Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Brighton, The Battle and Dover Castle

We set out from our luxury penthouse this morning refreshed and feeling at ease with our plans for the coming three weeks. We didn't do a great deal while at Southampton and saw not very much of the City, but we needed the break! But we have booked our accommodation through to the 5th July at which time we will leave France for points further east.

So, I program Kate to Dover via Brighton and at 10 am we hand back the keys and set out. The weather is superb - a warm 20 C. Knowing that we have a bit of ground to cover, and that we want to make a few stops, I have chosen the fastest route. Funnily we head through Portsmouth and then north to within 15 miles of London before heading again east and south. But it only takes us a total of 2.5 hours travelling to get to Dover via the motorways. I had programmed Kate to take us to Dover through Brighton and so when we got to Brighton, she began giving us weird directions, until I realised that we had not programmed her right to the Brighton Pier, and so once she had delivered us to Brighton, being the super-efficient little thing that she is, she had moved on straight away to the next instruction - and Dover! So we actually turned her off and horror of horrors - followed the street signs to the Pier!!

Brighton Pier and Kingsway (the road that follows the seashore) are reminiscent of our time in Blackpool - albeit a much more refined model with more up market property facing the sea complete with period pieces full of iron lace balconies - Edwardian more than anything else. And much of it is coloured a beautifully rich honey yellow that must be magical in the setting sun. Thanks to the parking fairy, we find a parking space on the beachfront and make a stop for coffee, to sit in the sun for a little while and to admire the views of the steel skeleton of the old Pier and the fun park on the new Brighton Pier and the English Channel. And we now know why the Brits hate getting sand betweeen their toes - just have a gander at their pebble beaches!

But we need to keep moving, wanting to see Dover Castle and the War tunnels before we head to our accommodation at The Ship Inn in Sandgate. But whats this? The Battle of Britain Memorial! As we draw close to Dover, we see a sign pointing to an exit for amongst other things, The National Battle of Britain Memorial. Then we remember seeing this when we arrived back in the UK in February, so it is a gotta see before we leave again. It is only a couple of kms off the motorway. We turn off (much to Kate's consternation) and find it quite easily. This memorial, kept in beautiful condition is actually being mowed while we are there. It is built with a sculptured flier sitting, gazing pensively out to sea in the centre point of three white propellers set into a grassed bowl and surrounded by a number of mounds, as well as a memorial wall and a number of commentary plaques. Oh, and by the way, there is a Hawker Hurricane replica and a Supermarine Spitfire replica tethered, straining at their restraints, ready to take flight again, just outside the visitor centre. Oh, Michael is nearly peeing himself!!

The aeroplanes may very well be replicas, but it adds to the overall presence of the memorial. The memorial is quite sombre and moving, as the names on the commemorative wall makes the conflict more real than surreal. The display boards which outline the course of the Battle confirms those challenges which faced 'The Few'.

From here we depart for Dover Castle just shy of 3 pm. That is not a real problem though as it is open until 6 pm at this time of the year. The site is huge and we are advised that the Keep is to open to the public at the present as they are changing the exhibits. Still, that leaves plenty to see. Michael heads off to see the Secret Wartime Tunnels whilst I take a gander at the Bailey and the Barbican of the Castle and visit the Queen's Regiment and the Princess of Wales' Regiment Museum. A fascinating history of the royal regiments and their battle conflicts.

The War Tunnels is an interesting wander through time, and not necessarily for the structures purpose. It is an engineering feat, considering the tunnel system is built into pure chalk. Constructed during the Napoleonic War for the purpose of billeting Royal Marines, who meet the expected invasion forces of the French. Abandoned for two centuries, the tunnels were once again occupied during the First World War as a coastal observation post and a magazine for storing ammunition and ordinance for the front lines.

With the defeat and routing of the British Expeditionary Forces on French soil in 1939, the tunnel system was once again utilised as the nerve centre for the evacuation of these very forces from Dunkirk. The architect for this remarkable ploy was Admiral Bertram Ramsey who orchestrated operation from within the tunnel system under secrecy.

After World War Two, the tunnel system was once again abandoned and all of the infrastructure removed. Prior to the tunnel system being open to the public, some of the ante-rooms had been restored with equipment from the era. These include, the Map Room, the Underground Hospital, kitchen, barrack rooms. The tour is also supported by archive newsreels, audio and visual displays adding realism to the visit. Regrettably, photography was forbidden due to reasons of 'security', so I am unable to provide you with images to show this remarkable piece of engineering.

We get away from Dover just after 5:30 pm and en-route pass a sign to the Samphire Hoe. Now, given the fantastic views we got from the Hoe at Plymouth, we feel that it is something to at least have a look at - and we are not disappointed. After passing through a tunnel angled on a 20% slope (down) we come out to find ourselves in a sheltered area at the base of the White Cliffs of Dover with the sea wall a mere 150 m below us. Whoo hoo. Out to sea there are 14 tankers, ferries and cruise ships plus one lone navy vessel - too far out for us to determine exactly what. And just like the Portsmouth Hoe, this one too commands great views with the white cliffs of France to be seen with the binoculars that Tracey gave us as a departure gift.

Over to Folkestone and our accommodation at the Ship Inn on the beach at Sandgate. Wendy, our hostess, explains that there is only street parking and is thrilled when we again find one just 50 metres down the road (who the hell wants to win the lottery, when we can instead always have a parking space!). Our room is in their guest house directly behind the pub - Parade Cottage. We are on the first floor and have the most wonderful view out across the ocean - ah sleeping like a babe tonight methinks to the sound of the waves rolling on to the shore just a stone's throw across the lane and narrow beach. Very nice. Down to the pub for dinner tonight and our last English pub meal. Michael has a Steak and Ale Pie while I choose Salmon Cakes, chips and salad. All home-made. All fabulous. If only their was smll-a-vision or taste-a-vision so you can share in just how good it is! I wash it down with a pint of their own (8%) Biddenden Cider - very nice - smooth like Bulmers and not as harsh as Strongbow.

To top it off, we are here on the night that publican Stewart (husband to Wendy) runs his weekly quiz night. We have just finished dinner as it due to start and after Stewart gives us a potted (hic) history of the pub, Sandgate and the general area with its involvement in WWII, how can we resist the challenge to compete. So we sign up with Colin, Marcus, Chris, Mark, Stephen and a Canadian couple also staying here to battle wits with Stewart. I must tell you, he did try to be a little fair and threw in a couple of Australian and Canadian questions as well - but it was not to be our night, coming in a healthy third with questions as obscure as: What is the start of the Grouse hunting season? (A: August 21) and Name all members of the Famous Five? (A: Georgina, Ann, Peter, Julian and Timothy the dog). Still, we gave a good account of ourselves!!

Finally we get back to the room and the blog after 11 pm, only to discover that Antony, Amanda and Izabella have arrived at home and so we spend a half an hour or so Skyping them. We also learn that Mum's (Netta) dog has had to be put down and that Robert has had a triple bypass and she is staying with Maria. No wonder we are having trouble contacting her.

1 comment:

Shawn Horting said...

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