Saturday, August 30, 2008, Faversham and The Isle of Sheppey, Kent
We awoke today to the sound of an alarm clock as we intended to take the 7 am National Express bus from Victoria Coach Station to the Isle of Sheppey in Kent where my cousin Cheryl “Sherry” Crane lives with her husband David. All went well as we “Tubed” it to Victoria Underground station, then walked briskly to the ticket counter at the coach station only to find that it opened at 7 am and that we could purchase our “Day Return” (Same Day Round Trip) Tickets on the coach (bus) itself.
London was still asleep on a lazy Saturday as the coach moved eastwards into the county of Kent –The Garden of England. As planned, Sherry and David were waiting for us at Gillingham at the Hempsted Valley Shopping Center (right behind is a home in which Charles Dickens once lived) when we alighted from the coach after a journey that took exactly an hour. A lovely scenic ride over the new Kingsway Bridge took us to the Island of Sheppey at the extreme eastern part of Kent in an area that is still rather remote and rural. A quick breakfast of cereal and toast at the Cranes—where we made the acquaintance of their handsome cats, Morgy and Button—and we were on our way to Faversham. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it was the town that inspired the famous Elizabethan play by Beaumont and Fletcher entitled The Arden of Faverhsam. I recalled this bit of trivia from my undergrad History of Drama classes at Elphinstone College, Bombay, and the thorough background I received from my late professor, Dr. Mehroo Jussawala.
Faversham happened to be the location of the annual summer Hop Festival, held there because Kent is the hop-growing capital of the UK and the country’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame, happens to be headquartered in this town. The Cranes thought it would be a good idea to introduce us to something typically Kentish—a country fair complete with rides and food stalls and local crafts and, of course, beer! Not to mention the miles of vines with hops attached to them that were being worn by males and females alike as they threaded them through their waists and on the bands of their hats. The air was festive and fun and we enjoyed every second interacting with the crowds and joining in their enthusiasm. I was particularly pleased to find two old ceramic mixing bowls in an antiques shop for the princely sum of £5 for both! Despite the fact that they were rather heavy, they charmed me no end and a very obliging Llew offered to take them back to the States for me right away!
Then David and Sherry suggested that we walk towards Faversham railway station where an old steam train was supposed to arrive a little after noon to take a bunch of select passengers on a joy train to a destination not too far away. David, who is a trains enthusiast, was keen to see the arrival of the train and after buying a “platform ticket” each for the more princely sum of 10p each, we joined a throng of excited folks including almost every child who lived in Kent and hailed the arrival of the train as it huffed and puffed its way on to the platform. Llew and I were also lucky enough to make our way up the steps into the engine driver’s cabin to see the giant fire that seemed to us about a million degrees before they closed the hatch and did not allow any more uninvited visitors to troop in.
Then, we were picking up our car from the local church that houses the Shrine of St. Jude to which we had paid a visit earlier that morning and were headed back to Sheerness where the Cranes live. Sherry, who is a hugely talented cook—she makes fancy cakes for a living—had worked in stages for days to cook us a roast duck meal that included stuffing and gravy, saffron roasted potatoes, carrots and peas, and thick slices of the Country Walnut Loaf that we picked up at the fair from a bakery called Oscars—an award-winning bakery that is considered one of the finest in the nation. While Sherry pottered around in the kitchen, David served us sherry and sausage rolls with Scotch eggs before we decided to walk along the beach front and take in the superbly lovely salt sea breezes blowing in from the North Sea and the distant shores of Norway! Back at Catalan, the Cranes’ home, having worked up an appetite, we did justice indeed to Sherry’s amazing meal that was memorable—especially the Chocolate Cheesecake that ended it. Over red wine, the conversation flowed and I felt so grateful that I have close relatives in the UK on whose warm hospitality I can rely.
Then, it was time for them to drop us off to Gillingham for the coach back to Victoria—but not before we took several pictures to commemorate our visit to Sheerness. While David and Sherry are looking forward to a short holiday in Wales and up north next week, I look forward to many happy days with them in the year to come.