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The Sea Wall
A Visitor's Tale
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This charming account of fortnight's holiday in Dymchurch by an anonymous visitor, the wife and kiddies, was published in "Dymchurch and St. Mary's Bay: Kent's Most Glorious Sands", published by Dymchurch and District Chamber of Trade, nearly seventy years ago:
Some four years ago, my family and I had the usual argument as to where we should spend our Summer Holiday. A friend suggested Dymchurch, in the Southern corner of Kent, and on the well known grazing ground of the Romney Marsh, with its glorious Golden sands. He said it was just the ideal place for my kiddies, so on his advice we decided to give Dymchurch a try, and we have continued to spend our annual holiday here ever since.
From the many advertisements of apartments and furnished bungalows to let, we decided on apartments. We found it easy to get to Dymchurch; we had the choice of rail or Coach. We arrived by London coach to Hythe and then by the Light Railway to Dymchurch Station. As is most usual, it was Saturday night when we arrived and we were welcomed by our Landlady who had a nice meal ready for us, after which the unpacking took place and so to bed.
Sunday. After breakfast we started to explore this Dymchurch, and first took a walk along the stretch of seawall (which was originally built of earth by the Saxons) with its Martello Towers built during the Napoleonic scares. It was from one of these Towers that the first flying bomb was spotted during the last war. From the seawall, some five miles of golden sands confronted us, and the kiddies were wild with excitement, and needless to say we had to walk on the sands. I was surprised how firm and clean they were as the tide receded. As it was Sunday, and as it was our usual practice to attend Church, we found that we had the choice of Methodist Chapel, Catholic Service held in the Old Church School-Room, or the Old Norman Church of St. Peter & Paul. Being C. of E., we visited this church, and promised ourselves a further visit when we could thoroughly examine it. The rest of the day was spent quietly on the Sands and basking in the Sunshine.
Monday. An early walk along the seawall, where we saw local inhabitants and visitors examining hooks which had been laid down the previous evening on the beach. When we got up to these hooks we found these jolly people collecting their catch of Cod, Dabs and Plaice, which had been caught during the sleeping hours. We made up our minds to have a try at this interesting sport.
After breakfast we went straight to the shops, where a big selection of buckets, spades and beach balls etc. were to be had. After satisfying the kiddies' demands we went on to the Sands, where we built Sandcastles, bathed, and took in all the sunshine we could. I was pleased to see how safe the sands were. After Lunch, my wife and I left the kiddies playing with their beach balls and digging on the sands, and walked along the seawall to St. Mary's Bay, some one and a half miles away towards Romney. This is also a great holiday place, and has the largest Children's camp in England, but the war has lessened its accommodation. There are three Clubs at St. Mary's Bay which the visitors can join for a small subscription and entitles the member to its activities.
The School for the Blind has one of its Holiday homes where the children thoroughly enjoy themselves. We walked back along the seawall, spotted our kiddies a long way off still playing and enjoying themselves. Back for tea and with the kiddies safely tucked in bed a visit to one of the Locals where we rested our feet and watched some lively games of darts.
Tuesday. We decided to walk across the fields by public right of way to Burmarsh, a little village of a few cottages clustering around the Old Church of All Saints and the Inn called the Shepherd and Crook. The church was built in the 12th century. The porch is of 16th Century stonework, and shelters a good Norman door with a sculptured head at the Crown of the Arch. Some light refreshments were enjoyed at the Inn after walking two miles to get there.
After lunch: on the sands, where the kiddies tried to bury the wife and I alive. This fun lasted for some time, but the kids soon spotted a fishing boat taking passengers for trips along the Channel, so we all jumped aboard and took a trip past St. Mary's Bay and back. The sea was as calm as a mill pond and we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. This brought us to the end of another enjoyable day.
Wednesday. An early dash to the shops to purchase some deep-sea fishing tackle, and then we made our way by Light Railway to Dungeness, passing through St. Mary's Bay, where we picked up some more visitors who had the same object in view. On arriving at Dungeness, which the local Fisherfolk call "The Ness", a visit was paid to the Lighthouse from where we could see some of the World's most famous passenger ships and freight carrying ships coming and going to and from places all over the world.
We then had a day of deep-sea fishing from the shingle beach, bringing our catch back, which was cooked for our Supper, and was thoroughly enjoyed by all. While at Dungeness the wife and I paid a visit to the "Pilot Inn".
Thursday. Some friends of ours came and spent the day with us, and we decided to examine the Church which we went to on Sunday. The Church has two fine doorways built by the hands of the Normans, Chevron mouldings ornament the doorways, and herring-bone tiles have been let into the Arches. There are two Sunstop Dials; there is a Crusaders Cross and an almost complete Record of all the Rectors since 1260. Altogether we spent a very enjoyable half-hour.
On leaving the Church we saw the New Hall facing us. This was rebuilt in Queen Elizabeth's reign. Here are housed the valuable series of Archives relating to the Drainage, Sea Defence and Administration of Romney Marsh for over 400 years. It is also the Headquarters of the Corporation of the Liberty of Romney, and the Lords, Bailiffs and Jurats hold their annual Lath at Whitsuntide, and at Michaelmas the Bailiffs, Jurats and Commonalty are elected, and four Jurats appointed to exercise office of Keepers of the Peace, and Coroners.
The New Hall has its tiny prison, but this has not been used since 1866. The Court-Room is open to visitors, where one sees the Antique Chair and the original Punch Bowl.
From here we took our visitors out to Lunch at one of the many cafes, and having seen the children safely on the sands we had a round or two on the Putting-Green situated under the seawall and in the centre of the village. Tea and a short visit on the sands, and with praises from our friends for the wonderful day they had had, their visit came to an end with a promise that they would have a holiday at Dymchurch.
