First few days of our Europe trip in the spring of 2011
by MagdaDH_AlexH on May 2, 2011
Dover White Cliffs stretch for several miles on both sides of the town, and the most famous stretches are the east (Landgdon) cliffs east of Dover, above the ferry port and the precipitous Shakespeare Cliff to the west, above the Samphire Hoe. But one of the most attractive spots in this stretch of England's chalky south-eastern coast is St Margaret's Bay. The Bay is actually the closest point to the French coast and the location of the telephone cable as well as a starting point for many a Channel swimmer; a charming and wild, despite all the human activity, cove surrounded by somewhat lower but picturesquely rugged cliffs. The Bay can be reached by a narrow, steeply winding road from the cliff top village of St-Margaret-at-Cliffe. Down below is a pub, a car park facing the tumbling sea, a shingle beach, a boat slip and an attractive boat shed looking like an upturned Viking longship, and several white, modernist houses built so close to the surf that at high tide on stormy days the waves must be surely breaking on the living room windows. I would love to live in one of these houses, though the realities of that during winter storms might not be as rosy at it looks from an occasional visitor's perspective: and the houses don't look like permanently inhabited dwellings but rather summer cottages. What can you do at St Margaret's Bay if you don't own one of the cottages or have a boat to launch from the slip? Apart from having a drink or a lunch in the pub, you can, in the grand British tradition, park the car facing the sea and eat your sandwich (pie, fish and chips, or even just a packet of crisps) sitting in the car, looking at the sea. All around the coast of this Kingdom by the Sea, people sit in cars parked in sea-facing car-parks, comfortably separated by their windscreen (and the roof, usually) from the elements, eating sandwiches (or pies, of fish and chips) and drinking coffee or tea from the flask (or those Styrofoam cups). I used to find this habit utterly flabbergasting and infuriating, and the rows of cars defacing most road-accessible sea-front stretches a real, eyesore of epic proportions. And yet now, twelve years on, I find myself sitting in a car, eating my fish and chips, in one of my most favourite seafront spots in Britain. Bliss. I suspect sitting in the car gives one an illusion of ownership of a type different than walking, running or swimming the coast does: we can't all have a sea-view from a living room window (and let's face it, considering the weather dominant along most of the coast, we wouldn't necessarily want to), even less own a cottage under a cliff; but we can all park – possibly even at the same time, considering the length of the coast - with nothing but the windscreen between us and the sea view: an expression of egalitarian spirit, perhaps?After the sandwich (fish and chips, pie) is eaten, one can emerge from the car and walk along the promenade, or the beach. Some people surf at St Margaret's Bay, and in the summer they swim. You can walk pat the beach and the cottages, along the bottom of the cliff, looking for tide-pools, or you can climb a steep path up to the top, and walk on top to a Dover Patrol Memorial and back, on a windy headland with views stretching over the channel, with fat Shetland ponies grazing on the tussocky grass. It's a lovely place, St Margaret's Bay; go if you can (in fact, you can come here at the end of a clifftop walk from Dover's East Cliff, past South Foreland Lighthouse). The car park has a 60p/hour fee in the summer (May – September), there are public toilets and a refreshments' kiosk operating in season.
Dover's Folkestone Road is pretty much lined with B&Bs, invariably occupying tall, large Victorian terraces set off and up a steep bank from the road. Westbank is one of them, on a corner of Folkestone Road and with a lock-up car park in the back. We paid 85 GBP for a family room Bed & Breakfast on the first Saturday of the English spring holidays. For that, we had a large room on the first floor, equipped with a large and comfortable double bed, two singles and the usual paraphernalia of tea and coffee making facilities, chairs, bed side tables and the like. There was no traffic noise to speak of, as our room was to the back and the room was warm – in fact, almost too warm, with the heating and the amount of covers provided. The en-suite was very clean and decorated to a high standard (a notch more modern then the room), although the shower, as common in UK B&Bs, veered towards feeble (but was still perfectly usable). There was free wifi that worked fine in the room as well as downstairs and the breakfast, served in a large and bright room downstairs, was a standard English cooked, nothing outstanding but perfectly acceptable. The proprietors were a friendly, helpful London couple who were happy to chat – we used to live in Dover a few years ago.Altogether, a positive experience and a definite recommendation for anybody looking for a B&B in Dover; and – due to a lock-up car park – particularly owners particularly precious about their vehicles.
