giovedì 28 agosto 2014

Re-Discovering Sandwich and Richborough Roman Fort

If I watch outside the window today and then I look back at that 29 July, it seems to be passed a whole season in the meantime: but it was less than one month ago! Having worked on sunday afternoon, I gained my tuesday afternoon free: so I pick up my bike, go fastly to Sandwich and have my lunch: not consisting in a sandwich, but in two insane Rumanian hamburgers!

To front the laborious digestion, I go walking through the curved streets of this lovely town, bordered by houses with geometric wodden rafters outside the walls. Expecially on Strand Street - the oldest in Sandwich, dating to Saxon Age and following the ancient course of River Stour - you can see a lot of this characteristic kentish buildings. Sometimes unexpected creatures sculpted in the wood keep the houses' weight on their shouders.

I've got plenty of time, so I decide to visit some churches: seen from outside, they look quite similar, with the walls full of little round rocks from the chalk cliffs; but when I enter, I find three totally different atmospheres. St Peter, in the very centre of the town, has got a nude, austere appearance: sturdy coloumns and ogive archs stand on the white plaster wall like veins. The layout is strange, with two naves of different lenght, and huge windows.

St Peter

The parish church of St Clement preserve one of the few survived norman towers in England: it's pleasant to walk through the graves around the church and see the light brown tower appearing behind the trees. Aniway, just over the door you find the inside almost completely restorated - a case typical of the parish churches I've visited here.

St Clement

The third church is St Mary, at the end of the Strand: quite modest outside, absolutely surprising inside. A single, enormous hall, with works in progress, deeply silent: you look at the roof and you fear that it could collapse on your head at any moment, but then your eyes lose theirselves in the labyrint of solid wooden rafters, and you feel safe.

St Mary

And last but not least, St Bartholomew, south of the town, after the railway crossing. Unfortunately, this church is closed, but It's worth just walking around the church, in a lovely little square surrounded by old coloured houses and trees.

St Bartholomew

Satisfied of my long town walk, I sit again on my bike, destination Richborough. I've already been here, riding through Canterbury along the National Cycle Network; but this time I want to reach the Roman Fort from the footpaths near River Stour. Several ships are "parked" in the calm Stour waters, reflecting hundreds shades of green.

River Stour

I cross the railway and I enter in a wood under a hill: I know the Fort is near. Just a short but funny climb - except for the nettles (but I'm getting used to!) - and on my left the brown roman stones appear. You have to pay to get in the middle of the citadel, so I decide to go all around... save some informations panels, I can see almost the same.

Richborough Roman Fort

From some isolated houses north of the Fort, I find a straight path with some stones regularly placed on the floor: it's obviously the ancient Roman road leading to the fort! This building was close to the sea 17 centuries ago, and is thought to be the first Roman outpost in Britain. Now you can only see glorious walls on the top of a hill: the sea has retired quite far away, giving space to the new people and armies come one after the other to leave their mark on this land.

Ancient Roman Road

venerdì 22 agosto 2014

Back to the White Cliffs of Dover! Afternoon MBK Adventure

It's half of July, the days are still long: I leave the school at about 16.30 for an ambitious afternoon ride. Always the same road until Sandwich, then I begin to discover new areas: low hills, vast pastures, yellow wheat fields characterize the landscape around the little villages of Nothbourne, East Studdal, Sutton.

Is here that after several KM of asphalt road, I find a nice surprise, the South Downs Way: a 100 miles trial from Winchester to Canterbury, wich follow the chalk cliff and ridges of Sussex and Kent from West to East. All the SDW can be completed walking, in almost 9 days; some sections are usable by mountain bikers and horse riders as well. More info here.

As soon as I enter the way in Dover direction, off road climbs and downhills starts to satisfy me and my MBK. I beg your pardon, Elizabeth, if I often put my wheels on footpaths... but I've met two jeeps along a bridleway: so there are some english people more uncivilized than the italian DIY tourist.

But this is just the beginning. I don't want to get down to the busy Dover, so I leave the South Downs Way near Langdon, probably a village of Da Vinci Code's fans. Now only intuition can direct me, 'cause my map is almost useless when you have to search for footpaths. I know that the sea is south and Dover west, but I have to be careful not to finish on the highway for the Harbour just like the last time.

Finally, after a very uncomfortable step near the hearth of a colture, I arrive just besides the dangerous highway: but luckily my footpath stands on the left, boarding a new enormous field, sometimes covered with vegetation. But a new problem rises: there's another busy road, coming from Deal, that meets the Harbour Highway exactly where I am. It's a trap: all the "direction miracles" to arrive here risk to have been useless.

But looking around I find a last chance: a virtually closed military area, with high antennas in the middle. A corean jogger comes out from a corner, another fluke! Now I know where to trespass the barbed wire to get into the military zone, and try to go through it in order to reach the seaside from above the White Cliffs. A silent, suspicious atmosphere sorrounds me, and I admit to have been scared of beigh shooted by some ultra-loyal english guardian.

