Romney Marsh Tourist Guide
Romney Marsh is famous for its sheep and its past connected to smuggling. Find out all about this mysterious part of Kent and then come and stay and explore!
A brief history of Romney Marsh
The name Romney or Rumenea comes from the Old English for a wide river and probably referred initially to the marsh area in general rather than the ports of Old and New Romney. The Romans built walls around the northern marsh to make salt pans. Salt was a valuable item both to preserve food and pay soldiers. Old Romney was the main settlement of importance until the River Rother silted up and the flourishing port had to be moved to New Romney. This became one of the five Cinque Ports established by Royal Charter and it enjoyed a number of special privileges. In the thirteenth century there many violent storms and New Romney was hit badly in 1287 and 1288. Shingle and mud was swept into the port and the harbour was lost. The local population turned to sheep farming following this disaster. In 1796 seventy Martello Towers were constructed to defend the coastline from Hythe to Seaford against the threat of invasion from Napoleonic France. Each cost £3000 and was spaced 1600 feet from the next. The walls were eight feet thick and the entrance door was positioned 20 feet up. A magazine and store occupied the lower part while the upper section acted as a casement for the defending crew. Later these towers were used by both smugglers and revenue officers. In the twentieth century coastguards utilised some and a few even became seaside residences. During World War 2 some of the towers were reconditioned for defence and used by the Observer Corps. In 1804 the Royal Military canal was dug to also protect against French invasion. It ran for 23 miles from Shorncliffe near Hythe to the River Rother at Rye in Sussex. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the marshes and small villages were dominated by smugglers with pitched battles being fought against the revenue officers.
The one hundred square miles of marsh is still as mystifying and lonely as it was in the seventeenth century. Originally an area of reeds and water with a few churches it was drained in the 1960s. Today the flat landscape containing fertile soil is protected from the sea by shingle banks and is dotted with Romney sheep or ‘Kents’. These animals have hooves resistant to foot rot and fleeces which can withstand the harsh winds and heavy rainfall.
Churches of the Marsh
Some of Kent’s oldest churches are to be found on Romney Marsh together with five remaining all weather shelters which were once used by ‘lookers’, the shepherds on the marsh, and derelict World War 2 pillboxes. The churches include St. Eanswith, Brenzett; St. Augustine, Brookland (with the largest wooden tower in Britain, 60 feet tall); All Saints, Burmash; St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s, Dymchurch; St. George, Ivychurch, known as‘the cathedral of Romney marsh’ due to its size and standing on what was the Manor of Aldington which belonged to the Archbishops of Canterbury; All Saints, Lydd; St Clements, Old Romney which was built in the eleventh century when it was still a port; St. Dunstan, Snargate; St. Augustine, Snave which is dedicated to the Cult of the Virgin; Hope All Saints which was abandoned in the seventeenth century becoming a favourite of smugglers and is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Villages of the Marsh
If touring through the area check out these villages: Brenzett, Brookland, Burmarsh, Dungeness, Dymchurch, Fairfield, Greatstone, Littlestone, Lydd, New Romney, Newchurch, Old Romney, Snargate, Snave, St Mary in the Marsh and St Mary’s Bay. Brookland, for example, is a typical traditional old Marsh village, situated about seven miles north east of Rye and three miles east of New Romney, close to the village of Brenzett. It is a small village, with about 300 inhabitants and centred around the ancient church of St Augustine’s and the Royal Oak public house. Mixed arable and vegetable farming and the raising of sheep are the main local products, along with the growing of high quality turf. Although there are modern houses, there are many older houses and farms that date back over several centuries, both in the village and surrounding countryside.
Today the Marsh’s flat area and its quiet lanes offer excellent walking and cycling. There is also a distinctive coastline ranging from the shingle of Dungeness to the sandy beaches at Dymchurch. The local food and drink is noted for its excellence.
As the Reverend Richard Harris Barham, rector of St. Dunstan’s Church in Snargate from 1817 to 1829, famously said, “The World, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Romney Marsh.”
Cycling on the Marsh
The Romney Marsh landscape is a fantastic place for a cycle ride. With so many interesting places to visit along the way, you can go in any direction and find something worth seeing. If you prefer a set route try the National Cycle Network Two route that goes from Folkestone to Rye (about 32 miles/52km). Joining the Romney Marsh at the Military Canal in Hythe, it follows the canal, past the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway Station before crossing over the canal at the Palmarsh footbridge. Cycle down the lane to the Botolph’s Bridge Pub and continue for a few yards past the pub, turning left into Donkey Street. You then cycle through the village of Burmarsh and meander through the countryside to the small village of St. Mary’s in the Marsh. Continue on until you reach Old Romney with its church of pink pews! Then cross the A259 and go on to Lydd. From here there is a cycle path connecting up with the road to Camber and back onto the cycle path, through East Guldford and into the town of Rye. There are plenty of interesting churches along the way and if you don’t mind a little detour you could trundle down to Dungeness and visit the lighthouse, the RSPB reserve and the RH&D Railway. Whichever route you chose, the Marsh is a quiet, calming place to ride. If you want more information about specific cycle rides, contact the Romney Marsh Countryside Project on 01797 367934.
