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SpaCeMonKeY UK

Saturday, September 7

I spent the last week on holiday in Kent. I took my laptop, because I took my digital camera. It was either that or buy a ton of memory cards! (I'm aware that taking my computer on holiday probably adds a few more geek points to my geek quotient. I also took my Minidisc player, just in case you were wondering!) Anyway, I figured that since I had the computer, I could write my blog entries and publish them when I got back. I really enjoyed James's holiday reports. :-p

I would have published them while I was there, but there was no phone. Hence the "million blogs at once" approach...

Oh, and I can't remember who I was talking to about Oast Houses, but I know all about them now. I must have seen several hundred of the things! They're for drying out hops, you see. The characteristic conical roofs with white tips are a sort of chimney. The hops are dried, cooled, pressed, and put into sacks. Then they're sent away to become beer, presumably.

So there you go.

I've added some pictures, but I squished them and made them very small and also terrible quality, so they don't look great. Maybe they give you an idea, though. I don't know...

Sunday 1st September

It's starting to get dark. I have the feeling it'll get really dark before long. You see, I'm no longer in the metropolis of Southend. I'm in the village of St Michaels, in Kent. There aren't lots of street lights, spoiling the view of the night sky. This is the countryside.

A lot of people seem to think that there's no countryside in Essex. Well, that's not true. There's plenty of countryside, if you travel away from the highly populated area around the River Thames.

Kent countryside The Essex countryside is picturesque, with thatched
cottages and the like, but there's one thing that makes the Kent countryside different. Hedges. They don't just plant huge fields of grain here, or oilseed rape. They farm animals, as well as growing crops, and when you farm animals you have more hedges. And that's the major difference.

Somehow, hedges make everywhere looks smaller and more interesting. I always think that it's interesting that what we perceive to be a natural landscape is completely manmade.

I didn't arrive here (a charming terraced cottage, with rooms on three floors) until about six o'clock, so I haven't got much to talk about. A hot air balloon landed in the field opposite, being chased by a Landrover with a huge trailer. That's the highlight of the holiday so far. But being optimistic, I'm sure a load of fantastic occurrences are just around the corner!

Monday 2nd September

Driving around today, I've decided that the reason for the hedges (and animals) is because Kent's much hillier. I like hills, as long as I don't have to walk up them. ;-)

We didn't walk up many hills today. We drove to Brighton, where we visited the British Engineerium. Apparently there's only one engineerium in the world, but that's probably because
they invented the term.

The EngineeriumThe engineerium is an old pumping station, which now has a huge amount of models and a working beam engine inside it. It's a very imaginatively constructed brick building. They don't build things like that any more. Mind you, if they made steam engines today they wouldn't be as pretty. They certainly took great pride in their constructions.

Talking about hills, as I was, we then headed off to Lewes. You see, the name Lewes is derived from the Old English for "hill". As you approach the town, you can see the new housing developments teetering on the edge of what's almost a cliff.

Lewes is an interesting little town - we visited the castle a couple of years ago, when we were staying in East Sussex. The town originally developed around the Norman castle, and things became even more fortified in the 13th century, when Henry III arrived on the scene. Not that it worked, because Simon de Montfort captured the town in the imaginatively titled 1264 Battle of Lewes. Today, the town's more popular attractions, apart from the castle, are a plethora of antique shops and upmarket second hand bookshops.

Tuesday 3rd September

Today was somewhat disorganised. It took us a very long while to decide where to go, but in the end we headed towards Tonbridge.

Tonbridge is another town that grew up around a castle. After looking around the town's shops (the usual modern high street, nothing particularly interesting), we headed off to the castle's bailey to have our lunch.

Not much of the castle remains, apart from the gatehouse and a few crumbled walls. However, you can climb up the motte, where the shell keep once stood, and sit in the pleasantly grassy bailey. Oh, and you can pay for an audio tour of the gatehouse.

The gatehouse tour was surprisingly fun, considering that from the outside it doesn't look like much remains. The tourist information centre dispenses little audio devices that take you around the building. I'm not sure how they work, although it must be some sort of minidisc based system. You can skip around between tracks and listen to additional information, if you want to. Clever.

People in the basementFrom the entrance room, visitors descend into the building's basement, where medieval people are hard at work. There's the man in charge of the stores, who's scribbling away, and a man in the armoury, packing arrows into a barrel. In the dim candle light, you can almost believe that the models are real people. It was darker than it looks in the photo.

