Along the coast

One of the down sides to having a holiday at home is it’s hard to ignore all the little jobs around the house and garden, but I remind myself when we are in France, we try and do a few tasks in the house or garden.  A trip to the garage is another chore, but it gives us the opportunity to carry on afterwards.   Heading towards the coast with a range of options on my to-do list we decide to stop at Pegwell Bay Country park for a quick coffee.  It’s not on the list but it’s somewhere we haven’t visited for years. 

View across Pegwell Bay

When we pull in to the parking area, it is reassuringly the same, only the coffee van has moved from one end of the site to the other.  It’s still has a friendly gathering of dog walkers and the coffee and tea  is served in with proper mugs, not disposal cups.  The view from here stretches out across the marshy bay and the footpaths stretches out tempting me, but I don’t have enough energy for a long walk, so we sit and enjoy the slightly crisp autumn sunshine.

grass with wooden benches and tables.  Red cabin for coffee and tea, withy people clustered around, bushy trees in the background.
Pegwell Bay Country Park

Our next stop is Walmer, or Deal according to the Satnav which is slightly confused by the address.  I’m not worried we heading from a cafe that is on the seafront so it shouldn’t be hard to find.  When we get there, we’re lucky enough to find a parking space right outside.  Unfortunately it is closed on Wednesdays.  My to-do list is a little out of date, as they are now open every day apart from today.  I’m a bit disappointed but I do have a backup, the Sea Cafe on the Green, which is in walking distance.  That is definitely open as I can see people sitting on the benches outside.

marshy ground in greens and browns with wild flowers.  Grey line of sea and cliffs and town of Ramsgate in distance.
Sea Cafe on the Green

The menu is eclectic, with normal breakfast and lunch type sandwiches but also jerk chicken and curried goat.  It’s too early in the morning for a big meal so I choose a bacon sandwich, my husband goes for the breakfast bap.  Both are delicious, the sandwich is made with thick soft bread and lashing of ketchup, the bap is enormous and messy, with bacon, sausage and egg cooked to just the right consistency.  This is a lovely space and surprising quiet, although it is a work day.  I imagine on weekends and holidays it gets incredibly busy.

Another success on my visit local list and the up side of a holiday at home, means we can come back soon to try the lunch options.  I can’t wait.

Pegwell Bay Country Park

Sea Cafe on the Green

Wealden Wanderers

Start of the holiday – we head out for a late (for us) breakfast at 10am and decide to stay local, exploring the first place on my list.  A little craft centre and coffee shop.  We drive through the back roads, turn the corner and see a car park full of cars.  Not a promising sign on a Monday morning , we had hoped to avoid crowds and have a snack and do a little present shopping.  The craft centre is smaller than I expected and the expensive gifts look nice but don’t appeal to me.

The courtyard is already filled, although the waitress hurries over to us, ready to fit us in somewhere.  I turn to my husband, we decide it’s just too busy and escape.  Across the road is a vegetable stand with runner beans and tomatoes.  A loyalty box on one side for payment, we buy a huge bag of beans which look fresher and tastier than they ever do in the shops.  It’s not been a wasted trip.

We drive on to the next place on the list, a farm shop just beyond Cranbrook. This is a town we know and like so if our next destination is a bust, we can return for coffee or lunch.  When we get there, we find welcoming converted barns surrounded by apple orchards.  This is Hartley Farm Shop, full of delightful charcuterie, cheese, salads, bread, butchery, store cupboard staples and sweet treats.  There is also a fish shop but that isn’t open on Monday. 

A little shopping then a coffee in the restaurant overlooking the orchards.  There is an outside garden but it is too hot to sit outside today so we admire both the garden and the orchards, in comfort while we sip our iced coffee.

fence around gravel areas with chairs and tables for outside dining, rows of trees beyond the fence.
View of the orchard

We decide to finish with lunch in Tenterden, as there is a fish and chip shop we want to visit.  It always smells delicious but usually we have just had a big breakfast or lunchtime somewhere else, so we say next time and carry on.  Today we visit and find out what we have been missing.  All the old favourites are there, but some unexpected items: halloumi fries, calamari and even a dessert – jam roly poly.  We order and join the queue waiting for their orders.  When it comes, the food is well worth the wait, a delicate light batter on the cod, chips the perfect balance of crispy outside and fluffy inside, calamari rings in panko breadcrumbs, not my normal order from a fish and chip shop, but equally delicious. 

old brick walls with an arch window in the centre, old leaden window with stained glass in top arch
Ornate window viewed from Montalbano’s

In a weird foodie version of a pub crawl, we finish our lunch at Montalbano’s for ice cream and coffee.  (Much as I fancied the jam roly poly at the fish and chip shop, the weather was much too hot.  The dessert is a special so who knows what might be on the menu next time we visit.  One thing’s certain, I will make sure I leave space for dessert.  

