On Margate Sands. 

Today I am off to Margate to meet my Nan who is visiting there on a coach trip with her social club. Whilst she is travelling several hours to get here, I’m just popping a little along the coast on the train for a few quid return. So. My question here is: Is Margate worth a visit? Either for £3.80 return, or a few hours stuck in a coach enduring (though she seems to enjoy it) bingo. 

The title comes from T. S. Eliot’s poem ‘the wasteland’ where:

“On Margate Sands.

I can connect

Nothing with nothing.

The broken finger-nails of dirty hands.

My people humble people who expect

Nothing.”

 

I’m not going to go into an analysis of this here, but even for someone who hasn’t taught lectures on it and seminars and spoken to reading groups (yes. I know. I’m very cool) it’s probably clear that this isn’t an overly positive happy reference. ‘Nothing with nothing. ‘Dirty hands’ etc. 
Well, does this have a resonance with Margate today? Others seem to think so. Or, at least, did think so.

Take this article for example: 

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/books/2009/nov/09/ts-eliot-waste-land-margate

Boarded up windows and a complete lack of inspiration. Since then, however, the town has seen lots of money pumped into it and a regeneration. The (new) old town is quaint with (new) old English pubs where sawdust strategically adorns the stools and floor and the local guest ales scream tradition and greatness. However; this alone is enough to scare me off entering today as well as the fact that antique shops in this area are selling simple old deck chairs for 45 pounds(!!!!) making me question the cost of lunch… and lunch is on me. So. Onwards we go… 

… To the pier! The pier is full of eateries and bars with the great added bonus of having communal seating – meaning one of the group can get a salad from one end, another can get cheese smothered fries from a different shop and the third person can get a local ale (or two) from the pub and skip the wasted carbs of solids. Then of course there’s the view out from this seating. It’s lovely. It’s sand, it’s sea, it’s little boats, its sunsets, its birds soaring. It’s the coast. You can sit here for hours of relaxation with a pint connecting nothing with nothing as you simply enjoy your surroundings and detach yourself from the world’s stresses. See what I did there? I twisted the words and made them positive. Isn’t English literature fun? 

If you want to laze on golden sand and enjoy the sun and go for a refreshing, invigorating, English swim and have ice cream or fish and chips whilst stared at intimidatingly by seagulls then be my guest. Margate appears the perfect destination for this and there hundreds doing just this today. 

This isn’t for me though. I’m more likely to be up on the pier with the raised up view and the pint wondering after a while if there is anything more to see as I get a little bored. And now that I’ve had lunch up here with my Nan I am wondering just this. Should I just go home now? Or is there other stuff to see whilst I’m here? 

Well, there is other stuff! Of a sort. There are footpaths that seem to stretch all along the Kent coast meaning I could get from here along to other haunts like Ramsgate or Whitstable. But it’s half 4 and I only have 12% battery. So not today. There’s also the Turner Contemporary gallery which has a fabulous view out to sea from the safety of its inside cafe. Fully recommended for a winter’s day. All the food is local. And the delightfully camp chap behind the counter is always a charmer. The gallery itself can also be wandered around for free with rotating exhibitions occasionally worth looking at. Sadly, today they are not worth looking at. And I’m out of here by 4:36 – Which included a stop at the toilets and a perusal of the gift shop. 

There are also a few quaint streets around the old town worth a stroll with nice old buildings and the like and coffee shops etc away from the coast. 

So maybe this is indeed a destination centred on the beach and its views. But then, it’s the seaside… so I guess this is in fact ok! The beach is clean, the water is the colour English coastal water should be – greeny bluey brown, and there are plenty of places to eat and drink with coastal views. For my £3.80 I am more than pleased! 👍🏻. For the price and access from Canterbury I’d give it a 4/5. Travelling from further afield for a day trip then I’d say there are better places. But if you’re already holidaying nearby or if you’re in London and want a day at the coast then here is perfectly good. 3.5/5. 

HOWEVER if you are fortunate enough to come on a day with a gorgeous sunset then this is a 5/5 star destination! Check this out! 

