Collecting in aid of
Day 6 -
Ipswich to St Margaret’s Bay -
Day 6 started very much like most of our other Travelodge stops.
I woke early, finished off typing in the days route into the satnav, did a quick social media update on our previous day’s shenanigans, had a quick shower, had a royal battle to get Alex out of bed and in the said shower, did a mad last minute packing up session of the Chadwick’s bags and got to car park some 10 minutes after George who had already stowed his roof, packed his bags and had had a quick puff on his vape.
However, this morning was a little different as Gordon was there too chatting with George and we had chance to get a fairly decent breakfast bap and cup of tea and coffee at Starbucks situated next door.
Today was going to be another 7 pier visit day but a relatively short pier pressure distance of just 212 miles. This did include for a trip across the notorious Dartford crossing on the iconic QE2 bridge and a few pre-
We did a quick fuel top up in the BP next door and we finally headed off just a few minutes behind our pre-
After 5 days, I had come to realise that our pre-
The first stop of the day was a simple 18 mile jog down the East Anglian coast to Harwich Ha’penny Pier where we were to be met by the local Harwich Historic Society & pier trust, who had replied to our e-
We were also looking forward to catching up with one of our favourite international bugistas – Ruben from the Netherlands. Ruben, along with Patrick from Belgium, has really looked after the British buggy contingent when we have visited the International Buggy Weekends over the past 5 years, being our own personal guides, translators and cultural liaisons to ensure we did’t make too many European faux pas’ (or at least unacceptable ones that is).
Ruben had amazingly committed to joining our journey for a few days, having never visited our green and hilly isle before. As he had also never driven on the correct side of the road before, Ruben had opted to use his VW T4 camper conversion over his buggy, which proved to be a great support and tail end blocking vehicle for us over the next few days.
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I have been to Harwich a few times in my life, but only ever to the international ferry port on my way across to the International Buggy Weekends. I have to be honest in that I didn’t even realise there was a proper Harwich town just a couple of miles around the coast from the international port.
A little before 9:30am the three buggies rolled up to the front of Harwich Ha’penny pier to be greeted not only by a large smiling Dutch guy in a loud orange t-
An unexpected, but brilliant welcome by this lovely charming pier.
Harwich was not a traditional sea side, full of amusements, type of pier, but is actually an operating foot passenger ferry terminal and local RNLI base, carrying passengers across to Felixstowe and Shotley since the 1850’s. The name Ha’penny comes from the original 1/2d toll that was charged fro the crossing. The ticket office is beautifully kept by the Harwich Society pier trust and is the original 19th century building, as well as acting as a nice café on the pier too.
After a quick cuppa and chat with the Historic Society we were off again, all too soon, heading for our second pier stop of the day at Walton on the Naze. We were now 3 buggies with Ruben the Dutchman in his VW T4 van acting as our tail gunner. Just another quick 16 mile, 30 minute trip in the warm sun and under clear blue skys and we arrived at Walton on the Naze. Ruben was really excited as we passed through villages called Great Holland and Holland on Sea and you could see the architecture was definitely Dutch barn influenced. Ruben felt home from home, particularly with everything being so flat in this part of the UK.
Now as a Midlander I have to confess that prior to researching for our Pier Pressure trip I had never even heard of Walton on the Naze, let alone known there was a pier there. The town itself was small with nice narrow streets and quirky little shops as well as the more established high street names. It lent itself well to allow for plenty of noise to reverberate off the buildings to announce our arrival in the town.
The town literally sits on the coast but at a higher level, with the sea appearing at the end of the main street. We turned right before getting wet to see the pier stretching out to sea in front of us. The entrance to the pier was down a narrow steep access road which clearly stated vehicles were prohibited. So in true Pier Pressure style we drove down the access ramp up to the front door of the pier.
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In my opinion Walton on the Naze pier was not one of the prettiest we have visited on our trip and it was basically a large box, a very large yellow and red box reminiscent of an old Homebase / MECCA Bingo façade from the 1980’s. I’m not being unkind, it’s just for me there is so potential and the pier could do with a re-
Unfortunately, the building opposite the main entrance was being restored and there was a large scaffolding up which limited the space in front of the pier. Also being a Wednesday morning there weren’t many people milling around at the pier. However next to the pier was a gated promenade entrance that provided access to hundreds of brightly coloured beach huts, which make a great site in the bright sunshine.