Tenterden Fish Bar

Hartley Farm Shop

Home sweet home

It’s holiday time and I’m staying here, at home in Kent, my lovely county also known as the Garden of England.  I have been working on my To-Visit list,  a collection of independent bookshops, cafes and coffee shops, restaurants and farm shops organised by town.   The latest addition is a list of all the farmers’ markets in Kent, with days and times.

courtyard garden with chairs and tables, large plant on table, closed parasol
Relaxing and watching the world go by

These are our activities when we take our annual long holiday in France, a trip to various local markets, followed by long lunches and leisurely breaks in coffee shops, just people watching as we sip our espressos.  We are connoisseurs of the local markets and we know where and when to find our favourite stall holders to buy the best they offer; the fragrant melons, delicate fresh goats cheese and mouth-watering roast chickens, hot and golden from the rotisserie.

round wooden box filled with fish arranged carefully in a circle heads outward.
Delicious items on the fish stall

Normally when we are at home we make our local visits to shops and restaurants at the weekend.  The lockdown narrowed our horizons and we visited familiar places as we knew the drill, what was expected but visiting new places seemed a little daunting.  So as the world started to reopen we kept returning to our old favourites.

This time we can avoid the crowds, check out some of the tiny farmers markets that run on week days in village halls and amble around our home county after the rush hour traffic has exhausted itself.  Now it is time for a little adventure, I’m hoping to find some new favourites.

Losing my way

My regular walking routes vary depending on weather and time of year.  It’s now blackberry picking time, so I headed to my favourite footpath for foraging.  At the start of the path was a giant sized bramble bush which had completely blocked access.  Covered in still green fruit, it didn’t even offer a good picking opportunity.  I briefly considered taking action and coming back with shears but decided against it;  the path runs between fields which are private land and even if I cut down this barrier, I would have nowhere to take all the clippings.

I logged on to my local council site to update the Public Rights of Way for Kent to ask for some maintenance on the route.  Once I started looking at the map, I saw other pathways marked and quickly checked to see I had explored all these routes.  I looked at the long route to our farm shop and decided that currently that was further than I wanted to walk, but closer to home was a several short stretches through a built up area which I didn’t recognise.

I zoomed in and checked the street names, I wasn’t lost.  This was a very familiar road, but I have never seen anything resembling a footpath as I walked along it.  I studied the route carefully, close to a junction, then continuing across another road, finally down to a field.  My next walk became a detective expedition.  No footpath where the map clearly said a path started and nothing at the other end just around the corner.  I crossed the road and checked for the next stage.  A gap between two houses full of bushes and weeds: possibly the next stage but impenetrable at the moment. 

Tiny bright pink flower in surrounded by tall grass
Pink flower

The third stage appeared to be a wide gap between houses but blocked by a metal fence, it was almost too wide to be a footpath but it appeared to be approximately the right place.  I have yet to check the final stage in the field, as I usually go for a walk at lunchtime so I have limited time to go too far.  I would assume there would be a stile or gate at that point, so possibly I can work backwards on the trail of the missing footpaths.

The best discovery though has been the level of detail on both the Public Rights of Way site and the Ramblers site which has a campaign to restore lost rights of way.  My new best friends for future walks.

Kent Public Rights of Way

Ramblers – Don’t Lose Your Way

Off the beaten track

I have to admit, I can’t resist the free magazines you see in large shops, I always have to pick up a copy; the adverts are often as interesting as the articles as they tend to be for local businesses.   Restaurants, cafes, farm shops, I look and think we must visit these places then put down the magazine and forget about them.  This month I have had a tidy up and made a list of all the interesting addresses, so we can start visiting them when we are out and about.

chairs and tables set out under shelter of old farm building.
Indoors, outdoors and some tables in between

The first opportunity came with a visit to Tenterden, after a good breakfast at the Lemon Tree, with delicious homemade lemonade, a quick visit to the delightful chocolate shop and lastly to Montalbano’s our favourite place  for icecream and coffee, we decided to visit a local farm shop.

I thought I knew where we were going but to be sure we put the postcode in the Satnav and drove to the St Michaels area of the town.  Our route led off the main road into what seemed like a residential area, then the houses disappeared and we were in the countryside.  Silcocks Farm Shop, our destination is a real farm in the countryside.  A shop selling meat from their animals, homemade cheese, butter and milk.  It was a real pleasure to talk to producers who really care about their produce, we bought delicious pork, butter, cheese and milk.

