This way to the sound mirrors

Yes, day 5 has a part 3. After leaving Dungeness in the fading light I subjected my family to a long and involved search for the famous sound mirrors or "listening ears" at Denge. Built in the 1920s they were early experiments in radar.

Access to them is now completely closed off, except by guided walk organised by the Romney Marsh Countryside Project. I'd contacted them to see if there was any way of arranging something, but the short answer was no. The land they sit on has been turned into an island and stabilised to protect the structures, but I figured there might be a point somewhere with a decent view.

Considering that they're pretty huge (the large one is 200 feet across) they're remarkably elusive and we couldn't figure out where they actually were. I'm sure there are some holes in the space-time continuum around that area, and it seemed like they kept appearing and disappearing. So we drove up every street in New Romney and then after a long crunch over the shingle this is as close as I could get.

The sound mirrors at Denge

If you fancy getting closer the next walk is on 19 July. And that's it for day 5, promise.

Dungeness shack and lighthouse

[Following on from part 1] Oh Dungeness. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. With a motley selection of shacks, cold war era military buildings and lighthouses watched over by a nuclear power station, it's like a child has shaken up a bag of toy buildings and tipped them out in this unlikely spot.

Prospect Cottage, Dungeness

It was lovely to chug into it, past Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, an unexpected sight in an area already crammed full of the incongruous.

Simon Conder House, Dungeness

It hasn’t changed much in ten years, apart from the addition of two rather nifty modern houses by Simon Conder. The first, near the power station is fascinating. Conder stripped back an original shack to its shell, which in this case was a railway carriage. This was retained as a kitchen corridor and a modern house built around it. There are some interior photos and an interview over at Gabion. It must be very odd living here. Beautiful at times but also very exposed. I was careful to make sure the house was empty before taking photos, but it’s on the beachfront (as it were) so there’s nothing to stop people gawping in your window.

Simon Conder Rubber House, Dungeness

Further along, near Prospect Cottage is another Conder development, clad in black rubber. The Airstream caravan provides temporary accommodation for guests.

For an area where there is almost literally, nothing to see, we had a great time. The kids played about on the beach while I sat and enjoyed the view. More photos at Urban 75 and in the Dungeness Flickr pool

The Ossuary at Hythe

Back to The Great British Holiday 9. First things first. I had an appointment at St Leonard's Church in Hythe, to check out its ossuary - one of only two in the UK. Funnily enough no one wanted to come with me, so I had a personal tour from one of the charming men who look after the church. It's an incredible place. Very striking, with over 2,000 skulls and 8,000 bones.*


We hung about in Hythe for a while, having a picnic by the canal. It was so pretty and there was a Waitrose, which is very exotic for us. Then we went to Folkestone as my AA illustrated guide to Britain said that it was "One of the most lovable of Britain's seaside resorts, and one of the prettiest". Was it heck as like. I don't know if we just went to the wrong bit or what, but Folkestone was a bit grim. Perhaps it was in better shape in 1983 when the book was printed.

The beach was dirty and featureless. Just miles and miles of shingle. We walked along, thinking there might be some action out of sight, just round that corner there but there wasn't. Only a sign explaining that there used to be a lot of things but they were all gone.

So we traipsed back to the cliff lift which was shut, then back again to get back up the hill to the car. At least we found an unexpected playpark which the kids enjoyed, and the Zig Zag Path where I learnt about Pulhamite, an artificial sandstone used to create grottoes and rock gardens around the turn of the century.


We'd wasted half the day trying to get to the bottom of Folkestone, so had a bit of a rush to make the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. When it opened in 1927 it was the world's smallest public railway. It now runs 13 miles from Hythe to Dungeness. It's incredibly dinky - just big enough to sit in and no more.

We rode to New Romney which is the main terminus and admired the extensive model railway before carrying on to Dungeness, which is so photogenic it deserves its own entry.

*Some of this will appear more fully Nothing To See Here. There was a lot to take in this day, so the notes are a bit short.

Hastings red shelter

Regular readers will know that I'm slightly obsessed by seaside shelters. I like the way they typify the character of a seaside resort. By checking out the local ones you can tell when a resort had its heyday and how popular it was. A big one is the mark of true popularity, but a little one is just as special.

