Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 48 - A Visit with Friends

London Victoria Station (note Upper Crust on the right)

Today we took a South Eastern train from Victoria Station out to Herne Bay to visit our friends Jill and Jim, and the train actually arrived a few minutes early, which is unusual.

Photo of Kent countryside taken from the train
Because of its abundance of orchards and hop gardens, Kent is traditionally known as "The Garden of England" – a name often applied when marketing the county or its produce, although other regions have tried to lay claim to the title. Large parts of Kent are within the London commuter belt. South and East Kent rely on tourism and agriculture, although coal mining has also played a part in Kent's industrial heritage.

After we got into their car with them, Jill offered us many options for sightseeing and one included visiting Dover with a quick trip through Canterbury.  We'd never gotten very close to Dover Castle, and even though we couldn't go in, because it was closed for the season, we opted to do that.

Kent's location between London and continental Europe has led to it being in the front line of several conflicts, including the Battle of Britain during World War II. East Kent was known as Hell Fire Corner during the conflict. England has relied on the county's ports to provide warships through much of the past 800 years; the Cinque Ports in the 12th–14th centuries (Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich) and Chatham Dockyard in the 16th–20th centuries were of particular importance to the country's security. France can be seen clearly in fine weather from Folkestone, and the iconic White Cliffs of Dover.

View of the English Channel looking toward France
Dover is a town that faces France across the narrowest part of the English Channel, making it a major ferry port as well.  It lies south-east of Canterbury; east of Kent's administrative capital Maidstone; and north-east along the coastline from Dungeness and Hastings. The town serves as home of the Dover Calais ferry through the Port of Dover with its surrounding chalk cliffs  known as the White Cliffs of Dover, and the narrow sea passage nearby – the Strait of Dover. Its strategic position has been evident throughout its history: archaeological finds have revealed that the area has always been a focus for people entering and leaving Britain. The name of the town derives from the name of the river that flows through it, the River Dour. The town has been inhabited since the Stone Age according to archaeological finds, and Dover is one of only a few places in Britain – London and Cornwall being other examples – to have a corresponding name in the French language, Douvres.

There was a military barracks in Dover, which closed in 2007.  Services related to the Port of Dover provide a great deal of the town’s employment, as does tourism. The prospect of privatizing the sale of the Port of Dover to create increased cash flow for the government was given a recent ironic twist with the rejection of a possible bid from the town of Calais in France.  After opposition from the people in Dover against any sale forced the government to withdraw the Port from the market, local residents clubbed together to propose buying it for the community. More than 12,000 people have bought a £10 share in the People's Port Trust with the optimism that this would help save Dover from its decline.

Historically, Dover figured largely in the Domesday Book as an important borough. It also served as a bastion against various attackers: notably the French during the Napoleonic Wars; and against Germany during World War II. During mediaeval times, it was designated as one of the cinque ports.

Dover Harbor with a ship in port

We took lots of pictures of Dover, then Jim drove us around the coast of England through Walmer, followed by Deal, Sandwich, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, and Margate before finally taking us back to their house in Herne Bay.  A few more friends dropped over and we had cocktails and chatted for a bit before we sat down to the lovely dinner Jill prepared for us.  The evening went by so quickly we almost missed our last train back to London.  A 10:33 PM train, which was supposed to get us to London Victoria by 12:04 AM.

We were at the station and waiting for our train by 10:21 PM.  It had gotten a lot colder, probably in the high 30s F. So, we were chilled, but happy after our pleasant evening, until the monitor clock switched over to 10:30 PM, our train disappeared off the electronic schedule to be replaced by an 11:33 PM train that wasn't going into London.  When 10:33 PM came and went with only an express train whizzing by us at a speed that would have sucked us along had we been over the yellow line, we began to get a little worried.  However, the later the hour grew, the more discouraged the other passengers waiting with us became.  One gentleman insisted British Rail had cancelled our train.  Not a pleasant thought at all.

At 10:50, I tried to make some calls to National Rail, but their offices were closed.  Not surprising, given even the Herne Bay train station was closed.  There was a nice warm waiting room on the platform, but it was locked.  The door looked as though some people before us had unsuccessfully tried to pry it open with a screw driver and hammer.  Stranded, and not wanting to disturb our friends, we waited on the platform as we discussed our options.  Hubby decided we should wait for the 11:33 PM train and go as far as it would take us then see what arrangements we could make from there.

At approximately 11:05 PM a train destined for London Victoria pulled up.  Chilled and needing heat, we hopped on and found the first seats we could.  The train was very late, so we saw no sign of a conductor.  When the train arrived at Gillingham, the conductor announced over the speaker system that the train would be making a stop at Bromley South and then London Victoria.  If passengers on board needed any of the normal stops between Gillingham and Bromley South, they were instructed to get off the train at Gillingham and make other arrangements.  Probably due to the lateness of the hour, no one got off, so I guess the railroad's plan had some validity.

Even with five stops cancelled, we didn't arrive in London Victoria until almost half past midnight, and the tube was shut down for the night.  So we went looking for a night bus that ran from Victoria to Leicester Square.  We quickly discovered the 24 bus went in that direction, so we asked for directions to Wilton or Bridge Street, found stop J and waited once again--out in the cold.  The British are very patient people and calmly wait in line for just about everything they do.

Night buses will stop at their designated locations only if there is someone standing at the bus stop, or a passenger presses a stop button to let the driver know they want to get off.  So, we had about a twenty minute wait before a bus turned up.  At least it was warm.

As we traveled through Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square, the streets looked deserted.  I've never seen London so quiet, but then I can't recall being out on the streets past Cinderella's bedtime, either.  That's when we noticed a road crew had blocked off the Strand from Trafalgar Square. Then road crews seemed to be everywhere we looked.  It seems they do most of their work at night in order not to disrupt London's daytime traffic too severely.

We requested the bus stop at Leicester Square, and then walked back to our flat from there.  We finally arrived "home" at approximately 1:15 AM.

I'll have more pictures and information to share about what we saw, but will have to add them later. Unfortunately, that's becoming a habit.  It's nearly 2 AM, and time for bed.  A good day, with an exhausting finish

Until tomorrow.

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