Tag Archive | UK

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.

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.

Jurassic Coast

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Cliffs at Swanage beach

 

While visiting England this month, I took a quick trip with my mum down to Bournemouth and from there across the chain ferry at Poole to Swanage, the beginning of the Jurassic Coast.  This 95-mile section of coastline along the south-west edge of England is designated a World Heritage site–right along with Stonehenge, The Sphinx, and the Taj Mahal.  The coast is special because in this area the exposed rock cliffs date to the Mesozoic Era, including the Jurassic, and are loaded with fossils of the time.  A leisurely beachcombing walk can yield a treasure of stones containing the fossilized remains of plants and animals that lived 250-65 million years ago.

The cliffs at Swanage Beach date mostly to the Cretaceous Period, 125-90 million years ago, the end of the Mesozoic.  The oldest rocks, from the Triassic in the 250 million year old range, are found at the far west end of the Jurassic Coast in Devon.  The land feature is unusual because the layers of earth were tilted in this area of England, lifting and exposing very old rock that is usually hidden far below the surface.

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Four small stones containing fossils, found on the Swanage beach. The largest is about 4″ across.

I strolled the long, yellow sand beach at Swanage for two hours and hunted near the cliffs for fossils, with some luck.  The cliffs of the Jurassic Coast are quite unstable and tend to collapse, especially after big storms cause erosion.  This can make for unsafe conditions.  The day I visited was sunny and dry, with no large amounts of water running off the cliffs and the tide was at the lowest ebb.  I felt fairly safe getting a close-up view.  All the erosion causes stones from the cliffs to be broken apart, pulled onto the beach and smoothed by the waves to produce fine small specimens.

The best fossil remains are reported to be at the far north end of the beach in the chalk cliffs.  The chalk also represents the youngest rock formations.  I wanted older fossils so I searched farther south.  I found several very interesting small rocks and an area where larger sandstone boulders had fallen to the sand, revealing the fossilized seabed trapped within the rock.16567205450_ceac282587_o

Some of the fossils I collected include what seem to me to be small members of the coral family, echinoids, possibly gastropods and mollusks, and perhaps crinoids.  I am no fossil expert.  16568319569_6222dd4c52_o16753374182_53d0629f0b_o

The large sandstone boulders that have broken open appear to contain crinoid fossils, the long tubes could have been the stems of the animals.  The small pale yellow sandstone rock specimen, in the bottom left of the photo of four stones above, could be the fossilized remains of the feathery tops of crinoids.  16728761966_47cecc0441_oThe tube-shaped creature in the hard blue-gray stone I found washing in the surf zone is a common form of fossil that I have seen in the UK and on the US west coast.  I am not certain what this life form was and prefer not to speculate for fear of being mistaken.

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Preserved tree, possible soft jet, the longest piece about 6″.

Another rare find were bits of wood that the waves had broken from a small tree buried in the cliffs.  If this placement is to be believed, the tree became entombed millions of years ago.  Yet, the fragments appear nearly wood-like with the grain still visible.

The specimens seem to be a type of soft jet, wood that was preserved under severe pressure and not turned to stone, or petrified.  The wood is inundated by veins of harder sandstone mixed with pyrite.  The pyrite is so bright and shiny that is is easy to see why it is called fool’s gold.  16134753673_bf7243d670_oIf the location of this ancient log (encased in hard sandstone at the base of a fifty foot tall cliff) is any indication, then the wood is millions of years old.  The color is a brownish-black and the texture is fragile, easily crumbled.

This perfectly preserved wood may be my favorite find of the excursion.

Rye, UK

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Since my mother lives in Kent, in England, I fly over from Boston to visit her at least once a year.  My mum doesn’t drive anymore and depends on mass transit or a helpful neighbor to get around.  For a little excitement when I visit, we rent a car and I run us around the countryside sightseeing.

Three times we’ve been to Rye, a small town in East Sussex, near the coast in southern England.  I love this place, so steeped in history and still retaining architecture from ages gone.  You enter the town through one of the gates of the old wall, a very narrow opening that limits the size of vehicles in Rye.  Pictured above is one of several towers from the old walls.  Because Rye was once on the English Channel, it had to be fortified against attack, especially from the French.

We always eat at a sweet little tea shop called The Runcible Spoon where I have my obligatory fish and chips, always with lemon for the fish and salt and malt vinegar for the chips, and a few nice cups of tea.  Thus fortified, my mum and I explore the old city.  rye5

Located on a chalky hill above the marshland and rivers, the town has stood since before Roman times.  Once a sea port in a sheltered harbor, the town is now more than two miles from the Channel.  The harbor silted in ages ago.  Rye sits at the confluence of three rivers and has a river port now.  Some of the best very old architecture is on Mermaid Street, including the Mermaid Inn.  The streets in the old town are mostly cobbled and rather hard walking.  Here’s a shot of my mum on the “sidewalk” of the street.rye3

There are many interesting little shops and tea rooms in Rye and once we caught a flea market in one of the church halls where I found a lovely ring and a porcelain box.  Here’s my mum checking out a tea shop.  She’s an inveterate shopper as is her daughter!rye7 Some buildings have leaded windows or tunnels leading through the buildings to courtyards at the back.  The Tudor construction is very evident.rye2rye1rye8

The Mermaid Inn is particularly popular with tourists due to its age. The original building has been attributed to 1156.  Today what remains of that building are the cellars.  In 1379 the town was sacked and burned by the French and the Mermaid was rebuilt in 1420.  Much of that building still stands.  The inside has low ceilings, heavy beams and dark woodwork.  An ancient vine grows by the front door.  This inn is reputedly haunted by several ghosts and has been featured on television programs about famous hauntings.  With 31 rooms for lodgers, there are ample places for specters to hide.  The inn was used in the 1700s by smugglers, a rough and violent bunch with many untimely deaths among their members.  The hauntings are mostly supposed to be of these smugglers.

Main entrance of the Mermaid Inn.

Main entrance of the Mermaid Inn.

I so enjoy visiting Rye that I wouldn’t mind going again.  The situation in a sparsely populated area of narrow roads, farm land, marsh and woods makes for interesting driving.  I even got into my only accident of my many years of driving on the “wrong side” of the road while going to Rye.  I took my eyes off the road for an instant too long and rubbed up against a guard rail.  No lasting damage was done to human or vehicle.  I hope to enjoy another memorable meal at the Runcible and further explore the little shops with my mum.