A few hours’ drive to the west from Deal and you reach Hastings. This is none other than the place where the Battle of Hastings went down! When you enter this region you see signs such as “Welcome to 1066 country” – that’s the year of the Battle. The battle occurred on Senlac Hill about 10km from Hastings and near the present day town called Battle. The English under King Harold II had an advantage over the Norman invaders because of the hill and were able to fight them off. However when the Normans retreated the English left their high ground advantage and went after them. Harold was killed resulting in the English becoming disorganised which led to the Normans winning the battle. As Hastings and Battle are of such historical significance one would think we would be compelled to stop and take a closer look around, well at least have a cappuccino, but alas, the trip was making me weary and I, I think we, just wanted to keep going.

Let me back track a little (as I do in the car all the time when I get lost). It’s notable to mention the massive queues of trucks outside of Dover from the ferry terminal for the channel crossing. I could not believe the sight. Frist right through Dover itself on the other side of the road the two lanes are reduced to one lane for moving traffic and one lane for essentially stationary trucks. At each round about traffic offices ensured the trucks didn’t park on the roundabouts. The queues continue for miles and miles outside of Dover. In fact I think we drove for about fifteen minutes past Dover and the trucks were still parked on the far side lane all the way.

We had taken the route along the coast as I wanted to drive through seaside communities and check out the beach along the way. That was maybe not such a good idea as due to the Queen’s Jubilee there were people everywhere having street parties and taking part of various celebratory events. After Dover we worked out way to Folkestone. The shingle beaches continued, pretty unexciting views compared to Godzone. We drove on to St. Mary’s Bay and stopped to buy essentials like cinnamon rolls and pikelets. I had been told that the beach at St. Mary’s Bay was lovely. Perhaps it was the weather, cold and windy, or perhaps I am just too spoilt but they failed to grab my attention. We did get to eat the cinnamon rolls at St. Mary’s Bay beach and that was a great occasion.

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By this time I had become tired of narrow busy roads so wanted the fastest route from there to our destination. The cottage we were renting was located at the end of Coast Road in Norman’s Bay, a small, hard to find, village on the banks of a shingle beach. Evidently the name arises from the belief that the 1066 Norman invasion fleet landed in the vicinity. As we came along the coast from the east we ended up driving along a narrow two way road (called Herbrand walk); on one side is farmland and the other side directly lies the stoney beach. I was beginning to wonder just how remote our accommodation was, then we came to a railway crossing with gates shut in front of it. In these places a railway worker manually closes the gates when trains are approaching. After waiting about five minutes the train came and the gates were opened again and we drove on just around the corner and found our cottage.

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The photo below shows the view out the front of our cottage:

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Evidently it was built in the mid-1700’s and use to house “preventive men” (customs men) who tried to combat smuggling activities. There is an interesting article on smuggling at http://www.villagenet.co.uk/history/1300-smugglers.php

Our beach:

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There isn’t much at Norman’s Bay except a couple of camp sites. Just a few minutes down the road you get to Pevensey Bay, a small town that pretty much has everything you need. Unfortunately the cottage we were staying at had two minor problems. First the ceiling was a little low in places so it was easy to bump your head. I blue-tacked a couple of small cardboard boxes to the ceiling beams in the main points of encounter between the kitchen and the lounge (Karen’s comment – yes I did bring the blu-tack from New Zealand, you never know when you’ll need blu-tack, it’s great stuff) and we tended to walk around with bent backs … The other short-coming is that the cottage didn’t have a washing machine. I was a little concerned about this but I discovered a wonderful launderette in town called Pevensey – Pete’s Laundry Services. Pete is a lovely character, very friendly and works as an extra in movies when he can. At the moment he has scruffy medium length hair and looks the part of a rugged medieval knight or perhaps just a stable hand. Pete was saying there are a number of medieval movie projects on at the moment or coming up so he’s keeping that look for a while. The other advantage of using Pete’s services is that the café next door makes a pretty good coffee.

