Kent: Fruit, Hops, Beer & Wine

Kent – The Garden of England

Vineyards in Kent

The county of Kent lies immediately south east of London and at its furthest south- easterly point is just 21 miles across the English Channel to neighbouring France. When the writer, Charles Dickens, spoke of Kent, in his first novel; “The Pickwick Papers”, he said “Kent, Sir, everybody knows Kent – apples, cherries, hops and women” Perhaps, had he written some 150 years later, he might have added ‘vineyards’ to his list, maybe at the expense of the ‘women’!

Kent, described as ‘The Garden of England’ is certainly well known for its apples and cherries. Here, just outside the market town of Faversham, is Brogdale, which is home to the National Fruit Collection. The apple is the largest collection at Brogdale with varieties coming from all over the world and almost every county in Britain. Similarly, there are pears, plums, quince and nuts, and, importantly the cherries. Varieties in the cherry collection have come from all over Europe, and whilst we believe cherries arrived in Britain with the Romans, we know that it was one Richard Harris, Chief Fruiterer to King Henry V111, who planted the first commercial orchard at  Teynham, near Faversham with varieties brought over from Flanders.

The cherry on the cake !

Today cherries are a part of Kentish summers, sold by the wayside and in markets throughout the county. Faversham is also home to The Shepherd Neame Brewery, Britain’s oldest brewer, established in 1698. Great fun for brewery tours and tastings.

Author, Rudyard Kipling, wrote in his ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’, ‘Turkeys, heresy, hops and beer came into England all in one year’ Turkeys are believed to have first been brought to Britain in 1526 by Yorkshireman William Strickland who acquired six birds from Native American traders on his travels and sold them for tuppence each in Bristol. As for heresy, no doubt the reference is to Protestantism, which first arrived in England around the same time.  When hops were first grown in England is uncertain, but the place they were first planted was almost certainly Kent, again around 1520 in a hop garden in Westbere, a small village near Canterbury.

Hop Bines in Kent

Previously, ale was produced with a herb mixture, called ‘gruit’ and this was for the most part under licence to the Roman Catholic monasteries. As  migrants from the Low Countries, fleeing from religious persecution, settled in the county, they preferred their own tradition of making beer with hops, and so it was that Protestant merchants who instigated this phenomenon which really took off from around 1540 after King Henry V111 dissolved the monasteries. We see evidence of these times not just in our rural landscapes but in the architecture of our towns and cities.

In the early part of the 20th century, September in Kent would see the hop bines at the top of chestnut poles, cut down by farm workers, walking on stilts. Families from the Eastend of London would arrive for their two-week holiday, camping in the hop gardens, alongside local children to pick the hop flowers from the bines. Then the hops would be taken to large rectangular or circular farm buildings called Oast Houses to be dried to just the right humidity to be used for flavouring the beer.

Former Oast Houses now private residences in Kent

Oast Houses are still a feature of rural Kentish landscape, many converted to private dwellings, and the hop harvest continues throughout the county at the end of August, with many Kentish homes wearing a fresh hop garland to bring good fortune throughout the year.  Hop and Beer Festivals abound with street music and dancing and each year there is a ‘blessing of the hops’ service at Canterbury Cathedral.

It certainly isn’t all about beer these days and now, known as English Wine Country, Kent is home to some of the most picturesque wine estates in the country.  I have heard it said that Julius Caesar first brought the vine to England, and whilst this is unlikely, we can be sure that wine was certainly brought to Britain by the Romans. By Medieval times, vines were grown and wine made in many monastic institutions particularly in this southern part of the country.

Grapes

Whilst wine production was known through subsequent centuries, there was no viticulture or wine making on a commercial basis during the first half of the 20th century.  Here in Kent, a Research Scientist named Edward Hyams established a vineyard in 1951 to research modern varieties. His success, and that of other pioneers can be seen in the rapidly increasing number of Vineyards in the ‘80’s and early ‘90s.  Now the Kent Downs is fast becoming the Sparkling Wine capital for the country and home to many premium quality English wines.

Biddenden Vineyard, established in 1969 is proud to be Kent’s original vineyard, and today the single estate vineyard spans 23 acres of gentle south facing slopes situated in a sheltered valley, just outside the picturesque Wealden village of Biddenden. 11 different grape varieties are grown there to produce an array of award-winning White, Rosé, Red and Sparkling English wines. They also produce ciders and juices.

Hush Heath Estate, Staplehurst, near Tonbridge is at the forefront of the English Wine movement with their flagship sparkling Balfour Brut Rosé being the first English Sparkling wine to be served in British Airways First Class and the official English wine of the London 2012 Olympics

Chapel Down Flint Dry

 Chapel Down is based in Small Hythe near Tenterden where you find over 25 acres of vineyards set amongst some beautiful Kentish countryside. They produce a world-class range of sparkling and still wines as well as gin and vodka together with the award-winning range of Curious beers & cider.

