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Kent: Widdershins

Where is Kent?

In our ninth and forty-ninth episode, we referred to loads of interesting Kent-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:

Romney Marsh

Romney Marsh is one of the three great marshlands of England. Nearly all this 100 square miles of flat land lies below the level of high tides. It is flanked on south and east by the sea. 

The Marsh was formed in the 10,000 years since the last Ice Age. After the ice melted, sea levels rose quickly up to 6,000 years ago. The whole area of Romney Marsh was a wide sandy bay and, as sea level rose, the sea piled in layer upon layer of sand until it was about 10 metres deep.

Then a great change took place, which altered the area for ever. A massive supply of flint pebbles (known as shingle or, commercially, as gravel) which had been eroded out of the Chalk of Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex during the Ice Age, began to arrive from the south-west, and built out a great bank towards Hythe. Behind this barrier, the sandy bay became salt marsh, with fresh-water swamp in the valleys.

Since then the outer coastline, consisting of massive barriers of shingle, has been continually changing, and so have the tidal inlets which once provided harbours near Hythe, Romney and Rye.

River Rother

Several springs in Cottage Hill near Rotherfield make up the source of the Rother. The river then travels 35 miles across East Sussex and Kent to Rye Bay where it joins the English Channel.

The course of the river has been subject to many changes over the years. Previously flowing in a loop around the northern edge of the Isle of Oxney, it was diverted along the southern edge and then later extended around 17th century. In fact, the river used to join the Channel at New Romney before its exit to the sea was blocked by a storm.

The River Rother is often populated with small boats travelling up and down the water, with the idyllic countryside and large patches of lily pads to take in.

The river is home to a variety of fish species including carp, bream, tench, rudd, roach, perch, chub and eels, as well as being a favourite for pike anglers. Improvements to the river and the surrounding areas have resulted in the return of otters to the area.

As the River Rother is joined by the River Brede the channel becomes quite wide and creates Rye Harbour. This is one of the largest and most important wildlife sites in England, homing more than 4,355 species of plants and animals with 300 being rare or endangered. Breeding colonies thrive at Rye Harbour, in particular the Little, Common and Sandwich Terns. It is these characteristics that mean Rye Harbour is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area for birds, a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive and a candidate Ramsar site.

Grizzled Skipper Butterfly

Found throughout England and Wales but becoming increasingly rare. Wings black or dark brown with checker-board of white spots. A small, low-flying, darting butterfly. Dingy Skipper similar in size but wings much duller.

The Grizzled Skipper is a characteristic spring butterfly of southern chalk downland and other sparsely vegetated habitats. Its rapid, buzzing flight can make it difficult to follow, but it stops regularly either to perch on a prominent twig or to feed on flowers such as Common Bird's-foot-trefoil or Bugle. It can then be identified quite easily by the checkerboard pattern on its wings.

The butterfly occurs across southern England, commonly in small colonies, and has declined in several regions. In Wales, it is restricted to the south coast and post-industrial sites in the northeast.

Dover Castle

Commanding the shortest sea crossing between England and the continent, Dover Castle has a long and immensely eventful history. Known as the ‘key to England’, this great fortress has played a crucial role in the defence of the realm for over nine centuries, a span equalled only by the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.

The chalk of Castle Hill has been shaped and reshaped over the centuries into massive earthworks, ditches and mounds. Imposing walls and towers have been raised and networks of tunnels excavated beneath them. Henry II began the building of the present castle in the 1180s, and ever since its buildings and defences have been adapted to meet the changing demands of weapons and warfare.

The Dover Boat

On 28 September 1992, Kent construction workers in the midst of building the A20 road link between Folkestone and Dover made an intriguing discovery.

The workers, who were working alongside archaeologists from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, uncovered the remains of a large and well-preserved prehistoric boat. This was a transformative discovery: the boat is roughly 3,500 years old and archaeologists estimate it would have been in use around 1,500 BC, during the Bronze Age.

The archaeologists were aware that past attempts at excavating similar boats in one piece had been unsuccessful. Consequently, a decision was taken to cut the boat into sections and reassemble it afterwards. It was also necessary to leave an unknown part of the boat underground as its burial site stretched out towards buildings and excavating close to these buildings would have been too dangerous.

After nearly a month of excavation 9.5 metres of the boat was successfully recovered and has since been marvellously preserved.

