Looking up

We usually see the world from our own eye level. Children see a swathe of knees and trousers – a limited view, their eye-line often blocked. As an adult I see from a slightly more elevated level, and see faces and expressions. Go higher and our view extends even further, but the higher we get the more we tend to look down. I remember a couple of years ago looking down from the top of Old Dungeness Lighthouse in Kent, and last summer staring out across the Lincolnshire countryside from Sibsey Trader Windmill. Even with our feet firmly on the ground, we are always looking down – avoiding muddy puddles, wary of the broken paving stone that might trip us up. Consequently, unless we’re star-gazing, we rarely notice what is actually straight above us. When we do look up, what a different world we then can see; from clouds to skyscrapers, from the natural to the constructed. New perspectives, fresh patterns, surprising shapes and shadows. A new view of the familiar, and an unexpected view of the ordinary that makes it extraordinary. So take a moment to look up, and be surprised!

 

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Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Whilst staying in Hythe last weekend, we wanted to take a trip on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. I’d travelled on the railway many years ago as a child, when I lived in Folkestone. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway is a narrow gauge railway that runs for 13.5 miles along the Kent coast from Hythe to Dungeness. There is a fleet of one-third full size steam and diesel locomotives, that run on 15″ wide track, and is built to run safely at 25 mph. The railway was designed and planned in the 1920’s, by Captain J E P Howey, a racing driver and millionaire landowner, and Count Louis Zborowski, also a millionaire racing driver. They wanted to create the best miniature railway in the world, which would be run like any normal mainline railway. When it opened in July 1927, the double track only ran from Hythe to New Romney, but within a year it went as far as the shingle ridges of Dungeness. During the Second World War the railway line was requisitioned by the War Department, who built a miniature armoured train, which was used during the building of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) which fueled the Allied invasion force. The railway was re-opened in 1947 by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Now, almost 70 years later, it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Kent, having in excess of 100,000 visitors every year.

So, on Sunday morning we parked by the Royal Military Canal in Hythe, and bought RomneyRover Tickets, which enabled us to get on and off the train at any station.  Like the locomotives, the carriages are obviously small, with just enough space for two normal sized adults to sit side by side, and a tall man (or woman) might find their heads touching the ceiling! There are open carriages, with no doors or windows, but we chose a closed carriage, with a sliding door. The guard waved his green flag, (children waved theirs), the steam whistle blew and we were off out of the station passing between the gardens of Hythe, until we reached the open fields. Sheep munched lazily, well used to the clickety-clack of the train passing, and the air was filled with the smell of steam and smoke. Dymchurch was the first station we stopped at, followed by St Mary’s Bay. Then at New Romney we got off and had lunch. We also had a look at the extensive Model Railway Exhibition which was included in our Rover ticket. Also at New Romney is a locomotive turntable, which I remembered seeing as a child. Then we were off again heading for Dungeness. Bells rang and red lights flashed each time we crossed country roads, and everyone waved good-naturedly as they waited for us to go by. The scenery changed dramatically as we moved onto the bleak open shingle ridges of the Dungeness National Nature Reserve, classified as desert by the meteorological office. The train looped round to Dungeness Station, where we got off and had a wander around, before catching the train back to Hythe.

It was a fabulous train trip on the world’s smallest public railway, and for me, a wonderful revival of childhood memories. If we had had the time, I would have loved to do it all again!
For more information see:  http://www.rhdr.org.uk

Old Dungeness Lighthouse

I spent a lovely few days last weekend in Kent, and stayed on a caravan site just outside Hythe. As a very small child, my Dad worked in Hythe, and we lived five miles along the coast in Folkestone. So visiting this area of Kent always feels a little bit like coming home.
On Saturday afternoon with no fixed plan, we decided to venture off in a westerly direction, and found ourselves driving through New Romney, then across the vast expanse of shingle ridges, towards Dungeness, ending up of course at the famous Old Dungeness Lighthouse.

There has been a lighthouse at Dungeness since 1615, when a 35 ft high wooden tower with an open coal fire on top warned early mariners of the dangerous peninsular that reached out into the English Channel. In about 1635 a 110 ft high brick lighthouse was built, which stood for over a hundred years. The shingle banks continued to grow, and in 1790 it became necessary to build a third lighthouse. It was 116 ft high, fueled first by oil, and later petroleum, and the light was magnified by concave reflectors, which were later replaced by glass prisms. Over the years the longshore drift caused the shingle banks to increase so much that by 1901 a new and taller Lighthouse had to be commissioned. This fourth lighthouse, now known as the Old Dungeness Lighthouse, is nearly 150 ft high, and was opened by the Prince of Wales – later George V – in 1904. The light flashed every 10 seconds, and could be seen for approximately 18 miles, providing a clear signal to ships in the English Channel for 56 years. Despite having survived two world wars, during the construction of the Dungeness Nuclear Power station in the 1950’s, it became clear that the light would become obscured, and so the Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1960, and in 1961, yet another Lighthouse was opened. This 43 metre high, black and white striped lighthouse is still in operation, and has a flash of white light every 10 seconds, that is visible for 27 miles.

