A midwinter harbour walk at Broadstairs in the company of Charles Dickens

Broadstairs Dickens plaque

Broadstairs look out and Bleak House 2 Broadstairs look out Broadstairs look out and Bleak House

Broadstairs Hercules Broadstairs The Scotsman Broadstairs 2

Broadstairs North Foreland lighthouse 2 Broadstairs North Foreland lighthouse

Broadstairs features, including the harbour and the old harbourmaster’s look out. I remember a moderate-sized traditional boat that was beside the look out for many years. Does anyone know what it was?

This splendid plaque above is found on the side of Bleak House at Broadstairs, one of the many houses in the town where Charles Dickens is recorded as living – he spent many summers here with his family, and while in the town worked on some of his famous novels.

Built early in the 19th century Bleak House had previously been used by officials observing marine movements, and it certainly has a commanding view of the sea all around including the famous Goodwin Sands. I’ve read that witnessing shipwrecks on the sands contributed to Dickens’s gloomy outlook on life – which is one of the things that can make his books hard going for modern readers.

Nevertheless, Dickens’s association with Broadstairs is a matter of great pride for the locals, who celebrate it in various ways including ‘Dickens lived here’ plaques and an annual festival in which the locals dress in 19th century costume. However, it can also be the subject of some waggish humour, as the small marble plaque pictured below clearly shows: it reads ‘Charles Dickens did not live here’.

The following non-gloomy description of the town is taken from: The Letters of Charles Dickens from 1833 to 1870.

This is a little fishing-place; intensely quiet; built on a cliff whereon – in the centre of a tiny semicircular bay – our house stands; the sea rolling and dashing under the windows. Seven miles out are Goodwin Sands (you’ve heard of the Goodwin Sands!) whence floating lights perpectually wink after dark, as if they were carrying on intrigues with the servants. Also there is a big lighthouse called the North Foreland on a hill behind the village, a severe parsonic light, which reproves the young and giddy floaters, and stares grimly out upon the sea. Under the cliffs are rare good sands, where all the children assemble every morning and throw up impossible fortifications, which the sea throws down again at high water. Old gentlemen and ancient ladies flirt after their own manner in two reading rooms and on a great many scattered seats in the open air. Other old gentlemen look through telescopes and never see anything…

Broadstairs plaque 2

Racing pilot gigs, a chapel and other nice things at the little fishing village of Cadgwith

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Pilot gigs at Cadgwith – as usual, click on the
thumbnails for much bigger photos

There’s something very sweetly charming about the tiny Cornish cove village of Cadgwith, and the Cadgwith Pilot Gig Club’s kind invitation to look at their boats is entirely in keeping with the pleasant tenor of the place.

They’re saving up to pay for a new gig, however, as their boats are apparently having trouble keeping up with the leaders in races! Please contribute, if you can. The photo below explains the problem:

Cadgwith Pilot Gig Club needs your dosh!

Cadgwith beach, fishermen’s chapel, and
an unexplained plaque

The beach and its fishing boats surrounded by granite buildings and jagged schist rocks are unforgettable, as is the romantic little fishermen’s chapel.

And what about that plaque? I don’t know who these people were but I notice that the club has a boat named after Buller.

No doubt that wall could tell some stories. Presumably no-one sings now, as people hardly sing in public anywhere now unless they’ve got a geetar and a public address system – but what kind of progress is that anyway? And have you noticed that whistling has died out? Can you remember hearing someone whistle in the acrobatic way the old boys used to do when we were all kids?

It must be time for some songs again soon…

If you’re going to Cornwall you may need this: The Rough Guide to Cornwall

St Leonard’s fishermen’s chapel, St Ives

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A memorial of an astonishing trip, presumably by a
member of the local artistic community

It was grey and rainy the day we reached St Ives, but I was nevertheless captivated by St Leonard’s, the little port’s fishermen’s chapel on Smeaton’s pier.

Typescript history

A typescript history (we don’t see many of them now!) shows that the building dates back to at least 1577, and has been renovated several times, most recently in 1971, when it was reopened as a small museum. In the old days, it seems, local fishermen retained the services of a friar who led prayers and services in the building.

There are some nice models, a touching memorial erected in 1959 to the fishermen lost to their families and community, and seats for those who wish to sit and pray, or simply think.

That engaging character Mike ‘Kipperman’ Smylie has some good stuff about the St Ives boats in his book Traditional Fishing Boats of Britain and Ireland, which you may find at ABE Books.

Interior, models and memorial, another plaque, and the exterior

And just outside I found the real thing – a mackerel driver. And
notice the ancient lifeboat moored just behind it