23 March to 8 July 2020
At some point during our time in Margate the clock tower above the Main Sands stopped. We didn’t even notice when. Hours, days, weeks and months have passed without us really noticing them. Our routine of volunteering, exercising and learning has given us some structure to our days but it might as well have been ten past eleven at any given time.
And now all of a sudden, after 108 days, the sun is finally setting on our time in Margate. But as we eagerly await our reunion with Pintail we will also be more than a little bit sad to say goodbye to our lockdown home.
With the rules of lockdown lifted a little we were able to drive further afield to explore the area a bit more. Shops, bars, restaurants and tourist spots have remained shut for most of our time here but that hasn’t stopped us revisiting some old haunts and discovering new places on our midweek day off from our shopping for shielders.
Our first Wednesday outing took us back to one of our favourite harbours at Ramsgate. This town is one of the reasons we chose this area for the lockdown. As sailors it has always welcomed us very warmly.
We have such fond memories of stopping in the harbour with Pintail. It was the second stop on our delivery trip when we first bought her back in 2014 and it was the safe harbour in which we survived Storm Katie in 2016. It is also memorable as the harbour we entered in thick fog after a trip to Dunkerque in 2015 and where we collapsed exhausted after an unexpected 24 hour sail back from Dieppe later that year. We have certainly learnt a lot since then! Walking around the harbour wall to have our flask of coffee at the lighthouse looking out to the harbour entrance brought it all back.
The next week we walked 10 kilometres along the seashore from Minnis Bay and back, looking out to the wind farms in the estuary and across the wetlands that once cut off the Isle of Thanet from the rest of Kent
and right up to the ruins of a monastery built in 669AD on the site of a Roman fort. It’s been a while since we have seen any ruins so Stefan didn’t seem to mind us breaking the no more ruins rule we negotiated back in Tunisia! It had also been a while since we’d had a breakfast picnic and we enjoyed our jam sandwiches and coffee looking out to sea from the monastery’s vantage point.
A week later we were breakfast picnicking again but this time on the shingle beach at Whitstable where the brightly painted beach huts brightened an otherwise dull day.
Whitstable is famous for its oysters and although we didn’t get to sample any it reminded us of our time on the oyster coast of South Australia not so long ago.
On 24 June we ventured further afield to share a socially distanced picnic with my parents in their garden to celebrate my Mum’s birthday. The garden was looking beautiful after all the care and attention it has received during lockdown! It was, however, even better to get to see Mum and Dad in real life after so long just seeing them through a screen.
Our last Wednesday outing took us to Dover. Stefan had already cycled there and returned with tales of its impressive castle. (He might not be a fan of ruins but castles are an exception!) Dover might be one of our busiest ports but it has the familiar charm of an East Kent Victorian seaside town overlooked by the whopping medieval walls of Dover Castle.
We took a walk up the pier out into the harbour which had noticeably less ferries going in and out than we remember from our days trying to cross the voluntary traffic separation scheme on our way to France. The harbour has however found itself home to a number of redundant cruise ships including the Magic of Disney. We had our first takeaway coffee in over three months looking out into the harbour. It definitely wasn’t the best coffee (in fact it was terrible!) but getting back to our coffee break habit made life feel a bit more normal.
The coronavirus pandemic was not the only world event to reach us in this corner of Kent. News of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was met here too with sadness, anger and loud demands for equality for the Black community. Joining the demonstration at the end of our road and falling silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time it took for George to die under the knee of Derek Chauvin, was a very powerful reminder of the injustice experienced by people of colour all over the world. It was a truly encouraging show of solidarity for the Black community in an area better known for a rise in support for political parties like UKIP and a reminder that we must do better to tackle racism. As one placard said “racism is a pandemic too”.
After the deserted streets and beaches of lockdown, small changes to the rules saw more and more people heading down to the coast. A combination of long bank holiday weekends and a spell of very hot weather saw the beaches we had once had to ourselves become more and more crowded, dangerously so. When the crowds descended and socially distancing was next to impossible we stayed firmly indoors.
One weekend it seemed that some of the locals hadn’t quite grasped the tide timetable when these jet skiers got caught out and watched their vehicles washed away with the rising tide. It reminded us that we need to revise our tidal navigation if we are going to head out of the Med. It’s been nearly 4 years since we had to worry about them!
As the rules of lockdown gradually lifted further we were able to start doing some things that made life feel that little bit more normal, like getting a takeaway from our favourite Ramsgate Indian restaurant and browsing in our local independent bookshop. And further afield, travel restrictions started to ease and we were finally able to plan our return to Pintail.
We did our last shopping for our shielders yesterday and are sad to say goodbye to them. They thanked us profusely every week but really it is us who need to thank them for making us feel useful and helping us know what day of the week it is!
It might have been an enforced stay in Margate but we could not have wished for a better place to get stuck. We will miss the harbour arm and the white cliffs. We will miss the home of Turner and Tracey Emin and the haunt of TS Elliot and Pete Doherty. We will miss looking out into the estuary that taught us so much. And we have promised to return one day to visit the caves, the shell grotto, even the museum!
But we are now ready to go home.
Pintail, we’re coming back for you
and we couldn’t be happier!