A Month in Chatham

Idun sat happily in Chatham Marina in Kent where we very luckily could stay on the events pontoon for the duration of May.  We lived there half the time and went back and forth to our land home when needed either for work for Dominic or archaeology for Birgitta and of course our very important 2nd jabs! Dominic had driven the car from Burnham to Chatham the day before sailing there and returned by train. Emma lives and works nearby and being in Chatham gave us the opportunity to see so much more of her and James, and James’ family.

Chatham Marina is situated in the old docks, and the whole area has been re-developed in the last 10-15 years with a nice mix of housing and a primary school and health centre on St Mary’s Island. We walked around there quite a few times, as there is a really good paved walking path around the whole island. On the other side of the docks there are outlet shops, a cinema and a gin distillery housed in what was once Pump House no 5. This pump house was finished in 1873 and was one of several pump houses used to pump out the water from the four dry docks.

Tourists in Rochester

Our first outing together with Emma was to Rochester, starting with the castle grounds. The castle itself was closed, not only due to Covid but also ‘for essential maintenance’. The castle is very impressive on its prominent position by the Medway.

From English Heritage: ‘Built to command an important river crossing, the castle built in stone by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, in the 1080s was one of the earliest such buildings in England. In 1127 Henry I entrusted it to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who began to build the great keep – a masterpiece of medieval architecture, and the tallest such building to survive in Europe. The castle endured three sieges, including a famous assault by King John in 1215, when one corner of the keep was destroyed. Although it became redundant as a royal stronghold in the late Middle Ages and fell into ruin in the 17th century, it remains a potent symbol of medieval secular power.’

We had a lovely amble through the grounds of the Cathedral (only open for personal prayer) and The Vines park, which was used as a setting in several Charles Dickens novels. We perused the High Street and had lunch outside The Cheese Board deli. Lovely food but shame about the absolutely freezing wind which made us hurry our food to get going. This was our first meal out for the year!

Bluebell walk in Kent woodland

Emma took us on an absolutely wonderful walk through bluebell woods, up hills with amazing views and along winding country lanes.

Day trip to Herne Bay, Margate and Ramsgate

We had a whirlwind daytrip by car to the seaside towns of the north east corner of Kent. We’ve been to Whitstable before, so our first stop was Herne Bay with its shingle beach and colourful beach front houses. We walked along the seafront and stopped by the clock tower donated by a Mrs Ann Thwaytes. In 1837, this wealthy widow from London donated around £4,000 to build a 23m clock tower on the town’s seafront. It is believed to be the first freestanding, purpose-built clock tower in the world.

Our next stop was Margate, where we got a brilliant car parking space right next to the Harbour Arm in the Old Town. We had fantastic views over the town, Main Sands beach and I particularly liked the statue ‘Mrs Booth the Shell Lady’. Unveiled in 2008, this 9ft bronze sculpture was created by local sculptress Ann Carrington who took her inspiration from the popular ‘Shell Ladies’ souvenirs sold in Margate.

We drove the coast road around Margate on the north coast, past Kingsgate Castle and down along Broadstairs to Ramsgate, where we parked high up with a view over the rooftops, the port and Ramsgate East Cliff. We walked around the harbour and the marina for a bit. We should be here overnight in a few weeks’ time! On the harbourside we came across an imposing building with the inscription Home for Smack Boys. The smack boys were apprenticed to the fishing smack skippers of Ramsgate (often the other 4 members of the crew besides the skipper himself were all smack boys). There were 50 registered smacks in Ramsgate in 1863, 168 in 1906. The home was the result of pressure put on the Board of Trade by Canon Brenan, Vicar of Christ Church. No other British fishing port appears to have copied this unique facility.

Reculver to Herne Bay and back

Reculver once occupied a strategic location at the north-western end of the Wantsum Channel, a sea lane that separated the Isle of Thanet and the Kent mainland until the late Middle Ages. This important position led the Romans to build a small fort there at the time of their conquest of Britain in 43 AD, and, starting late in the 2nd century they built a larger fort called Regulbium. This in turn later became one of the chain of Saxon Shore forts.

