July 26, 2013

First Days in Kent

“America:  It’s like Britain, only with buttons.”  Ringo Starr

Carol writes:  We selected the shortest ferry crossing from France to England--Calais to Dover in only an hour and a half.  We camped for the evening in the parking lot at the Port of Calais where we were entertained by a constant stream of campers and cars parking for a few hours and then hurrying off one by one to their assigned ferry gate.  We were parked very close to our neighbors in a jam-packed lot, so it was a noisy and hectic night.  As we had been warned, and just as I got good and drowsy for a short night’s sleep, Bastille Day fireworks started blasting off from a nearby pier.

When our 4 a.m. wakeup alarm sounded, we made quick cups of coffee and proceeded to French customs and then a few yards further on to British customs.  We answered a few questions that are typically asked and then were sent smoothly on our way to our assigned lane for loading the vehicle deck on the ferry. 

As the first pink rays of dawn appeared in the sky, we were underway across the English Channel.

I have heard references to the ‘white cliffs of Dover’ many times in my life, but watching those magnificent cliffs slowly emerge through the mist on the English Channel was a special treat.


In no time at all, we had driven out of the vehicle deck and were exiting the port area in Dover.  With a great deal of apprehension, Al and I began our whispered mantra of “keep to the left, keep to the left.”  Driving on the left side of the road proved to be far more complicated than just taking the lane on the other side of the road.  An entire lifetime of driving habits had to be rewired in our brains.  We had negotiated roundabouts throughout our travels in Europe, and we had mastered them pretty well on the Continent; however, suddenly, we were required to enter a roundabout circle in the opposite direction!  It was nerve-wracking!  Left turns were easy if you remembered to stay to the left after you turned, but it was the right turns that were quite scary at first.  Now, we had to train ourselves to look at the traffic in the opposite lane barreling toward us on the passenger side, then yield before completing a RIGHT turn.  I will candidly confess that even after five days here, I am still a very uneasy passenger—and all of those speed demons in the opposite direction are coming toward us on my side!  I don’t think driving on the left side will ever be a piece of cake…

Aside from learning to adapt to different driving habits, we have found our first days in Kent to be a welcome change.  Our first lunch of fish and chips at Papa’s in Folkstone was hands-down the best restaurant meal I have had in 3 months.  After tending to a little business, we acquired a British SIM card for our cell phone that will cost only 3 pence (cents) a minute.  We also purchased a WiFi hotspot (called a Dongle) that we can use wherever there is cell phone coverage, even in our own RV!  Although we had quickly adapted to the routine in France, we both felt that daily life had suddenly become a little easier with a few new technical perks and no language challenges.

Our game plan had always been to head to Scotland, the most northern area in the United Kingdom, so that we could take advantage of warmer weather, longer days, and less crowds (hopefully).  But first…there were a few sights along the way in Kent that we wanted to see, starting at Canterbury Cathedral.

Oh, the history that has played out in this famed house of worship!  Canterbury Cathedral is probably most famous for fact that under orders of King Henry II Archbishop Thomas à Becket was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170.  Three hundred years later, King Henry VIII demolished (now Saint) Thomas’ shrine which had attracted pilgrims to the cathedral for 3 centuries.  Today, a lone candle burns at the exact spot in the cathedral where the shrine used to be displayed.

In order to maximize our appreciation of the historical sites we plan to visit in the United Kingdom, Al and I are reading a book about the history of Britain, so we were excited to find tombs of some of the royalty we had been reading about, among them King Henry IV and his wife Joan of Navarre,

and Edward Plantagenet, “The Black Prince.”

Despite the unusual heat wave, we enjoyed a short walk around the town of Canterbury to the ruins of a medieval castle,

then past a military service recruitment center that got Al’s attention…

One of the best deals for the extended-stay tourist in the United Kingdom is a membership in the National Trust.  Membership entitles you to free admission and free parking at all trust sites, and there are literally hundreds of them—houses, estates, castles, gardens—in short, anything of historic or natural significance in the UK.  Ever since we had received our booklet of national trust sites in the mail last fall, we had been anticipating visiting many of these sites.  Now, we couldn’t wait to get started! 

Fittingly, for our first trust site visit, we chose Chartwell, country home of Britain’s much-loved Sir Winston Churchill. 


No photos were permitted in the house, so I have borrowed a few from the Internet.

Churchill's Study

   Churchill's Art Studio
All of the rooms at Chartwell were filled with Churchill memorabilia, and the walls were covered with his paintings.  In Sir Winston’s fascinating art studio it was interesting to see what an accomplished artist he had become.  Churchill also loved the landscape and nature around Chartwell, and much of it was created by him—lakes, a swimming pool, garden walls, flower gardens, and a children’s playhouse.


One of the most poignant features on the grounds was the fish pond and chair in the spot where Churchill loved to sit and feed his goldfish.

Al and I finished the afternoon at our first trust site feeling quite satisfied and pleased with our visit to Sir Winston Churchill’s beloved Chartwell, a home that clearly inspired greatness in such a monumental historical figure.

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”   Sir Winston Churchill

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