Just back from a few days in Broadstairs on the coast of Kent, where the sleet was horizontal but the hospitality was warm. I first met our hostess many years ago in London, when I moved there from St. Andrews, not long after the release of that wonderful film, Chariots of Fire. You'll remember, perhaps, the opening sequence of the athletes training, running along a long, flat beach, with the caption 'Broadstairs, Kent'. So when she said that was where she lived, I said, 'Oh, yes, at the beginning of Chariots of Fire.' 'Oh, no!' she said, affronted. 'I don't know where it was but it wasn't Broadstairs!' 'No!' I said, with just as much affrontedness, 'it was St. Andrews!'. (I shan't trouble you with the additional story of an American acquaintance who, having tried to simulate the opening sequence one night by stripping to his underwear on West Sands, St. Andrews, and running boldly up and down the beach, then spent several chilly hours trying to find which dunes he had hidden his clothes behind ...).
Broadstairs is a lovely, quirky town, full of odd little houses of all ages tucked into awkward corners, including one or two that Charles Dickens didn't stay in. Another frequent visitor was Wilkie Collins, who was staying with Dickens when a glimpse of the lighthouse at night inspired the title of his novel The Woman in White. There are local tales of Viking invasions and smuggling, and the beach, which is hidden below the town, is lined with bathing huts and, in February, sulky turnstones and busy sanderlings running at the edges of the waves.
We took a quick train to Canterbury one afternoon but it was full of English Language students and French schoolchildren. The Cathedral is beautiful but expensive!
Nine hours back on the train through varying levels of snow - imagine doing that journey in a carriage, or worse, on top of a mail coach.