Starting mileage: 14857 km
Day started: 9:00
Day ended: 22:00
Today was the answer to the question “what is there to do for half a year in the UK?”. We’ve been sightseeing all day and we’ve barely crossed the shire border. We also seemed to have crossed all of Europe North to South in a day.
We started the day with some more repacking and trying to find as much free space as possible; as a result, we drove off long after noon, already with a day’s delay compared to original schedule. A brief visit to Dungeness RSPB – with its cosy visitor centre and many hides – was not as eventful as we had hoped, due to rain and wind scaring off most of the birds. But we did see a few hunting terns, some pochards and other odd ducks, veritable swarms of swifts and housemartins, nesting (and feeding – a truly terrifying sight) cormorants and a single hobby hiding in the gorse. Not that bad for a little more than an hour.
There is one word always associated with Dungeness, and that’s “bleak”. The greatest expanse of shingle in Europe, if not the world, spreads perfectly flat as far as the eye can see in the shadow of giant reactor blocks of the Dungeness NPS. It’s the closest England has to a desert – even though in summer this desert is in bloom, covered with fields of sheep’s sorrel and honey-smelling sea kale.
But this bleakness is inhabited by some of the most industrious people, who had established on this strip of shingle a thriving and mixed community of fishermen (selling lobster rolls from a van), hippies (running occult cafes), birdwatchers, anglers and artists (Derek Jarman’s house is still a major tourist draw). They all live in wonderful little wooden nordic-style huts, and with the cold grey sky, the dark, stormy sea, the alien flatness of the shingle and the neat blackness of the wood, the entire place looked exactly like a bit of Iceland. For a moment we feared this was going to be the best we can expect from this summer.
By the time we got to Rye, however, by way of the impressively ancient Old Romney church, we seemed to have crossed into Tuscany. The sun was out in full force, proving what we’ve always known that the only way to handle British weather is to carry your entire wardrobe with you all day, and the landscape turned positively italianate. Rye itself is a little marvel of a town, perched on top of a tall hill, with narrow cobbled streets lined with 15th century houses, overlooking the green fields Kent, with a view all the way to the sea. The catholic church of St. Antonio di Padua, and a choice of Tuscan restaurants completes the impression of having mysteriously transported yourself to Italy.
We drove through Hastings (worth visiting for fishermen’s huts and the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Britain), making just a brief stop for half a pint in the Old Pumphouse – we’ve spent a weekend here before, so knew what was where and what makes the best photos – and, as the day drew to a close, we’ve reached the intended stopping site for the day (which meant we made up for the delay after all) – Norman Bay.
Norman Bay C&C is a 200-pitch modern site next to the Pevensey beach. A bit on the expensive side, even for the members (£18 without electricity) but on the upside it has none of the awfulness of the big caravan parks which are a blight on this part of the coast.
We feel a tiny bit nostalgic as our pitch is next to the railway tracks with trains going to Clapham Junction. We’re so close to London, it still feels like an extended day trip, rather than the big adventure.
Tyre pressure checked.