A late summer ride through an area defined by the battle between land and water and filled with history, legend, ghosts, piracy and churches.
Very early on a late August morning I rolled quietly out of the house to catch a series of trains that would take me to the East Sussex/Kent border flatlands of Romney Marsh. I had read about the marsh and seen some photos, as well as footage of Shirley Collins in St. Thomas à Becket church, Fairfield in the film The Ballad of Shirley Collins – all enough to feel a trip was worth taking. Along with these scraps as a visionary guide, I was also hoping to find something of the quiet, dusty, crumbliness of Kenneth Rowntree's paintings of church interiors out on the marsh.
By the time the morning commute was in full swing I was one my third train of the morning and finally on a more interesting branch line clack-clacking through small, distinctive stations and accompanying towns. Vignettes accumulated in the woods and fields that streamed past the window. My eastward trajectory had finally dipped south through the north downs to my destination: Ashford.
My aim? A list of Romney Marsh churches to visit on the first day, a cycle through Dungeness and a long pedal up to Rye for a night in the haunted Mermaid Inn. The following morning I would cycle west to Hastings and north to Battle where I would take the train home.
This is a two part photo-essay of the churches I visited in August 2019.
St. Peter and St. Paul, Dymchurch
St. Peter and St. Paul in Dymchurch set a trend that would continue throughout the day of displaying farm implements within the church. I enjoyed this link between the local and the heavens.
St. Mary in the Marsh
A beautiful church in a small village of the same name. The light throughout the day was wonderful on the undulating plastered walls of these ancient buildings.
St. Clement, Newchurch
The graveyard of St. Clement, Newchurch contains the gravesite of Derek Jarman whose hut in Dungeness I would cycle past later in the day. The church interior is a pale pink, with box pews and an upper gallery. Not a straight line in sight.
St. George, Ivychurch
This church is colloquially referred to as "the cathedral of Romney Marsh" for its size. But it felt impersonal compared to the smaller, more characterful churches. St. George is the only church I've ever been that boasts a Lottery-funded toilet. There was a wonderful exhibit about local farmer Eli Frith with lots of farming implements again on display. Returned to my bike to find a flat tyre.
St. Eanswith, Brenzett
The exterior of St. Eanswith offered more than the interior, but it did have a great tomb displaying two men reclining beside one another. Secluded position with a view across fields out back. Cruck beams inside.
St. Dunstan, Snargate
Hidden away from the road behind a cottage, St. Dunstans evidently had a problem with petty theft (see photo). The Ferrero Rocher box of hymn numbers was a nice detail. I fixed my flat tyre on the lane outside and had a quick pint in the Red Lion pub, a truly unique boozer that has basically remained untouched since the 1940s. The current owner told me the pub was haunted and that her mother, Doris, whose portrait adorned one of the walls was a psychic who could enumerate the various supernatural presences, figures and dark shadows. Definitely worth a stop if you're in the area.