Archaeologists remain unsure of how large the boat originally was. It is possible the boat was originally many metres longer than what is displayed in the Gallery, or it could be almost complete. Either way, the boat holds a unique position as the world's oldest known sea-faring boat.


Kentish Huffkins – an overlooked bread roll with a soft crust and a dimple in the middle. These were traditionally eaten with cherries and then with jam and cream. Nowadays, if you can find the humble Huffkin, they are likely to be served with bacon or sausage. Some Kentish pubs serve the Ploughman’s Lunch with Huffkins instead of bread.


  • 25 g Fresh Yeast

  • 1 tsp Caster Sugar

  • 220 ml Tepid Milk

  • 50 g Butter (melted)

  • 450 g Plain Flour

  • 1 tsp Salt


  • Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

  • Mix the yeast and sugar together to form a liquid.

  • Add the tepid milk and melted butter to the yeast. Add the combined liquid to the flour and beat together vigorously to form a firm dough.

  • Remove the dough from the bowl, knead for 5 minutes and then replace the dough to the bowl, cover and leave for 1 hour in a warm place to prove.

  • Preheat your oven to 180ºC.

  • When the dough has doubled in size, remove from the bowl and cut into 8 equal parts.

  • Roll the pieces of dough on a floured surface using the palm of your hand to form small balls. Place the balls on a lined baking tray leaving 5cm between each one.

  • Slightly flatten each roll, lightly dust with flour and cover and leave for 30 minutes in a warm place to prove.

  • Make a thumb print in the top of each roll and immediately place i the oven. Cook for 15-20 minutes.

  • Remove from the oven and wrap in a clean cloth to prevent the rolls from being too crusty.

  • Serve warm with butter or with jam and fresh cream. Alternatively, serve with cheese or ham.

Lullingstone Roman Villa

The Roman villa at Lullingstone represents a remarkable survival, both in terms of the preservation of some structural elements of the main villa-house, but also, and more significantly, with respect to the evidence for Romano-British Christianity that it produced. Built perhaps as early as the AD 80s, Lullingstone Villa reached the peak of luxury in the mid-4th century when its spectacular mosaics were laid. It is also important for its possible imperial associations, as well as the enigmatic nature of the wider site and the challenges that presents to our interpretation and understanding.

Plantagenet Cottage , Eastwell Manor

Plantagenet Cottage dates back to the 16th Century and local legend says it was built by the 'illegitimate' son of King Richard the 3rd [the last Plantagenet King of England; he's the one they found under the car park in Leicester more recently]. We call one of our bedrooms "Richard's Room". There are several books and an old transcript describing the fascinating history of the cottage - it's a great story ! The tomb of our Richard Plantagenet [technically the last Plantagenet heir to the throne of England] still lies in the ruins of nearby St Mary's church of Eastwell which makes for a nice walk.

Archbishop Benson's Grave, Canterbury Cathedral

Archbishop of Canterbury. He served in this position from March 1883 until his death. Born in Highgate, Birmingham, England his father was a chemical manufacturer. He received his education at King Edward's School, Birmingham and Trinity College, Cambridge, England where he graduated with a BA (8th classic) in 1852. He began his career as a schoolmaster at Rugby School at Rugby, Warwickshire, England in 1852, and was ordained as a deacon.

In 1857 he was ordained a priest and two years later he was chosen by Prince Albert as the first Master (headmaster) of Wellington College in Berkshire, England which had been built as the nation's memorial to Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. During his tenure he was largely responsible for establishing Wellington as a public school, closely mirroring the Rugby School, rather than the military academy originally planned. From 1872 until 1877 he served as Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England, and then served as the first Bishop of Truro in Canterbury, England from 1877 until 1882. While at Truro, he devised the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, first used there on Christmas Eve in 1880. Considerably revised by Eric Milner White for King's College Cambridge, this service is now used every Christmas around the world.

In 1880 he founded the Truro High School for Girls. In March 1883 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury to fill the vacancy left by the death of Archbishop Archibald Campbell Tait. While at Canterbury, to avoid the prosecution before a lay tribunal of Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln, under the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 for six ritual offenses, he heard the case in his own archiepiscopal court which had been inactive since 1699. In his judgment (often called "the Lincoln Judgment"), he found against the Bishop King on two points, with a proviso as to a third that, when performing the manual acts during the prayer of consecration in the Holy Communion service, the priest must stand so that they can be seen by the people. He also tried to amalgamate the two Convocations and the new houses of laity into a single assembly.

