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Open Features: Down Dymchurch Way

...For years I have wanted to visit that bit of southern England from Hastings to Folkestone taking in Romney Marsh and some of the Cinque Ports, principally Rye...

Mary Pilfold-Allan fulfills a dream.

Fulfilling a dream, however insignificant, is a tricky business. It’s almost like a pregnancy. There is the moment of conception when the notion is formed, a period of thinking about it, possibly some research, then building up a mental picture, and finally the reality; the moment of truth. There are few parents who end up unhappy with their lot when the baby is born, however when it comes to fulfilling a dream; it can be the equivalent of expecting a golden guinea and ending up with a five pence piece.

For years I have wanted to visit that bit of southern England from Hastings to Folkestone taking in Romney Marsh and some of the Cinque Ports, principally Rye. Not much to ask, but there has always been a reason why not. Then, just by chance, the opportunity arose and I searched the Internet sites for a decent hotel. My reasoning told me that as we would be driving down from London late on a Friday afternoon, keeping it simple would be good. Rye seemed the obvious choice and why not opt for the four star hotel raved about by various travel writers. Maybe I was slightly naive.

The day dawned and we drove south on a hot September afternoon with the trees just starting to turn autumnal. Traffic started off light but within a few miles had built up to congested. What should have taken an hour and a bit became almost three. By the time we arrived in Rye it was not far short of dark. After several laps of a one-way system we located the hotel and parked outside the door to unload the luggage. Then the arrow of disappointment struck – no parking at the hotel. Guests are required to use a public car park several hundred yards away and walk back to the hotel up a steep hill.

Four-star luxury is very pleasant. Once installed in an upgraded room, tension left the scene and a huge bed, wonderful bathroom and ample amounts of tea and coffee consoled tiredness. Too exhausted to care about food, we slept the sleep of babies and woke to another day where excitement at the prospect of exploration was back.

Rye itself is a strange place, full of history and walking its streets is both a joy and chance to allow imagination to run riot. No stranger to invaders, it has been a front line fortification throughout the centuries and when not engaged in protecting Crown and country, it has proved a very useful harbour for smugglers and wreckers to hang out.

But Rye was just the start of the journey. Romney Marshes came next, spreading out like a green tapestry, polka dotted by thousands of sheep, although the looming presence of Dungeness power station on the far horizon provided a full stop to any additional poetic thoughts. Dungeness A, one of the old Magnox reactors is now obsolete but Dungeness B carries on. The whole site is touted as a tourist attraction – and perhaps in some odd sort of way nuclear power stations are the new historic buildings. The shingle headland close by is an important nature reserve and for those who have a head for heights, there is an impressive lighthouse to climb.

Then there is Dymchurch, surely the setting for that all time favourite, ‘Dad’s Army’. It would not be unreasonable to expect a sighting of Captain Mainwaring walking to his bank or Lance Corporal Jones driving is butcher’s van down the high street. Even the coffee I drank in one of the local inns could have come straight out of a bottle of ‘Camp’!

If Dymchuch proved something of a time capsule, Hythe offered an entirely different prospective, a bit of a resort without the Kiss Me Quick aspect. It’s website confirms it is one of the original five Cinque ports and that the town boasts an 11th century church and also the Royal Military Canal, dug as a defensive measure during the Napoleonic Wars. Unfortunately, as it was a brilliantly sunny day, parking spaces had long since been taken up by happy trippers and I never got to see the sights.

When we reached Folkestone, the next point along the coast, it was time to turn towards the motorway and home. I had fulfilled my dream of seeing that part of the Kent coast but not without feeling a tinge of disappointment. I am not sure what I expected; possibly the glamour of the name Cinque Ports and the huge amount of history attached to them had given me too colourful a mental picture for reality to provide.

One thing in particular stood out though. On the tower of Rye’s church is a prophetic plaque that says ‘For our time is a very shadow that passeth away’ – a bit like my dream.


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