A daytrip sounded like heaven after three hours of trawling through Trip Advisor reviews rubbishing various guest houses, B&Bs and pubs across Kent. The best were booked out (two days before the long weekend, what did I expect?) or too expensive.
What was left was an assortment of accommodation tainted by warnings from previous guests. “The landlady is the rudest woman I have ever met”, offered one, “the showers don’t work and the toilet was blocked”, mused another. “Literally one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed in”, said alstott1. “DON”T STAY HERE”.
When Paul pointed out we were in England, and Kent is only 100 miles from London, the fog lifted. We could be daytrippers!
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Instead of hiring a car the usual way we grabbed a Street Car (an easy-to-use vehicle-hire network; similar to Australia’s Flexicar) and set out for the Kentish Isle of Thanet.
The countryside was not as green as I’d thought it would be, but then England is in the grip of a dryspell quaintly described as a drought. We aimed straight for Ramsgate, where we had a table booked for lunch at Age & Sons. Although picturesque enough, Ramsgate defies the chocolate box idea of towns and villages us foreigners may harbour about middle England. Pints, tattoos and dogs bred for fighting appeared to be order of the day in downtown Ramsgate.
Lunch, all three courses of it, was bliss in the form of a lentil and mackerel salad, pork belly and divine mash, plus a superlative pear tart fine with cinnamon ice-cream. Paul ordered a wild rabbit terrine with damsons (little pickled plums), braised lamb shoulder and an indulgence called chocolate nemesis, which came with hibiscus salt and crème fraiche and packed a literal flavour punch. Age & Sons is housed in a converted Victorian warehouse, and forms one corner of what has been dubbed the ‘East Kent Triangle’, a regional cluster of exciting restaurants and purveyors of fresh local produce.
Post-lunch we drove a few miles up the road to Margate, home of the Turner Contemporary, which became one of the newest additions to the UK’s collection of art galleries when it opened in April this year. Designed by star architect David Chipperfield and named for JMW Turner, one of Britain’s favourite painters and a regular visitor to Margate in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Turner Contemporary was conceived as the centre piece of the revival of Margate. The once fashionable holiday destination fell into decline in the 1970s, like other British seaside resorts of Blackpool and Southend, but is now on the way up, home to a growing number of independent galleries.
Before returning to London we made for Dover, stopping on the way at Deal Castle. Finished in 1540, Deal Castle was part of a network of fortifications implemented by Henry VIII in response to the threat of invasion from forces on the Continent. It is unlike any ‘castle’ I’d imagined, low-lying and designed in the pattern of a Tudor Rose with artillery warfare in mind.
From Deal onwards to Dover, where we strode out above the famed white cliffs. And looked down upon the bustling and functional (read ugly) Dover port. Ugly but fascinating — in the short time we were there we watched a number of P&O ferries arrive and depart at impressive pace, plus queues of semi-trailers and other vehicles waiting to make the channel crossing.
Canterbury was the last stop before London. We didn’t stay long, just long enough to visit the famous cathedral, which looked beautiful in the advancing twilight. Remnants of Canterbury’s long history were evident everywhere on the drive out of town, and gaping out the window at the passing sights, I realised one day wasn’t enough.