Wine Tasting at Chapel Down Vineyard

 

All of these vineyards offer tours, tastings and shopping opportunities as well as various ‘visitor experiences throughout the year (Covid 19 restrictions may affect the range of tours/tastings on offer)

Kent’s south-facing chalky soil and the mild climate provide the perfect conditions for the wine growing industry similar to Champagne in France.  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Blanc all thrive in these conditions. Indeed, Champagne Taittinger is the first big Champagne House to establish a vineyard in the UK to make Premium English Sparkling Wine. The Domaine Evremond Vineyard is a joint venture between Champagne Taittinger and its UK Agency; Hatch Mansfield Ltd.  Plans are in hand to create a world-leading winery, set to produce 400,000 bottles a year, in the countryside near Chilham between Ashford and Canterbury.

So The Garden of England, with its long coastline, fishing and oyster industries, celebrated Romney Marsh lamb, farmers markets with Game and Cheese Production together  with wines, beer or cider on hand has much to offer visitors coming to enjoy ‘foodie tours’ and a taste of Kent.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

A little Curious Cultural Heritage of Kent

Kent, in south east England, has one of the longest coastlines in the country, and being just 21 miles from France, in Dover, boasts a colourful maritime past.  As well as being the Garden of England, which has long marched to the rhythm of the agricultural year, there is a rich legacy of cultural heritage within our many sites, monuments and in the very fabric of our buildings. Sometimes, we may rush past these treasures without a second glance or perhaps we just think them to be rather meaningless curiosities, but peep behind the evidence in front of your eyes, and you can usually discover a story deeply rooted in our past. Let’s have a look at just a few of them:

If you go down to the coast at Pegwell Bay, near Ramsgate, in Thanet, look out for The Hugin.

The Hugin

The village signpost topped with The White Horse -‘Invicta’

The Hugin

This is a reconstructed Norsemen (Viking) longship.  It was a gift from the Danish government to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of the AD49 migration from Jutland (modern day Denmark) to Kent, of Hengist and Horsa who became leaders of the Anglo Saxon invasion.  They are remembered to this day in Kent’s insignia, the white horse, which is said to have featured on Hengist’s battle flag.

The boat was built in Denmark from where it was sailed by 53 Danes to England in 1949. It landed at Viking Bay in Kent, before being moved to its present site.

The roadside church of St Mary Magdalene in Ruckinge, Kent is the site of a crude, weather beaten old oak board mounted on wrought iron supports.

Ransley Graveboard,Ruckinge.

This is a graveboard, and once a common sight where families, who were unable or unwilling to supply the more usual headstone, but didn’t wish to see their family member’s last resting place go unmarked.  Any inscription which might have been here has long since eroded in the strong winds of winter which blow in from Romney Marsh. However, records tell us that this is the resting place of James Ransley (died Christmas Day 1817) and some of his family members. The grave includes James the younger, and his brother, William Ransley, known locally as ‘ The Rascally Brothers’ – They were hanged in Penenden Heath, Maidstone in 1800.  Their crimes included, smuggling, highway robbery, horse-theft and common assault. Their legacy continued with the advent of The Aldington Blues – a gang of smugglers, led by George Ransley (who was later captured and deported to Australia for his sins)!

Wander along Deal’s seafront and check out the curious Timeball Tower.

Timeball Tower Deal

In the days of sail, Deal was an important Naval town, giving safe shelter to ships moored in the shallow waters of The Downs (Bordered by the Goodwin Sands – a series of sandbanks notorious for their wrecks, and known as ‘The Ship Swallowers’ )! The Deal Boatmen made their living from carrying supplies ( it is suggested, beer, bread and women )! to the ships.  As for the Timeball Tower, which from 1855, carried a timeball.  This was linked to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich by electric telegraphy wires running alongside the railway line.  At 12.58 each day, the ball would rise to the top of the mast and at 1 p.m. precisely, a signal was sent from Greenwich to all timeballs (including Deal) and the ball would drop – allowing the ships at sea to check the accuracy of their chronometers – essential for accurate navigation.  It ceased official operation in 1927. A project currently underway is restoring the Timeball Tower, and we look forward to seeing it in action once more.

Moving around to the north Kent coast and we come to Whitstable, most famous for its oysters, but there are several other firsts and achievements for which we can thank this small fishing town. The first passenger railway journey took place here in May 1830 along the Canterbury and Whitstable Line (affectionately known as the Crab & Winkle Line) – hauled by Stephenson’s Invicta engine, just beating the renowned Liverpool and Manchester Railway (and Stephenson’s Rocket) by 4 months !

