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Across Romney Marshes

An atmospheric walk across moody marshlands.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field edges, lanes and some road, can be muddy

Landscape Moody marshlands

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 125 Romney Marsh, Rye & Winchelsea

Start/finish TR 028277

Dog friendliness Must be kept on a lead by roads due to speeding traffic

Parking Near Bell Inn at Ivychurch

Public toilets None on route

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1 With the church on your left, walk along the road, pass the phone box, then take the footpath on the right. Go diagonally left across this field - keeping the mast on your right. Walk around the edge of the next field, cross over a bridge and continue until you reach Yoakes Lane. At the lane, turn right and follow it all the way to Old Romney.
At Old Romney you come to the busy main road (A259), turn left here and walk down, before turning left again. Take time to stop in Old Romney and visit the church before continuing the walk.

2 There is now a choice of routes. You can follow Five Vents Lane all the way back to Ivychurch, or go up the lane, walk around a curved medieval moat and follow the ditch, walking around the field edges and crossing two bridges, to arrive back at Yoakes Lane. You can retrace your steps to reach the village, or turn right and continue along Yoakes Lane to the main road. When you reach the road, turn left and walk back to the Bell Inn and your starting point.

In The Ingoldsby Legends (1837) Revd Richard Barham declared that the world: 'is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Romney Marsh'. You'll certainly find it hard to believe that you're in Kent. The flat, windy marshlands, topped with enormous sweeping skies, present an unusual picture in southern England. Stretching endlessly to the horizon, the marshes are laced with watery hollows and quiet footpaths, and dotted with the decaying ruins of abandoned churches. The light here takes on an eerie clarity, and even the buildings are different to others in Kent with small, squat churches and secretive little houses, that look as if they are trying to shrink into the landscape and escape your attention. Romney Marsh was originally an expanse of ever-changing saltmarsh and tidal creeks, reclaimed from the sea first by the Romans and then the Saxons - the name is thought to derive from the Saxon 'Rumnea' meaning marsh water.

This walk takes you between two historic marsh villages. Keep an eye out for the sight of a heron overhead. There are plenty on the marshes as they feed in the ditches that lace the ground.

If it's been raining you'll soon notice your boots getting weighed down with thick, heavy clay. It's a reminder that the marshes were once a swampy, unhealthy place to live. Locals used to suffer from 'Kentish ague', or 'Old Johnny', a shivery, malaria type fever. People tried to ward off the disease by wearing a charm necklace.

Here, the Bell Inn sits next to St George's Church, built in the 1360s. It's quiet today but it hasn't always been this sleepy. During the Civil War, Cromwell's soldiers slept here and even stabled their horses in the church.

In later years, when smugglers roamed the marshes, churches were often used to hide contraband such as tea and spirits. Some of the marsh churches have a ship painted on one of their walls, a symbol that it was a safe place to hide smuggled goods. St George's was certainly used as a hiding place. At one time the vicar was unable to take Sunday service because, according to the sexton: 'pulpit be full o' baccy and vestry be full o' brandy'. In those days tea was so expensive that locals couldn't afford it, so they made their own version with local herbs.

During the Second World War the church was used as a secret food store, in case the country was invaded, and lookouts were posted on the towers. Inside the church you can see some stone seats along one wall. These were reserved for the elderly, in the days before churches had pews. It's one explanation for the saying: 'let the weakest go to the wall'.

Old Romney was once a busy sea port, but was stranded as more and more land was reclaimed from the sea. The church, set back from the road, dates back to the 11th or 12th century. It contains a rare, pre-Reformation stone altar that had been hidden away and was only discovered during restoration work. Altars like this were banned by Edward VI, as they represented undesirable links to the days before the Church in England broke from Rome. He ordered that they all be destroyed.

What to look for

In spring you might well hear a raucous croaking noise rising from the ditches in the marsh. It's the sound of the marsh frog, known locally as the 'laughing frog'. Twelve were introduced to a garden pond in 1935 and soon escaped into the surrounding marshland.

While you're there

Look out for some distinctive local plants. Marsh mallow plants grow by ditches and produce soft pink flowers in July and August. The roots of the plant were once used to make sticky sweets - the forerunners of the commercial marshmallows we can buy today. Along the lanes, look for blackthorn hedges, that were planted to supply wood to pack the sea walls. So much wood was needed that it became an offence to chop blackthorn without permission. Anyone who was caught doing so had an ear cut off.

Where to eat and drink

You're parked close to the Bell Inn in Ivychurch where you can get a drink after your walk. Or try the Rose and Crown in Old Romney, an atmospheric pub reached by turning right at the main road when you come down to the village.

Kent

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