So there we have it :). Next month I’ll be having a similar day meeting Nan for her coach trip to Ramsgate. So keep your eyes peeled for a similar post of there. 

Peace out, 

Matt. 

My Heart is in London. 

I have lived many places during my 25 years and been lucky enough to travel extensively, yet there is one place I have spent as a tourist more than any other and that is London. 

Even when I lived there as a youngster I was seemingly a joyful tourist with photos of me in the family albums sat in my push chair at the front of the DLR train with glee on my face as London dashed past through the window pressed against my face. Something incidentally I did every day years later when I was a student in the city and got to use the DLR as part of my journey to uni. 

This is not a response piece to the horrific attacks the city has seen this year and indeed this weekend, this is a piece admitting my love affair with the place and sharing with you what makes the city so important and so great. So why is that? What makes it so special and so good in comparison to everywhere I’ve been? 

Firstly there’s simply the incredible breadth of places to visit. Not just places that are lovely once you’re there and places which you’re pleased to have seen like in many tourist cities, but places that are truly iconic. Places which everyone who has ever watched television would recognise. The streets of London are perhaps even the definition of iconic. Who hasn’t heard of Buckingham Palace? Westminster? Big Ben? The Tower of London? Oxford Street? St. Paul’s Cathedral? Trafalgar Square? The Royal Albert Hall? The list goes on. 

And it’s not just a city standing still and relying on its iconic history but a city whose landscape is ever evolving and hitting home runs with new places becoming just as visually recognisable and world renowned like the o2 and the shard and London Eye. London isn’t a city that gets complacent, it’s a city that is forever striving to please its visitors and get new ones. We saw this with London 2012. The Olympics were simply incredible. And the games weren’t predominantly held with the classic London sights as a backdrop but in a new area of the city out East in Stratford with a new Olympic park and the ultra modern Canary Wharf as its skyline. The city was given a new lease of life and welcomed visitors from across the globe to share in its summer of harmony and thanks to the city the 2012 games went down in history as one of the best. 


But it’s not all hectic tourist locations where you can’t move an inch without risking being in a dozen people’s selfies. There are areas to stroll along and escape the throng. This is something Al and I did recently on the bank holiday, taking a stroll along the canals of little Venice which are lined with greenery and waterside cafes and we saw more dogs and cats than tourists. 


There are also the parks across the full breadth of the city from out east now around the Olympic park in Stratford to Hampstead Heath in the west giving you stunning landscape views of the city from its high grassy slopes. There is also of course the Thames and its numerous riverside walks which give you not just views all along of the main landmarks but also great diversity from small beaches to historic ships like HMS Belfast and Cutty Sark. Also there are some lovely river side pubs for when you need a break which aren’t that well known but offer great views and great drink. 


And what’s so great about the city is that I haven’t in fact yet said anything that would necessarily cost you any money. All of those iconic landmarks are free to see, even if they’re not all free to go around. Yet many of them are. London houses some of the best museums in the world and they’re free! Al and I each booked a day off work last year and met in London and went to several museums and had a lovely day out thanks to this. We went to the imperial war museum, the natural history museum and the science museum. All thoroughly enjoyable, all thoroughly informative, all thoroughly free. 


You can walk the city… but to do all i’ve mentioned you would indeed need to get on the tube. And whilst I did this for free at times whilst I lived there and the DLR can potentially be ridden for free if you’re willing to jump ship at a moment’s notice as the ticket man snakes their way towards you you’re best off getting a ticket. But then, who hasn’t heard of the London Underground or seen the iconic map? The tube is part of being a tourist and is as famous as public transport gets. I’m willing to bet everyone reading this, hopefully hundreds and thousands, can name at least one station on the London Underground. How many other cities can you say that for? Kings Cross. Oxford Circus. Camden Town. Plaistow. (Ok so maybe not that last one, but I lived there so it’s now very famous and important). Not to mention also the fact that a station in London is the gateway to the magical world of Hogwarts. What more need be said? 

