Tag Archive | England

Epple Bay in Kent, UK


Greetings from Kent, the Garden of England, where I’m staying with my mother in Birchington-on-Sea.  Birchington (for short) incorporates a small inlet of the English Channel near the Thames Estuary called Epple Bay.  That is where I went today, to pass a breezy fall afternoon.

a2The ocean is strong here when the wind rises and the tide runs high.  Without the concrete fortifications, the chalk cliffs would long ago have been broken, taking valuable Birchington real estate with them.  Even with concrete barriers and the wide promenade, the waters sometimes rise up to batter the cliffs.  The recent very high tide with the super moon left sea weed markers and broken chalk in its wake.a3
The entire seabed in this area, and all the underlying ground in general, is chalk. The land has a layer of fertile humus over the chalk. Where the ocean roils, the water is a white hue from the dissolved mineral.a5
The chalk formed when all this land was under an ancient sea. Marine algae, when they died, drifted to the floor and their skeletons formed dense layers of white. Interspersed in the chalk are globular chunks of rock called flint, a type of chert.a8
It is believed flint forms as a breakdown product of chalk. Flint is popular in this part of England for use as building material. It is embedded in walls or roads and spread in driveways. The top of this wall is armored with a line of projecting flints.a10
Along the promenade at Birchington there are several deep cuts that allow access through the cliffs to the sea. One can get a good idea of the depth of the chalk and the fragile nature of the overlying thin layer of living soil.a6

Trees and plants that edge the cliffs are in constant danger of having their roots exposed by subsiding chalk.  This fine limestone is also very porous.  It does not retain water well. This is why Kent is often affected by drought before other parts of the country.a9

Westerly from Epple Bay, seven miles out in the ocean, is Thanet Wind Farm, one of the largest off-shore wind farms in the world.  Some of the windmills are just visible in this shot.  Over the years of visiting my mum I’ve watched this farm grow.  It must be very successful.  There is certainly a copious supply of wind in this part of the Channel to fill the needs of the farm.a4

The weather is holding decent, especially for England, not too rainy, some actual sunshine and temperatures in the 50sF.  I hope to make another trip to the sea before I leave and to post again about the interesting Kentish Coast.

Leeds Castle, Maidstone, UK

a1Another gloomy day of snow and freezing rain sets me to dreaming of warmer, more pleasant places such as the lovely estate of Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent in England.  I have visited at least three times, possibly more, and could easily go there again.  Beautiful grounds with ponds, a moat and streams, plentiful gardens, wild wooded places and open grazing lands surround a jewel of a stone castle right out of an old romance.


White peacock employed as greeter at the castle

The castle is fairly easy to reach by road or train.  A path leads from the parking lot and follows a large brook through a wildflower wood and across a vast field to the buildings.  Peacocks and other tame and wild birds roam the grounds.  A couple peacocks are always on hand to greet visitors.  The entrance to the main building is through a gate house and over a bridge.


Spring flowers and sheep along the path to the castle

Leeds Castle was built over 900 years ago on an island in the river Len, so it is surrounded by a large natural moat.  A Norman structure was erected by a baron of Henry I, William the Conqueror’s son.  The land was originally the site of a manor belonging to Saxon royalty that was taken by the Normans.

The castle became a royal residence of queens for several hundred years before returning to private ownership.  During WWII it served as a hospital and site for development of secret weapons.  The castle continued as a home and became a center for lavish entertainment of important personages until the 1970s when the estate was made into a charitable trust.  Over the centuries the land and buildings have been re-organized and updated, but the outward appearance of a Tudor stronghold remains.

The Culpeper and Fairfax families owned the castle during the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries.  A lord born at the castle emigrated to Virginia in the mid-1700s to assume governance of his family’s huge estates in America.


Wild waterfowl gather beneath a stately conifer on the grounds

Open year-round, Leeds is one of the most visited castles in England.  In addition to delightful walks in wooded parklands, or a picnic by the river, a visitor may enjoy various activities such as strolling the gardens, greenhouses and vineyards, navigating the large maze and grotto, boating on the moat, viewing the falconry, or touring the Gatehouse castle history exhibits or the unlikely Dog Collar Museum.  The present collection contains over 130 rare and valuable examples of canine neck attire.

Of course there is a restaurant and gift shop and a guided tour of the sumptuous interior of the castle. Two modern castle-themed playgrounds have also been built to entertain children.

I have been to Leeds Castle with my mum and her husband and my daughter.  One day I hope to take my grandkids to see this wonderful English sight.


Black swans and duck breeding houses


Sarre Windmill

When the weather turns cold, dark and damp (as it has been for five days) my thoughts stray to warmer climes than Maine. Places where the air is balmier and the sun shows more frequently. I revisit in my mind the spots I have toured.

One delightful side trip was to the windmill at Sarre in Kent, UK, near my mother’s home in Birchington.  My mum and I hopped the bus for a short ride to the mill.  From miles around the windmill is visible rising above the fairly level farmlands of Kent.  Locally grown grain is milled at Sarre.


Mum at Sarre mill


At the time we visited, several years ago, there was a visitors shop and tea room on the first floor.  The windmill is operational and produced the flours available in the shop and used to make the baked goods for tea.  I’ve read that since our visit the place has been converted into lodgings, although the mill still runs.  It might be a fun place to stay on my next visit to Mum.