A Whitstable Diver

Statue of Divers by swimming pool

But why would we see this curious statue by the harbour in front of the town’s swimming pool ?  Well, tradition attributes the invention of early diving apparatus (with helmet and air supply) to a local pair of brothers, Charles and John Deane.  A lovely story tells us that John dramatically rescued some horses at a farm here by using the helmet from a suit of old armour in the house hallway with air being pumped in to the helmet supplied by a pump which had been used in hosing the fire ! If it could work in a smoke filled room, might it not work under water ? With the help of George Hall, who was a diver, using a diving bell, they developed a technique which was to change the diving industry. Later John moved to Portsmouth in Hampshire where they discovered, and worked on the wonderful ‘Mary Rose’ – King Henry V111’s warship.

Finally, for the moment, I just wanted to share a picture of a bell – not in a church tower but in a yew tree in a church yard ! – This can be found at Barfestone’s little (but world-famous) church of St Nicholas not far from Canterbury or Dover.

Church Bell in Yew Tree Barfrestone Church, Kent

Here is the picture, but why world famous? and why does this, along with several churches on Romney Marsh, exemplify how the church, and all of us, used to march with the rhythm of the agricultural year?  I can’t wait to share some of the secrets of our churches with you, virtually, and, I hope, one day in person !

 

 

Smuggling in Kent and East Sussex – A Legacy of the Wicked Trade

A Smuggler’s Song

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Five-and-twenty ponies, trotting through the dark—
With brandy for the Parson and ‘baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady and letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Rudyard Kipling

 

Camber Castle surrounded by Marshland and sheep

The ever-changing coast line of Kent and Sussex has been a haven for the enterprising smuggler since, at least, as early as the 13th Century. However, importing spirits and tobacco was not on these medieval gentlemen’s minds. To this day, if you drive across Romney Marsh, you will notice its own breed of sheep, the Romney grazing away on the salt marshes as they have done for countless years. It was the wool of these sheep, which carried a heavy tax on exportation, which led to the emergence of wool smugglers, known as ‘Owlers’.  Perhaps a corruption of the word ‘woolers’ ? – or was it because of the warning signal they would send to each other at night, hooting like the owls?  Easy to conjure up, almost romantic images of these ‘gentlemen’ who would remain anonymous by adopting such code names as ‘Joseph Nobody’ or ‘CurseMotherJack’.  Indeed the local population would ‘watch the wall’ as the smugglers went about their work.  These smugglers’ successors, the import smugglers, would perhaps reward this blissful ignorance by leaving a small keg of brandy on the doorsteps of those officials who looked the other way.

Traders Passage in Rye

It seems that many were involved, from the Parson to the School Master to the Lord of the Manor himself. Safer, and more rewarding to turn ‘the blind eye’, and with military’s attention on France, smuggling reached its peak in the 18th century all around the coasts of England. In Kent, with its long coastline, gangs operated not just on Romney Marsh, but all around the coast through Dover to the Isle of Thanet and up on to the North Kent Marshes adjoining Whitstable and Seasalter. Here, once lived an eccentric vicar, the Rev. Thomas Patten, of whom many tales are told.

Whitstable Harbour

He openly kept a mistress, appeared scruffy and unkempt, and drove to church in his ox waggon. He was even known to break off from his sermon to join revellers in the local Blue Anchor Pub. He certainly was happy to ignore the smuggling activity, and even when the Archbishop of Canterbury became involved, so popular was Thomas with his flock, that he was left unchallenged.

It was only when the Smugglers turned to more brutal ways, ruling by violence that they lost popular support. Members of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang would sit in the Mermaid Inn in Rye, with their

15th Century Mermaid Inn in Rye – Former HQ of the Hawkhurst Gang

weapons on the table, enjoying their pints of ale, and nobody dared to interfere. There later came the grisly murder of one William Galley, a Revenue Officer, and Daniel Chater, an alleged informer. Things were about to change.  The Battle of Goudhurst in 1747 led to the end of the Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers and the execution of local gang leader Thomas Kingsmill whose body was hung in chains in the village as a reminder and warning to others.

50 years later, we first hear of the South Kent or Aldington (Blues) Gang who operated on The Marsh, as Romney Marsh is known, and along the coast from Sandgate to Deal. The last leader of the Blues was one George Ransley, whom we believe became involved with smuggling in order to keep his wife in the manner to which she was accustomed thanks to the questionable activities of her father!  However, by this time, the Napoleonic Wars had come to an end, and a naval force set up on land specifically to deal with smuggling. This Coastal Blockade played an important part in bringing this era of smuggling to an end, aided by the loss of support from the community at large.  George Ransley found himself transported to Van Diemen’s Land, Australia, where perhaps he, and maybe even his wife, lived to have a second chance.