The gate was open so we took our opportunity to drive along the promenade to get our required proof of pier visit shot, with a nice side view of the pier in the background.
Almost immediately we were told by every man and his dog that cars shouldn’t be moving down on the promenade after 9:00am and the gate shouldn’t have been left open. But when the gate is closed by ‘the man’ then it won’t be opened again until 5:00pm. Now as we had a long way to go and many piers yet to see today, Gordon kindly agreed to park his buggy across the open gate to stop ‘the man’ from locking us in.
The background of brightly coloured and many tiered beach huts helped create some nice unique pictures and I also backed my buggy down a slip way to get some really close to the sea shots too.
At this point a big guy appeared who we initially assume is ‘the man’ we were warned about earlier. However it turned out he was the Pier owner and he went on to tell us about the big plans he has for the pier including glazing all the sides of the big yellow box and opening more restaurants on the pier.
He asked us if we could wait around for a couple of hours so he could put it up on his Twitter and Facebook pier pages for people to come and meet the buggies during the day!! Unfortunately, we obviously had to decline his offer before saddling up once more and leaving Walton disappearing in our rear view mirrors as we headed off to our next port of call, just 8 miles away at Clacton.
The drive to Clacton was very nice, the day was getting warmer and we were making brilliant time. We turned onto the 3 mile long Parade to the pier at 10:50am and spent time waving at anyone that would wave back. The day so far had been great.
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Clacton Pier soon came into view and after initially missing the entrance road down to the pier, we all did a quick U-
So in the instances where we had heard nothing form the pier we generally would park up, Ruth would jump out to find someone official and everything would normally be fine and dandy. Therefore at Clacton we parked up outside the café at the front of the pier leaving loads of space and being respectful as normal and Ruth went to speak to the security guard in the entrance door to the arcade.
However almost instantly we got a visit from the pier manger who came storming out in her high heels and little black dress with walkie talkie radio firmly in hand.
We were fully aware when organising the trip that perhaps we would not always be able to get near the piers and perhaps would be asked to park somewhere else, but what I hadn’t expected wassuch out and out rudeness from any pier. Little miss stroppy pants came at us all guns blazing whilst all the time waving the walkie talking radio aerial in our general direction. “You can’t park there”, “I knew nothing about this”, “we are having deliveries all day”, “the bin wagon can’t get out” , “I want you to leave straight away”.
I did reply that we had sent e-
However as you can see from the pictures below we were really blocking everyone in and causing such a nuisance !!
After some ‘debate’ we were allowed to have a quick picture, with the security guard ordered to make sure that we left straight away (he looked very uncomfortable boarding on embarrassed at this point).
As the pier manager walked away we asked if Alex could just visit the toilet before we left and were told, “no, I want those cars gone as soon as possible”.
In all honesty I knew we may be pushing our luck at some places we visited but a nice polite “I understand what you guys are doing but if you don’t mind we are very busy today so we can’t accommodate you”, would have been fine by us.
Just around the same time we are ordered to leave, Mark and Sue Watson arrived in their very tidy white Volksrod. They didn’t even have chance to get out of their buggy and seemed a bit bewildered as we set off on our way off to what turned out to be a much warmer and friendly reception at Southend on Sea.
All we can really say about the whole experience here was ‘Boo Clacton’ -
As we waved a disappointed goodbye to Clacton we were now a growing convoy of 4 buggies and a Dutch VW Van. We made a quick sprint back along the A120, along the same stretch we had used in the opposite direction a couple of hours earlier, before heading west on the A12 around the north of Colchester.
To avoid an Alex bladder disaster (boo Clacton -
Although we had advertised our pre-
Waiting for us at the Texaco garage were Colin in his black JAS and Toby in his metalflake purple sidewinder. Almost without breaking stride the 6 buggies and the Dutch Bus re-
At this point we are actually slightly ahead of schedule due to the curtailed stop at the previous pier..
