A night in Broadstairs

24 01 2016

So the downside of travelling all the way up North to visit my parents in Yorkshire was that I had a substantial drive all the way back down for a meeting in Kent. I set off late morning to the discovery that it had snowed overnight. The forecast was for a warming day though, and I wasn’t expecting too much trouble as I went down the eastern side of England. Best not to tempt providence though, so I set off well before lunch.

Snowy start to the day

Snowy start to the day

The hotel I’d been booked into was allegedly one of Charles Dickens’ homes and now goes by the name of The Albion Hotel, Broadstairs. Hacking down the old A1 (originally a Roman road and the main artery in the UK in the days before the M1 was built in the ’50s) I made it to Nottinghamshire in time for lunch and treated myself to the gourmet offerings of a roadside Micky D’s. Down to the M11, M25 and into Kent, I was at Broadstairs well in time for dinner.

It was a pain to find parking, but in the end there turned out to be a car-park just around the corner from the hotel and once I’d negotiated the ridiculously narrow street, all was well. I had to walk all the way back to the hotel dragging my suitcase, but it was a lovely little place. The staircases were narrow and of course I was put in the garret so had maximum trouble with my suitcase getting up the narrow back stairs where presumably the servants used to go. The bathroom was very nicely done out though and the view over the street was “twee” in a bottle.

A Dickensian bathroom

A Dickensian bathroom

A Curiosity Shop from my hotel room

A Curiosity Shop from my hotel room

It was only later that evening I realised that the shop opposite was a book shop, so I missed my chance to buy lots of their stock! Once I’d made contact with my host for the next day’s meeting, I had an hour or so to kill before dinner. After purging the dust of the road from myself with the aid of a very pleasant shower, I headed out to see what there was to see. For such a small town, it was delightful. To be fair, things didn’t start out so well, and my first encounter was a rather run down (i.e. vandalised) pizza shop. Ironic though that it claimed to be (F)rancos Canadian Pizza. Franco presumably was targeted by the apostrophe police for making the common omission. Upstairs seemed to be some sort of religious place, but the Chippie on the corner looked normal enough.

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Next, I headed down the slight incline to the sea. The first thing that took my eye was the brightly lit Pavilion. As dusk was just falling, there was still detail in the sky and the lights of the town in the distance just seemed to make an interesting composition. Viking Bay is curving off to the right. The names ooze “history” don’t they?

Lights on the Pavillion

Lights on the Pavilion

A tad further on, and I was at the harbour wall. The wind was picking up and it was bitterly cold. I had the place to myself. There was an interesting white clapper-board building at the entrance to the pier/harbour wall. It wouldn’t have seemed out of place here in BC.

Harbour, Broadstairs

Harbour, Broadstairs

The lighting was interesting. Dusk was falling fast, but there was still colour in the relatively clear sky. In addition there were some bright lights on the harbour wall so photography without flash was still an option. This pile of floats with the red boat lent a “red, white and blue” vibe to the scene.

Buoys and boat - Broadstairs

Buoys and boat – Broadstairs

Looking over the wall the other way – back towards the town – I saw a few small boats in the shallow harbour. I was reminded that this was the area that created the flotilla of “little ships” that evacuated the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo. The little ships of Dunkirk were 700 private boats that sailed from the Ramsgate area to Dunkirk in France between 26 May and 4 June 1940, helping to rescue more than 338,000 British and French soldiers who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk during the Second World War. To this day “Dunkirk spirit” is used as a phrase meaning to stare defeat in the face and still go ahead with brave deeds.

Little ships

Little ships

Looking a little further back towards town, I liked the mixture of lighting and the little yacht lying on its side waiting to be borne up again on a rising tide.

Dusk over town

Dusk over town

The locals seemed to have plenty of rowing boats, and I guess it was safer to pull them out when not needed. They were all lined up neatly on the wall, ready for action at a moment’s notice. For such a basic and old craft – the rowing boat – it was amazing how many variations of design there were.

Row, row, row of boats...

Row, row, row of boats…

As I headed back to the street I noticed the phone box didn’t actually have a phone in it. It had another AED (automatic external defibrillator). I’d never before seen them in public, and this was now the second in two days – the previous one being in sleepy Malham in Yorkshire (see previous post). To the left of the phone box, you can see an old WWII sea mine. You can just see the plunger detonators on the side. A ship pressing these as it passed would cause something of a loud pop. Nowadays they are used as VERY LARGE collection boxes for the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society. You can just see the brass plaque and coin slot to the left of the detonator. Broadstairs has had an agency for the society since 1842 it seems.

Another AED. This time in a phone box

Another AED. This time in a phone box

Here’s an image of a mine “as used” from the Western Morning News last year.

Western Morning News: sea mine from WWII


As I headed back up the street I noticed the very welcoming pub “The Tartar Frigate”. Not sure what the Russians/Ukrainians were doing in these waters with their frigate, but I hope they found the beer to their liking. I jest of course – it is actually named after HMS Tartar, build hereabouts in 1801.

The Tartar Frigate

The Tartar Frigate

As I headed back up the slope to the High Street, I passed a sad reminder that Britain’s seaside towns often cater to the lowest common denominator of visitors. This sad, if bright, “Amusement Arcade” was empty on this cold night. Its garish red paint was no attraction to me.

Amused? I was not!

Amused? I was not!

Back on the main street, I liked the way the artificial light spilled out onto the darkening road from one of the chip shops next to a café. This seemed somehow more in keeping with such an old seaside town.

Blues and Bessie's

Blues and Bessie’s

Almost back at the hotel, I saw that the town was making the most of its connection with Dickens. One of the streets (and I’m sure many others I didn’t see) carried his name. The wall-mounted post box was of note also, because it was from the era of George VI. Note the “GR” on the box for George Rex. The graffiti at the bottom in felt pen was presumably more recent…

Dickens Walk, and George's post

Dickens Walk, and George’s post

Not long after I got back to the hotel, my host for the next day arrived to kindly join me for dinner. The Tartar Frigate, it turns out, stops offering food quite early on a Sunday, and so we ended up at “The Charles Dickens”… oh, how original! The food though was very pleasant as was the local beer. I opted for “bangers and mash” and greatly enjoyed three very tasty sausages whilst watching my host being defeated by her large steak, chips and onion rings.

Bangers and mash

Bangers and mash

It was a great night’s sleep in a cosy room, and after a full day of meetings, it was time to head back to Heathrow and back to BC the next day, safe in the knowledge that “the old country” seemed to be doing quite well without me.

Length and bredth

Length and bredth