Last updated September 26, 2011

Isle of Sheppey, Isle of Thanet and other old haunts

Sheerness, Margate, Canterbury and more

South East London

Having driven the North Circular Road on the way to Ascot, we decided to brave the South Circular Road to reach southeast London for the next leg of our trip. Apart from the increased traffic density, many parts of the South Circular were much as we remembered them from 40 and 50 years earlier. In general, a great conservation discipline has prevailed regarding green areas such as Clapham Common and Blackheath which seemed unchanged, despite what must have been enormous pressure on building land. Sadly, the same was not the case for all villages and towns. While places like Westerham and Shoreham appear to have kept planning under control, other towns, Biggin Hill and Swanley to name two, seem to have seriously lost it.

By the time we reached Forest Hill we had a mental itinerary to visit Catford, Lewisham, Deptford, Greenwich and Blackheath as well as the Westmount Road area. These visits ended up being crawl-throughs rather than drive-throughs - this was New Years Day and traffic was unbelievable. Catford, like most other areas within London, appears to have lost many of it's pubs and all of it's cinemas. We had wanted to see the Lewisham Clock Tower, but a one way system siphoned us off before we got there and we were almost in Deptford before we re-emerged. In Greenwich our objectives were the Cutty Sark, the Maritime Museum, Greenwich Park and the original Royal Observatory. Forget that! The streets were swarming with pedestrians and traffic moved at a slow walk pace where it was actually moving - the entrance to Greenwich Park appeared to be completely grid-locked. We escaped in a stop-go ride up the east side of the Park negotiating the countless traffic tamers. This brought us out onto Blackheath at the War Memorial which, in times past, was the meeting point for all our bicycle rides with the Blackheath Touring Club. A nice bonus!

Blackheath appeared to be unchanged except for wall to wall traffic that blocked almost every road in both directions. Blackheath village likewise, looked just as it did in 1956 when I started my first job there except every available square foot was now given over to parking.

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Allington Castle and Aylesford

A cousin of my father lived in the the grounds of Allington Castle with her husband Ernie Bell. It was always an exciting place for us to visit when we were kids - a castle, barns, livestock, a river, houseboats, a lock and a weir - what more could horrid little townie children ask for? At that time (1947-1957 or thereabouts), the castle was home to the Carmelite Order of Nuns although we never actually saw the interior. The river that borders the south side of the castle grounds is the Medway and Allington Lock is right there, the tidal lock for the river. Directly across the river was The Malta Inn, a small, traditional pub accessed mainly by river travelers or occasional road travelers via a dirt road at the rear. By coincidence, the motel chain that we had fallen into favoring had a location at Allington which is how we came to choose it for our stay that night.

The motel chain is owned by the Whitbread Company that also owns the Beefeater Restaurant chain, and thus a Beefeater is often paired with Premier Travel Inn. Amazingly, the Malta Inn was now a much enlarged Beefeater and the tiny parking lot that used to be at the rear has been greatly expanded to include both the motel and parking for both establishments. What a stroke of fortune!

Following a nights rest, which included a trip into Aylesford for fish and chips, we were ready to reprise our Maidstone memories. Ignoring the Malta Inn, which bore little resemblance to it's former namesake, most other features were more or less sanitized versions of their earlier incarnations. Gone were the grungy houseboats along with various items of abandoned equipment near the lock, in other places, upgrades had replaced the utilitarian original with more stylish design, such as the brick facing on the lock gate walkways. Overall, nicely done. We were, however unsuccessful in getting to see Allington Castle or #2 Red Cottages where Jean and Ernie had lived. It seems that Carmelites had long since moved on and the castle had been acquired by a wealthy American who had either earned or bought himself a knighthood or other mention in the Queens List and the grounds had been thoroughly sealed off. The snapshot of the driveway from the Gate House was taken through a crack in the fence.

Neither of us had ever been to Aylesford until the previous evening and hadn't known how close it was to Allington. Even at night in the rain, we were quite taken by the quantity and quality of great looking buildings in the original part of the village and so it was on our list of must do things for the following morning. We still can't believe all of the times we had cycled or driven past this treasure trove in years past and yet had never left the highway to investigate. Further confirmation that youth is wasted on the young.

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For the remainder of the day the plan was to stop by numerous locations around Kent for which either of us had childhood or teenage memories. Essentially our route from Aylesford was Sheerness, Sittingbourne, Margate, Cliftonville, Ramsgate, Canterbury, Sevenoaks, Westerham, Biggin Hill, Shoreham, Eynsford, Green Street Green and Badgers Mount. All of this and more was accomplished although a number of the visits were brief almost to the point of non-existence due again to the absence of anywhere to park and gawk. Some pictures from this odyssey follow.

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