Rye in East Sussex

Touring around the coast and inland villages of Kent and Sussex, we visit many of the places associated with the mystery, murder and mayhem of the past. We see remote churches where contraband was stored, and graveyards where some smugglers now lie. We see villages where battles were fought and visit inns where the ‘Gentlemen’ once refreshed themselves, no doubt planning further exploits.  Today, The Marsh is peaceful, but the sheep remind us of what once was. The captivating town of Rye with its cobbled streets, tea rooms, potteries, and antiques is still home to the 15th Century Mermaid Inn. Whitstable is a gem, with its fishing harbour, famed for oysters, its small streets with boutique shops, and countless inns, bars and restaurants.

We can’t wait to show you the rich heritage, diverse countryside and coastline which we have today, whilst we regale you with tales of our colourful past

There is so much to see and so much to do.  We specialise in small and unique groups, and can keep you off the beaten track and small and personal

Please do contact Yvonne for details and to chat about how we can tailor-make the best tour to suit you.

Food for Thought – Kent through World War Two

Spring of 2020 will be remembered, by many of us, as a time when the World slowed down, and everyday life, all the things we normally take for granted are suddenly viewed in a completely different way.  Among many other things, our thoughts may well have turned to managing our food. Fewer visits to the shops, some shortages, and, that something within us which makes us step up to the mark and ‘make do and mend’  Maybe a little like our mothers and grandmothers before us, we turn to our store cupboards, old recipe books and our imagination, and from what I see from my friends and colleagues’ offerings, we are doing a grand job.

One of my guided tours follows some of the events which took place in World War Two.  Kent was certainly no stranger to being at the forefront of defense of this nation, when, in June 1940, after the Evacuation of Dunkirk,  Dover became the new frontline. France was occupied by German forces and Calais was just 21 miles away across the English Channel. During these times, Dover, with every reason, was described as Hellfire Corner.  Sir Winston Churchill, our wartime Prime Minister, told us ‘The Battle for France is over – The Battle of Britain is about to begin’  Never had he said a truer word, for in the late summer and autumn of 1940, The Battle of Britain was fought in the skies above the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. 

As we explore and discuss those times, we have, on more than one occasion been fortunate enough to see a Spitfire fly past with that tip of the wings in salute, which stirs emotions in those of us watching from below.

Talking to older residents here, I have heard how they, as children, might have paused to watch the aircraft overhead, before heading home to tea, and that tea would have most certainly been the result of the rationing which started on 8th January 1940 when bacon, butter and sugar were rationed followed by many everyday foods.

I wonder whether Woolton Pie ever appeared on a menu here ?  A vegetarian dish comprising garden vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, turnips and so on, topped with a pastry crust, or dollops of mashed potatoes.

My father flew Lancaster Bomber Planes, and was eventually shot down and taken as a prisoner of war, in fact in Stalag Luft 3, which has become known for its escape plots. Whilst there he kept a Wartime Log with many notes and memories. He must have been feeling very hungry as he wrote often of food, saving recipes from other POWs.   Hard for me to imagine just how hungry he was to find the following two recipes worth noting:

Kriegie Flapjack           

Dreaming of fishing and a pint of beer – from Dad’s Wartime Log


Soak Canadian Red Cross biscuits in milk or hot water until soft.  Drain off water.  Deep fry (if possible) Eat this way as an entree or can be served as a dessert if spread with jam, honey, or syrup

Goon Welsh Rarebit
Make as normal, that is to melt the cheese with marge, add salt, pepper and milk.  Simmer til mixed and creamy. Serve on Goon bread.  Bread should be toasted with plenty of marge allowed to soak in.  Bread may be fried.  If one should be unfortunate enough to use Goon cheese and English marge together, the mixture should be covered with pepper, and cooked in the open, and served and eaten in a strong cross wind !

Back on the homefront, I rather think that country folk were more fortunate with the food supplies.  In cities, parks and gardens were turned over to food production, and allotments allocated to those without gardens, as far as possible, and slogans like ‘Dig for Victory reminded us that if we grew our own food we would be doing our part for the war effort.  In the countryside, farmers were helped by the Land Girls, those women conscripted to work on the land during these war years. Here in Kent, The Garden of England, people would have been relying on a good harvest of apples, pears and plums, and without such luxuries as bananas and oranges, the cherries would have been a welcome sight in the early summer.

There are many wonderful itineraries which, in a guided, tour we can imagine what life might have been like here in Kent in those days.  We can perhaps visit the wonderful Jackdaw Inn, used as a setting for the famous Battle of Britain film, The Jackdaw showcases a variety of Spitfire memorabilia, as well as offering an extensive menu (without our having to worry about the rationing)  A particular favourite of mine is the Cat and Custard Pot, in a small country village once frequented by the pilots and other personnel who were stationed at the nearby Hawking Battle of Britain Airfield.

Looking forward to exploring the sights and sounds of those days of the ’40s and visiting some of the museums, memorials, festivals and events including the Secret Wartime Tunnels under Dover Castle.  We might not see any bluebirds but we will keep our fingers crossed for blue skies, and I promise … no Goon cheese.