Friday. We decided to take a bus to Folkestone, where we spent the morning doing the shops. In the afternoon we walked down to the Harbour and watched the fishing boats arrive with their catch, and also saw the Cross-Channel Steamer off to Boulogne. Being a clear day we got a view of the French Coast from the Leas. In the evening we went to one of the many entertainments to be enjoyed at this resort.
Saturday. Being the day which Dymchurch held its annual Carnival and children's Sports, open also for the visitor's children, we played on the Sands until the Carnival started in the afternoon. The events were held on the Recreation Ground, with side-shows. In the evening the old Kent game of Goal-Running took place. This was a most unique game, and exciting, but it must be seen to be enjoyed. The evening was rounded off with a Dance at one of the Dymchurch Halls.
Sunday. We went to Church at New Romney. New Romney is an ancient town and municipal borough and a Cinque Port, situated about a mile from the sea, midway between Hythe and Rye. New Romney was not always so far from the sea; in Norman times the sea used to reach to the Church, where tide-marks can be seen to this day. There was also a harbour at New Romney; some of its timber piers have recently been unearthed.
The Church St. Nicholas was originally constructed by the Normans in A.D. 1100, but altered during the 14th century. Romney changed its ground level so that the floor of the Church became lower than the surrounding land; this had the effect of seeming to shorten the very fine tower. Back to lunch with a promise of a further visit to this ancient Church. More rest, sands and sunshine completed the day.
Monday. We paid a visit to Lympne Airport, walking from Dymchurch to West Hythe and up the wooded hill. From the top we had a magnificent view of the Marsh. Rye could be plainly seen, also a wide stretch of the Channel, and Dungeness Lighthouse showing clearly. At the airport we watched freighter aircraft arrive and take off, also some private flying. Before leaving we took a 10/- flight over the district seeing Hythe, Folkestone and Dymchurch from the air.
Having walked five miles to Lympne we decided to get the bus to Hythe, and so back to our apartments.
Tuesday. One had a feeling that our holiday was getting on and there were so many more things we would like to do. In the morning we were again on the Sands, a place one could not help but visit at least once every day.
We had purchased a small shrimping net and a colourful kite. We had great fun shrimping, of which we caught quite a few. I found kite flying an excellent sport, especially as we had a wide open space without trees and overhead wires to get the kite entangled.
In the afternoon we decided to walk as far as the Royal Military Canal, some two and a quarter miles. The Canal is a beautiful tree-fringed waterway and stretches from Seabrook, the eastern district of Hythe, to the Rother River at Rye, a distance of some 23 miles. It was built in 1804 as a defense against a French landing on the Marsh during the Napoleonic wars. We spent a most enjoyable time lolling under the trees, and fishing for fresh water fish and watching the boating.
Wednesday. A trip to Rye in Sussex was indicated, and we went by East Kent Road Car Co. Rye is a Cinque Port and was a flourishing port soon after the Norman Conquest but the silting up of the Harbour has caused the sea to recede and has destroyed a great deal of its usefulness. The chief objects of interest are the large Church of St. Mary’s, a fine cruciform building, the Ypres Tower, built in the 12th century, the Land Gate, and other remains of the fortifications. There are a number of old houses and small cobbled streets. A most interesting place to visit.
Returning home we passed through Brookland with its quaint Church that has its Spire on the ground.
Thursday. By now we were all brown as berries and time was getting short. We decided to spend yet another day on the glorious sands. After bathing we took a brisk walk along the sands as far as St. Mary's Bay. There the visitors were enjoying themselves just as much as we were at Dymchurch. The sands are just the same and continue on as far as we could see, to Littlestone and beyond.
Back to the kiddies still playing with the sand. We sunbathed until it was the kiddies’ bedtime.
Friday. Regretfully thoughts of home were now getting deeply embedded in our minds, and naturally the thought of taking some little gift home to our relations etc. This proved quite a problem as the shopkeepers had catered so well for us that it was very hard to choose. There were so many things we liked, but with the kindly help and courtesy of the shopkeeper we soon got a nice assortment and full value for our money. The rest of the day was spent packing, and one last fling on the Golden Sands.
Saturday. The usual farewells and promises of meeting again at Dymchurch next year, we regretfully left for home.
On arriving home and settling down to the usual grind, we spent many an hour talking of all the things we had done during the fortnight, and how brown and fit we all felt. We spoke of the evening we had spent at the Locals watching and playing Darts, and the happy company we met. The friends we met at morning coffee at some cafe; it made us long for next year. We looked at the guide with its pictures of places we had visited, and ran through the adverts of furnished houses and bungalows at reasonable prices, which really did not interest us as we intended to book again at our old apartments.
It was with regret we thought of the things we had not done or seen. We had not tried our hand at laying those hooks, nor had we visited the villages of Newchurch and St. Mary's, with their ancient churches and quaint inns. Or seen the local cricket matches on the Recreation Ground at Dymchurch, and golf on the well known course at Littlestone, but we couldn't do everything in a fortnight.
So, dear reader, with all these happy memories it is no wonder that we have decided to visit Dymchurch again next year, and as I have already said we have had our annual holiday at Dymchurch these last four years, and we are getting ready to go there this coming season.
Perhaps we will meet, and perhaps by accident you will find out that it was I who wrote this letter. If you do I am sure you will say "Dymchurch is a fine holiday resort; I shall come again next year". Well, I hope to meet some of you this year and add you to my many friends whom I have met here over the last four years. Look out for me. I shall look out for you.
From a Regular Visitor to Dymchurch.