Wildlife of Dungeness

As we were staying in Hythe we used the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway to visit Dungeness. It was a remarkably windy day but it was dry and the sun was shining intermittently which is something to be pleased about in England. Accordingly we did find quite a few invertebrates and plants.There were several species of butterfly. The gatekeeper with the two spots in the forewing. Pyronia tithonus.  Image is from butterfly conservation they were too flighty to photograph



A number of meadow brown butterflies Maniola jurtina. Image is from butterfly.org as they wouldn’t stay still for us.



There were a number of common blue butterflies. Polyommatus icarus. Here is a photo from butterfly conservation to illustrate the species.



We found a couple of Painted lady butterflies Cynthia vanessa. These are often migrants blown across from the continent.

Painted lady


We also saw at least three red admirals Vanessa atalanta.

red admiral


Alongside these were both large white butterflies Pieris brassicae, small white butterflies Pieris rapae and green veined white butterflies Pieris napi. In the past these three species were all grouped together as cabbage white butterflies.

Green veined white and large white with small white beneath. The photos are from butterfly conservation to illustrate the differences.

small white butterfly


We found the carline thistle Carlina vulgaris . I had not seen one before and I was struck with its  architectural shape.

Carline thistle

Beside the train station we found the aptly named yellow horned sea poppy. Glaucium flavum.   It only grows along the sea shore. It is toxic but I found it very attractive. (Sorry a bit of whimsey here). It even features in a poem.

Yellow-horned sea poppy

A poppy grows upon the shore,

Bursts her twin cups in summer late:

Her leaves are glaucus-green and hoar,

Her petals yellow, delicate.

She has no lovers like the red,

That dances with the noble corn:

Her blossoms on the waves are shed,

Where she stands shivering and forlorn.
Shorter Poems Robert Bridges


Sea kale  Crambe maritima was abundant it always appears so leathery I am surprised it was once considered a popular vegetable. Although I would not recommend gathering any plant material from a nature reserve

Sea Kale

In Dungeness a species of  bumble bee used to live.  Its latin name is  Bombus subterraneus but commonly it is called the short haired bumblebee. It is one of  only 27 bumblebee species native to the UK. (This is one reason for learning to identify them, twenty seven species is manageable whereas over 2,000 moths is less so).

(This image is from the BWARS website as we didn’t find one.)

bombus subterranis

This bee was once widespread across the south of England, occurring as far north as Humberside, but from the 1960s onwards its population declined, probably due to the loss of species rich grassland habitats. Consequently its distribution became fragmented with colonies isolated. It was last recorded near the RSBP Dungeness nature reserve in 1988 and declared extinct in 2000.  Thankfully a population of UK origin survives in New Zealand, where they were introduced in 1895 to pollinate red clover. Attempts were made to captive rear and export queens back from New Zealand to the UK but with limited success. Results from genetic analysis showed high levels of inbreeding. Thus, in 2011, Natural England and the project partners agreed to change the reintroduction source location from New Zealand to a European source. Sweden was chosen as it supports the most robust population and has a broadly similar climate to the UK. Once suitable source locations had been found, a sample of bees were collected and  checked for diseases. 89 queen bees were collected from southern Sweden and put into quarantine. At the end of May, 51 healthy queens were released at RSPB’s Dungeness reserve. This process was repeated the following year with 100 queens bees collected and 49 released. During July that year seven workers were seen in the Dungeness area, one of which was melanistic (dark form), proving that at least two queens had successfully founded nests. In Spring 2014 a further 46 healthy queens were released at the Dungeness site and during July and August that year, three worker bees were seen around Dungeness and a fourth outside the area, providing encouraging signs that the bees may be nesting in the surrounding area. In 2015 25 queens were released in the site and three workers were seen in a single day and over the following four days. This indicates that  the habitat is suitable to support a healthy colony.  We searched extensively for this bumblebee but we didn’t find any. Since it is a huge area this is not surprising but rather disappointing.

Despite our disappointment we did find large numbers of most of the common species of  bumblebee;

The common carder Bombus pascorum, (Image is from BWARS website).

bombus pascuorum


The white tailed bumblebee Bombus leucorum,


Common Carder bumblevee on teasel

The buff tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris (Image is from BWARS website)

bombus terrestris 2


The red tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius. (Image is from bumblebee. org)

bombus lapidarius


We found the wind rather trying whilst we attempted to photograph the insects and consequently many of the images are from butterfly conservation or BWARS images.

We also found common blue damselfly 

Enallagma cyathigerum

Small Gardens

I am fascinated by what can be done in a tiny space with a small yard or strip of garden and here I want to share some ideas I found on holiday. They say that Kent is the garden of England and whilst I thought it was full of gardens, many counties of England are full of beautiful gardens. Indeed gardens are something we do very well.