Places to visit in or around Romney Marsh:
Romney Marsh Visitor Centre is the newest centre run by Kent Wildlife Trust. Opened in spring 2004, the centre has been designed using sustainable building techniques including rendered straw bale walls and a green roof. Situated adjacent to the A259, just east of New Romney, it is expected the centre will become a popular tourist attraction as well as a resource for local people. An 11 hectare Country Park has been created on land which includes Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The centre provides facilities for visitors to the Country Park including a Heritage exhibition, information about the local area, toilets and refreshments. The exhibition features the natural and social evolution of Romney Marsh. It is the place to learn about the history of the Marsh – and about the ways in which local people can help ensure a bright future for themselves and their environment. During the winter it is open Friday-Monday 11-4. Please phone for details of summer opening times and any special events – 01797 369487.
Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The world's only main line in miniature with steam locomotives being only one-third normal size, hauling up to 200 passengers at 25 miles per hour on the 14 miles of 15in gauge across Romney Marsh. There are steam and diesel locomotives, engine sheds and a model railway exhibition. It is located at New Romney Station, New Romney, TN28 8PL Telephone +44 01797 362353 and is open all year except at Christmas Closed and New Year.
Lathe Barn, Burmarsh. A children's farm with sheep, a donkey, pigs, goats, rabbits, chickens, a children's play area and putting green. Tearoom and gift shop craft shops.
The Old Lighthouse, Dungeness. A lighthouse with 167 steps to the top. It is complete with a Great Lens, weighing three tons. Visitors can see how the lantern was worked and cleaned when in use. The lighthouse, built in 1904, is one of the highest towers in England and is the fourth lighthouse on this site. But for the construction of the nearby power station which obscured the sector light, the lighthouse could still be serving mariners. Telephone +44 01797 321300 for details.
Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, Mansion and Gardens. Come and see many rare and endangered species in a natural environment and enjoy spectacular views over Romney Marsh. Port Lympne is set in 600 acres with spectacular views over Romney Marsh. There are many rare and endangered animals, the largest herd of black rhino outside Africa, African elephants, Siberian and Indian tigers, small cats, monkeys and Barbary lions. You can watch the gorillas fed at The Palace of the Apes at 12:00 and 15:00 daily. Perhaps you would prefer to head out into the wild on the African Experience where animals roam free as if on the plains of Africa, including rhino, zebra, wildebeest and giraffe. There are also dawn and dusk safari tours throughout the summer months or you might like to be one of the first to stay overnight at the new Livingstone Safari Lodge. The Park is found in Aldington Road, Lympne. Telephone +44 01303 264647.
Brenzett Aeronautical Museum Trust. Here there is a unique display of aviation and wartime memorabilia including aircraft engines and items recovered from crash sites as well as photographs, documents and an ‘Upkeep’ Dambuster bomb. You can also see a Canberra Bomber (WH657), a Vampire T11 XK625 and a nose section of a DC3 G AMSM. Bomb disposal equipment used during wartime and since can be seen too. A former Women's Land Army hostel, the museum contains exhibits and photos from the 'girls'. The memorial is dedicated to airmen who flew from local advanced landing grounds and the Women's Land Army. Telephone +44 01797 344747.
M W Amusement Park, Dymchurch. An amusement park with various rides including dodgems, log flume, ghost train, dreamy dragons, 'Jumpin' Star', balloon rides and 3 large indoor amusement arcades. New this year are jets and t-cup ride. Telephone +44 01303 873120.
Lydd Town Museum. Exhibits on display are of local interest and include an original 'Merryweather' 1890 fire manual, horse bus c1900, a 1920s Landau, a Dungeness beach cart, agricultural and fishing implements. There is also a restored pianola and costumes dating from 1880. New displays are shown annually based on local families. Extensive collection of old photographs of Lydd and the inhabitants, including the Lydd Brewery and Forge - both having gone from Lydd. Conducted walks from parish church take place Wednesdays and Bank Holiday Saturdays. The museum is located in Queens Road.
Stocks Mill. A well-preserved, Grade II Listed post mill dating from 1781. The exterior structure has been fully renovated with great trestle and sweeps in position. This mill is the tallest post mill in Kent and has superb views from the top floors. There is also a small museum display. The mill is in Wittersham near Tenterden. Telephone on +44 01797 270295.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015