The mill was built in 1820 on the site of a previous mill, and operated until the 1930s.  It had a steam engine installed as alternate power on calm days.  After 1920 it ran on a gas engine as the sweeps (also called sails) were removed to another mill. From the 1930s till 1985 the mill languished and deteriorated. Then, some energetic people bought the place and restored the mill to operation.

The building stands 4.5 stories tall including a 1.5 story brick base and the sails.  It is termed a smock mill due to the particular construction of a fixed timber tower with a movable cap and attached sweeps.a2

When the wind turns the sweeps there is a noticeable whoosh as they rotate.  Inside the building, the squeaks and squeals and rumblings of the turning machinery are very impressive.

Several cogged wheels convert the action of the turning sweeps down to the stones set in the base that grind the grain.

A visitor could climb nearly to the top via narrow stairways.  The windows afforded wide views of the surrounding countryside.a7a9

We visited the mill on a brisk spring afternoon.  The fields were green, trees budding, the sky bright blue with wispy clouds and a soft breeze gave the sails a lazy spin.  So nice to remember this sojourn far from the browns and grays of a snowless December in Maine.

Visiting England


This is written from Birchington in Kent, England where I’ve been visiting my mum for the past few days.  I wanted to share a couple of my favorite British foods.  Above are Scotch Eggs.  I LOVE these.  They are not readily available in America, but are so common in England they can be purchased in the cold food cases of small shops, even drug stores.  A Scotch egg is made by wrapping a hard boiled egg in a shell of spiced pork sausage meat.  The meat is lightly breaded and the whole assembly is deep fried until the sausage is cooked.  These eggs may sound peculiar, but believe me, they are delicious!  Eaten warm or cold, two make a very filling lunch or breakfast.DSC02742

Another must meal while I visit Britian is fish and chips.  The country is heavily populated with shops selling breaded, fried fish filet with thick cut potato fries.  The meal can be served to go, wrapped in paper, including old newspaper.  I prefer to eat a nice fish and chips meal at a sit-down restaurant, preferably with a cup of tea.  The meal above was serve with mushy peas, a side dish of dried green peas that have been soaked in soda water overnight and boiled to soften.  They have the taste and consistency of a very thick green pea soup, delicious.  I like my chips seasoned with malt vinegar and salt.  This particular fish and chips meal was at the Bournemouth branch of the Harry Ramsden restaurant chain.  These people know how to do this dish right.  The batter coating is perfect:  light, crispy and no absorbed fat.  My mother swears their chips are the best she’s ever had (and she’s eaten a lot of chips!)

Warm England

daffsI’m in England, visiting my mum.  She lives in Kent, the southern part of England where the temperatures are quite moderate and they hardly ever get frost or snow.  See how the daffodils are up and almost ready to bloom on Feb. 21!

Her azalea plant is in full bloom, very pretty.  azThe lawns are green, and some trees, mostly what look like cherries, are blooming.  Also the gorse is flowering, a pretty yellow bush. There are lots of birds singing and the sun is bright with temps getting into the fifties today.  A lovely break from three feet of snow and temps in the teens in Maine.

After a few days in the UK, Mum and I are flying down to Portugal, to the Algarve, the beautiful southern coast.  I hope to have some excellent shots of Portugal to blog about soon.rose

Here is the back lawn at my mum’s in Kent, with a small pyracantha bush covered in bunches of tiny berries the birds love.  I still am not accustomed to all the green after months of ice and snow.

Poor England has not escaped the ravages of winter.  Their suffering has come in the form of endless rain.  The flooding is evident in farm fields and I even saw a soccer field under water.  I am very fortunate to have the sun today!


Reculver, Kent, Roman Ruins

aEngland was conquered by the Romans in A.D. 43.  Signs of the Roman invasion remain in many places.  Near where my mom lives in Kent, there is a place called Reculver.  At one time, the entire area was the island of Thanet, surrounded by sea.  The Romans built a fort on headlands overlooking the water around A.D. 300.  It is believed a harbor existed there and the area required defense from the Celts, who itched to overthrow their foreign lords.  Below-ground evidence exists of a fort, barracks, a bath and a headquarters building.  All that remains visible of the Roman works is the southern wall of the fort, standing as high as nine feet in some places.

Constructed of locally made concrete and once faced with stone, the wall is now greatly eroded and slowly falling back into the earth.  I collected this sample of Roman made concrete from the ground at the base of the wall.  Its composition perfectly matches the standing rampart and I could even find the spot in the wall where it broke away.  This concrete is a fascinating mix of sand, small stones and shells held together with limestone adhesive.

Today the place is quite lonely and always windswept.  The harbor and channels that separated Thanet from the mainland have all silted in.  The violent Atlantic slowly works away at the cliffs beneath the ruins.  One day it will all be gone.  The most arresting monument there today is the remains of a 12th century church built on the site.  Two tall, square towers dominate the landscape and can be seen from many miles away along the coast.  The church and the even earlier monastery that existed there after the Romans left are now all ruins as well.


My daughter, very pregnant, standing inside the remains of the Norman church at Reculver. These towers can be seen for miles.

Still, I enjoy visiting there, imagining life as an Italian far from a sunny home, garrisoned on a hostile shore.  Holding the bits of crumbling concrete, I think of the hands that nearly two thousand years ago smoothed this liquid concretion into place.  All slowly falls to dust and wild rabbits make warrens where once Roman soldiers tramped.