Three cows grazing in a lush green field.  Thick hedge behind them and view of distant countryside.
View of the farm

The cafe will have to wait for another day, but set in a lovely courtyard garden with indoor space as well, it looks lovely. 

This is not the sort of place you drive by and think you will visit, you have to know it is there and make a special visit, but it was definitely worth it.  Next time we’re coming for breakfast.

Silcocks Farm Shop and Cafe

Montalbano Bottega

The Lemon Tree

Truffles at Coco

Top of the world

It’s easy to overlook the sites of interest close to home, they sit on the ‘get round to it list’ but never get onto the ‘do it today list’.  So today I went to visit my local museum, it’s been shut down over lockdown and only recently re-opened.  The Minster Gatehouse sits next to Minster Abbey and dates back to Saxon times when there was a nunnery here established by Queen Sexburga of Kent (later Saint Sexburga).  Now only the Gatehouse and the Abbey remain.  I often pass by and think I must come back when it’s open.

large tree branches stretch out in front of stone gatehouse.
Gatehouse hidden behind trees

It’s a very local museum, run by volunteers and filled with local history and pre-history, ranging from fossils found on the beach to items from the island in wartime.  I find the range of maps and paintings most interesting, showing bygone scenery, local roads bare of all their houses and the beautiful Queenborough castle in all its glory.

white wall of spiral stone staircase with images from local history.  Edge of spiral staircase steps.
The painted wall of spiral staircase

Each floor of the building is connected by a spiral staircase with a timeline painted on the walls, and it is easy to stop and focus on this rather than on the individual floors. 

lichen covered castellations and edge of roof.  green of trees at edge of roof.  view stretching to the horizon of houses and green spaces
View from the top of the tower

At the top of the staircase, wooden steps lead up to the roof.  From here is a wonderful view across the island and out to sea.  Today the trees obscure some of the view, but because the museum is local, it will be easy for me to find a bright clear day in the winter to return and admire the view from the top of the world.

Minster Gatehouse

Urban Safari

I have been working at home for a year and a half now, so going back to the office in Maidstone was always going to feel strange, but it’s not just the office, the town where I work has changed as well.  There’s a new railway station, or at least a new ticket office were there was a building site a year ago.  Most of the shops haven’t changed, there are a few, not unexpected closures, but the main thing to catch my eye was the elephants.

elephant coloured in squares with patterns of birds and animal, half tiger face half bird face, zebra stripes and bird feathers, no two squares the same.
Elephant with personality crisis

They are everywhere you look, from one end of Week Street to the other, in the High Street and at least three in Fremlins Walk.  It makes a lunch time walk into town a safari where I’m constantly looking around trying to spot another bright statue.

They seem to attract little attention, but I found myself busily deciding which was my favourite.  I didn’t see all of them in one day; according to the website there are 51 in total, in parks as well as the town centre.  I will need to walk in a different direction next time I come to the office.

elephant in black and white squares with letters like a crossword puzzle
Puzzling elephant

The Art Parade is in aid of the Heart of Kent Hospice and the artworks will be auctioned at the end of August.  Each elephant is sponsored by a different business or organisation and the artworks makes them individual and unique. 

elephant statue in pink bandages like a mummy - gaps show hieroglyphics and eye of elephant.
Escaped from the museum?

My favourite (so far) is opposite the museum, but now I know how many are there I will be taking a notebook with me so can I can count them off.  An art safari in my lunch time, now that’s a fun way to explore a very familiar place.

Elmer’s Big Heart of Kent Parade

Heart of Kent Hospice

A view to wake up to

I’ve said it before, but I love breakfast and it’s one of the things I love about staying in hotels.  You can crawl out of bed, scrape on some clothes and have someone offer you food, hot drinks, fresh juice, all brought to your table.  I know it sounds lazy but I am much more fond of eating food than I am of preparing it.

granite island with white building with pointy red roofs and onion shaped turrets.  Trees partly hide the restaurant and cover the rest of the island.
Restaurant on Helsinki Island – imagine waking up on this island for breakfast.

I have a long list of great places to have breakfast, both in hotels and cafes but today I was thinking about those places where it was not just the food but the whole location that added to the experience, making the start of the day a special treat.

Top of the list is the hotel  Vaakuna in Helsinki and its 10th floor restaurant.   The hotel is set in the very centre of the city and the restaurant had indoor and outdoor tables with an amazing view over the city.  The outdoor terrace high above everything apart from the birds was just a wonderful place to start the day with strong Finnish coffee, delicious breads and all the delights of a breakfast buffet. 

I have to admit there was a seagull problem, you couldn’t leave your table to get more coffee, without huge gulls swooping down to see if anything was left on your plate.  But the view was magnificent.  The only way to beat this would have been to have breakfast in the Ateljee Bar in the Torni hotel, but they only serve breakfast on the ground floor.