Notes: Wartime RAF language perhaps but Kriegie refers to POW and Goon to the German Guards.

Woolton Pie image:  autumnroseuk – Woolton pie, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46161211

Food for thought : Medieval England – Feast or Fast

When you suddenly find yourself with time to spend, away from the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life, your thoughts will probably turn to those interests which are always there, but which often spend a lot of time on the back-burner whilst you get on with the all important ‘bread and butter’ work which ‘puts food on the table’   Perhaps it is immediately obvious that I am a foodie and have a huge appetite (figuratively speaking) for all things food and wine !  When you pair this with a great love of local, family and social history, it is no surprise that food and drink, through the ages, fills a void in keeping me mentally stimulated whilst offering material for future ‘foodie tours’  Although, I guess I will have to use quite a lot of imagination rather than trying out some of these dishes, or I shall be too large to fit in the aisle of one of my coaches, or have difficulty in navigating some of the narrow alleyways on my walking tours !

Being a Canterbury tourist guide, with a great love of the Middle Ages and monastic life, I would first like to turn to thinking about how it might have been here in Canterbury for a Medieval monk.  We might imagine the vow of poverty would potentially lead to a very lean way of life.  In some cases, such as the monastic cathedral in Canterbury, monks were living in an enclosed order, and were self-sufficient and lucky enough to have a fresh water supply.  They lived mainly on fish, bread, honey, eggs, cheese, fruit, and beer (probably safer than most water supplies)! and had fresh herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes.

In strict monasteries, meat might be a reserved privilege for the sick or just eaten on feast days.  However, I think those vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience might be more recognizable when we consider the mendicant orders of friars, such as the Dominicans Blackfriars) who worked in the community and relied on charitable donations for their sustenance. 

We are told, from some accounts, of a very different story:  ‘When Ralphe de Borne was installed as Abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury in 1309, provisions for the 6,000 guests included 100 hogs, 30 Oxen, 1000 geese, 500 capons and hens, 24 swans, 600 rabbits and nearly 10,000 eggs.  It all cost £287.8s with spices being the largest single cost – a hefty £28.00’ (Kate Colquhoun – Taste)

The Monks in Canterbury Cathedral followed the Rule of St Benedict, written in the 6th Century at Monte Cassino, Italy.  Imagine them in their Refectory enjoying their main, perhaps only meal of the day, in solemn silence.  Would they have reached for a glass of wine or two ?  St Benedict appears to have been a great believer of moderation in all things and regarding wine, he wrote: ‘We do, indeed, read that wine is no drink for monks; but, since nowadays monks cannot be persuaded of this, let us at least agree upon this, to drink temperately and not to satiety; for wine maketh even the wise to fall away’

So, yes, depending on who you were and where/when you lived life in a medieval monastery, abbey or friary, very much fast or feast. Today, we can still visit St Augustine’s Abbey, and, of course, Canterbury Cathedral, we can see the ruins of refectories as well as infirmaries and dormitories.  We can close our eyes and hear bees buzzing furiously in the wild flowers adorning the ruins, and, perhaps catch the perfume of some of the plants and herbs, and we can imagine their, perhaps more simple way of life. If the thought of all this food makes us hungry, we can then leave the Middle Ages behind us to enjoy a taste of modern day Kent in one of Canterbury’s many splendid hostelries.

The Great Storm of 1287

Watching #StormErik pounding my garden makes me think of stories of a February day in 1287 when The Great Storm hit the coastline from Kent to East Sussex with such force that whole areas of coastline were changed for ever.  Important ports that made their living from their vicinity to the sea found their harbours blocked by silt and shingle and even parts of the cliff, complete with fortifications. Old Winchelsea, a thriving port, was completely destroyed to be rebuilt in around 1292, a few miles inland, in the grid system (then typically used in Aquitaine) on the orders of King Edward 1.

Why would the King himself be so interested in the fate of these small towns/ports ? – Well before King Henry V111 established the beginnings of a Royal Navy, it fell to just 5 towns along the south coast to work in the service of the King, for short periods of time each year, in exchange for freedom from paying taxes, and other privileges. If they were needed for longer (which they usually were) a handsome fee would be paid.  These towns were Dover, Sandwich, Hythe, Romney and Hastings. They were assisted by the two ‘Antient Towns’ of Rye and Winchelsea.  The King recognised their strategic importance in the defence of his realm and in facilitating trade across ‘The Narrow Sea’, as the English Channel was described.

Probably the most dramatic change was wrought to the two towns of New Romney and Rye.  New Romney had been an important port, with the wide and deep flowing River Rother passing through it into the English Channel.  The storm was so severe that it served to completely silt up New Romney’s harbour and change the course of the River Rother bringing it to the town of Rye. So within just a few hours, New Romney found itself to be landlocked and a good mile from the sea, whilst Rye awoke to find itself with a brand-new River and a harbour!