Beconscot Model Village in Beaconsfield is a miniature village – or rather a large swathe of countryside - that depicts buildings and scenes of daily life of somewhat idealised England of the 1920s and 1930s, commensurate with the date of the village's foundation in 1929. In addition to the model village itself, there is a playground, a mini train, a cafe and a small pond with remote-control boats. Quiz sheets are available for older and younger children. The village is open-air and thus best visited in nice weather. The entry costs 9 GBP per adult and 5.50 GBP per child over 2 years old (2011 prices), while the train ride (all 5 minutes of it) is 1 GBP extra. A quick browse through the village could be done in half an hour, while about 1.5 to 2 hours should allow for comfortable viewing, a play in the playground and some lingering on more interesting bits. In high season the village gets very crowded. I was very sceptical about the Model Village, signposted for miles from the M40 and all around Beaconsfield. It seemed to me that it couldn't be anything but a tourist trap, a manufactured "attraction" of the worst kind designed to part visitors with their money. We visited because we had a couple of hours to kill on the way from Oxford to South London and no specific plan: the signposting worked like a dream as far as luring these visitors. Perhaps because I had very low expectations, the result was rather positive. Despite the extortionate price and the fact that everything but the main model (including the quiz sheets!!!) was payable extra, Beconscot was a rather charming place on that hot, sunny, afternoon in April. It was reasonably busy but there wasn't as many people as the order-of-visit arrows, one-way paths and other crowd-control measures would imply visited in high season and we could easily roam the village, admiring the workmanship and magic-realism of its numerous buildings, paths and a working model railway. Both children loved the model, the Older One determined to fill all the many questions of the quiz and the Younger One just delighting in looking at the models. What definitely adds to the attraction is that there is many moving elements – including a house that periodically goes really on fire and functioning railway with several trains – as well as many buildings that were not fenced off and thus a small person could touch, lean on and even occasionally climb onto the buildings (although you are not supposed to). The whole place is pretty child friendly, and the play park provides some hands-on fun for the toddlers and pre-schoolers. Altogether a positive surprise and although not a must-see by any means, a pleasant diversion for a family if you are nearby with a couple of hours to kill and 30+ quid to spend.
We were somehow thrown in our plans (or rather, complete and utter lack of plans) by the first weekend of the spring holidays in England and ended up with no room at the inn so to speak – or rather, no room at a cheap motel of a Travelodge or Premier Inn type anywhere near Dover. As it was well past 9pm and we rather needed a place to stay, a quick and desperate Internet search courtesy of a Little Chef wifi yielded the Rose and Crown in the village of Elham, not 10 miles from Dover and although well above the Travelodge rates, with breakfast included. We were apprehensive at first – a country pub on a Saturday night might be anything from sedate and genteel to rowdy and drunk – but what we found definitely dispersed any fears and exceeded expectations – by far. Rose and Crown is a (sedate even on a Saturday night) country pub indeed, the accommodation, consisting of six rooms, is in a completely separate building, a refurbished stable block of what used to be, as many a pub in the area, a coaching inn. Our family room was huge, with a superbly comfortable, large double bed, two singles (large camp-bed style ones), several cupboards and enough floor space left for a few puzzles and a domino run (thoughtfully provided in a toy-box). The décor stuck to the rustic mood of the building, but there was no overload of pine (I don't mind pine, anyway) and the tones of the blankets, cushions and wall ornaments ranged from muted to lively green and contrasted pleasantly with a russet carpet. Outside in the courtyard there were picnic tables – separate from the pub's ones - and ashtrays for the smokers – while further out there was a grassy area with more tables, and a small playground. The en-suite was also spacious and comfortable, with a bath (and a over-bath shower) and a supply of decent shower-gel-cum-shampoo. In addition to customary in the UK coffee and tea, there was hot chocolate, biscuits and bottles of spring water.Plentiful and delicious Full English was served in the restaurant part of the pub, with superior local butcher's sausage and reasonable bacon. Add to all this a very reasonable midday check-out time and a price of 80 GBP per night for a family (quad) room including brunch-size and quality breakfast and you have an excellent B&B that comes highly recommended for anybody looking for a night or three in that corner of Kent. Closest to the Cheriton Chunnel terminal, Elham is also within half an hour's drive from Dover and its ferry port, White Cliffs, castle and associated attractions, while itself being a quite village sitting in a lush Kentish countryside (for those keen on such things).
Dover Painted presents, apparently, one of the best Roman building preserved in situ in Britain. Originally a hostelry for travellers crossing the Channel – the ferry port has clearly been there for quite a while – the house was constructed around 200AD, but was destroyed - in fact, incorporated in the construction – when an extended fort was built for the Dover hypocaust 270AD. Rooms filled with rubble and surrounded by the rougher wall, the painted chambers of the Dover house stayed hidden for 1,700 years until they were uncovered by the archaeologists in the 1970's. As other Dover attractions, the Painted House is not given quite the exposure it should have considering its importance among British Roman relics. But maybe that's not a bad thing: the volunteer-staffed, part-time opened site is a quaint and low tech but shows clearly that high-tech displays are neither necessary nor even particularly beneficial.The display consists of circular galleries on two levels and the remains of the building itself in the middle. The ground-level gallery is open, so you can see down towards the ruins, consisting of several rooms of what used to be much larger building, of which most still remains under modern Dover. The walls as well as remains of the underfloor central heating (hypocaust) are clearly visible and some of the original wall decoration is also discernible. The galleries present the history of the dig on the background of general – fascinating - information about Romans in Britain. There are also some intriguing displays including a facial reconstruction of a young Brito-Roman woman and a activity area in which children can dress up as Romans, make Roman style mosaics and play Roman board games. Tucked away behind the main drag and the Discovery Centre, the House, if open, is usually advertised by a board on the High Street in the vicinity of St Mary's church. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in the Painted House, at least half of it in the activity area, but as the entry fee is 3 GBP for adults and 2 GBP for concessions (2011), at this price the House is worth even a much quicker look.
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