The Internet doesn’t like the Isle of Sheppey. Widespread opinion seems to be that it’s violent and grim. Our pre-trip research reveals reams of poisonous and condescending lines written on the place; it’s the fight capital of Britain, second roughest place in the UK after Chatham, a holiday spot for cockney hardmen too lazy to go to Spain and so snarkily on. We also learn that it’s home to several major industrial installations, a sprawling dockyard, 3 prisons, an army of caravans and a thriving population of scorpions. It sounds like just the Lost Promenade’s kind of place, but, as we park, in the island’s biggest town, Sheerness, the baleful stares of loitering teens seem to confirm the stereotype. However, our worries are misplaced; everybody we speak to is incredibly friendly and we generally have a bumper fun-packed time.
We knew it was going to be good, travelling over the bridge onto the island, “oohs” and “aahs” chorus through Lindsey’s car as we spot exciting looking industrial structures – complex pipes like metallic entrails, a mysterious long blue tunnel-type thing – the first charity shop we visit has a poster that says ‘Happy as a Pig in Shit’. They must have read our minds.
Back to that first charity shop and Nhung and Lindsey head blankly and simultaneously towards a video called ‘Ice Road Truckers: The World’s Deadliest Roads’ as if hypnotized. They only just manage to conquer a perplexing urge to buy it, and Nhung is able to save her pennies later for a WW1 flying helmet she falls in love with.
The town centre is fairly unmemorable. And every SINGLE charity shop has an old wedding dress in it. Could this be the island where romance goes to die?
There’s a sign that says ‘Swimming Pool Chemicals’, apropos of nothing, lots of wrestling posters and a mill without its sails hidden behind some gates, but as we peer into one window, we see people making lanterns (for an upcoming parade) accompanied by two others on harmonicas. And best of all, we find an amazing eating spot – the Beano Café. Its theme is of course, the comic and the walls are covered in homemade drawings and knitted figures of Dennis the Menace. However there’s also a random mixture of other images; Elvis, Spiderman, the Royal Wedding and a poster of Michael Jackson with the slogan “King of Pop.” It would have been nice to have some Freddie Krueger snaps to compare jumpers with Dennis, but you can’t have everything.
The seafront is surprisingly bleak with a pebbled beach and a grey concrete seawall. There’s one amusement arcade, a barren looking nightclub called Tantra and a big sandpit. There’s not much to see here, so we head to the outskirts of the town, and the area called Bluetown, originally built to house the dockyard workers.
We park near a garden gnome factory with a forecourt full of stone ornaments that seems to never end. Life-size Roman centurions, scantily clad goddesses, yawning eagles and cod Easter Island heads all crowd surreally into one space like a concrete platoon. This area is fascinating; eerily quiet, cobbled and full of boarded-up old pubs and a sex shop, in which we overhear, perhaps one of the finest Lost Promenade quotes of all time; “My mum’s a GILF. Not that I’d like to fuck her. But people do.”
It’s going to take a lot to top that, so we decide to leave Sheerness and have a quick drive around the rest of the island. Amongst the caravans and suburbs, we spot a heartbreakingly derelict art deco house, more amusement arcades and a burned down hut and we try to get near the prisons, but it’s restricted access. We console ourselves with some fries and milkshake action at Mickey’s Rock Diner – all retro décor and posters advertising future Chicory Tip performances – despite it being on the wrong side of the motorway to get home, we can’t resist.
Perhaps I haven’t made enough notes for this trip, but for some reason; my memories of the actual appearance of the island are remarkably hazy. But I do remember we liked the place. The Internet may not care for the Isle of Sheppey. But the Lost Promenade do.
1930s wedding dress (the nicest of the charity shop wedding dresses, but too small for any of us)
Ice Road Truckers: The World’s Deadliest Roads video
A pier (we understood from our research that Sheerness had one, but we didn’t see it)
A peek at the prisons
Chicory Tip show
Memories of Sheppey
Brown v-neck jumper with a fish motif
3 Mills & Boons books (Nhung has decided to start collecting them for the cover art)
Holiday souvenir Florida mug
WW1 flying helmet
Scorn for internet bullies