From there it's upwards to the watch room, where four guardsmen are eating unappetising looking food. There's an audio visual presentation, too. Then it's up, to the battlements, and the upper floor. More medieval people are lurking around. And then it's down, back to the first room in the tour. I highly recommend it!

From Tonbridge, we headed off to Bayham abbey. It was what I'll call a premonstertarian abbey, because I can no longer remember the correct name of the order. This is what happens when you visit too many places with my family..!

Bayham abbeyAnyway, the abbey was dissolved soon after 1530, as all abbeys in England were. (Because of Henry VIII and his break with the church of Rome.) However, since it was quite isolated, the buildings survived fairly well. But then the people who had the abbey in their garden decided to make it prettier, by getting rid of a few walls that spoiled the view. (Grrr!)

Wednesday 4th September

I feel incredibly tired. That's what steam trains do to me..! I don't know why they make me so tired. I think it's the soothing swaying motion.

So, the Kent and East Sussex Railway. The nearest station is just down the road, in Tenterden (which St Michaels is kind of part of). We had an hour or so to waste until the train arrived, so we had a look round Tenterden Museum. It's a small museum, and parts
of it are done in the old unappetising museumy way. But it's well worth the £1 to get in! There are a few bits from the Time Team dig at Small Hythe (including an excellent model), which was the nearby dockyard in medieval times.

After that, we set off on the train. The steam engine that pulled the train was called "Rolvenden", which is the name of a nearby village (and which also happens to be one of the stations). The 10 ½ mile trip isn't tremendously exciting - it goes through a lot of marshland. Drainage ditches divide up the fields. The environment does mean there's some wildlife around, including herons.

We travelled all the way to the end of the line, which is Bodiam. Bodiam is, of course, famous for its castle. It's a very picturesque castle - all the outer walls are intact. The interior's a different story, with few walls remaining. There are an incredible amount of fireplaces visible in the walls. And there's a moat, with ducks and huge carp. I mean, those carp are enormous!

BodiamThe castle is different to the Norman castles that we'd visited previously. It's later, having been built in the 14th century. Edward III let... I think his name was Dalygrigge, although John insists that it's Dungaree. Anyway, he gave the knight permission to build the castle. There's some debate now over whether it's a proper 'castle', or a house...

And then it was back to Tenterden!

Thursday 5th September

I feel tired again. This holiday is exhausting!

Today we went to Dover Castle. Although there's a castle there, obviously, that's not all that's there. Even the castle part has many different stories to tell. It's definitely a whole day out to do it all; we were there all day and we didn't have enough time to look at everything!

The first thing we did was go on a tour of the tunnels, which wend their way through the chalk cliffs. The tunnels were first excavated during the Napoleonic wars, when they were used as an underground barracks complex. It must have been pretty crowded and smelly! During World War II, more tunnels were excavated. In the end there were three levels of tunnels - the top (called "Annexe") was a hospital, the middle (the Napoleonic "Casement" level) had a telephone exchange and various control stations (amongst other things), and the lowest level (called "Dumpy") was basically a military base in itself.

You don't get to see Dumpy, because it's too dangerous, but the other two levels are included in the excellent tour. The tour has sound effects, flickering lights and even authentic smells!

After that we headed off to the Keep in search of food. One jacket potato each later, we walked through the "1216 Siege Experience". It's another one of those audio visual things, and it only lasts 10 or 15 minutes. You see, after King John signed the Magna Carta,
and then looked like he was still going to be nasty to his barons, the barons asked Prince Louis of France to take over the throne. Prince Louis managed to take hold of most of southern England, but Dover stood firm.

Dover was besieged, and much bloody warfare ensued. One of the towers was undermined and collapsed during the siege, but the defenders still managed to hold the castle. King John died, and Prince Louis thought that'd mean they'd give up, but John's son
Henry III was crowned and Prince Louis was defeated. The fact that Dover was one of only two castles to withstand Prince Louis's attack shows how strong a castle it is.

We had a look round the regimental museum there, and the rest of the Keep. The Keep was built in the 1180's. You can walk around the "Fit for a King" exhibition, which is basically the interior of the Keep with a few extras. They've set it up so that you can see what had to be done to prepare for Henry VIII's visit. (Planks of wood and glazier's tools lying around, that sort of thing.) The Keep has a lot of ancient graffiti on the walls - pictures as well as words. And the view from the top is beautiful. (Shame it was so hazy!)