I believe it is relatively easy to make a lovely garden in a larger space where there is room for a water feature, trees a shade area a lawn bedding plants etc. Not to mention the money to buy all these things and perhaps a gardener to care for it all.

However, to make a small awkward area look interesting is much more challenging.

Here are some of the ideas I have seen and photographed on my travels this summer.

This is the garden of the hotel where we stayed.


I thought it was rather a tribute to bedding plants and brash colours but in the sunshine it was rather pretty. I would rather sit amidst flowers and shrubs that surrounded by grass and concrete.



It is amazing what you can make with a narrow passage beside your house. This one was in Hythe.



If however you only have a wall and your plants get wind blasted and salt encrusted. It is still possible to plant in containers. What a great idea these were!



Once again this time a narrow strip between two houses this time just behind the sea wall so subject to salty winds and storms. This is a real garden complete with a few weeds and grasses.



This garden really made an effort not only was there the model pheasant on the balcony, but the plastic crabs and lobsters  next to the front door. I don’t think I would have them in my garden but beside the beach it didn’t look too tacky. I am not too sure about the pirate flag though. Just as well those troughs are secured.



Then there was a small space in Rye between the church and the street, that was overflowing with plants. It was very romantic and atmospheric.


Even where there were three storey victorian houses, many of the small patches of garden had been lovingly nurtured. This one was just beside a basement and had to be photographed over the wall looking down. I was inspired with how much could be done with just a few metres of space.  Again this one was in Hythe.


Finally the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch had its own style of gardening. The small gardens beside the tracks tended to contain small models of animals and gnomes. However, the signal boxes and stations had some really lovely tubs and hanging baskets.



Railway sleepers obviously make excellent plant containers. The gauge on those railway lines is approximately 15 inches and this shows in the photograph above.

Do you have any ideas of what can be done in a small space?


Hythe The military canal and history

Whilst we were staying in Kent, every morning we would get up early for breakfast and then go for a walk for about an hour after our evening meal we would go for another walk. Many of these walks were taken either along the beach or along the military canal. The  canal was built in the early nineteenth century in order to defend the  coast against invasion.


The Romney Marsh had been left virtually undefended in the belief that it could be quickly flooded and the subsequent boggy ground, criss-crossed by drainage ditches, would be impassable. The threat of Napoleonic invasion led to questioning of this  view. After much deliberation Lt-Col John Brown, Commandant of the Royal Staff Corps, decided that flooding the marshes was unworkable, it would take too long, if the threat proved a mistake many homes and much farmland would be destroyed. Therefore he suggested that a canal be built from Seabrook, near Folkestone around the back of the Romney Marsh to the River Rother near Rye, a distance of 19 miles. The canal system would have sources of water from the sea and the River Rother. It would be 19 metres wide at the surface, 13.5 metres wide at the bottom and 3 metres deep. The excavated soil would be piled on to the northern bank to make a parapet, behind which troops could be positioned and moved out of sight of the enemy. The canal would also have ‘kinks’ to allow enfilading fire along the length of the canal, if the enemy attempted to cross it. I know it seems a bit silly to think that an army that had marched across much of Europe would be stopped by a deep ditch.


On October 30 1804 excavation of the Royal Military Canal was commenced. Harsh winter weather and severe flooding, as well as difficulty in attracting labourers called navvies delayed the completion and by May 1805 the canal project was close to disaster: only six miles had been completed and work had stopped.  The Prime Minister William Pitt intervened: the contractors and Rennie were dismissed.

The project was put in the hands of the Quartermaster-General’s department with Lt-Col. Brown in command. Navvies dug the canal, while the military built the ramparts and turfed the banks. Flooding continued to be a barrier to progress and hand pumps were used day and night to keep the trench from filling with water. Eventually powerful steam-driven pumps were used to clear the water.

Here is a picture of the monument to the navvies who built the canal



At its peak there were 1,500 men working on the canal. The canal was dug entirely by hand, using picks and shovels and the soil was carried away in wheelbarrows. Once the canal was dug it was lined with clay. The change of command and the greater work force speeded progress so that by August 1806 the canal was open from Seabrook to the River Rother.
However, the original dimensions of the canal were greatly reduced due to increasing problems encountered by the builders and pressures of time, so that for most of its length the canal is half its projected width.

Iden Lock was completed in September 1808, which linked the canal to the River Rother and Rye Harbour, effectively turning the Romney Marsh into an island, but it wasn’t until April 1809 that the canal was actually completed.