I have only ever visited Southend once before in my life and that was the previous year to pick up a petrol powered go kart as a donor for Alex’s mini beach buggy project. I remembered from that day that Southend was a very very popular and busy place. Today was apparently no different because as we hit the A127 we came to a virtual standstill with 2 long stationary lines of traffic.
Luckily in Mark we had a local with us and he willingly took over the lead and led us through the back streets of Southend and onto the seafront to reach the pier.
The journey still took longer than hoped and as we arrived at Southend Gordon announced that the QEII bridge crossing at Dartford was closed due to an attempted suicide the night before (by driving a car off the bridge). This had damaged guard railing and an expansion joint which had caused a closure for repairs. As you can imagine this was causing massive delays in the area due to everything having to use the Dartford Tunnel in both directions.
Great, we needed to cross the bridge to get to our next pier. Luckily we had planned for quite a long stop at Southend on Sea for lunch and we hoped that with this extra time it would give the chance for the bridge to clear.
In complete contrast to the Clacton’s ‘welcome’, Southend on Sea Pier couldn’t have been more different.
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They had replied to our emails and consequntly we met up with part of the Pier team on the Esplanade underneath part of the pier. They had arranged for us to park up in a paved area off Pier Hill and even allowed George and myself to park on the actual pier boards above the Esplanade below. They were really happy to have us and added pictures to their own facebook and twitter pages.
The pier was truly long and hosts a miniature railway to ferry punters to the far end, way out into the Thames Estuary. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to take the train but just enjoyed a nice rare rest in the continuing warm sunshine under the bright blue sky.
Whilst we were in Southend one of the guys had had a message off Paul Ridgwell who had turned up at Clacton (Boo Clacton) and had been waiting for us to arrive, or so he thought! What he didn’t know is that we had already been turfed off by Clacton in preference of their bin collection. Paul had then tried hard to catch us up at Southend but was spotted driving along the Esplanade right below us heading in the opposite direction, not knowing we had been allowed access to the pier proper above. It was a bit like a scene from ‘Carry on Buggying’
Finally we managed to get a message to Paul and 20 or so minutes after we had arrived, Paul joined us at the pier in his lovely dark blue metalflake manx along with the lovely Ellie, his faithful German Sheppard, sat in the passenger seat. Funnily enough Paul didn’t have the problem of anyone trying to climb in his buggy without asking.
On that note, whilst we are all looking down over the brilliant Adventure Land below, George turned around to see some guy putting kids in his buggy and taking photos without the basic courtesy of asking. After a short ‘discussion’ the guy reluctantly made a donation to our cause for the benefit of putting his kids in the buggy. What is it with people? In fact we did get asked a lot around the whole trip if the buggies were for hire or for playing in ?
All in all we spent just over an hour at Southend on Sea pier, grabbing a quick pizza lunch and nice cuppa before our thoughts turned to heading off to cross the Thames via the QEII bridge. Luckily Gordon had checked the local traffic reports which stated that the bridge was back open and 2 lanes were now moving across the bridge – big relief.
As an aside, Ruth had also taken the opportunity to do a little bit of shopping in the Town and had finally managed to find me a nice pair of soft but warm driving gloves. Finally I had some gloves, which would prove invaluable over the next few days.
We still had 3 piers to visit that day, had a further 110 miles to travel and had a planned meeting with the Mayor of Canterbury and the local pier trust at Herne Bay. So the convoy of 7 buggies and the Dutch Van picked our way back out of Southend from the pier, through busy local traffic and many many many sets of traffic lights.
We end up standing on the road just staring at a never ending queue of cars and lorries. I even gave the nice lady behind some chocolate and sweets as she had three kids in the car. Although the inside lane was stationary the middle and outside lanes were still moving slowly. At least it was still nice, sunny and warm and I took the opportunity to re-
During the next 2¾ hours we moved precisely 2 whole car lengths, presumably by gaps formed by cars deciding to pull into the outside lane and find an alternative route. All along Ruth kept in touch with the guy from Herne Bay pier trust, letting him know we may be a little late to the planned rendezvous with the Mayor. Alex took his opportunity well and settled in to 21/2 hours on uninterrupted Nintendo DS playing time so in all honesty he really didn’t care we were stuck in traffic.