I am sure the locals here are the nicest you will find in England but the beach side houses/cottages in Norman’s Bay are not particularly well maintained and probably more like batches in New Zealand in the 1970’s only with untidy sections. The large caravan parks don’t help the look. Here is the road leading to our cottage:

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On the upside the internet here is a good as anywhere and it’s quiet (when the builders next door aren’t working and the diggers along the beach have gone home). The railway line out the back has trains every hour but surprisingly they are hardly noticeable. Here we are – our usual state of laptops on the table making the most of the internet:

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One of the reasons we wanted to stay here, apart from the fact that it was the best we could find in the area, was that we wanted to visit Brighton about a 45 minute drive from here. On Wednesday we made the trip and despite the rain and wind it was an enjoyable day. We drove to a Park and Ride where we caught a bus into the central city. Here is Brighton Pier:

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The most important activity on our itinerary was to visit the Toy Museum. It was jammed packed with trains, planes, dolls, bears and of course loads of Meccano models. Here is an old working steam train which can tow a trailer with about 6 people on it:

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We then walked down toward the waterfront looking at the many stores selling collectable second-hand junk and other clothing stores that caught Karen’s eye. I was amazed at how hilly Brighton is but fortunately we mainly walked down hill and only went up hill in buses. I admit the day was tiring for me and I attempted on many occasions to find a good coffee shop but for various reasons none of them seem quite right for me. After wandering around aimlessly in the cold wind Karen gave up waiting for me to find the right shop and pushed me into a book shop that also had a café. I was really too tired to care by this stage and not much later I was drinking a giant cappuccino.

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Quarter of an hour later I was recharged and we found ourselves walking past a Lego shop! The back wall of the Lego shop had on display loads of blocks and bits that you could buy as single items:

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According to Daniel and Amy, that was the greatest discovery in our trip to date. We spent about an hour there and resolved our problem of not knowing what to buy the kids for their birthdays. Amy is 9 next week; Daniel will be 11 next month. The “best as” thing in the Lego shop was you can build and buy your own Lego mini-figure sets. Each had to have five parts but you could mix and match and even just have anything at all in each set.

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Before our day was to finish Karen wanted to take a look through the Royal Pavilion. We arrived around 4:45pm and they would close up at 5:45pm. The kids could get in free with our membership card but they weren’t that interested as they really just wanted to go to the library. Amy wanted to find books on inventions and Daniel on animals. We asked the Royal Pavilion staff to find out what time the library closed so we could see if it would work if I took the kids to the library while Karen went around the Pavilion. It was raining outside so I didn’t want to walk around in the rain if the library was closed. The plan came together when we found out that the library didn’t close until 5:30pm. Karen started her tour around and I raced out the door with the kids in the rain. We made it to the library just before 5pm and after finding a few books to read the staff there started telling everyone they had to go because they were closed! What! Their correct closing time was actually 5pm not the 5:30pm we had expected. Disappointed we put our books away and started walking out of the library only to be told by about 50 staff members that they had closed and we had to leave! Obviously they were all eager to get home to watch replays of the Queens Jubilee. We made our way back to the Royal Pavilion, which was also closing up, and fortunately didn’t have to sit around on the floor waiting for too long before Karen came out. She loved going through the Pavilion and I think not have us around for a short while (Karen’s comment, “It sure was nice being able to go at my own pace and actually get to read all the placards in peace and quiet!).

Our next task was to print out tax forms for the IRD so we walked around looking for an internet café. The first place didn’t have a printer working so we walked back to the train station where we had just come from and at a few minutes before 6pm were able to walk into a computer shop and get what we needed done. Very pleased I could tick that off my list we went to the bus stop and waiting for our #27 bus to take us back to the Park and Ride. Not long after it arrived and we boarded and it drove off down the streets we now had become every familiar with. Although it was nice to be driven along the waterfront after about 15 minutes I became concerned that we weren’t going in the right direction and that soon we might reach Dover if we weren’t careful. My suspicions were confirmed after asking the driver, we had got on the bus in the wrong direction. Out and over the road we didn’t have to wait too long before a #27 come along in the correct direction. Back into town again and then finally we were indeed on our way to the Park and Ride. When we reached our car park Karen wanted to look for toilets so we went into a nearby restaurant. Of course I went in after her and it was all a trick to get me to see people eating these amazing desserts – not long later we were sitting around a table eating dinner.

Wealden was an okay place to stay but not one I would really recommend to someone short of weeks to get around England. While our accommodation was quite sufficient I don’t miss banging my head on the low ceiling beams. The cottage did have internet, the beds were comfortable and it was just across the road from the beach so overall it was a pleasant stay.

(Week 16: Saturday 2 June 2012 – Saturday 9 June 2012)