In 1896 it was established that he and Bishop King could unofficially meet together. In September of that year, the papal apostolic letter "Apostolicae Curae" was published and he began to work on a reply before his sudden death of a heart attack at the age of 67 while attending Sunday service in St. Deiniol's Church at Hawarden, Wales, on a visit to former Prime Minister William Gladstone. He was interred in a tomb at the western end of the nave at Canterbury Cathedral and was succeeded by Archbishop Frederick Temple. A plaque in his honor was installed at Trinity College in Cambridge, England. In 1914 a boarding house at Wellington College was named in his honor.

May Day

Many folklore customs have their roots planted firmly back in the Dark Ages, when the ancient Celts had divided their year by four major festivals. Beltane or ‘the fire of Bel’, had particular significance to the Celts as it represented the first day of summer and was celebrated with bonfires to welcome in the new season. Still celebrated today, we perhaps know Beltane better as May 1st, or May Day.

Down through the centuries May Day has been associated with fun, revelry and perhaps most important of all, fertility. The Day would be marked with village folk cavorting round the maypole, the selection of the May Queen and the dancing figure of the Jack-in-the-Green at the head of the procession. Jack is thought to be a relic from those enlightened days when our ancient ancestors worshipped trees.

These pagan roots did little to endear these May Day festivities with the either the established Church or State. In the sixteenth century riots followed when May Day celebrations were banned. Fourteen rioters were hanged, and Henry VIII is said to have pardoned a further 400 who had been sentenced to death.

The May Day festivities all but vanished following the Civil War when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans took control of the country in 1645. Describing maypole dancing as ‘a heathenish vanity generally abused to superstition and wickedness’, legislation was passed which saw the end of village maypoles throughout the country.

The Screaming Woods at Pluckley

The woodlands that surround Pluckley, allegedly the most haunted village in England, have been the subject of much local folklore about ghosts for centuries. Amongst other apparitions, the ghost of a local highwayman robber who was captured, lynched, and decapitated by angry villagers in the 18th century is said to wander the woodlands and is often claimed to have been seen by visitors.

However, the most terrifying stories about this woodland are undoubtedly the modern ones and do not involve ghosts but disturbingly unexplained deaths, murders, and disappearances that allegedly occurred here during the latter half of the 20th century.

On Halloween night in 1948, locals reported lights and sounds were seen and heard emanating from the woodlands. The following morning, a dog walker discovered the bodies of over 20 people lying in piles amongst the leaf litter. The deceased were identified as villagers from the nearby Maltman’s Hill area. Their bodies showed no visible wounds or signs of struggle and an autopsy failed to determine a clear cause of death, which led to the police labelling the deaths as caused by carbon monoxide poisoning and closing the investigation (a decision for which they were heavily criticized).

In the late 1990s, the Dering Wood was once again the scene of a mysterious occurrence when four college students who had gone camping in the woods went missing. Both of these stories seem to have originated from popular ‘creepy pastas’ shared on the internet .

Nevertheless, in spite of the dark and sinister reputation that surrounds the woodlands they still attract visitors who come to walk dogs, “hunt ghosts” or to watch wildlife.

Hengist King of Kent

Hengist, King of Kent, was born in Jutland (Denmark) to Chieftan Wictgils. The identity of his mother is not known.

He had a brother, Horsa. It is not known which of the brothers was the elder but since Hengist is always referred to first it is likely he was the elder.

The Castles of Kent

Hever Castle

The castles which survive in significant form in Kent number about 30. This is a relatively high density with one castle to about 30 square miles.

Dover Castle

Both Canterbury and Rochester Castles are located within Roman town walls. Dover Castle occupies the Eastern Heights above the site of the Roman harbour where there were earlier fortifications.

Rochester Castle

The other chief castles in Kent are at Tonbridge, Leeds and Chilham. They too had their origins in timber and earthwork.

Leeds Castle

Sissinghurst and Sutton Valence

Sissinghurst Castle Garden was the backdrop for a diverse history; from the astonishing time as a prison in the 1700s, to being a home to the women’s land army. It was also a family home to some fascinating people who lived here or came to stay.