The next two hotels share an equal second place, as they lack the amazing height of the Vaakuna, but each have their own charm.

Side of building over dark water, light blue railings and red tile terrace in front of red and cream brick building with blue doors.
Moulin de Connelles, note the tiny balcony upper left.

Moulin de Connelles in Normandy is a former mill and the actual building sits over the river Seine, deep in the countryside.  For one holiday we splashed out on a junior suite and as part of this we received breakfast on the balcony of our room.  It was a cool morning but hot coffee, fresh viennoserie and delicious jams made us forget any chill in the air. 

window with cream curtains, white railing and a view of sky and sea
Straight out to sea, view from Zanzibar hotel

Hotel Zanzibar is on Hasting’s seafront, the road is the only thing separating you from the beach and above the first floor, the sea view rooms look straight out to sea.  When we visited the hotel didn’t have a restaurant so all breakfasts where served directly in the rooms, but this didn’t lead to a basic or restrictive menu.   The discrete knock on the door in the morning brought a huge array of breakfast dishes spread out on the table in our room.  We sat on our sofa, looking out at the sea enjoying one of the best breakfasts I have had on holiday.

City, countryside and coast, three wonderful locations. My top three places to stay for breakfast with a view.

Vaakuna Hotel, Helsinki

Torni Hotel, Helsinki

Moulin de Connelles, Normandy

Hotel Zanzibar, Hasting

Slowing down time

I read an article in lifehacker about how time seems to pass faster as we get older.  When we are young everything is new so every experience is vivid and separate, as we get older we repeat the same experiences and over the last year this has been the same for us all.  Time speeds up as there is no differentiation between one day and the next.

Last year, I explored my local area venturing down every little side street, footpath, dead-ends and cul-de-sacs where I circled round and back to the same path.  I watched the seasons change and celebrated the differences in the gardens and the countryside.  Everything seemed new but this summer is a repeat, I have covered the same steps again and again, searching for the new has become a challenge rather than an expected part of my walks.

wide footpath between high banks and hedges.  Leafless trees with a hint of spring green.  Stone buildings hidden behind trees at end of path
Footpath leading to St Vincent Rive D’Olt

Browsing through my photos, I found this view of a walk on my last holiday in France.  We had stopped in a local village where we often stopped to look at the river, a central spot where everyone, whether  tourist or  local seemed to congregate.  We had never explored further but on that day we decided to follow the river and a few steps later we were in the countryside, woods clustering around us.

The photo looks back at the village, most trees are still bare but one has a flush of green, so I know this is spring.  We walked a distance along the path, through the trees with the river rushing along at the bottom of the bank, travelling beside us.  Eventually we turned back before we reached the next village, but we agreed we would come back in the summer to walk the whole route.

moss covered tree trunks and ground covered in brown dead leaves.  stream runs from left to right across middle of picture
The river rushes along below the path

In my mind, the river and the woodland path are still waiting for us to return, some trees may have fallen, new ones are growing up, but the same shady route and rushing water remain.  Another little adventure waiting for the future when we can start making new experiences and slowing down time.

Lifehacker – how to make time slow down

The Tour de France

For the next couple of weeks I am happy to be at home, not on holiday, not travelling anywhere apart from an early morning trip out for breakfast at the weekend.   The weather is nice, lockdown restrictions are easing, but when I’m not when I’m not working, I’m watching the television.  The Tour de France is on.  I’m not a great sports fan, but I do enjoy the cycling road races and the Tour de France has a special place for me and my husband, as we watch eagerly to spot places that we know or have visited.

high concrete terrace with metal barrier looking over rooftops, trees and in the distance a blue mountain and clouds on the mountain top
A view to the distant Mont Ventoux which the cylists will tackle in the tour this year.

The power, endurance, the sheer indefatigability  of the cyclists astounds me as they climb another a mountain, get back on the bike after a crash, or find a superhuman burst of energy for a final sprint at the end of a stage.  But this is also true of the Giro D’Italia and La Vuelta, and these I watch each year but without the same unwavering attention.

french high street, with plane trees along side of the road, white buildings, and cars parked down both sides of the road.
Main high street of Cahors where the tour visited in 2007

When they travel through France, they are visiting my second home and each year we peruse the route long in advance to see which places we recognise.  We missed their trip through our local town Cahors, and at that time television coverage was only for the later part of each race.

Every day as the helicopter flies over the race, picking out chateaux and beautiful countryside, I am busy making notes in my travel notebook.  These are our future visits, travelling by car not bike but we will have time to explore rather than rushing through in a blaze of colour and speed.  Perhaps next year we will be in some of these new places.

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