Jill was feeling a little better so we decided to head off and see some more of this area. She has always wanted to see the White Cliffs of Dover, so we headed down the road to Dover to see if we could get a view of these famous cliffs. After a bit of exploring, we found another National Trust site (thank goodness for them) that had a carpark and an easy walkway to a viewpoint.
There wasn’t much of a coincidence.(you will have to read on for those). I was half expecting to hear Dame Vera Lynn singing her wartime song about bluebirds flying over the white cliffs of Dover, but Jill told me that no one was feeling very depressed today and that she could rest without being disturbed. Of course, one of the reasons why everyone loved her in WW2 was that her songs appealed to people’s heartstrings – wishing them hope in threatening times.
Jill found a little coastal tour in our Lonely Planet Guide and we decided to follow it because it sounded as though it would be an interesting way to explore some of the coast south from Dover.
Before we started, we found a sign pointing to the Bleriot Memorial. Louis Bleriot was the first person to fly across the channel. He crash landed in a meadow in an undignified way in 1909. The location is marked with a silhouette of his plane. The customs officer who arrived to record the landing recorded the aircraft as a yacht and its pilot as its Master as he had no other category to cover the event. For his exploit Monsieur Bleriot won a £1,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail. This area must have been less wooded in 1909 as the photos from the day show a much more open place.
Not far from Dover is a coastal nature reserve called Samphire Hoe. You reach it through a steep tunnel and come out on a flat piece of grassy land between the white cliffs and the sea. This area was created from all the fill dug from the tunnel under the channel to France. It is reputed to have fifteen varieties of butterfly but with today’s breeze, I think they would have all been blown to Ireland.
Near the village of Capel-Le-Ferne, we found the very large and impressive Battle of Britain Memorial. There is just a mild coincidence here as near our hotel is a small aerodrome that has been holding a Battle of Britain Memorial commemoration event over the weekend. Yesterday morning, as I walked across the carpark to our car, I looked up to saw a plane towing a glider of the type that troops were carried in for the invasion of France in WW2. In the afternoon, a Spitfire flew overhead. Most of the famous air battle was fought in the skies above this county. It inspired Sir Winston Churchill to make this famous quotation: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few”.
Now the coincidences really start. As we drove into the town of New Romney (fortuitously giving way to a police car in the roundabout that saw at just the last second), we found a sign going to the RH&DR (Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway). We parked at the station and I spent half an hour photographing the trains and their steam locomotives. This railway has an amazing history.
The RH&DR was the culmination of the dreams of Captain J. E. P. Howey — a racing driver, millionaire land owner, former Army Officer and miniature railway aficionado along with Count Louis Zborowski — an eminently well-known racing driver of his day.
It is built as a one-third scale railway and has tracks that cover 13 miles on the Romney Marshes. Since 1927 it has been an integral part of the landscape of the local area and has continually run as a private railway. The official opening took place on 16th July 1927, with the steam locomotive ‘Hercules’ hauling an inaugural train from Hythe to New Romney. When first opened to the public the line only covered, in double track, the eight miles between Hythe and New Romney. Owner Captain Jack Howey soon had his eye on extending the line and in 1928 double tracks carried the trains to Dungeness via Greatstone.
The railway even hard a part to pay in WW2. It was requisitioned by the War Department — they even created the only miniature armoured train in the world — and was used it extensively during the building of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) which fuelled the Allied invasion force.
Now for the coincidences:
1. Captain Howey has a connection to Melbourne through the shopping arcade at Howey House. People my age will remember it as a tall art-deco building that once formed a shopping arcade that connected Howey Lane to Collins Street .It was demolished in the 1980s for the construction of the Sportsgirl Centre, a modern shopping mall. Howey Place is named after Henry Howey who bought the land for £128 in 1837. After he and his family drowned on passage from Sydney, his property passed to his brother John Werge Howey and finally to his son Captain John Edwards Presgrave Howey who jointly established this railway
2. . Count Louis Zborowski, the eccentric racing driver was famous for owning and racing the Mercedes car that we know from the movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He was killed in a racing accident just before the railway began operating..
We met a final coincidence at the town of Rye, a little further along the coast. This was one of the Cinque Port Towns along the English coast. These were an historic series of coastal towns in Kent, Sussex and Essex. Their alliance was originally formed for military and trade purposes, but is now entirely ceremonial.
Sir Robert Menzies, our former Prime Minister succeeded Sir Winston Churchill as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1966. Sir Robert was a devout Royalist and with his knighthood, he was somehow granted the Order of the Thistle – Perhaps because of some ancestral reason. This is the greatest order of chivalry in Scotland, recognising sixteen Knights with the highest honour in the country and recognises Scottish men and women who have held public office or who have contributed in a particular way to national life. The Order is second only in precedence in England to the Order of the Garter.
This all gave rise to a well reported discussion that Sir Robert had with two journalists in the men’s toilet at Parliament House. As they were standing at the urinal (with Sir Robert in between them), one of the journalists quipped that it was like the rose being between two thorns. Very adept at quick wit, Sir Robert replied, that it was more like the thistle between two leaks!