Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Joy of Riding on Trains

I absolutely love traveling by train. There's something soothing about the gentle rocking rhythm as the train transports you away, physically and mentally. On Saturday morning I walked to the Norwich Rail Station and got on a train to Stratford, then off the train and onto a bus for a short hop to Stratford International where I then boarded the fast train to Faversham in Kent. Instead of the gentle rhythmic rocking, I felt like we were leaving the runway on a 747 - incredibly exhilarating.

The painted eye.
A bouquet for Seithr.
Readying the sails.
Waiting for the tide.
I'd been invited to the launching of Nancy's friend Robert's sailboat Seithr (it means a kind of magic practiced by Norse shamans). Nancy wasn't able to share in the excitement unfortunately, being already back in Morocco. When I arrived at Faversham, Robert was there to meet me at the station and took me back to the boatyard where his daughter Winn, an artist, was just finishing painting the eyes on the boat so "she could see where she was going." Her dog Arthur, an eight-year-old whippet, very enthusiastically ran to greet me and jumped up, oblivious to the fact that I had worn my white sailing pants just for the occasion. We spent a bit more time putting all the pieces of Seithr together before attaching the trailer to the car and heading for Broadstairs, about an hour's drive away, where she was to be launched. The boat is a 17' ketch with mainsail, mizzen sail and a jib, which all needed to be rolled up and put into their respective canvas sacks and tucked inside the boat. The detachable rudder is normally put in the boat too, but it was too complicated to fit it in so it was packed in the car, a VW Golf. After all of us and Arthur got in, there wasn't much room for anything else. The drive to Broadstairs towing this boat was quite an adventure. At one point, Winn said quietly from the backseat, "Dad, you missed that bus by one inch, not even one inch." Robert seemed oblivious to the fact that he was pulling a 17' boat and trailer and whipped along the narrow roads like he was on a motorcycle. We got there though without incident.

Lots of helpers.

Pretty sea monsters ready to escort us out.
When we arrived at the beach, we backed the trailer down onto the golden sand and took the sails out of their bags, mounted the mast and put all the lines in order. Then Robert's friends started appearing on the beach, most of them having arrived by car or train from London. It was a diverse group who showed up, ages ranging from 20 to 70, all sorts of Nationalities and talents - artists, singers, musicians. They all offered their support and we got the boat pushed and pulled down to the incoming tide.  When she was ready, Winn read a lovely speech and sprayed champagne all over the bow. Then the winch was released and Siethr was eased into the water as four of us jumped onboard. Rockets were launched into the sky (even though it was daytime), air horns were blown and a trumpeter blared out a tune. Needless to say, quite a crowd of onlookers had gathered to take part in the celebration. Robert had even thought to have a bouquet made for the bow, which we threw over as we got under sail - a ritual performed to release the boat from her land ties. Two women friends wearing wetsuits and sea monster costumes, guided us out. It was a fabulous send off and everything went off without a hitch. We went out and picked up a few good breezes, just enough to know the boat could perform, and headed back in.

Having completed her truncated maiden voyage, we put her all back together again, like a puzzle, and headed up the hill to the Broadstairs Sailing Club, a tiny venue with stunning views across the water we'd just sailed in from. Robert's Moldavian friends had prepared a feast of poached salmon, salads, olives and cheese, granary breads, and desserts. We ordered whatever we liked from the bar, and I chose of course a glass of sauvignon blanc. When everyone had eaten and chatted while the music played, it was time to dance, which we did until 1:00 am. I was dropped at my prebooked B&B as everyone else went back to Robert's at Faversham. When I called the next morning to thank Robert for a wonderful party, he said that when they got back to his place, they'd continued partying until 4:30 am. Thank god I had a B&B! The Merriland is a place I would highly recommend. Spotlessly clean and comfortable and only £45 per night, which includes breakfast.

Unfortunately, I couldn't sleep in because breakfast was served between 8:30 and 9:00 am. The young woman who owns The Merriland is from Manchester - a real sweetheart. She told me about a path that went along the beach from Broadstairs to Ramsgate, about an hour's walk one way. I decided to book in for another night to take advantage of this charming town, and headed off in the direction she'd pointed me.

Bleak House
Broadstairs was Charles Dicken's favourite seaside town and he spent many years there. In fact, Bleak House rises up above the beach like a fortress. But when I went to the Dicken's Museum later in the afternoon, I was told my the curator that in fact the Bleak House in Broadstairs was built 50 years after Dickens died. He wrote the book, Bleak House, in Herfordshire. That was hard news to hear because I'd felt quite moved when I first saw this forbidding structure looming above all the other buildings. It was, however, the original Dickens Museum for many years, before the house was sold to a private buyer.

Wild flowers growing along the cliff.
Looking back towards Broadstairs.
Walking along the headlands towards Ramsgate.
I started walking south along the path at the top of the chalk cliffs where you get the most commanding views, passing lots of people walking their dogs on this sunny Sunday morning. It took exactly an hour to get to Ramsgate and I decided not to pause long as it seemed like too much of a holiday atmosphere with children's bouncy castles and shops selling cotton candy and sea toys on the beach. I turned around and headed back to Broadstairs, stopping to have a coke at a little kiosk on the path.

When I got back to Broadstairs, I walked along the boardwalk and looked in shop windows, visited the Dickens Museum, and kept my eye out for somewhere to have dinner. There was a great looking Italian place on the water and I decided I'd come back to that after I'd freshened up at the B&B. I walked past houses with typical English gardens bursting with roses in bloom and saw an amazing flowering blue tree. I sent my friend David, who knows these things, a photo and asked him to identify it. He said it's a Ceonothus arboreus (pronounced "see a noth us") and is the finest specimen he's ever seen. It must be the southern exposure that provides such a perfect environment for so many flowering plants and trees.

It was about 4:00 pm by the time I got back to my room and made the mistake of lying down on the bed, promptly falling asleep for over an hour. By this time I was really hungry, so walked back down into town, only five minutes away, and took a table in the Italian place I'd seen earlier. It was quite full with a cheerful crowd and I ordered my food and a glass of wine, and read my book. The clam vongole, with fresh clams in a white white sauce cooked with garlic and tomatoes was delicious. I couldn't wait to get back to my room though, and had a hot bath before climbing into bed - it was only 9:00 pm.

Again I had to get up early to take advantage of the full English breakfast - coffee, eggs, bacon, sausage, broiled tomatoes and mushrooms with toast and marmalade. How can you resist when it's all included? And besides, in total I'd walked four hours the days before. After chowing all that down, I got my bag packed up and wheeled it down the road to the railway station for the return trip to Norwich. I was so happy I'd made the effort to get down here and enjoy celebrating not only the launching of a lovely sailboat, but submitting my last essay of the program the day before. Now on to writing the final dissertation, which I estimate will take me until July.


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