A retired US Navy Veteran goes to England on vacation, explores some of England's history and landmarks and finds an apartment on the coast.
1. Canterbury Road
I found the place entirely by accident. I was driving down Canterbury Road between Canterbury and Wingham and thought I might be having some engine trouble. I was thirsty anyway, so I pulled into a little convenience store and went in to get some refreshments. There was a service station and repair shop. It looked like a small village had recently grown around it. Inside the store, with a Pepsi in hand, I noticed the sale bill for some nice apartments in a castle on the coast. I had thought about looking for a flat while I was here, and the idea of living in an apartment in a castle intrigued me, so I picked up the sale bill.
Once my car was looked at, I found a bed and breakfast right next door and decided to stop for the night and do some research into the place. The little farmhouse had all the modern conveniences, like a flat screen and video games. The section of Canterbury Road seemed busy, considering I took it to be a country road. I had to admit that, to my American sense of wide open country, this area seemed more like the outer edge of the suburbs. I didn't feel too isolated here, but it was comfortable. I sat in front of the big screen and texted home about my new find.
The truth is, as soon as I saw the place, I knew this was it. I was hooked, and I couldn't wait to get out there. So how could something in a foreign country be so familiar? I spent the night researching the place. It seems the castle was built in the 1760s by a rather unpopular baron as a folly. In the 18th century it was fashionable for lords who did not have ancient ruins on their property to build sort of replicas of them.
This castle was one of those, and started out as a stable and staff quarters. There was also a tavern, poorhouse, a convent and various other monuments, many of which survive today. This cove was a landing spot for monarchs as well as a hiding place for smugglers. The castle became the residence of a more popular English gentleman, and, later, a hotel. The tavern remains as well, although most of it fell into the sea due to erosion in 1806. The main house fell into ruins in the early 19th century, but was later restored.
2. The dream
I walked across a courtyard toward a large building with towers on either side of an old door. The stones of the building and those under my feet were dark and wet with snow and rain. The building seemed to loom above me as I approached an entrance on the side. It was between what I recognized as the old part and the new wing. I passed an icy patch and entered, turning toward the old part where I had explored many times as a child. I was going to see the place one last time, I understood. After I finished exploring, I crossed into the new addition and entered a room full of older men, who I recognized as uncles. There must have been more than 10 from two generations. Looking serious, they were seated around this room. I asked if I was interrupting. I knew the discussion had something to do with the place being made into a hotel.
I remembered a time when I could ride a bicycle from school to the gate of this place. I always awoke from this recurring dream with a sense of nostalgia. This time I felt more because I really believed that I had found the place. I can't explain this in a way that doesn't make me feel like a fruitcake, but it was like visiting home, then finding it was for rent.
3. The Castle
According to my internet search, the castle was added onto from the 1860s to the early 1900s. It was made into a hotel in the 1920s. The hotel was frequented by some famous people. There were books that may have featured it as the subject. Unfortunately, it is not a real castle. It was never used for defense in any military capacity, and the closest thing to nobility to inhabit it was a rather unpopular baron. Having said that, it really is something to see silhouetted against the sky above limestone cliffs.
The castle has been owned by many people since it was built. The original owner left it to his attorney, as his son acquired serious gambling debts. After the son's death it was sold and began a succession of short ownerships in the early 19th century. It was purchased by a newspaper tycoon after the previous owner fled to Australia in the 1850s. He began the first extensions of the place, and lived in it until his death some 40 years later. He was the longest resident of this time. The castle was then purchased by a banker, who before dying in 1913, remodeled it. Then it was purchased by another newspaper man, and made into a hotel shortly after his death in 1922.
In the 20th century a corporation of owners was formed, and it was made into flats. The only intrigue associated with the place involves smuggling. This is rumored to involve a tunnel that once accessed the beach under the old Captain Digby. Erosion claimed much of the original structure there, and a breakwater surrounds the castle to prevent any similar occurrence.
4. On the road
I woke the next morning ready to finish my journey to the coast. I had come to England to do some sightseeing and maybe find a place to stay. It's not that I wanted to leave America, but that I already feel like staying here. Also I would be lying if I said that America is the same country that I grew up in. The little ranch style house with the white picket fence of my early childhood quickly gave way to financial problems, divorce, and a single parent home in another area. I left that home at 16 to join the Navy.
After the past 20 years as a single man traveling the world, I am ready to settle down, but there is really no place to settle. So I have come to the country of my family's origin. At least part of the family.
5. Another life
If past lives exist, I spent mine traveling between London and the coast of England with my parents. My grandparents lived in sort of a castle that looks profoundly like the one I found here. Everything about the place appears as it should. In that life, I spent winters in London, practically living in some sort of theater. An upstairs balcony was my space, and I would listen to orchestras and dream of playing an instrument one day. I can imagine myself after such a life haunting the orchestra pit, as if in some other realm I still want to visit the past.
I pull into the pub and sit down for a minute. I remember the theater in London that I visited. They were showing Harry Potter. The place was literally a palace, built in the late 19th century as an opera house. My daydreams ended as I took in the view of the castle across the bay. It was just as it had appeared. I decided to walk across and see my new flat.