It must have been terrifying, firstly having to deal with saving lives, and ships and property, but in the calm of the following days those villagers knew that they would have much work ahead in order to re-invent themselves or find a way of carrying on.  However, history shows us that they survived and the Cinque Ports carried on with their important role until well into the 16th century. Indeed, throughout Kent and East Sussex evidence of our past heritage survives today with due ceremony and pageantry, and town signs will still proudly tell you that this is a Cinque Port.

Discover the Cinque Ports and their fascinating and fun history on a guided tour with Yvonne Leach : yvonne@creativitytravel.co.uk

Memories of an English Summer

When I was a young girl, and yes, it was a good few years ago, I am convinced that the summers were longer and hotter and it snowed every winter (unlike Hollywood, not usually, and magically, on Christmas Eve).  However,  I do have memories of many Boxing Days and New Year’s Eves with silent snowfall reflected in the golden lamplight, viewed from My grandmother’s living room window.  Having a late December birthday, I can also remember my father trying to drive an excited bunch of school girls through swirling snow for supper and the theatre (a pantomime, of course) at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre.

Memories of the big freeze 1962/63 as a child, being taken sledging (very gently) by my mother in a winter wonderland with blue blue skies and bright sunshine – not a slushy puddle in sight.  Equally, I remember eating endless ice-creams, with my colleagues, sweltering in a non air-conditioned office in 1976 in Dover.  The sea breezes seemingly doing little to bring any relief from the heavy humidity of the room.

So when did it all change ? Or do the passing years dim the memory and nostalgia gives us rose-tinted spectacles ?  Well, I certainly know that there have been a few mild, grey, damp winters which seem to merge into mild, grey damp summers but the summer of 2016, from the point of view of sunshine, has restored my faith in the perfect English summertime.

Apple Blossom

When H E Bates wrote ‘The Darling Buds of May’ first published in 1958, he wrote of an idyllic life deep in the Kentish countryside which Pa Larkin, the central character, deemed to be ‘Perfick’, and perfect it was, the smell of roses and lavender, with the buzzing of the bees, the bird song, the crickets, and the call of the rooster (not just at dawn but throughout the day) – As September arrives and the hop harvest is beginning and the Victoria plums are in the farm shops and the corn on the cobs are being gathered in – if I close my eyes to any satellite discs or parked vehicles and wait for the calm of the evening when the traffic has quietened, it could be 50 years ago – just for a little while !

Nostalgia Rose

Since the beginning of July and throughout August, we have had delightful, warm, sunny weather, here in the south-east of England, and I have been lucky enough to work in some of the most beautiful places. enjoying coast and countryside and mellow towns, villages and even cities. What a privilege and a pleasure to be a professional Tourist Guide and Tour Manager in this beautiful country I call home.

White Cliffs of Dover

 

 Early mornings at Dover Cruise Terminal where the sky and sea have been azure blue, and the iconic White Cliffs of Dover have stood out sharp and clear on the skyline with the majestic Dover Castle standing guard over the harbour and the town.

 

To live amongst the orchards, hop gardens and scenic villages around Sandwich and Canterbury and watch the still-present rhythm of the agricultural year dictate the life of those whose livelihood depends on the weather and the behaviour of the changing seasons.

As the frothy white hedgerows of June gave way to the lush green fields and meadows of July, what a joy it was to explore the North and the South Downs to travel with guests from the United States and Canada from Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Kent down into East Sussex and the idyllic ‘Antient Towns’ of Rye and Winchelsea, to explore Royal Tunbridge Wells, and re-capture ‘Foyle’s War’ and 1940’s Britain in Hastings Old Town.

The warmth enabled us to enjoy our clean beaches and our (surprisingly) warm sea, and what a pleasure to see children with bucket and spade doing just what we did 50 years ago!

Sunset over Broadway in the Cotswolds

As August began, I was once more privileged to work with guests from Ohio on a wonderful tour which took us up into the beautiful Cotswolds, staying, this time in Broadway.

Days in the warmth, admiring the honey coloured stone and soaking up the views whilst discovering the amazing history of this beautiful region. Still very evident from the sheep we saw, we can see and understand why the ‘Cotswolds Lions’ were so important to England at the height of the Wool Trade back in medieval times.  English Civil War stories and battlefields added anecdote to the visual delights and the opportunity to sit and watch the world go by enjoying arts and crafts (and ice-creams) will remain with us all for a long time.

 

Hop Harvest in Kent

 

September, and once more the heady scent of hops fill the air and countless small tractors, carrying the harvest pass through the villages on the way for hop drying, or having been dried, to start their journey through to micro-breweries all over the world.