Vita Sackville-West, the poet and writer, began transforming Sissinghurst Castle in the 1930s with her diplomat and author husband, Harold Nicolson. Harold's architectural planning of the garden rooms, and the colourful, abundant planting in the gardens by Vita, reflect the romance and intimacy of her poems and writings.

This is us, up the top of the tower at Sissinghurst!

Then, at the other end of the scale, there's Sutton Valence castle - which is basically just some stones at the top of a very steep hill... would not recommend!

Canterbury Cathedral

Founded by St Augustine in 597 AD, Canterbury Cathedral is a unique place of worship, a major pilgrimage destination, a masterpiece of art and architecture, and one of the UK's most-visited historic sites.

Often referred to as ‘England in stone', the Cathedral has been at the centre of momentous events and upheavals.

It is the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and resting place of royalty and saints.

Canterbury Cathedral’s role as one of the world’s most important pilgrimage centres is inextricably linked to the murder of its most famous Archbishop, Thomas Becket, on 29 December 1170.

The spot where Becket was murdered...

When, after a long-lasting dispute, King Henry II is said to have exclaimed “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”, four knights set off for Canterbury and murdered Thomas in his own cathedral. A sword stroke was so violent that it sliced the crown off his skull and shattered the blade’s tip on the pavement.

Healing miracles were soon attributed to Thomas and he was made a saint by the Pope in 1173, just three years after his death.

Eleanor in the monks' herb garden

St Augustine's Abbey

St Augustine’s Abbey was was one of the most important monasteries in medieval England. For almost 1,000 years it was a centre of learning and spirituality.

The abbey was founded in 598, after St Augustine arrived in Kent on a mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. Within 100 years, the work begun by Augustine had converted the whole of England, and the abbey that bore his name was at the heart of English Christianity.

St Augustine’s developed over the centuries into a great Romanesque abbey, one of the grandest and most influential in Europe. However, this power and prominence was not to last. The Suppression of the Monasteries under Henry VIII saw much of the once great abbey destroyed.

In later years, St Augustine’s became the site of a royal palace, a poorhouse, a gaol and a school.

The abbey now forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognised for its great importance to the history of Christianity in England.

St Augustine's grave...

St Martin's Church

St Martin's is the oldest church in the English-speaking world that is still in use.

It's architecture is part Roman, Saxon, Norman and medieval.

It was here that Queen Bertha prayed in 580 AD and later where St Augustine based his first mission in 597AD until King Ethelbert granted him the land for the Abbey and the Cathedral which, with St Martin's, now form Canterbury's UNSECO World Heritage Site.

Martin at St Martin's!

Canterbury Roman Museum

An underground Roman Museum in Canterbury, home to one of the UK’s only remaining in situ Roman pavement mosaics and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

When workmen, digging trenches for a new drainage system, reached eight feet below street level they unwittingly unearthed a beautifully preserved Roman floor mosaic.

Fast-forward to the aftermath of the Second World War, when excavations began under the cellars of shops destroyed by bombing, and another startling discovery was made.

Archaeologists had just revealed an under-floor heating system, wall paintings, and a dazzling mosaic corridor. The site was no longer an isolated floor mosaic, but the remains of a very large, and no doubt very costly, Roman Town House.

The Beaney Museum

The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge is an Art Gallery, Library and Visitor Information Centre situated in the heart of historic Canterbury.

The building takes its name from its benefactor, Dr James George Beaney, a Canterbury-born man of modest background who studied medicine before emigrating to Australia, where he found his success.

Upon his death in 1891, Dr Beaney left money in his will to the city of Canterbury to build an ‘Institute for Working Men’ with amenities for men from poor backgrounds such as his own.

Dating from about 850 AD, The Canterbury Cross has acquired widespread fame as a symbol of the Church of Christianity throughout the Anglican world.

Discovered in 1867 during excavations in St. George's Street, Canterbury, it incorporates a number of sophisticated techniques into its Saxon design.

The Wantsum Worm

According to legend, a horrible creature lurks around the Isle of Thanet. It’s the kind of thing that would be drawn onto old maps, with the words ‘Here be dragons’ written alongside.

Aside from the story Eleanor told in this week's podcast, the serpent has been seen several times in the last century or so.

