drinks. The women at Windy Corner Stores remembered us and asked how we’d been. I ran into my old hair dresser and she remembered me, and offered to give me a haircut in her house later in the day (which she did!). And some of our stress from moving and selling our house melted away for a bit. We felt at home.

It made us think hard about how we might find a way to be here more of the time, or at least more often in future. It’s lovely to have a home away from home.

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Dungeness

We thought it was funny to be visiting a place called Dungeness, as Brad’s parents live less than a mile away from the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge near Sequim in Washington State.  We have spent many days walking the bluffs or the beach in this beautiful place.  There is a naturally occurring sand spit that goes a few miles out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  At the end of the sand spit is the New Dungeness Light.

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Well, it turns out that this place is named after Dungeness in England (or so we assume).  Dungeness, Kent, is a pointy headland composed of shingle (small rocks) that is constantly changing and shifting.  It is a desolate place.  Windy.  Eerie.  With two lighthouses and a huge nuclear power plant looming over the landscape.  There is also an historic miniature steam railway cutting through the desert-like shingle, a nature reserve, a famous garden in the shingle, a few wooden fishing huts, and lots of seemingly abandoned boats/winches/huts along the shingle facing the sea.

From the Dungeness National Nature Reserve website:

Dungeness is unique – no boundaries, a desolate landscape with wooden houses, power stations, lighthouses and expansive gravel pits. Yet it possesses a rich and diverse wildlife within the National Nature Reserve in one of the largest shingle landscapes in the world.

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The dark hut with yellow trim around the windows is Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, and the garden around this cottage is somewhat famous.  It is pretty, but very small, with lots of designs made of stone and wood.

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I can definitely see why people are drawn to this place.  It feels otherworldly.  Cut-off.  There are few distractions, and feels miles and miles away from busy places and stressful city life.  It is the only place in the UK that is designated as actual desert.  So unique.  And beautiful, in its own way.

 

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Riding the Steam Train to Hythe

For our last full day with Gro & co, we decided to ride the steam railway all the way to its terminus in Hythe.  We’d heard Hythe was a decent town, so worth checking it out.

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Right after we purchased our tickets in Dungeness, a train arrived and masses of school children got off onto the platform. OH NO!!! Turns out, though, that they were staying in Dungeness for a bit, so they did not join us on the next departure. Phew!

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We boarded the train. Silliness ensued (seems like that happens a lot when our families get together).

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We steamed past the Shingle House

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Then they changed our engine at New Romney.  We got the cute little Diesel! (which was a welcome change for a while as those sulfury fumes are actually quite unpleasant from those steam engines!

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We arrived in Hythe after a pleasant journey and immediately sought out a good lunch spot. It was actually quite chilly, so we found a place that was more or less out of the wind, along the Royal Military Canal, which was nice, if a bit overcrowded with various sorts of birds looking for a handout.

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Then we wandered the town for a while. There were some interesting sights.

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And some interesting shops. Flora found herself a mini fascinator. So cute!

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Then we went to the seashore. Charlie buried his head in the shingle.

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What a ham.

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Back on the train.

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More silliness.

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Flora did a song and dance routine.

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Back past the Shingle House

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And home.

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A Pocketful of Rye

We decided to spend a day in Rye.  We’d heard it was lovely from a woman we met on the plane who lived there. This woman (her name is Jan) is really lovely herself, and was so kind to Flora and patient while Flora proceeded to tell her everything on her mind for hours upon hours. They became very good friends, Flora and Jan, so Jan gave me her contact information and told us to let her know if we came to Rye. So, I let her know, and she came to meet us for coffee!

We managed to find a bus from Lydd-on-Sea that would get us there in under an hour.

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We met Jan at a bakery/cafe called Jempsons, which had a space in the back big enough for all of us.

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Friends reunited!

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Then Jan took us on a whirlwind tour of Rye’s highlights. It was very kind of her to take time out to show us around, and Flora was so happy to see her!

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The Mermaid Inn:  a hidey-hole for smugglers!

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We said a grateful goodbye to Jan, found a playground for the kids, and then headed back up the hill into town for lunch.

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After lunch we had some time to spare before we had to catch the bus home, so we wandered back to the places Jan showed us. We peeked inside the old church, and visited the Ipres Towers (and old castle along the Medieval wall).

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We bought some sweet treats from Simon the Pieman.

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Charlie and daddy went up into the clock tower at the church (one of the oldest working clock towers in England!)

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Then the bells rang.

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Beautiful views of the rooftops of Rye.

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And the roses! The roses in Rye were absolutely magnificent.

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We loved Rye. We would happily return any time.

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An Afternoon in New Romney

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The day after arriving in Dungeness, we took the bus into nearby New Romney in order to rent bicycles.

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Unfortunately, the cycle hire shop was useless. No child trailers, no child seats, no trail-behind child bicycles, and no interest in helping us at all. So much for that!

So we decided to stay in New Romney long enough to visit the Tourist Info center (closed) and have lunch.

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We had lunch at a sweet little tea room, run by a couple of little old ladies. The service was a bit sluggish, but very kind, and they liked our children, so we picked the right place! The kids had toasted cheese sandwiches with cucumber slices and crisps. When the plates arrived, Flora started to ask the woman serving her if she could eat some “chips” (seeking permission to start with those instead of her sandwich) and the poor lady panicked, thinking she was supposed to bring us what she thinks are chips: what an American would call “French fries”. I quickly said, “she meant crisps,” and the lady immediately sighed with relief. It was a funny moment. Brad and I shared a cream tea, with ham sandwiches. A PERFECT lunch for our first full day in England! Before we finished, I asked the woman at the table next to us if she knew where the toilets were. This sparked a conversation about where we were from and why we were there in New Romney. She was kind, and very curious, and chatted with the kids. Finally we managed to get to the toilets — turns out it was a little shack out in the beautiful garden behind the tea room.

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New Romney wasn’t a real destination per se, but a very pleasant town.

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There is a very nice old church with Norman elements. (New Romney has some interesting history relating to the Norman invasion at nearby Hastings)

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And New Romney is one of the stops on the miniature steam railway.

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We decided to take the steam train back to Dungeness instead of the bus.

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The kids had a ball playing in the playground while we waited for the next train.

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Our engine was called “Dr. Syn” after a fictional character who supposedly lived in the area.

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Our holiday house from the train as we went by…

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The Old Dungeness Light

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The old lighthouse with the nuclear power plant in the background. A little eerie, right? Definitely the closest I’ve ever been to a nuclear facility.

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The new Dungeness Light and our traveling companions cycling by…

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Heading home.

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The Shingle House

One of the highlights of our stay in Dungeness was the innovative and elegant architecture of the house we rented:  The Shingle House.

Gro is an architect, and as she was looking at places to stay for our joint holiday in the UK, she stumbled upon this amazing place overlooking the desolate scrub and shingle at Dungeness.  It was one of the most calming places I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.

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And the miniature Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway literally ran through the back garden.  It was such fun to see the trains go by several times a day!

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Fourth of July Silliness

Here’s how we celebrated July Fourth in Dungeness.  Blue ties with red and white stars for the boys, blue barrettes with fireworks on for the girls, and small American flags for all. I think the Norwegians in the group actually enjoyed the festivities more than the Americans!

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And when it got dark: glow-stick bracelets!

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We did attempt to keep a low-profile as we were celebrating a holiday commemorating independence from England….and we were IN England. It was a bit odd. But it was a fun bit of silliness!

Posted in England, Expat issues | Leave a comment