Plenty more to recall about this wondrous summer, but back to the present for the moment, and nostalgia aside, how wonderful we still have all this, but we can come home to our labour-saving devices, and many other aspects of technology which were not there in those far-off days. On that note, time to open the freezer, aim for a little defrosting in the microwave, and fire up the oven for an up to date dinner. Did I hear you say ‘dishwasher’ ? – well, he is due home from work any minute……

Hopping in Kent

Turkeys, heresy, hops and beer, came into England all in one year !
Time: 1500s      The Place: Kent 

One of the most lovely things about living in rural Kent, amongst apple and cherry orchards and hop gardens is that, at this time of year, we can participate in the age old tradition of gathering some hop garlands to hang around our home, and enjoy that heady smell which says just one thing:

 ” It’s September down in ‘The Garden of England'”!

The county of Kent has long been associated with hop production whilst oast-houses (distinctive brick or stone built barns with their round or square towers) which were designed to dry hops have become characteristic landmarks and symbolic of agricultural life of the county during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Oasts and cornfields, Kent

The Latin name for the hop is Humulus lupulus which means ‘wolf of the woods’ ! – Interestingly the plant first was noted for its medicinal properties as far back as ancient Egypt.  Its association with Kent, however, just goes back to the 16th century when Flemish settlers, at the time of Queen Elizabeth 1st, preferred a beer with a flavour more like they found back home, and noted that hops also improved the keeping qualities of the beer.  It is probable though that the first hop garden was created near Canterbury in 1520. Conditions were perfect for hop cultivation, suitable soil, and of course, a good supply of wood for the poles upon which climbed the hop bines.

I think it took some time for the locals to catch on, as they rather thought that the hop was a bit of an ‘ evil weed ‘ and  ‘ inflated the belly’ – They were indeed rather suspicious of this ‘Dutch’ or ‘Germanic’ influence on the home brew !

Hops in Shatterling

The 19th century was the golden age of hop production in the county. I can imagine how it might have been, hops running up wires attached to poles from ground level to the top wires where stringers and harvesters walked on stilts to tend and harvest the hops!

I am thrilled to learn that my near neighbour, Derek, was one of the last stilt walkers in our village, and he still has his stilts!  I am looking forward to talking to him and a tour around our local hop garden soon – pictures to follow!
It wasn’t just the local farming community who assisted in the hop harvest and folk would come from the East End of London with their families, stay in the Kentish hop gardens in the little ‘hoppers’ huts’.  By day they would cut the hops from the released bines and earn ‘tokens’ from the tally-man.  By night, they would relax around the camp fires, maybe telling stories, singing songs.  For Eastenders, it was a holiday in the countryside.  The hops would then be taken to an oast to be dried by a warm air system until just the right level of dryness, and then taken to be used in the brewing industry!

Essentially Hops, Bekesbourne. Parsonage Farm from a postcard printed by Oyster Press Whitstable.

I love it that some will tell you of the sunlit days, the fun and games in the countryside, the heady smell of the hops and the pennies to be earned. A romantic idyll ? Others will tell of the rough hob bines which scratched and stained your fingers, the race against the weather, and the very strict tally-man who was not easily pleased.  Locals may remember those London children turning up in their small, rural primary schools. Different ideas, different ways of life, and more than the odd playground fight between the children. The hops, at the end of the day, had to go immediately to be dried, which explains why there are so many oast houses in the area. – Many now have been turned into private houses but still make a distinctive mark on our landscape.

Hop Heart in my living room

Well, a way of life which has disappeared into the past, but which we remember. If we pass on a guided tour between Sandwich and Canterbury or near Faversham or even as we approach the main motorway to London, we see the hop gardens (always say garden, never fields)! – So many anecdotes, so many myths and legends to learn. Also, of course, like so many before me, I venture out to gather in my hops to bring good luck and plenty to my home for the next 12 months to come.

007 – and a ‘Madcap Count’ – Canterbury’s hidden past.

007 –  and a ‘Madcap Count’ – Canterbury’s hidden past.

Guiding visitors arriving in Canterbury, often involves a coach set-down at St George’s Bus Station and whilst we are waiting to tour the city or visit the Cathedral, we might catch a glimpse of the National Express Coach making its way between Dover and London. Chances are that we can see the number of this bus, and it might well be 007. So perhaps it comes as no surprise to us that Ian Fleming, novelist and creator of the James Bond novels knew Kent well, and spent a considerable amount of time here. An inspiration for his secret agent’s code number ?

