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It was on a spring day in 1967 when, five years old, I found myself in Sandgate for the first time, a pupil at Sandgate Primary School in the days when it occupied its site at the foot of the hill.
To me it looked more like a church with romantic tower and stone walls, full of interesting nooks and crannies, and of course it was only a stone’s throw from the sea.
I can remember one windy March day being taken by our teacher to the seafront, dressed in waterproofs. The waves were spectacularly high and, crashing over the path, soaked us with spray. Our teacher explained that the moon was low at this time of year and the waves were magnetically attracted to it.
Sandgate has always held a magnetic attraction for me. As children, my brother, sister and I were drawn to one particular beach that we considered to be our own special domain. Mum would met us from school on summer afternoons with sandwiches and a flask and we would go down to our beach and swin until Dad came to pick us up on his way home from work. Later, as a teenager attending the Firls Technical High School, I would gaze distractedly out of the window towards Sandgate, the destination of first dates, angst-ridden solitary walks and a place to clear the head during exam revision. It was during this time that I started noticing the houses and imagining what it would be like to live in one that looked out over the sea.
I joined FHODS when I was 16 and sang my first solo in Sandgate’s Little Theatre in Half a Sixpence, based on HG Wells’ novel, Kipps, and set in the area :
‘It’s magic on the old Military Canal,
It’s tragic that the old Military Canal
Though scenic is just slightly unhygienic,
It cemented my wish to become a singer and two years later I left for London and Music College. I enjoyed the energy and vitality of the big city but the sea continued to draw me. I spent several summers at the Snape Maltings in Suffolk, involved in some inspired music making and sharing the experiences of fellow musicians as we trudged across the beach at Aldenburgh each evening.
My first job as a professional singer was with the sadly missed Kent Opera. We visited many seaside towns on tour and I immediately felt at home in all of them. Indeed I got lost in towns that did not have the sea as a reference point.
Since college days I had always lived in London but I missed the presence of the sea. I would always go for a walk to Sandgate when I visited my parents and continued to add interesting looking properties to my list for that dreamed of future when I would live by the sea. I didn’t really expect it to happen, but then I met Nick, my wind surfing, weather-loving boyfriend who encouraged me to pursue the dream rather than cherish it as a fantasy. We explored several places on the south coast but nowhere did we feel a sense of belonging.
Then we visited my parents in Christmas of 2001 and, waking early on a brilliant and freezing Sunday morning, we seized the day and set off for a pre-breakfast walk on the beach. Expecting to feel the satisfying crunch of foot engaging with pebbles we were astonished to find that we were walking on solid ground – the beach had frozen hard. It was a day of dazzling light and beauty and it dawned on us that we need look no further.
So on a March day, in 2002, I found myself back in practically the same spot as that graphic primary school weather lesson, waiting with Nick to meet an estate agent. It was a wild and windy day and the sea was enormous. Struggling to stay on our feet we were looking from the coast path back across the garden of a small Victorian terraced cottage with an incongruous flat roof and somewhat dishevelled appearance.
It had never featured in my fantasy home list – the roof was leaking, damp penetrated from every possible source and for a very small cottage it needed an awful lot of work . . but it was gorgeous and at the bottom of the garden was the magnificent sea. I had some doubts, my DIY skills are limited and I had no real wish to expand them. ‘Imagine having a cup of tea sitting on the sea wall in the morning.’, Nick said, ‘Oh all right.’ I replied – I could never resist a cup of tea.
March had come round again and the house is practically obliterated by scaffolding, tarpaulin singing mournfully in the wind. Daunted but not dismayed we are setting about its refurbishment. We love the cottage even in its current state and the people of Sandgate have been very welcoming.
Desperate to find a loo on one of our early visits, we saw a sign saying ‘Coffee Morning’ and walked through the door into a gathering of the Sandgate Society whose members greeted us with enthusiasm and real interest when we told them about our hopes to buy Martello Cottage. And of course there is the ever-present sea, fascinating in all its different aspects. We have watched the flaming sun sink beneath the horizon, the moon glisten over the night waters; the lapping of the waves has lulled us to sleep, crashing breakers have woken us up . . we take our tea down to the beach and drink it all in.