Hastings white shelter

So, I can report that Hastings scores highly on the seaside shelter front. These lovelies were the product of Sidney Little, "The Concrete King" who was responsible for turning Hastings and St Leonards into a Modern town in the 1930s.

Another Hastings shelter

Artist Andy Tuohy has some lovely prints of these shelters, available on his website.

Pevensey Bay bungalow

I ran out of steam writing about day 4, but there's one last thing. A trip to Beachlands, a 1930s bungalow estate in Pevensey Bay between Eastbourne and Bexhill.

Following a spectacular line of "oyster" bungalows, the estate opens up into little houses of various shapes and sizes. Most were built in the 1930s so there's a bit of streamline moderne going on, and some straight Art Deco.

Pevensey Bay Beachlands bungalow

According to Sun, sea and sand: the great British seaside holiday (don't leave home without it), the estate was intended to have shops and a cinema, but the war started and the plans fell through. I've been admiring these sort of houses in Moxette's flickrstream for so long that it was a real treat to see so many at once. Thanks to Chris for the tip-off - gratefully received as we wouldn't have found it otherwise.

We delighted in Pontin's pleasures (tiny motorbikes, ball pit, amusements, a broken air hockey machine that kept giving us free games) before venturing out to Rye, the nearest town. It's very picturesque. All higgledy-piggledy and old on top of a hill. Full of nice shops and cafes. Apparently the Cheeky Girls have moved here, but we didn't see them.

The Laughing Sailor, Rye

The Rye Heritage Museum and Town Model has a floor full of old pier working models (slot machines of the 'What the Butler Saw' variety). Some were a bit creepy but all were amazing considering their age. With very limited technology there were some quite complex stories, often funny and surprising.

Battle Stationers

As we were in 1066 country we followed the signs to Battle, which turned out to be a mistake. With hindsight it's obvious it was going to be a tourist trap - a little town with narrow streets overrun with tour buses. It would have cost us £17 to have the full 1066 experience, and to be honest, we weren't that interested so we asked the English Heritage man if there was anywhere you could just go and see the battlefield. Apparently there is a bit round the back of the car park but when we got there it was just a field. Might have been a historic field, but it was kind of hard to check. So we traipsed back to the car. Still, a shop called Battle Stationers is pretty funny.

Happy fry-up

Luckily a trip to Eastbourne was just the tonic. When I was wee, we used to drive my grampa there on his holidays and it doesn't seem to have changed much since then. God's waiting room and all that. I had an assignment in the town (of which, more later) which was in a sorry state. There is always a contrast between the seaside face of a resort and the working town, but the contrast in Eastbourne seemed particularly severe.

Macari's Cafe, Eastbournbe

Anyway, it all turned out well because by luck I walked past Macari's, a really lovely old cafe. It was empty so we nipped in for cappuccinos and lemon meringue pie.

Macari's interior

It was a all a bit of a rush, but it was a full and interesting day. To top it off, when we got back to Pontin's, Same Difference, the energetic brother-sister combo from last year's X Factor were playing. Sadly I missed it as I was minding the youngest member of the party who had conked out in the chalet, however I have it on good authority that they were 'tight'.

See all photos from day 4.

Following a quiet night in the Chichester Travelodge we hit the town. Chichester is a very pretty place. I was reluctant to go to the cathedral as my dad was a history teacher and I spent a fair amount of my childhood holidays looking at the cathedrals of England, but it was very nice. I'd forgotten how much fun gargoyles are, and Chichester has some crackers.


Old and new.


After that bit of culture it was seaside all the way. I was intrigued by the sound of the Witterings and the Manhood Peninsula which lie to the south. I imagined a sort of Mapp and Lucia adult adventure. It wasn't like that though - the Witterings, East and West were mobbed and parking was really expensive so we had a quick look at East Wittering beach. It had the strangest sand I've ever seen - like cement. Next, we headed to Selsey, so we could say "we've even been to Selsey Bill". It wasn't remote and strange like Portland Bill; it was lively and stank of fish. I was a bit disappointed until I noticed:

House made of railway carrages, Selsey

A house made of railway carriages. I've read about these but never seen one in the flesh. How cool.

