A Grand Tour – part the first

On Wednesday 31st August my school friend Graham picked me up in his British Racing Green open topped MG for a three day tour of East Sussex and Kent.  I had spent some days plotting routes using Graham’s guiding rules (average speed 30mph, only 4 hours driving per day, mix of winding lanes and some faster B-roads, and explore the coast, find some interesting places to visit).

We left Brighton by minor roads – Bear Rd to Woodingdean, Falmer, Kingston roundabout, Kingston to Newhaven, Seaford and Cuckmere valley, Seven Sisters downland loop and back way into Eastbourne.  Cruised the whole of Eastbourne seafront and snuck into Pevensey Bay, Normans Bay and Coodens Bay before going inland to scuttle along lanes round the back of Bexhill and Hastings and on to Fairlight where we stopped to climb the sea defence and look at the sea.

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Travelling along the seaside road does not guarantee a sea view.  We reached Rye at lunchtime and spent a fruitless 20 minutes driving around full car parks hoping someone would leave.  Then spotted a pub car park, and they offered lunch – parking problem solved.  It was the Cinque Port, one of many Shep. Neame houses.  The exuberant manager served an acceptable golden ale and a delightful seabass and ratatouille dish.  The lovely man said we could leave the car whilst we took a walk around town.

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A fine mix of buildings held together by red clay tiles.  Lots of arty shops and some good views out to low-lying lands around us.  We motored onto the giant gravel protrusion that is Dungeness foreland with its marshy infills including Romney Marsh.

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Passing Camber Sands on our way towards Dungeness power stations.  We decided on cake and a train ride on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway.  Cake was possible because we planned to wait for the next steam-hauled train.

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Green Goddess looks big here, but the oil can on top of the coal tender gives a clue to its real size.

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At the southern end of the line the train traveled a big loop across the gravel lands to head north again, giving views of lighthouses and the 2 nuclear power stations.  We had booked into a farmhouse B&B near Brookland where we stopped for a pint next to Brookland Church with its very odd separate shingle clad bell tower.

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We asked for directions to Dean Court Farm and the barmaid did a quick google search and started to direct us to Dean Court Stadium in Bournemouth.  We found our way and were soon set up with tea and coffee makings as well as the bottle of malt picked up at Aldi (or Lidl) at Newhaven earlier.

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That evening we had supper at the Woolpack, just a 20 minute walk down the lane.  Possibly the biggest mixed grill I have ever encountered.  Had to leave some of the chop and liver, and hardly touched the separate big bowl of chips!!  Waddled back to the B&B and made the above dent in the scotch.

Breakfast saw Graham and me taking two seats at a 12 seat polished hardwood dining table where we ate raspberries and yogurt followed by smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with brown bread and butter, all under a giant cut glass chandelier.  Then we planned a route round a few Romney Marsh churches – Brooklands, Old Romney and Ivychurch – using a Penguin publication we found in the lounge, Romney Marsh Churches written and illustrated by John Piper.

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Fragment of the Matyrdom of Thomas Becket on Brooklands Church, discovered in 1964, further revealed and conserved 8 years later, originally painted in 13th century.  The archbishop in the small guy kneeling down on right, the three killers with drawn swords are behind him, one having smashed his weapon into Becket’s skull.  We also liked the lead font, box pews, old clock mechanism and the seriously outward-leaning columns of the nave.

On to Old Romney with its 600 year old yew and plethora of extra buttresses to hold the structure up.  Piper describes this Romney Marsh church feature as ‘brokenbacked’.

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A column in Old Romney church leaning out.  Extra timbers carry some of the sideways thrust out to the aisle wall and extra buttresses have been built onto the aisles.  The box pews and gallery here are pleasing.

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The extra buttresses take away from the intended lightness of Old Romney church, but I guess they keep it up.

Then we drove on to the ‘Cathedral of the Marsh’ at Ivychurch.  A big church alright, with the aisles almost as big as the main nave, and one currently holding an exhibition of old agricultural machinery and tools.

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More wall painting here and our second vicars rain hut – a heavy wooden ‘sentrybox’ used to protect priestly vestments and bible from rain at graveside services.

The plan was to take a short piece of A-road off the marsh before turning onto a minor road and jinking our way to Deal for lunch, but the road layout had been altered since my 1974 OS map was published and we found our drive constrained by lack of exits until the outskirts of Ashford.

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