Surprisingly, whilst we were still sat in the same position as 2 hours ago, I got a text from Ruben saying he had just arrived at Gravesend Pier and where were we as he couldn’t find us. When we finally caught up with him, In turned out that he had followed Paul and Colin out of Southend not realising they were heading home and ended up joining the M25 much further north. This had proved to be a stroke of genius as the M25 was actually moving whist us suckers on the A13 were just sat, waiting and sitting and waiting and sitting and waiting and…
Finally we all made the decision to pull out into the moving traffic on the outer lanes and head under the M25 and into the centre of London, hoping to cross maybe via the Blackwell Tunnel. Wow, it just felt good to be moving again. Did I say I really and truly hate sitting still for hours in traffic?
At this point George took over the lead as he knew London far better than the rest of us. Before long we arrived at the back of another long queue of stationary traffic, which turned out to be all those trying to get through the Blackwell Tunnel instead.
At this point George took over the lead as he knew London far better than the rest of us. Before long we arrived at the back of another long queu of stationary traffic, which turned out to be all those trying to get through the Blackwell Tunnel instead of crossing the bridge
A couple of miles before Tunnel George pulled up alongside a lorry and politely asked the driver if he would consider letting us in to the queue. The reply went along the lines of “Bollo*** mate, I’ve already been waiting 2 hours geeza, apples and pears, me old china” – or something like that; you get the idea he wasn’t particularly interested in helping us out.
At that point we have no choice but to carry on into the centre of London and see where the route took us. One good thing was that thankfully we were now outside the congestion charging time. As I had the Sat-
Just as we head off into a long dark tunnel a big white van pulled in between George and myself and when it finally pulls back out and overtakes me, George, Ruth or Gordon are nowhere to be seen in my rear view mirror. I am now deep inside a tunnel, heading into London central with just Alex with me for company. I admit I did panic a little but thankfully at that point our walkie talkies paid for themselves. We hear Ruth’s voice saying they can see us in the distance when at the same time I catch a glimpse of George’s flashing orange lights quite far behind.
Investigating the Sat Nav it shows that the next possible way to cross the river is, of all places, Tower Bridge. As we couldn’t cross the iconic new QEII bridge it seemed fitting that we should cross on possibly the most recognisable bridge in the world. Time was now moving on rapidly towards 7pm. We were actually now further away from our next destination at Gravesend Pier than we were a hour before.
The Tower of London and the Shard soon loom into view and on turning left, thankfully Tower Bridge is surprisingly congestion free. It was, in fact, brilliant to get the opportunity to take the buggies over such a historic monument, making for some great photos that none of us even imagined would have happened at the start of our day in Ipswich
Once more Mark took the lead and vowed to get us onto the A13 towards the M25 and the QE II bridge, before turning off and heading for home. Paul, Toby and Colin were also planning to head home as they all lived north of the river. Unfortunately on the way out of town due to the traffic lights we got split which left Mark, George, Gordon, Toby and myself heading one way whilst Colin, Paul and Ruben, who were at the back, headed another. Thankfully we knew Ruben had the planned Pier Pressure route printed out and a satnav, so we were safe in the knowledge if all else failed we would meet back up with him at the next pier at Gravesend.
Mark and Toby peeled off as we joined the A13 towards the M25 and the QEII bridge. Driving towards the turning for the bridge, The first time we realised there was something wrong was when we arrived at the back of a massive queue of lorries all sat in the inside lane. About a mile from the junction with the M25 a truly nice lady let the remaining 3 buggies into the queue just ahead of her.
We assumed the queue would soon start moving as social media and radio were all saying the bridge was now back open… yeah right. It turned out that the lady behind us had not turned a wheel for over 3 hours. We felt that surely the queue should move soon -
Finally we were south of the Thames and heading back towards the M25 south of Dartford. Once again the Walkie talkies proved invaluable and between us all we managed to navigate back east. We eventually get to cross under the M25 and it’s still stationary traffic around 7:45pm. The whole delay and detour has added a mere 36 miles and 4 hours to our planned journey.