Palmistry in Bognor

Next up: Bognor Regis. Bognor has become a bit of a legend in our holiday planning. We keep getting close to it, but not close enough to get there. Like a cross between Mecca and Brigadoon, it's become legendary as the place we wanted to get to but couldn't reach. So going to Bognor was a disproportionately big deal. Even with high expectations it didn't disappoint. 100% pure seaside. Beach, pier, bouncy castle, rock shop, crazy golf - the lot. From here Bognor became the benchmark against which all other seaside places were judged, especially by Danny (3) because it had a BOUNCY SLIDE.

Thomas Heatherwick's cafe, Littlehampton

After we'd exhausted Bognor we tried Littlehampton. Danny fell asleep so Tommy and I had a look at Thomas Heatherwick's award-winning East Beach Cafe and headed off again.

Worthing Lido

Last call: Worthing by sundown. Worthing is lovely. Scrubbed up and stately. The Art Deco pier is a gem and the Lido, filled in to be a fun fair was very pleasant. The boys got a shot on everything and I took enough pictures to stoke me up for the last few miles to Camber Sands.

There's usually a bit of trepidation arriving at our holiday accommodation but as this was our 4th Pontin's and we'd been here before we knew what we were in for. We were in the chalets that the pop stars were in at Bowlie, so that was a good sign.

See all photos from day 3.


Following on from Day 1. Well, there were no joys of Birmingham on a Saturday night. Only pissed up students and a 5am fire alarm. The joys.

Apart from that there weren't many adventures today. We tried to get away as fast as we could, which wasn't very fast due to a huge traffic jam on the M6. We hit Warwick, or Historic Warwick as it appears to be known for breakfast at lunchtime. Warwick was historic and half-shut, but I did find this nice shopfront.

At this point we remembered there were some Easter eggs in the boot (it was Easter Sunday) so it was time for an impromptu Easter egg hunt in Royal Leamington Spa. By chance the first park we found, Jephson Gardens was really beautiful. Full of lovely flowers and ducks, and a decent playpark. We stoated about for a bit in the sunshine eating our Easter bunnies then hit the road again. And that was it until we got to Chichester.

It was a nice day though, just getting from A to B with as little pain as possible. Tomorrow is a bit more exciting, honest.

Our Easter holiday was a bit of a marathon. Glasgow to Camber Sands (East Sussex) via Birmingham, Chichester and Knutsford. 1465 miles in all - 3 Travelodges, 1 holiday camp, 6 motorways, 3 churches (2 cathedrals), 2 model villages, 3 miniature railways, 6 motorways, 5 motorway services, 3 museums, lots of ice creams and too many chips.

But to start at the beginning, this is what we got up to. I'll warn you now, it's going to go on a bit.

Day 1 - Glasgow to Birmingham

Meriden, the centre of England

First place of note is Meriden, said to be the geographical centre of England. There's a monument on the village green to this effect. At the other end is an obelisk commemorating cyclists who died in the war. As Adventures on the High Teas will tell you, it's not the exact centre. Hey ho.

The Centre of England charity shop

Everything was Centre of England this, Heart of England that, even the charity shops. As there are many references, it seems churlish to split hairs. It's probably near enough.

Coventry Cathedral stained glass window

Next we went to Coventry for a peek at its cathedral designed by Sir Basil Spence. It was beautiful, awe-inpiring - all the things that a cathedral should be. The stained glass was particularly fine.

Lady Godiva clock, Coventry

The only downside to this was spending time in the cathedral made us just miss Coventry's spectacular mechanical clock where Lady Godiva rides out on her horse, buck naked and Peeping Tom (the Peeping Tom) keeks out of the window to see her. Here she is in action. I had no idea that this was where Peeping Tom came from, or what Lady Godiva was all about so it was an education.

We hung about for a while but occupying ourselves for another 55 minutes was a tall order, so we split for the big city - the joys of Birmingham on a Saturday night. For more on Coventry here's some 1960s footage of the city centre when it was shiny and new, and the rest of the day's photos.

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