The Reculver Towers as seen today are the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, which stood in the middle of what was once the Roman fort. Half of the fort area is now under the sea as the coastal erosion is harsh around here. The Abbey church was used as a parish church but was taken down, barring the towers which now function as a shipping navigation aid.

With all this history in mind, we walked around the ruins of the Abbey and tried to imagine what worshipping here might have been like, and where exactly the fort would have stood. We then walked towards Herne Bay and decided to take the below the cliffs route. We checked the tide, which was nearly at it’s highest as we didn’t yet know whether this route would take us all the way to Herne Bay.

This is a lovely shingle beach and you could hear a melodious tingly sound when the waves withdrew. The sandy cliffs are eroding fast as evidenced by numerous recent falls. We eventually got to the eastern end of Herne Bay, found a handy set of steps going up to the car park, and a lovely top of the cliffs walk, arriving back just in time for the car park fee running out. A lovely 2 hour walk! Then back to Idun for coffee, supper and chat into the evening.

Chatham Dockyard

Once museums had opened up we could finally go to where Dominic had longed for, the Historic Dockyard in Chatham! Chatham Dockyard covered 400 acres and for over 400 years supported the Royal Navy by building, repairing and maintaining its warships.  It was one of the Royal Navy’s main facilities until it was closed in 1984.

We learnt how to choose your timber and build the mould for your First-rate ship of the line, such as The Victory. There was a very interesting exhibition on the archaeological work done on the timbers from the HMS Namur, which had been found beneath the floor of the Wheelwrights’ Shop. We boarded the HMS Gannet built in 1878, an iron and wood sloop-of-war carrying canon that could hit a target 5 miles away with a Master Gunner in charge. Cliff, the guide was very knowledgeable and could answer any question Dominic threw at him.

The Ocelot submarine was not open for visitors yet so we had to admire from afar. We did walk around The Cavalier, a WW2 Destroyer, which was a rather chilling experience. When we headed to the 1/4 mile long Ropery we got there only for the end of the demonstration, but instead got a most fantastic and detailed personal guided tour by Malcolm of the Ropery exhibitions. They still produce traditional rope here and sell all over the world. We only covered a part of all there is to see and learn here so we’ll have to come back – what at an amazing visit!

Sailing on the Medway

We had two very lovely sails with James’ family. The first trip took us down the Medway going through a medley of other yachts, dinghies and jet skies using the river on a surprisingly sunny afternoon. Everyone helped with the lines when leaving the berth and through the lock, and those who wanted to took a turn at helming under Dominic’s close supervision. We anchored in Half Acre creek for tea and kayaking before heading back up to Chatham. We ended a lovely day with wine and beer in the evening sunshine, then it started to rain and everyone rushed off before the deluge arrived!

Our second sail was a fast tack up river with Dennis at the helm through the sharp bends at a falling tide. We went right up to Rochester Bridge which is as far as sailing vessels can navigate, and where we also saw an old submarine that apparently someone has bought, hoping to do it up as living accommodation. James took the helm downriver and after picking Lucy up by the lock, we continued down to Hoo Island and back up again, through the lock and in good time for a welcome drink on deck.

Concentrating very hard tacking up river

Sailing off to adventures new

At the end of the month Emma collected us from our land home and we had a really nice morning and brunch together with Daniel. For the return to Idun we brought with us our freshly laundered towels and sheets and a few last minutes supplies. James had spent the day cooking (he cooks everything from scratch) and we had a fantastic meal of mushroom pie with potato rösti and plenty of veg at their house. The next day we sailed just the four of us, again we were very lucky with the sunshine and had a really lovely day with strong enough winds for James to do some exciting tacking. We had been too full the previous day for the lovingly prepared tarte tatin, so we had our pudding for tea on the boat!

After tearful goodbyes, we dropped Emma and James off at the pontoon outside the Chatham Marina lock. And Dominic and Birgitta wafted off down the river to Stanford Creek to anchor overnight, ready for their June adventures.

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