Day 3/4 - 17-18 Sep 2016
As this part of the trip falls under the family/friend banner, I was not expecting to make a public journal entry until we head off to Switzerland on Tuesday. However, our very quirky and interesting experiences over the weekend changed all that. Who would have thought humble Gravesend could have provided such entertainment?
On Saturday, being still somewhat jet lagged, we opted to just hang around Gravesend and see what the day might bring. We strolled down to Gravesend Pier, the maritime hub of this once thriving river port, and discovered a lightship had just recently moored alongside. Our knowledge of lightships - or more correctly, Light Vessels - was scant, so we thought we would go aboard to see what we could learn.
This particular Light Vessel is known as LV-21 (no names for these unusual tubs) and is a very interesting little ship! In common with other LVs, LV-21 is an unpowered vessel that was towed to it's designated location, then spent its working life anchored over various shoals or sandbanks. It's role was to be a mobile lighthouse, to warn other shipping of the dangers, and had a small crew of around 20 that stayed on board for a month at a time. In the shallows of a sandbank in, for example, the English Channel, life would have been very rugged during winter storms! In time, the lightships were automated and older vessels, such as LV-21, were retired.
LV-21's story then gets to be quite quirky. It has recently been bought by a couple who have turned it into a floating exhibition and performance centre - very innovative! During our visit, it was hosting an eclectic mix of flag-making classes and a salt water radio antenna, as well as tributes to classic P&O ships and Pocahontas - what?! At that point, we knew nothing of the local link to this famous American Indian. LV-21 was in town as part of the Thames Estuary maritime festival and we enjoyed a very unexpectedly interesting couple of hours aboard.
The afternoon was spent on a short walking tour that was probably even more unexpected - learning about the link between Pocahontas and Gravesend. Turns out that Pocahontas married an Englishman and moved to England. Then, on a planned trip back to the Americas, she sadly took ill and died - in Gravesend. She is said to have been buried in the area, although the actual location is hotly disputed. Still, that hasn’t deterred local interests in promoting the link to this famous lady. In the early 20th century, the cemetery of the local church was cleared to make way for the Princess Pocahontas Gardens! It was a very interesting tour, nonetheless.
On Sunday, we drove out to Leeds Castle, about half an hour away. We had a very lovely day and even saw the sun for five minutes! The gardens are beautiful and the castle is extremely well preserved. it’s history goes back more than 900 years, to the early decades after the Norman Invasion of England. Although much of its walls and fortifications were removed by Henry VIII (who else?), it is still a ‘living’ castle, in that it is in use daily for accommodation, conferences and weddings, as well as being an open house for tourists.
Another onsite attraction was a very good bird of prey show, featuring falcons and owls. There was an interesting twist at the end - two young kookaburras made their debut. Not strictly birds of prey, they are nonetheless fascinating and provided a distinct contrast to the other birds on show - as well as an unexpected touch of home!
I guess this weekend shows that there is interest everywhere, if you are prepared to look! Well, the next update should be from Switzerland - bye for now.