How was Romney Marsh a gift from the sea?
The high ground we are standing on that affords us such spectacular views, was once a cliff line at the edge of the sea that stretched from Hythe all the way to Rye in East Sussex.
Look down to the bottom of the hill where a line of trees marks the course of the Royal Military Canal. It also marks the old prehistoric coastline: everything beyond it was once under water.
Around 6,000 years ago, however, this coastline began to change. A huge barrier of shingle built up between Hastings and Hythe, creating a tidal lagoon behind it.
The Romans took advantage of this changing coastline and chose the lagoon’s natural shelter to anchor the ‘Classis Britannica’, the main Roman fleet in British waters. In AD 260 they built a fort at the head of a river here called Portus Lemanis.
Lemanis comes from the word ‘limen’ which means marshy river (and gave its name to the current village of Lympne). Portus Lemanis was one of eleven defences known as the Saxon Shore forts built along England's east coast in response to the growing threat of Saxon raids from Scandinavia.
Over time, the tidal lagoon became silted up and gradually evolved into marshland. Fast forward to the twelfth century, and as the population rapidly expanded more land was needed for food. Drainage ditches and dykes were dug, sea walls built and a hundred square miles of land, now known as Romney Marsh, was ‘reclaimed’ from the sea. Gradually it became fertile farmland on which sheep could be grazed and arable crops grown.
Today, the emptiness of this low-lying, unpopulated land with its big, uninterrupted skies, small scattered villages and fields grazed by the hardy Romney sheep, is a mecca for those seeking peace, quiet and the wonder of walking in a landscape that was once under the waves.