Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ickham not Wickham!

all the leaves are brown
nd the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
on an autumn day
Yes, California dreaming is playing on the local radio station - very fittingly! There is nothing so miserable as when it is 4:30 pm in the afternoon and totally dark with all the street lights on.

After a lazy morning we set out from
Wingham for a bit of a drive around the area. And it really is no coincidence that we are staying here - there is a Wingham in the Taree area on the central north coast of New South Wales - so we came to see if there was any resemblence. And you know, there is - lots of cattle and rolling hills! And they are of a like size.

First stop is the small village of Ickham that is a mere 2.5 kms away by road, but a million miles away in terms of how different it is. Wingham is located right on the very busy Canterbury Road, while Ickham is caught in some time warp on a small back road. Just outside town we pass fields that are being beseiged by geese - lots of geese, hundreds of geese - and as Michael gets out to take photos, their brief reprieve on the ground from the journey south for the winter is interrupted as the take flight again.

From here we turn towards the north coast of this part of the UK towards Sheerness and the Isle of Sheppey. As we travel along we see signs to the Spitfire Museum at Manston and would you believe Michael's luck - our route takes us right past it. Go past? Never! So off he goes and I pick up my book.

"Fighter trail etched white on blue,
Bomber Captain, Seaplane Crew.
Like gods, these men, though wrought as we,
Are brushed with immortality.
Their youth not lost to as years go by,
But grandly, in a moment souring high,
Through conquered sky."
- Harold Balfour

With it's memorial garden overlooking the Manston aerodome and the singular bronze statue of an RAF pilot, the museum is more of a memorial to Airforce personnel of all nationalities. However, on entering the building you get the distinct impression it's dedicated to the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane and the respective crews.

The museum is quite small but full of memorabilia, including a restored Spitfire XVI and a Hurricane II and displays of ordinance carried by both aircraft. There is an impressive array of uniforms belonging to aircrew and which have been donated to the museum. A selection of aviation art is also displayed which mainly concentrate on the Battle of Britain. Whether a visitor has any interest in aviation is immaterial, this is a memorial and museum which has been tastefully designed.

So from Manston we follow the coast around to Herne Bay. This historic town is on the southern estuary of the Thames River as it empties in to the North Sea. Known for its old pier and it's impressive clock tower there is also a solitary statue of a Coast Guard statue patiently and vigilantly out to sea - making sure that all are safe, and ready to jump into action if anything goes awry out to sea.

We are still not at Sheerness despite it only being 60 kilometres from Herne Bay. You see we are averaging about 30 kph! Where there are not small towns end to end, there is farming land - marshy land that now supports sheep grazing. And there is only one narrow road that goes right through this area. And time after time we find ourselves in a bottleneck of traffic as we come up to temporary traffic lights around roadworks. It is well dark now, and not quite 4:30 in the afternoon! There is no point going any further so we make the decision to turn back for Wingham. All in all, the last couple of hours has been frustrating to say the least. And as if to add insult to injury, we hear regular traffic updates on the local radio that seems to put us in the very middle of the jams! Wait? Is that them in the car behind us??? Could be as we pass just in front of the landmarks they name time and again!!

We eventually get back to the Dog Inn and a well awaited Cider. Austin our chef has promised us Steak and Ale Pies for dinner even though they are not on his menu for the night. That menu has surprised us a little. While it is always great to find great food in the most unexpected of places, we really did not expect to find a chef of his calibre in a small town miles from where the major restaurants lie. He explains that not only is he the chef for the restaurant here, he is also head chef for the group of hotels owned by the owners. And although we are really looking forward to our pies, when the waitress gives us the menus to choose entrees, we groan at the other choices we might have had. (Pardon the shadows on the menus please)

Still, we had asked for the pies and we are looking forward to them. For our entrees tonight we decide on:
Pan fried tiger prawns, chorizo and plum tomato (Michael)
Homemade lemon and coriander fishcakes, garlic tartar (Maria)
Our mains were those amazing pies - heavy with succulent chunks of tender beef in a deliciously rich ale based gravy and topped with the cleanest, crispest shortcrust pastry - mmmm
"Dessert menu?" she asked. "Oh yes please" was Michael's reply (even though we probably didn't need it!)
Plum Clafoutis with raspberry coulis and the ripest red strawberries (Michael)
Warm apple, sultana and calvados pancake with creme anglais (Maria)

Ah the day has been redeemed! Onya Austin!!!

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