But the only person I met was a men trying his model airplan whit remote control. The sea is now on sight, Dover Castle, on the top of the hill, is watching me trespassing a pair of gates: I am out! It's quite easy now to reach the beginning of the White Cliffs. I already know this place, the problem is that there are a lot of wooden gates, and I don't want to pick up my heavy MBK every time!

The late afternoon light shines on the grass and the mature wheat, the South Foreland Lighthouse grows out of the land with its white shape, getting closer and closer. Almost no one is around in this magic hour when in England people use to eat. It's a shame, but not for me!

After the Lighthouse, I know the way very well. Enjoy all the downhill on St Margaret, and again from the Obelisk to Deal, with its long Pier disapperaring into the sea, lighted by the last sun's ray. When I come back to Ramsgate it's deep night - no train, train's for loser!

giovedì 21 agosto 2014

Moving NE: Canterbury and Reculver. MBK summary

For four weekends consecutively, three times by bike and once by train, I've been to Canterbury or close surroundings. Cant, one of the oldest cities in Britain, is beautiful; and despite the big deal of turistic shops and restaurants, in some streets - long, straight, bordered by brown and low houses - you can breath the atmosphere of ancient years, similarly to Sandwich. And after the walk you can relax on the grass of its lovely gardens. (Relax after walk... how do I speak... I must come back in Italy soon to punish myself on some mountains NDA).

Westgate Gardens, Canterbury

The main facade of the Cathedral
Right secondary facade
The cathedral - we could say a little town into the city - is full of surprises, especially in the cloisters all around and in St Augustine Abbey. It is a sourt of mixture of northern gothic cathedrals' austerity and the classic, mediterranean proportions. Coloumns, vaults, archs with sculpted images, inlaid doors and gates have edured the centuries until today, to show us the prestige of this catholic island in England, where the arcibishop Thomas Beckett was murdered.

The main cloister

Canterbury Roman Museum

I've always reached Canterbury along the National Cycle Network, passing through ancient villages such as Minster - with its Augustiner Abbey - Monkton, St Nicolas at Wade. After the bridge on the rivier Stour, the geographical Isle of Thanet ends, and the hearth of Kentish countryside starts: huge farms of apples, pears, mangos... and a little further, raspberries, strawberries and cherries as well.

Monkton's church

Inner Thanet Panoramic

All around Canterbury, there are lovely forests like Blean and Thornden Wood, where I found really enjoying rides for my MBK: and some little hills as well, really appreciated in this flat land!

Grove Ferry
Exciting downhills made me reach the nice sea towns north of Canterbury: Herne Bay, with its Victorian promenade and its beach full of coloured huts; and Whitstable, where I ate the typical oysters on the busy Harbour.

Herne Bay (you can recognize Reculver on the horizon)

Withstable: the harbour

Getting back in Thanet from Whitstable and Herne Bay, means to follow a long way all along the sea. The first section is known as Oyster Cycle Trail, and its main landmark is Reculver Norman Abbey, whose twin towers characterize the seaside view from Herne Bay to Margate. This place was a Roman Fort, such as Richborough, built on the top of a hill to control the traffic from the sea to the center of the country. 

Reculver, from west
Reculver, from east

Now we can only see the walls of the ancient fort, and just a half of its area: the other one has been eroded by the sea. After the end of Roman Empire, Ango-Saxons occupied the site, but the rests of the church we can see today date back to the Norman Age. Reculver Abbey, opulent during Middle Age, fell in ruin when the sea started to eat the terrain under its feet: therefore, it was deserted and converted in as a lighthouse in the recent centuries.

Today it appears as a surreal place, with vast views all around, the light brown stones on the green grass contrasting with the blue of the sea. The best way to get here is from Herne Bay, along a footpath - or something similar - that follows the seashore.

While you're walking (or trying to cycle, that's my case, sorry Queen) you can see the glaring signs of the erosion on the sand cliffs on your left, very likely to slide down - and that's why this footpath is dangerous with bad weather or high tide.

The best is to be here with the low tide, to see the desolation of the no-one's land before the sea; and then, suddenly, behind the corner of the cliff, the two towers of Reculver, hidden before, appear. That's ok, we're not on the mountains, but I think that theese emotions are not common for a simple walk or ride along the beach!

martedì 19 agosto 2014

My first english MBK ride, to St Margaret in Cliffe

More than two weeks of extreme walking have passed, and my legs start to require something to go faster from a place to another. Searching for the better offers on the web, I find a second hand MBK, sold by a man from Birchington on Sea. Bought it on Thursday, on Saturday afternoon I'm already testing it, riding along the roads and the paths I've walked along the previous days.

First of all I reach Sandwich, and from here Sandwich bay: an endless gravel beach, almost empty. On the other side of Pegwell Bay I can clearly see Ramsgate, with its cliffs, the Harbour and its modest skyline. I eat on a wharf: some people are tanning on the beach, but the weather is quite cold - at least for my italian standards!

