I think it true to say that no two tours are exactly the same, and one of the most rewarding things about working as a tourist guide here in Kent in the beautiful Garden of England is that you never know what you might find which might make your day, and your tour, extra special.
Reporting for duty at the Cruise Terminal recently, I had been assigned an afternoon tour which included a ride aboard a steam train of the Kent and East Sussex Railway. This is one of the country’s finest examples of a rural light railway. The line gently wends its way from Tenterden for ten and a half miles through the unspoilt countryside of the Rother Valley, terminating in the shadows of the magnificent National Trust Castle at Bodiam.
That in itself is a pleasure, but the fact that a luscious cream tea, with light and fluffy warmed scones, butter, jam and delicious clotted cream with pots of tea and cake are served during the journey just literally puts the icing on the cake ! – Of course, in true team-work spirit one of my scones is always neatly wrapped up to be taken back to the coach driver on arrival in Bodiam.
However, on this particular day, on checking the website, I discovered that we were going to be experiencing a true journey back in time, as the railway was hosting a 1940’s weekend.
The sun shone in a blue sky, and the whole day was just amazing. Although this tour guide was no more than a twinkle in her father’s eye during those times, those years were not so far away, and parents’ memories, films, books and music painted extremely clear pictures within, of course, living memory. This event just encapsulated it all perfectly.
Our very modern coach wended its way through picturesque Kentish countryside, looking extremely – red, white and blue.. very patriotic.. with anenomes, gypsy lace, and frothy white ‘may’ blossoms, bluebells galore, and red campions peeking out through the verdant hedgerows and fields lining the twisty roadsides. Sudden bright bursts of yellow oil seed rape just added to the kaleidoscope which reflected our bright and cheerful moods as we neared our steam train and our cream tea!
However, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the impact of the scene which greeted us in Tenterden. On the home front, ladies in their flowery pinafores shared their cooking tips, the Home Guard (Dad’s Army) polished their guns (and boots) and regaled us with stories, which might have even made Captain Mainwairing feel a little panic-stricken ! Music rang out, and people strolled in their civilian 40’s clothes (so smart) and indeed their military uniforms.. Old buses and cars sat side by side with a tank and, to the delight of my guests, there were even a few USA navy lads, straight out of “New York – New York” … Thank the Lord I had a train to catch or the coach driver might have suggested a quick jitter-bug !
On board our train, an RAF Officer walked down the carriages apologising for the meagre rations (!) and warning us that our journey may be subject to air-strikes. We were instructed that if such a thing should happen we must hit the floor double quick and shelter under the table until the ‘all-clear’ A few nervous laughs from my passengers resulted in a finger wagging… ‘ this must be taken seriously Ma’am’ !
Another interesting link for my guests was the Cavell Wagon – a railway carriage restored and cared for by the Kent and East Sussex Railway. Nurse Edith Cavell assisted over 200 Allied soldiers to escape from German occupied Belgium during WW1. She was arrested and found guilty of treason. Her execution by firing squad took place in Brussels in October 1915. In 1919 her body arrived in Dover (just where the Cruise terminal is now) and was taken to London in ‘The Cavell Van’ for a memorial service in Westminster Abbey before burial in her home town of Norwich. Possibly the most famous use of the Cavell Van was for the transportation of the Unknown Warrior (again from Dover) to London in 1920 . The wagon was parked in Bodiam station.
Sombre moments, of course, but a great sense of community and ‘buzz’ and some very happy passengers. Jiving in the sidings ! Well, then I saw one lady, rather tearful. When I asked her if all was OK, she told me that her father had been stationed over here during WW2, and had spoken (a little) about things, but she had never ever believed that she might experience some of the sights and sounds which he would have known in those far off days.
It was a great day out. Thank you Kent and East Sussex. All days should end with a celebration, so will it be a little Gin and Orange ? A little ‘digging for victory’ vegetable stew or perhaps back to 2013 with a bump!