The black and white tower of the Old Dungeness Lighthouse, now a museum and major tourist attraction, is an imposing, solid-looking structure, of industrial Victorian architecture. Inside are a series of mezzanine floors made of slate and supported by massive steel beams, linked by spiral staircases with wrought iron banisters. It’s quite a climb, with a total of 169 steps, but there are windows on every level, and with the panoramic views from the top over the bleak shingle headland, is well worth the effort. On the second floor of the lighthouse is the Lens Room, with an impressive, almost artistic display of lenses.

On the fifth floor is the Great Lens, which weighs between two and three tons. It was balanced on a bed of mercury, and was kept revolving by a clock underneath, which had to be hand-wound every hour by the keeper on watch. The one million candle-power light could be seen for up to 20 miles. In good weather you can climb out onto the balcony that runs around the top of the lighthouse, and gaze out over the Dungeness National Nature Reserve, Romney March, and out across the English Channel.

The Sea and Folkestone

I love the sea. In England you’re never very far from the sea, and I can’t imagine living somewhere that I couldn’t visit the sea easily. England has such a variety of different coastlines. Dry windswept sand dunes with spiky grass, where the sand is soft and powdery. Wide flat beaches that seem to go on for miles, with hard packed sand, where if you stand still for too long your heels sink in and form pools of clear water. There are long pebbly beaches with smooth stones that shift and slide with the waves. or others with steeply piled pebble slopes streaked with seaweed. Then there are sheer cliffs sliding down to a ribbon of rough sand strewn with chalky pebbles. Some rugged coastlines have no beach at all, but only a jumbled pile of rocks, where pools of water are left by the sea to be explored by children and adults alike, searching for crabs and tiny sea creatures.
When I was very young, we moved to Folkestone on the Kent coast, and some afternoons after school I would persuade my Mum to walk down to the beach, she pushing my sister in a huge unwieldy pram. I’d play in the damp sand under the arches, or paddle in the sea, and dry my feet on my socks. Then I’d have to walk home with damp socks and sand rubbing between my toes. I remember once carrying a heavy bucket of sand all the way home, in a vain attempt to recreate the beach in my back garden!


But the sea is not always kind. There were days when the sea would rage and roar, and hurl pebbles at the beach in fury. And my Dad would come home from work and tell how he had had to dodge the showers of pebbles flung across the coast road at Hythe a few miles along the coast. And there were the nights when a thick mist would rise from the sea and the fog horn would sound repeatedly throughout the night, like the mournful bellow of an animal in pain.

Folkestone

I loved living so close to the sea, in all its moods. But when I was seven or eight years old we had to move. Although I only lived in Folkestone for a few short years, going back to Kent always feels like going home.

Westgate Towers, Canterbury

I’ve just had a lovely weekend in Kent, staying with my son and his fiancée, so yesterday we went into Canterbury to do a bit of shopping. Canterbury is an ancient city, dating back to prehistoric times, with bits of Roman walls and of course a cathedral.
Westgate Towers in Canterbury is a medieval fortified gatehouse built of Kentish ragstone, a hard grey limestone, used since Roman times for walls and buildings, including Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. Westgate Towers was originally a Roman gate, re-built in 1380 as the main entrance for pilgrims visiting the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Now at the end of a cobbled street with shops and fast food outlets, it is still an imposing structure. In the picture below, it appears that the windows are being cleaned, and what struck me most was the juxtaposition between the ancient building, and the modern crane that was being used.  What would the pilgrims of old entering and leaving Canterbury have thought of such a machine?

West Gate Towers Canterbury

Jazz in Folkestone

I spent last weekend in Kent (UK), staying with my son Dave, who lives in a beautiful village just outside Canterbury. Dave is a musician and plays the clarinet and saxophone. So on the Saturday night we drove down to Folkestone for a jazz gig at ‘Totally Jazz’, a bar and restaurant in the Old High Street, where Dave was playing the saxophone in a three-piece band. ‘Totally Jazz’ is a great venue, the food good, and the staff friendly; and I know I’m a bit biased, but I loved the music! There’s something about live music, so of course, when someone you know is playing, and when that person is your son, the music is even better! The jazz was so laid back, so chilled, so relaxing. It seemed to speak right down into my soul, the rhythm reverberating, like a heart beat.
I felt quite nostalgic as I remembered Dave when he first started playing the clarinet as a small boy of eight. What would have happened if we hadn’t scrimped and saved to buy that first clarinet? However, we may have given him the opportunity, but over the years, Dave has put in an immense amount of study and practise, and that has made him into the accomplished musician he is now. Music has a power all of its own, and I felt a great range of emotions; pride of course; much sadness that his father is no longer here to join me in doing my proud parent bit; sadness too that my own father, a lover of music and an early encourager of Dave, is also not here to be proud. So it’s left to me to be proud all on my own (along with Dave’s fiancée of course). And thanks to you too, for allowing me to show off a bit on his behalf!

If you fancy having a listen to some of Dave’s music do go and visit his website:  www.davebrazier.com  and if you live in the area, maybe I’ll see you sometime at one of his gigs.