Friday, March 31, 2006

With my mission to order bedroom furniture for our newly revamped house, the Giri dropped me in Herne Bay at 8:30am on Wednesday. Turned out the recommended shop didn't open until 10:00am, and Herne Bay is one of those tiny seaside towns where not much opens or happens at that hour in the morning ("Vryheid by die See" for those South Africans out there...).

I wandered down to the beachfront and was fairly gobsmacked. I'd forgotten: a wind farm has recently sprung up just off the Kent coast and it is fascinating to watch. Silent and majestic, at least two miles out, I'd have thought. I counted 29 turbines, although the light out there kept changing and making some of them disappear periodically in the grey of sea and sky mixing on the horizon. Visible amongst them were the remainders of the World War II posts from which the coast was protected (imagine being posted out there - so bleak!), and just beyond, the international shipping lane with vast container ships sliding by. I have a fascination with cranes and such. Wind turbines merit the same treatment, but even so, only so much time can be occupied gawping at them.

Glancing vaguely to my right I spied the fabulous old ruins of the towers of Reculver off in the distance down the coast. Nothing else to I started strolling. The beach angled at a fairly steep 45 degrees, made of pebbles and shingle, the water a mucky brown. Beautiful in a stark way, although I did wonder how comfortable it would be to spread a towel and picnic in the summer? The "boardwalk" (actually concrete) eventually peeled steeply off onto a path along the cliff tops, part of the Saxon Shore Way. By this time, I was determined to make it to the ruins if it killed me, but what looked like just around the corner, was quite a bit further than I thought - that sense of cresting a mountainside expecting to find the summit and realizing instead that it keeps going up! The stereotype of unfriendly, reserved Brits does not apply to dogwalkers and outdoor types by the way - not only did people say hello, but many stopped to chat (including a delightful 20 minutes on the experiences of raising rescued greyhound racers, who were gambolling around us as we spoke!).

Reculver exudes oldness (despite the somewhat unfortunate crowding around of mobile homes and caravans). The Romans landed here in 43AD, and the fort they built was at that time 2 kilometres from the sea. But the force of the waves on this part of the Kentish coast is relentless eroding at 1-2 metres a year, and today the sea has not only reached the fort, but erased two thirds of it - all that still stands are some of the outer walls. Also built on the site, in 669AD was the Saxon church of St. Mary's - the towers added in the twelfth century are about all that remains today. These were bought by a shipping company and shored up when the rest of the building was demolished because it became unstable, as a waymarker for ships at sea - you really can see it from miles around. An eerie place, but well worth the tramp down the coast - a 6 mile/10km roundtrip (yeah! score one for my new retirement exercise plan!)

Later in the day when I returned home, I popped into Canterbury Cathedral, where the remnants of the medieval Reculver Cross are on display (when they're not on loan to an exhibition! I shall have to come back and see them later); and in the cathedral crypt are two of the columns from Reculver, found in an orchard and a farm field respectively in the 1800s and brought to the Cathedral for safekeeping. Eroded, they seem out of place in the soaring spaces of the cathedral. I often attend evensong here - it is amazing to think that daily (without a break, despite the various wars) evensong has been sung here for over 1400 years. Puts things in a little perspective.



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