And then for those who are willing to spend more than the price of a ticket to see the city then the world is truly your oyster. After all as that famous guy famously said – When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. You can catch a world class show at the West End, eat at a world class restaurant, go watch the world’s best club (Arsenal), basically do anything you can imagine and do it at a world class level. And if you’re willing to spend the money you can also have a world class night out and experience the right of passage for the city which is getting the night bus back again at the end of your drunken night. Not that Al and J thank me for that particular experience of theirs when they were knackered, covered in foam and groggy from drink at 4am and then had to travel on a couple and several more busses back out East to my humble (barely affordable yet cheap for London) student home. Oh, and; by the way, we were also dressed as a parrot, Spider-Man and the devil with our onesies drenched to the skin from the now toxic smelling foam. 


I could carry on, but this is already a longer piece than I usually write and I’m weary of taking up too much of your time and am thankful for you reading this. So I will end by just saying this: London can simply never be broken and no attack will stop me going there for yet another day of joyful tourism. Thank you. 
Matt. 

Spontaneous Travel 

The importance of local escapes. 
You don’t have to go far to travel and explore, and you certainly don’t need to plan. I started today as any other with a cup of coffee and a computer screen with me typing away with my usual passion and vigour. However, it soon became clear that I was simply wasting my time and making no hedge-way. So. I set my phone to charge (it’s an iPhone…. Need I say more?) and twenty minutes later headed for the train station. 
That was half an hour ago. Now I’m on a train zooming away from my desk into the Kent countryside heading to the coast to walk the white cliffs of Dover. You’ve gotta love a travel escape. True, I’m fortunate I have the sort of work that enables me to catch up over the weekend and take the afternoon off. But even if you don’t, you can do this at the weekend instead with no fuss. Perfect! 
£5.60 later and I’m in Dover centre (return ticket) and have chosen the cliffs as opposed to the castle as they are free whilst the castle is extortionate. Admittedly the view to the cliffs is obscured by the ferry port which is a complete eye sore bad enough to make me miss my desk. (Almost). But then once you climb the steep steps up the cliff here is the reward… 


That was my view for lunch, and then after I polished off my sandwiches (fighting off three crows, a magpie and a seagull) I headed further along the cliffs to where I now sit doing the same work I would have been at home! (Reviewing my previously made notes on Rebecca West to find something useful. As of yet… nothing… but we live in hope). 

Hmm. I have just been loudly accused by a random family passing by of being a spy… can a guy no longer sit on a cliff half hidden in the flowers watching the world go by through a large camera lens whilst making notes in a pad without being bothered?? My god. 


Anyways yeh, escape your house and go somewhere! 

Kent is a fabulous place which has a lot on its doorstep so I’m lucky, but then I have always managed to find little excursions everywhere I’ve lived. The internet is a wonderful thing so make the most of it and find somewhere new to go too! (Admitedly the internet is better when your phone doesn’t annoyingly decide you’re in france and bombard you with rate advice texts and proceed to give you awfully slow web 😾). 

Thanks for reading, 

Matt. 

p.s keep checking the blog as in addition to our usual more in depth weekly reviews and these more spontaneous posts we will soon be adding photo stories grouping pics of locations with a few captions! There will be one of the Dover white cliffs shortly. Enjoy! 

A Budget Budgie Walking Tour of Canterbury.

For the last year or so I have lived in Canterbury having never visited the place before, so I have been an extended and happy tourist exploring its crevices and discovering its secrets. The place is simply steeped in history with it a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to its stunning and significant buildings including the Cathedral, where Archbishop Becket was murdered, the ruins of St Augustine Abbey and the oldest church in the English speaking world! (St Martins) Only the church of these is free to visit however, with the Cathedral a costly visit (though not for me as a local student) and the Abbey setting you back a few quid also. There are other ways to spend your money in the city too with punting trips along the Stour and a number of fascinating museums exploring the history of the place including the Heritage museum and the Roman museum. However, here I am going to give you a cheap walking guide for the place on a sunny day starting from the main station where you can get a javelin to London in under an hour.