I later received a twitter post to our Pier Pressure tag from the nice lady who originally let us in to the queue all those hours before and it turned out she had sat for a total of 9 hours that day before eventually moving off. So it appeared that we did make the right decision to head into the centre of London after all.
The sun was now low in the sky and the heat of the day was rapidly disappearing. We were all still all in our t-
We finally arrived at Gravesend Pier at 8:30pm and meet up with our Dutch friend who has had one hell of an introduction to driving in the UK already today. Ruben had used his time wisely and had managed to get some food whilst waiting for us.
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Gravesend is the oldest surviving cast iron pier in the world and was a ferry terminal until the late 1990’s when the council bought and restored it, now leasing the whole pier as a fancy restaurant and bar.
Ironically the long delay north of the river possibly put us in a much better position at Gravesend. The small car park area to the front was gated off which meant we had to park on the double yellow lines to the front of the gate, right on the side of one of the main one way routes through the town, on the A226. If we had arrived as planned around 4pm it would have been unlikely we would have got the pictures we did get due to passing traffic.
The sun was just setting and the lighting was brilliant for some nice photos at the pier.
It was now around 8:45pm and we still had 72 miles to go and 2 piers left to visit. So without spending too long at Gravesend we all jumped back in our motors and convoyed up for the next 42 mile leg of our journey to Herne Bay. As the time was getting on and Gordon has to return home to Hampshire some time that day we did try and get him to leave us at this point. However he insisted on carrying on and completing day 6 with us as he initially planned. A truly mad man but he was happy and we were more than happy to have him along with us and very appreciative of his continued support.
We did pass over the River Medway on the Medway Viaduct, passing Rochester to the south but to be honest we don’t remember much of the trip down to Herne Bay as it was basically a 55mph slog down the M2 and A299 and as the sun had now set, it was dark. For the first time on our whole trip we were going to be visiting a pier at night. We knew it may happen but hoped it wouldn’t, although we did think it would more likely be due to a breakdown and not due congestion.
We finally arrived at Herne Bay Pier just before 10:00pm, around 4 ½ later than originally planned. This was a real shame as Ruth had kept in constant touch with our contact at the pier trust throughout the day and they had arranged a meeting not only with the Chairman of the trust but also the Mayor of Canterbury too. They had also arranged for a fish and chip supper for us all from the new fish and chip stall that had also opened on the pier that day.
We were gutted we couldn’t get there on time, even more so as we found out later that the mayor had waited until around 7:30pm before heading home.
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Unfortunately, when we arrived the pier was in the dark and all closed up for the day, as was to be expected. There were very few folk around, just a few late night revelers visiting the uninspiring named pier amusement arcade on the opposite side of Central Parade and the late night pizza place next door.
In front of the pier was a large round flower bed and paving area with small wall restricting access any closer to the pier. Not for the first time on our trip we drove up around the flower bed and set the buggies up as close to the pier as we get for our required proof of visit photo. Whilst we were doing this Ruben kindly offered to go and get some pizzas ordered for us at the place opposite as we hadn’t eaten since around 1.00pm.
Just as we are finishing the photos a man walked over to us and we assumed he is going to tell us off for driving around the flower bed and parking up on the footpath. However it actually turned out that Andrew was the Chairman of the Pier Trust and he had waited for us to arrive to welcome us to his pier. He had just given up on us when he heard us arrive. He surprised us even further by asking if we would like to drive onto the pier and went to open up the gates. He also showed us the way round to the pier entrance through a small access road disguised by wheelie bins.
We couldn’t quite believe we were being allowed on the beautifully restored pier and Andrew even allowed us to drive all the way up to the end of the pier up against the traditional carousel. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the authority to turn the carousel on but we still feel very privileged to be allowed onto the pier in the dark.
Andrew explains that the pier trust had promoted our trip for a few days on their facebook page and had put up posters on the pier about our visit (are you taking note Clacton?) With the Mayoral visit too, this had meant that T around 5:30pm AT our original expected time of arrival, the pier had been packed with people. The weather had made it even more popular and he classed it as a bank holiday Sunday size of crowd on a Wednesday evening.
