West Langdon 14th April 2010
To all who doubt the existence of an omniscient deity, I say: consider Fred. Fred is a Testudine; a shell-shielded, crepuscular diurnal reptile with both endo and exo skeletons. Many of his brethren are shy reclusive creatures, who shun coffee mornings and dinner parties, preferring the company of a good book or pottering in the garden, but not Fred. Fred is the Graham Norton of testudines, or tortoises to you and me.
Of course Fred likes his kip a bit more than the rest of us, but give him a sunny day, a quick tap on his carapace, and he will be dishing out Tommy Cooper one-liners as if to the manor born.
Fred is the latest adopted addition to Ruth and Robert's family of domesticated and wild beasts. A specially adapted home has been built for him; bright and well ventilated above ground; safe and secure beneath. (No details of the security measures will be given here while Robert's patent application is processed).
So how does Fred confound the agnostics? I will tell you. While Fred spent the day sleeping, munching, strolling to the shops, and generally basking in the beneficence of his good fortune, those of us who bear the burden of painting the bigger picture spent much of the same daylight hours scouring the east coast of Kent for cuttlefish. Why? So that Fred's little brain and two skeletons could be kept up to scratch with calcium. Just as God suffers the occasional disappointment, like Stalin,or Labour winning a fourth term, so do we. The cuttlefish cupboard was bare, but of this, more later.
Incidentally,cuttlefish are not actually fish. They are ink ejecting, colour changing, highly intelligent, molluscs. Makes you wonder why such a clever, versatile creature hasn't found a way of outwitting a few simpleminded seagulls.
Peter, Ruth and John waved good-bye to Fred and cycled in the general direction of St Margarets Bay, Deal and lunch at the Five Bells in Eastry. Except that Peter had to miss the Five Bells and 'peal' off(oh dear!) at Deal to attend a SPAB* engagement elsewhere. (*A rehab group addicted to poking about in old buildings). Only joking Peter!
Experience has tortoise (sorry, it had to be done) that each ride generally reveals a geographical or historical pearl to add to the Ragstones' collection. Today it is the village of West Langdon. The name derives from its position to the west of a 'long down' or hill. The village was inhabited by the time Langdon Abbey was founded in 1189, but is not mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Village life centred on the Abbey, and until the 20th C most villagers worked on the Abbey farm estate.
Few now remember that the Abbey was founded by Premonstratensian canons (also called white canons), from Leiston Abbey in Suffolk. The Abbey was eventually ceded to the Postmonstratensian canons in the 14th C, but only after bitter 'remonstration' between the two factions. The Postmonstratensian canons soon merged with the Trappists, partly because the Abbot's dentures didn't fit properly and the canons in the front row grew tired of dodging projectile saliva during prayers (all of which began with the words "Postmonstratensians shall surely shelter from all shallow fleshly pleasures"), and partly because it was easier to say when they introduced themselves. Only they couldn't, because now they were Trappists.
If the milk of human kindness was in short supply at the Abbey, it was available in abundance at the Abbey farm. A group of Langdon Abbey milkers are pictured with their buckets in 1909. The herd - known as the Langdon Lactators - became famous throughout Kent, and contributed in no small way to the robust health and strong bones for which generations of Kent folk are legendary.
Ruth has a friend in the village. Ruth has friends everywhere. Peter asks us to pose under the beacon. Perched incongruously on a grassy bank is a red phone box, from which the important bits have been removed. It is probably used now as a meeting room for the parish council.
We cannot linger longer in Langdon. Our sturdy little legs must pedal us up to the top end of St Margarets Bay and then down the mysterious, narrow coastal path towards Walmer, where Ruth knows someone else.
Along the shore the biting wind is in the east and chills us to the bone. John stops to put on a thicker coat. We regroup in the shelter of some seaside huts. Peter heads off to SPAB. Ruth and John press on against the gale to Deal. Soon we are passing the prestigious golf courses which occupy this stretch of coast, and the exclusive housing estates nearby.
Ruth is worried that we will soon run out of shoreline, so we need to find a way through to the beach for the cuttlefish hunt (don't try saying that after the second bottle!). Fate smiles upon us. A convenient track appears to our right and minutes later Ruth is scampering over the shingle. Alas, as the picture shows, she cuts a lonely figure while searching in vain for the husk of the elusive mollusc, but then a fisherman's bivouac appears on the horizon. 'Be there cuttlefish bones in these parts?' Ruth asks the fisherman. 'No my lad, not till spawnin' toime' replies the sea salt, polishing his spectacles. 'And when might that be?' inquires Ruth.
'That 'd be Michaelmas or thereabouts, young lady' replied the man, adjusting his spectacles. 'And I'll tell 'e sommat else for nought' he continued. But Ruth had heard enough.
Back on the road, she phones Robert, who will join us for lunch. Past the Sandwich bird observatory (not many twitchers out today), across the railway line (£1000 fine if you forget to close the gate) and into the Saxon stronghold of Eastry, surely one of the most intriguing, attractive, and lively of Kentish villages.
The Five Bells fits perfectly into the jigsaw puzzle of this community. A third bicycle hoves into view, and Robert joins us.
Proper home cooking - today it is Chicken Pie, chips and vegetables, followed by Cherry Pie with custard, cream or ice cream. All for a fiver. Unbeatable.
A moment of sadness for John though. His request for employment as a menu taster is rejected by the landlady.
Replete and refreshed, the three of us ride the thankfully gentle path back to R and R's. Being a parent, or deity, is never easy, and the look of disappointment on Fred's face was hard to bear. He was consoled though, when we told him that soon the cuttlefish will come ashore, and the Ragstones will return to Sandwich Bay.
As Louis Armstrong put it:"And I think to myself,what a wonderful world…."
- Kevlar tyres are a waste of money! After today's ride John's back tyre was as flat as a miser's pizza, due to a hawthorn which had penetrated the so-called puncture resistant material like a knife through warm butter.
- The dialogue between Ruth and the angler is entirely fictitious and merely intended to be a bit of fun. If either of the parties involved feel in any way offended by it, the author offers his sincerest apologies and will withdraw it immediately upon request.