Stepping out of the station stretch out in the glorious Kent sun (which we always have) and then take a right along the road towards the town. At the end of the short road turn to your left and you are instantly facing the city centre. Right before you is the imposing Westgate that grants access into the city through its thick walls. Opened in 1380 it still grants access to the city with cars driving through its 18m arch and pedestrians walking through it on the left hand side. Once you’re through the arch you are in the city walls and its pedestrianised high-street. This is a narrow street of modern shops and cafes, some of which are fantastic and good value, but if you look up you will see the old buildings that remain – some hanging over the street, others set back in their splendour. There a couple worthy of special note. The first is tucked low on your right and is Eastbridge hospital. Founded in 1190 it was a hospital for pilgrims and then a school and church. Today its almhouses remain and you can have a look round this small piece of history for just a couple of quid. Soon after this on your left you cross the river and have gorgeous views of one of its little inlets over the railings on your left. Certainly a key photo opportunity. Further along on the left is The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. This is a very impressive building from 1899 and was designed in the Tudor Revival style as a gift to the city in the form of a venue for knowledge. It still holds this role today with free galleries, a free museum and exhibition space upstairs and the public library at the back.

Keep going up the high-street enjoying the views and stop off at any of the cafes or pubs that grab your fancy now for your drink if you fancy – but no need to get anything to eat!

This is because we are going to get a packed lunch from one of the conveniently located supermarkets in town in the modern shopping section which is clearly signposted – Whitefriars. Options include Tesco and Marks and Sparks. Once you’ve got your food, and of course at least a bottle of water each as we are about to go for a country walk, take the road to the side of Tesco out of the centre. Go left at the end and then look to cross the road and enter Dane John Gardens. These free gardens date back to 1551 and are always expensively and exquisitely maintained. Walk along its central path enjoying the landscaping and look to your left and you will see the high city walls which run the length of the park and help the feel of safe cosy seclusion. These walls have surrounded the city since the Romans first built them in around 270 AD. They have since been built up and restored by various people including the Normans who built the Castle. When the children’s play park is on your left, look for one of the sloping paths up onto the wall and take it. Follow this path all the way up and you will find yourself upon the Dane John Mound. This is an old Roman Burial mound believed to be from the first century. On a clear day the view from the top lets you see 360 the entire city and its surrounding villages and countryside. Just lovely.

Once you’ve had your fill of the view and taken your snaps, head back down and walk right along the top of the old city wall stepping down off it at the end. Cross this road and take the alleyway, cross the road at the end and you are at Gas Street. Walk down this road and you will be at the Norman Castle! Begun by William the Conqueror in around 1070 it is now a ruin, but it is free to walk around with lots of information boards. You can also head inside it and go up a little way into one of the old turrets. Once done, head out and further down Gas Street. There is an old church at the end, go left at this and then right. You are now by a busy main road but don’t worry, this is for just a very short amount of time. Walk along the path and you will hit the river, go over the bridge and under the underpass into the park. Follow the path, cross the river and then go left at Toddler Cove Playground. You are now entering The Great Stour Way which is a stunning country walk of three miles between Canterbury and Chartham. River, Fields, Sheep, Wildlife, Horses, Stunning old Kent thatched houses backing onto the river and punters along the water. Its just lovely. Walk along here as long as you fancy until you find a spot for your lunch and set up shop with the sun on your faces and the birds singing around you.

Head back the way you came when you’re done but this time go straight past the Toddler Cove and follow the river into Westgate Gardens. These garden spaces can be traced back to the Roman time and have in them a plane tree over 200 years old and a Victorian Tower House. Punters continually go along the river here and have to duck very low to get under the small bridges. By now you are entering the evening probably, so go back right into the high street and this time take a left off of it and head towards the signposted Cathedral. Whilst it costs during the day, once the clock has struck 5:30 however it is free to enter the grounds and get up close and personal to the building. Head on in and get your snaps here – it can look gorgeous especially with the sun setting behind.

Now it depends on which train you wish to get back and what your plans are. Either head back to the station the reverse of where we began, or head to one of the pubs or restaurants for your dinner!

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual walking tour of Canterbury. Keep checking the blog for future posts as I will no doubt share more of Kent’s wonders.

Matt.