He wrote, in his novel Goldfinger, of a game of golf  played between Bond and Goldfinger at Royal St Marks ! – probably based on the Royal St George’s Golf Course in Sandwich, Kent.  Fleming had played many a game here over the years, and one can imagine the beautiful May day, he described,  with the larks singing over this great seaside golf course – today occasional host to The British Open Golf Tournament –  I wonder whether Ian Fleming would have relaxed afterwards in the club house and sampled one of those famous dry martinis -’shaken, not stirred’ !  Sadly, It was also to be the stage for the author’s final curtain call. Elected captain for the club 1964/5, he was present for a committee meeting on August 11, 1964, and suffered a heart attack.  Fleming died at age 56 in the early morning of 12 August —his son Caspar’s twelfth birthday, in Canterbury. It is said that his last recorded words were an apology to the ambulance drivers for having inconvenienced them, saying “I am sorry to trouble you chaps. I don’t know how you get along so fast with the traffic on the roads these days.

Throughout East Kent we can see signs, sites, villages, houses and views associated with Ian Fleming and his James Bond novels, including one on The Duck Inn, Pett Bottom, where, it is claimed, he wrote: ‘You Only Live Twice’

Ian Fleming wrote of James Bond turning off the A2 Canterbury/Dover Road at Lydden village, and following an older road into Dover and I know, well, exactly where he would have spotted, what he described as, ‘the wonderful cardboard castle’  For sure, Dover Castle is so impressive that many a visitor has asked, in wonder, ‘ is that real’ ?  Well it certainly is, and very much worth a visit when touring in Kent

The little seaside village of St Margaret’s Bay is central to the James Bond –  Moonraker – novel.

White Cliffs, St. Margaret’s Bay

It was here that Ian Fleming bought the house, called White Cliffs, down on the beach, in the 1950s.   It can easily be recognised today, and it is

worth a detour on a visit to Dover to have a look at this small but pretty bay, full of history. This was Fleming’s holiday home for a crucial decade when he conceived and wrote many of the James Bond books.   Perhaps, it is less well known that Ian Fleming was the author of a novel called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all about a car that could fly ! – Later made into a film, starring Dick Van Dyke.  The inspiration for this novel also has connections with Canterbury. Count Louis Zborowsky, born in 1895, son of a Polish racing driver and an American heiress has been described as ‘eccentric’,’madcap, ‘a daredevil’ and a bit of ‘a playboy’  At just 16, he inherited Higham Park Estate near Canterbury where he was to build his own miniature railway ‘ just for fun’ ! He had married a chorus girl, Violet, and seemed to really ‘live the high life’  He designed and built his own racing cars, amongst them the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang !

Birthplace of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

It is thought that Ian Fleming had seen this car racing at Brooklands Circuit, and been transfixed by it, when just a lad – motor racing was a new and glamorous sport back then. Not surprisingly, he remembered it later when he put pen to paper to write his novel: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Count Zborowski’s ambition was to drive for Mercedes. In 1924 he got his wish and entered the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Sadly on the 44th lap he lost control of his car and was killed.

Higham Park – home of Count Louis Zborowsky

Today, from the windows of the 007 bus between Dover and Canterbury, we can glimpse Higham Park (not currently open to the public) behind the English Hedgerows, and, pause to imagine  how it might have been with Count Louis at the helm back  in the ‘Roaring Twenties’

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nailbourne Flows Again – Canterbury Kent

Out and about in the county of Kent last weekend, I am reminded  of the  legend about the Nailbourne stream which flows through the Elham Valley not far from Canterbury which takes us back over 1500 years to the 6th Century AD.

St Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great to bring Roman Catholicism Christianity to England must, at times, have had quite a struggle on his hands dealing with superstitions, myths and, of course, the local Pagan gods  The story goes that at the time of his arrival, there was a terrible drought  throughout the countryside. It is said that the people of the Elham Valley worried that this was a direct result of upsetting the ancient Anglo Saxon gods, and in turn they were less than happy about the concept of Christianity. Now, Augustine, it is claimed, decided action was needed, so he went, with his trusty staff (a stick rather than a team of employees) into the Elham Valley and having tapped the ground and prayed for a source of water, he was rewarded with a spring bubbling up at the very spot where he had been kneeling.

The Nailbourne in full flow Barham February 2014

However, Thor and his pals, on seeing this, were angered, and to prove that their power was the greater, brewed up a great storm which flooded the valley, destroying the crops  and bringing misery to the dwellers.  As a result, the people were none too happy with Augustine.  In order to appease the people and to avoid out and out conflict with Thor et al, Augustine determined that the spring should stay bubbling cheerfully underground and only be allowed to flow in full every seven years.

Not sure if anyone is counting, but I think it might have been over-performing this last few years.  When I wrote this, it was well before we saw The Nailbourne in full flow again just after Christmas in 2019 and it reached its peak in February of this year.  Certainly this year has been a year of woe !

However,   at a time when Covid and  winter weather, is causing problems in many parts of the world, and we look for signs of improvement, we welcome the promise of spring when we see the snowdrops and catkins poking through the ground alongside the rushing waters. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, and we look forward with optimism.