Tag Archive | Kent

Botany Bay Kent UK

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Along the coast of Kent between Margate and Broadstairs is Botany Bay.  This bay has a long, yellow sand beach, chalk reef and towering chalk cliffs with some sea stacks.  Today I visited the bay with my mum as I enjoy a UK vacation.

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My mum’s dog, Archie the Westie, patrolling the cliffs

Infamous as a landing place for smugglers in the 18th century, the beach was actually the site of a clash between smugglers and Revenuers in 1769 that resulted in several deaths.  The encounter has come to be known as the Battle of Botany Bay.  It involved Joss Snelling and his considerable band of smuggling cohorts known as the Callis Court Gang.  The Revenue Patrol ambushed the gang as they unloaded their goods and shooting ensued.

Smugglers cut caves and tunnels into the soft chalk cliffs to use as storage places for the contraband and as escape routes.  The closed-up remains of these caves and tunnels can still be seen today.  The most well-known features of Botany Bay are the impressive chalk sea stacks.  These free-standing towers are the remains of cliffs that have been cut away by the endless wash of the sea.a8

Newly eroded chalk is pure, blinding white in the sun.  It quickly weathers to a gray-white and is often colonized by algae.a9

If you move up close to the seaward side of a cliff you will find the rock is riddled with holes.  Limpets creep into the holes for safety during low tide.  It is remarkable how well they fit the holes.a6

a7This part of the English coast looks out across the Channel toward France.  There is a huge windfarm off-shore.  Cargo ships often shelter on this side of the channel when it is too choppy for crossing.  It is not uncommon to see several large ships close to shore.a4

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Skate or ray egg case and whelk egg cases

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Whelk shell

Strolling the beach revealed a healthy population of whelk and some type of skate or ray as evidenced by the plethora of eggs.  The strangely shaped black ray eggs are also called mermaids purses.  There were numerous egg cases to be found, along with shells of the large sea snails.

With the great expanse of fine sand, the impressive cliffs and the safe waters with a mild current, it is easy to see why this beach is popular in the summer.  And also why smugglers found it a convenient spot to ply their lucrative trade.

This article contains interesting information about the Battle of Botany Bay:  http://www.thanet-ghostwatch.co.uk/history/smug1.htm

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Epple Bay in Kent, UK

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Black swans and duck breeding houses

 

More Memorable British Meals

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On my annual treks to England to visit my mum, I take every opportunity to enjoy the British cooking.  Snide comments and even entire comedy routines focus on the idea that the English do not have good food.  This concept is a myth, probably born of xenophobia.  Anglo food is wonderful!  I always look for a chance to get in at least one Full English Breakfast.  This meal follows a similar formula no matter where it is served in the United Kingdom.  The name is merely modified to suit the locale:  English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh, and occasionally adapted to local traditions.

The basic menu is two eggs, usually fried sunny side up, or any way the diner desires, toast (lots of toast!) with butter and jams, sausage, the bacon of the UK which more closely resembles Canadian bacon than the American sort, baked beans, potatoes either fried or made into hash browns, grilled mushrooms and grilled tomato.  This is accompanied by pots of tea or coffee and some fruit juice.  The full breakfast is the staple of bed and breakfast morning fare.

More often in Scotland, Ireland and Wales I have been offered black pudding as well, which is blood sausage. Some turn their noses up at black pudding but I enjoy it, especially soaked in juice from the baked beans. The full breakfast is sometimes cooked completely on a grill (except for the beans) and features thick slices of grilled bread instead of toast.  Grilling the bread also is more common outside of England.

The Full English Breakfast pictured above was served at a lovely bed and breakfast, the Denewood Hotel, in Boscombe near Bournemouth.  Black pudding was not in the offerings there.

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For me, a visit of Britain is not complete without a roast lamb dinner.  Lamb is not so popular or well known here in America, although excellent fresh New Zealand lamb and locally sourced lamb is readily available to us.  The best lamb is young, before it develops the strong smell of mutton.  Nothing can beat good, young lamb for flavor and tenderness.  It is truly delicious!  To purchase the best lamb, choose smaller-sized cuts. Two little leg-of-lamb roasts are a better bet than one large one.  The larger cuts are from older animals and more likely to have a sheep odor.

The British roast typically served includes the slow-roasted meat with its drippings gravy and large pieces of roast potatoes.  b3On the side are massive bowls filled with a wide variety of carefully segregated cooked vegetables including carrots, turnips, parsnips, string beans, peas, squashes and various members of the brassica genus (my favorites are broccoli and savoy cabbage,) and occasionally Yorkshire pudding–pop-overs to us Americans.

After eating my fill of a roast dinner, I can never do justice to the dessert offerings.  Just as well, since I should not have too much sugar.  The roast dinner pictured was served at The Acorn pub and restaurant on The Square in Birchington, England.  Sadly, this establishment will be closing soon as the owners are retiring.  I can also heartily recommend the roast dinner at The Smuggler, another fine old eatery located on the Canterbury Road near the square in Birchington.

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.

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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.

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