Heather joined me for 24 hours to see the Historic Dockyard Museum at Chatham and the Turner Contemporary Gallery at Margate. We drove along the north Kent coast, where the fishing towns of Faversham, Whitstable, Herne Bay and Margate, once so popular with Victorian holidaymakers, became run down with the arrival of package holidays. Facing north, they have a wonderful light and are popular with artists – famously J M W Turner. Today they are undergoing a resurgence; renovated buildings and restaurants appearing in the style pages of the Sunday papers.
I had booked into a campsite, run by a lady called Mary, close to Sittingbourne station to get Heather to work on time. This was my first proper campsite and Mary showed me where to empty my waste water (in the hedge if I hadn’t been using bleach) and I hooked up to the mains for the first time. We were her only guests and ate fish pie and slept well in her field, though Heather insisted on the sliding door being open because she found Baa’s quarters a bit cramped!
We left early to catch the 8.30 am train and then I pulled in to Wickes car park to make things shipshape. But something was seriously wrong – I had no water! I couldn’t flush the loo, the sink was full of washing up and, because I hadn’t turned off the engine when I emptied my waste water tank (tap and exhaust pipe are adjacent), my hands and face were covered with large black diesel smuts.
Pathetically, I rang Simon at Somerset Motorhomes (not for the last time!) and wailed ‘Help! The pump’s broken and I can’t flush the loo!’ ‘Don’t panic! Have you perhaps turned your mains power off?’ said Simon calmly. ‘No! Of course not…. Yes!’ Yes, I had switched off the mains power! I had read that the power should be off when you hook up to the mains, (it didn’t say ‘don’t forget to switch it back on’) so my van battery had not been charging my leisure battery. What a fool! So, having scrubbed my face and hands with my emergency Pampers, I set off for Sandwich with the dirty dishes still in the sink.
I drove past apple orchards and oasthouses, through beautiful, sleepy villages with pretty houses built from shallow, soft red bricks. Littlebourne, with its churchyard swept with waves of cow parsley seemed to epitomise all that was lovely about the Garden of England in May.
In no time I got to Sandwich, passed the Discovery Park built by Pfizer, and still part-occupied by them, and crossed the bridge, over the river Stour into the town. The thought of those Pfizer scientists cooking up Viagra in that space-age looking building seemed totally incongruous in this pretty, genteel town. I parked in a narrow street of gentrified cottages where, with my leisure battery now charged, I flushed the loo, washed my face and did the washing up. 900 years ago Sandwich was an important port, and a landing place for the pilgrims who came to Canterbury and London. But the sea receded and, today, the town is two miles from the coast. I passed the famous Royal St George’s Golf Club, and came to a lodge and tollgate, the entrance to a rarefied estate. It all felt a little smug and, on the seafront, the plumpest and best houses have the most spacious plots with uninterrupted views out over the heavy shingle beach. There was nothing but aquamarine sea meeting a clear blue sky – Ramsgate 5 miles to the north, and Deal 5 miles to the south.
A single-track road led through the sand dunes, past the Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club and a hotch-potch herd of horned cows grazing in the sunshine on flat, scrubby grassland made me think of a Dutch painting. I walked along Deal’s huge pier with fishing boats tied up, and anglers fishing over the side, and it is from here that you get the best view back to the 18thC seafront where the lovely old bookshop stands out among the penny arcades and chip shops. The town isn’t smart like Sandwich, it feels historic and maritime with its narrow lanes and overhanging buildings, a bit hippy, and strangely cut off from the rest of the world. I bought a stiff brush from a hardware shop and, thereafter, brushed Baa out with it every morning.