It was annoying that just because someone had decided to drive off the QEII bridge the night before to prove a point after an argument, it had caused so much disruption to so many people and businesses that day. In hindsight it had also meant that the opportunity for people to make essential donations to our wonderful charities had also been lost.
At that point, Ruben appeared with the pizzas and we enjoyed a rather surreal evening meal leaning against the buggies on the pier at 10:30pm in the dark.
Andrew was a very interesting guy and a local councillor too. He explained about the history of the pier, the plans to reconnect it to the isolated pier head a couple of hundred metres out to sea and the recent restoration undertaken by the trust to bring the pier back into use. He also told us about the ongoing wheelie bins wars with the pizza place opposite and we suddenly felt embarrassed about our choice of evening food.
I had now put Alex on GLYMPSE duty and every 4 hours he reconnected with it, ensuring we stay logged into the App so people could track our progress. I have since found put that many people already knew of our forced delay near Dartford just from tracking us on GLYMPSE. I have also had people since ask me what we were doing at Herne Bay that late at night as the GLYMPSE tracker showed loads of mad wiggles on the route tracker. As the app tracked my phone and it was in my pocket, they basically saw us walking about on the pier!
We perhaps stayed longer at Herne Bay they we should have but with Andrew’s brilliant hospitality, ironically we just lost track of time. It was now around 10:45pm and we still had 30+ miles to go and Deal Pier still to visit before the day was finished. We finally got Gordon to see a little sense and after two full days with us on our Pier Pressure odyssey, we said farewell to our good friend and amazing back up support, as he did a U-
In stark contrast to earlier in the day, as you would expect the roads were now very empty and the two pier pressure buggies and Ruben in his white van headed off along the A299 and A256 for the 23 mile trip down to Deal. It amazed me that in an open topped buggy doing 55mph, with the wind rushing passed and the temparature dropping every minute, Alex managed to just fall asleep. Within seconds of leaving Herne Bay he was truly and deeply in the land of nod.
When we planned the trip I was really looking forward to visiting Deal but in the dark I can honestly say I still don’t know what Deal looks like. We arrived at the pier around 11:40pm and other than a couple of guys staggering out of the local drinking establishment opposite, there was no-
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Well, somehow we managed to drive up the narrow footpath, around the flower beds, squeeze through some bollards and park right up against the closed gates of the pier, atop of the entrance steps on the promenade. We woke Alex up and thankfully Ruben was on hand once again to handle the cameras for us to ensure we get our latest proof of visit photo.
Ruben had been an unsung hero that day, ensure our trip had been documented and on hand to take pictures, fetch lunch, block gates and improtantly entertain my crazy 9 year old son. Thanks big guy. Alex has touched every pier so far and we made sure he touched Deal too. I’m not actually sure he actually even properly woke up as he still has no memory of visiting Deal Pier, although his eyes were open on the photo.
To top it off there is a fantastic moon and cloud formation over the calm sea and although we did try to capture it on film, the photos just didn’t do it justice.
Without spending too long at the pier we set off on the last 6 miles of our Day 6 journey down to our hotel for the night at St Margaret on Cliffe, just north of Dover. Originally we had planned to visit the white cliffs and get some great photos, but obviously by now we just wanted our beds.
We finally arrived at the St Margaret on Cliffe Hotel at 12:10am on the Thursday morning after one hell of a day. The hotel was part of a holiday park and right in the middle of a large number of static caravans, so I’m sure they all really appreciated the sound of two buggies arriving that late at night, (even though we did try and keep it quiet, honest).
The hotel itself was great, with an indoor pool, large restaurant and a couple of well stocked bars -
We had now managed a full 6 days with the roofs off all the way and other than a couple of squeaky shock absorbers, no major breakdowns or issues with our trusty steeds. We quickly unpacked the buggies whilst Ruth put Alex to bed, put the hoods on the buggies and said a good night to Ruben.
We decided to forego our nightly cup of tea and daily catch up chat with George as we all headed off to bed, reflecting on a day that had everything including amazing welcomes, town criers, driving onto piers, road closures, detours, Tower Bridge, great support from friends new and old, night visits to piers and our first pier eviction.
I went to sleep thinking that it would be one hell of a story to write about some day.