I keep cycling on a long embankment, with a gravel terrain. On the right large golf fields cover the distance to Deal: the last time I reach this pretty town from above the cliffs, today I'm coming from the plain. A long and perfectly straight street takes me in the very centre of the town: then I move to the promenade getting closer and closer to the hill.

The MBK is quite heavy, but helping myself with the gears, I can pedal more confortably. After a while, I leave the asphalt of the National Cycle Network to reach the footpath along the cliffs. I need to go through a golf field and a not-golf field to satisfy my desire, but in the end I find myself into the beautiful scenery of one week ago, with the sea on my left and St Margaret's Obelisk in front of me, at the end of a long hill.

In St Margaret I go through the village and its lovely woods to reach the South Foreland Lighthouse, and see the white cliffs of Dover again.

It's time to come back: an exciting (but short) downhill is waiting for me, followed by a less exiting climb to St Margaret. Cycling now on asphalt and now off road, I explore a little of the inner Kent's countryside, away from the sea, with lots of farm animals. Then I'm again at Deal, Sandwich and Sandwich Bay - with a failed attempt to overpass Pegwell Bay and the Great Stour Rivier - and finally in Ramsgate.

giovedì 14 agosto 2014

From Dover to Deal walking along the White Cliffs

It may seems strange, but if you want to find something similar to a mountain near Ramsgate, you have to go to the sea. The White Cliffs of Dover are maybe the most famous and high chalk cliffs in all the Kent, and I couldn't resist their call; so on a little cloudly saturday I take the train from Ramsgate station, and in around 30 minutes I'm in Dover.

The town itself is not so attractive: very busy with some big grey buildings, sovietic style: Dovergrad? I walk along till the seaside, where several people are swimming. This has been for a long time one of the main gates between England and the rest of Europe: the long wharfs and the enormous castle on the hill, watching over the whole area, prove the strategic importance of this town.

Walk in some way through a very busy road along the sea, I start to ascend the east-cliff: my intent is to turn around the castle and reaching the White Cliffs from behind. It is not a big idea, because on the first part I'm always besides roads; the castle is really big, and only when I reach its east walls I finally find a footpath. I reach the Louis Breliot Memorial, whit a large thomb shaped airplane.

Louis Breliot Memorial

I hear noise of cars very close, so I decide to keep following the footpaths in the wood; my problem is that the road close to me is the one which connect Dover to its harbour: something similar to an highway; and it causes the interruption of the path I'm following! If I doesn't want to come back until the castle, I had to pass through the 4 lanes of this road. I wait for the opportune moment, then I run; stop for a while on the traffic island, then run again: I'm on the other side of the path, still alive, let's go on!

The new path is quite clean, but I soon leave him to take the cliff's direction: and after a few minutes into the wood I finally find the country road I was searching for. Honestly speaking, it is more dangerous to move here than to pass through the Dover's harbour road, because the road is very narrow and the cars go fast; but after 5 or 10 minutes I see the cartel of the White Cliffs.

Dover's Harbour from above

On my left there is a wodden gate, with the dual function of limiting the access to pedestrian only and not to make get off grazing animals. Theese are four or five donkeys, such dignified beasts, that seem not to care the subdued noises coming up from the busy Dover's Harbour, with great boats arriving and leaving with hundreds of people cars maybe other animals!

The trekking's most interesting section starts now: wide footpaths follow the ledges of the cliffs, where many years ago there were railways for the harbour.

Keeping on, the cliffs become higher and uniform, with no more interruption between the hill and the sea: only a white vertical fall. The contrast between the frightening cliff and the sweet fields followed by the footpaths become deeper and deeper, until a white light-house compares on the horizons.

The White Cliffs of Dover

This is the South Foreland Light-house, visible from a large part of the countryside all around, destination of classic walks on the cliffs from Dover. But I intend to go on, entering in the hearth of the National Trust: there's a sourt of valley between the light-house and the village of St Margaret at Cliffe, full of woods and paths less busy than the ones I did before, close to Dover. It is not a wild area, this is obvious, but sometimes you can feel only the music of the nature all around you.

I go through St Margaret village, alternating roads and new footpath hidden in the little shady woods, until I reach a high obelisk on the top of the hill, visible from Ramsgate in clean days. In front of me the promenade goes on, with lovely  fields and hedges interrupted by the cliff before the sea. The area is less crowded, an ideal place for slow walks.

One last steep down, and the cliffs end. I'm in Kingsdown, and a long level walk along the beach - a gravel beach, with the typical (and hyper-expensive) coloured huts - leads me to Deal.

Beach Huts in Kingsdown

 Lots of people are now having their afternoon walk: the space is well oranized, with the footpath besides the cycle path: I'm surprised by the endless series of park benches with dedications and sometimes flowers to dead people who loved this place. A nice way to keep their memory alive.

Once in Deal, with its Liberty hotels looking at the sea and the Pier, I take the train again to be back in time for the 18,00 dinner (or something similar)!

Deal's Castle