Pharos and ChurchFrom there we walked across to the Saxon church and Roman lighthouse. When I say "Saxon" and "Roman", they have some original material left, but not a lot. The church was derelict until the officer's mess was built (in the 19th century), when its walls were rebuilt and the interior was tiled in a uniquely Victorian way. There is one Saxon doorway left..!

The Roman lighthouse has suffered in much the same way. It was built in the first century AD, and (like the church next to it) it was derelict until the 19th century, but it'd been changed even before that. I think it was in the 13th century, presumably when the castle was built, that the lighthouse was altered so that it could be a watchtower. If you want to see what a Roman lighthouse looked like, this structure won't help. Its original stepped appearance is no longer discernable, although you can see where the Roman layers were, thanks to the surviving tiles and pink mortar. Sadly, you can't go inside at the moment - it's too dangerous.

After that we headed back to the Keep and paid for audio tours of the battlements and Keep. We wanted the medieval tunnel tour, but we ended up with that one instead. It was quite good, although to begin with it was hard to figure out where to go. I think the things they were using to tell you where to go (like the elusive white bollard) had disappeared. The tour appeared to be a few years old! I mean, it's tape and walkman based - ancient technology! Heh...

This walk must have been the thing that tired me out. It takes you up on the battlements, along where the cannon are, down to various towers in the curtain wall, gatehouses, earthworks... Oh, and we had a look round the medieval tunnels. Some of those are
very steep. Without the tour I wouldn't have realised how enormous the castle was, nor what a complex history it possessed.

A successful medieval castle, cleverly altered into a Napoleonic artillery fort, with a secret underground WW2 military base - what more can you want!

Friday 6th September

Today is the last proper day of the holiday. We're going home tomorrow. After the energetic nature of yesterday's day out, today was somewhat calmer. We started off having a look round the neighbouring village of Tenterden, then came back for lunch. In the afternoon we headed off to Rye, which is a village that used to be on the coast. A lot of southern Kent is marshland - I think I mentioned the drainage ditches we saw from the steam train? Rye is a picturesque sort of village, with lots of narrow winding roads. It's crammed full of antique shops, many of which we visited! After that (we didn't buy anything, just in case you were wondering) we drove off in the general direction of St Michael's.

Cramped museum!We stopped at Rolvenden (one of the villages on the steam railway's route) and had a look around a tiny motor museum there. When I say it's tiny, there are a lot of cars crammed in a very small space! And I mean crammed! The collection is housed in a sort of garage/shed at the bottom of his garden. It mainly consists of three wheeled Morgans.

Not only are there ten or so of those, but the walls are covered in pictures, roadsigns, and other memorabilia. And there are
toys, too. Cases full of Dinky toys, and other models too.

I can't say that I generally find motor museums particularly exciting, but these cars are beautiful. It's a most surprising museum, and only £1.50 to get in. (Let's face it, you can't get much cheaper than that!)

Saturday 7th September

Technically this was the "coming home" day, but since Kent isn't far from home, we still managed to visit a couple of places. I don't feel inclined to say much about them, but since I've told you about everywhere else we went, it'd be mean to leave them out.

First of all we headed away from home, to Brede. Apart from a nuclear bunker, there's a water pumping station at Brede. I couldn't bring myself to get overly excited, but the rest of the family seemed to enjoy it. (I'm making it sound like I hated it! I didn't, not really! It's just that they all belong to the Museum of Power, which is a pumping station at Langford, in Essex.)

Worthington Simpson They were running the newer engine on compressed air - it's a Worthington Simpson (and yes, I had to ask what the things were in order to write about them). The one they were most excited about was the 1903 Tangye triple expansion engine. The engine at the Museum of Power is a triple expansion engine - that might have something to do with it!

After that we went to what was supposed to be an antiques fair at Tunbridge Wells. It wasn't really an antiques fair, though, more like a general fete of some sort. There was a marquee there with some antiques in it, but it was mostly a "motor show". By that, I mean there were a lot of car dealerships trying to sell everyone shiny new cars. Mind you, I did enjoy looking at the New Minis. There was even a Cooper S. Nice...

The End :-p


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