The first recorded sighting of a sea serpent in Thanet was in 1917 from The Paramount, an auxiliary naval patrol boat. It was cruising around a mile off the coast of North Foreland when the crew reported an encounter with a 15m-long snake-like creature covered in dark green scales with a spiny dorsal fin “like some gigantic conger eel”.

The crew fired upon it, and one shot hit the dorsal fin. The creature “began to thrash about wildly and violently” before sinking beneath the water.

In 1950, John Handley, a tourist, was swimming off the Cliftonville coast when a gigantic beast lifted from the sea around 90-metres away. He described its head as around an arm’s-length wide and resembling an enormous horse.

Then, in 1999, two anglers on Folkestone pier described “a huge animal” that was around 30m long which they watched through binoculars diving and resurfacing for around half an hour...

The Beast of Tunbridge Wells

It is an historic and quaint ‘middle England’ town which doesn’t really like creating a scene. But if the reports of one terrified walker are to be believed, the residents of Royal Tunbridge Wells could have a giant Bigfoot-like creature in their midst.

A man walking in the woods beside the town’s common claims to have spotted an 8ft tall beast with demonic red eyes and long arms. Sightings in the town go back decades.

The Kentish Apeman was first spotted on the town’s common during World War Two 70 years ago. A man called ‘Graham S’ told a story of how an elderly couple saw it in 1942. Writing for the community website Tunbridge Wells People, he said: ‘They were siting on a bench when they became aware of a shuffling noise behind them.

‘Upon turning around they saw a tall, ape-like creature with eyes that were burning red moving slowly towards them. They both fled – terrified.’

The Lady Lovibond

The Goodwin Sands is a graveyard for ships that have sunk in its foreboding waters. It is said that 50,000 people have lost their lives on the sandbank.

This stretch of water is the home of one gruesome manifestation, the phantom ghost ship of the Lady Lovibond.

Legend has it that the vessel was bound for Oporto, Portugal, with a cargo of flour, meat, wine and gold. The Captain, Simon Peel, was celebrating on his honeymoon with his new wife, when Rivers the ship’s mate deliberately ran the ship aground in a jealous rage. All hands were lost to the dark sea.

The Lady Lovibond is said to appear every 50 years as a ghost ship.

The Rochester Sweeps Festival

This international celebration of folk music and dance has become one of the largest May Day celebrations of its kind in the world.

For three days historic Rochester is transformed into a riot of colour and sound with the best musicians and bands on the folk circuit and hundreds of Morris dancers from across the country clattering their clogs and clashing their sticks up and down the high street.

It is one of the largest gatherings of Morris sides in the world, with the streets, parks, bars and pubs of historic Rochester filled with live folk music and dance over this three-day spectacular.

For more details on this event, including event programme - click here!

The Leeds Castle Spectre

From mysterious prophesies, phantom stories and even ghostly sightings, there are plenty of legends to pick from in the 900-years of history at Leeds Castle.

For this week's story, Eleanor was inspired by the legend of a ghostly queen who haunts the grounds with her spectral hound.

There are two likely sources for the tale, one being Eleanor of Gloucester, the other being Joan of Navarre, the Queen of Bones.

In 1419, Joanna of Navarre, widow of King Henry IV of England, was accused of necromancy: ‘of compassing the destruction of our lord the king in the most treasonable and horrible manner that could be devised’ - i.e. that by sorcery she had attempted to destroy King Henry V!

Such an accusation must have been quite unexpected for Joanna. After Henry IV’s death in 1413 Joanna had chosen to remain in England, closely in touch with her family-by-marriage. She continued to live in her various dower properties which would remain hers until her eventual death.

Relations between her and Henry’s children and siblings were reported to be excellent, particularly with her stepson, the new King Henry V: Joanna was given an honoured place at Court, with a role as Queen Dowager in all ceremonial events - particularly the rejoicing after the victory of Agincourt in 1415.

And yet she was accused of necromancy and treason against the king by her father's confessor, John Randolf, a Franciscan friar, and two others of her household, Roger Colles and Peronell Brocart. Father Randolf was said to be the one who had lured the Queen Dowager into witchcraft.

As a result, on the instructions of the Royal Council, Joanna was arrested from her manor in Essex and for the next three years kept prisoner at Rotherhythe, Pevensey Castle, and Leeds Castle.

She ended up owning Leeds Castle, and is buried alongside her husband in Canterbury Cathedral.

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