Plaque to the canal



By the time the Royal Military canal was fully ready for use, the threat of invasion had long since past. Napoleon’s plans for invasion suffered a major setback following his navy’s defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He withdrew his troops from the French coast and focused his intentions on central Europe.

Map showing the route of the canal obviously we did not walk the entire length, but used it as a base to explore the town and its surroundings.


The fact that the canal was never used for its intended purpose, cost £234,310 (a huge amount in Georgian England)  meant that the canal became an embarrassment to the Government – it was considered to be a huge waste of public money. It was cheekily called Pitt’s ditch after the then Prime Minister William Pitt

The radical journalist William Cobbett, who toured the country on his Rural Rides during the 1820s, was typical of the critics of the canal: ‘Here is a canal made for the length of thirty miles to keep out the French; for those armies who had so often crossed the Rhine and the Danube were to be kept back by a canal thirty feet wide at most!’

The Government desperately needed to find ways of recovering some of the money spent on the canal and in 1807 opened it to navigation and collected tolls for the transportation of produce and goods. In 1810 the canal was opened for public use and tolls were also collected for the use of the military road between Iden, Rye and Winchelsea. There was also a regular barge service running between Hythe and Rye, which took around four hours to complete.

Despite these efforts, traffic was never heavy, and the opening of the Ashford to Hastings railway line in 1851 further decreased its use. The Government was struggling not only to recoup the money invested in the canal but to meet the costs of maintenance.

Consequently, during the 1860s the stretch from Iden Lock to West Hythe was leased to the Lords of the Romney Marsh for 999 years at an annual rent of one shilling, while the the town of Hythe purchased the remaining stretch, that ran through the town, for conversion to ornamental waters. The canal west of Rye was sold to four individual owners. By the late nineteenth century the canal trade had all but gone. The last ever toll was collected at Iden Lock on December 15 1909.


Despite previous doubts surrounding the canal’s usefulness for defence in the nineteenth century, it was quickly requisitioned by the War Department in 1935 as war in Europe became increasingly likely. The banks were lined with pill-boxes as the nation awaited invasion, this time by Hitler, but once again there was no invasion.

This is one of the Martello towers along the beach the red flag shows that the shooting range is active which is why the photograph is somewhat distant.


Despite never being used to defend the nation it is a very beautiful place to walk or cycle. There are boats that  can be hired. Trees flank the water and the usual assortment of ducks, geese and swans live on the waters. Herring gulls in all stages of maturity use it as a place to wash and clean their feathers not to mention scrounge any food from passing individuals.


and it is much pleasanter to walk into Hythe along a beautiful tree-lined peaceful waterway that along a noisy dirty road with extremely narrow pavements. There are some parklands.


Unlike the canals here in the midlands there are considerable more pleasure boats but considerably fewer supermarket trolleys, old motorbikes and other debris.

The town of Hythe has a long connection with the defence of the country. Hythe was originally one of the cinque ports (from the French for five, but pronounced sink), they comprised Hastings, Hythe, Dover, Sandwich and New Romney. However when New Romney silted up Rye took over as a cinque port. The earliest known charter to the Cinque Ports collectively (a general charter) was granted by King Henry III in 1260, but there is evidence that the Ports acted together from an earlier date.  It was found from the terms of those charters and other evidence, including the Pipe Rolls of Henry II and the Domesday Book (published in 1086), that the Ports had enjoyed common privileges in return for their service to the Crown since the 11th century and were already known collectively as the Cinque Ports. Until the 16th Century, each of the Five Ports was required to provide the Crown with a specified number of ships, for 15 days every year; each crewed by 21 men and a boy. If their service was required for longer than 15 days in any year, they were entitled to payment for the additional period. Hythe supplied five ships. In return they were first granted important legal and fiscal privileges, as well as valuable commercial benefits and social status (see footnotes if you are interested).

As the fortunes of the head ports changed over the centuries, so the contributions of their limbs varied. Coastal erosion, silting-up of harbours, foreign raids and the Black Death took their toll on all of the ports at different times and to varying degrees.  At one point it was discovered that Hythe had only supplied two ships and the King threatened to revoke the town’s privileges.


Hythe’s military history dates back to the Roman times. It was the original home to the School of Musketry. Today, Hythe Ranges is a major training area for the Ministry of Defence. Beside the canal are the remains of military barracks and an unusual war memorial.


The Ports enjoyed  rights and privileges in return for their ship service. These varied over time and from one port to another, according to the particular charter, but the rights and liberties most commonly granted were:-

Early royal charters confirmed their customary right to land and dry their nets (den and strand) on the shore at Yarmouth, in Norfolk. The Portsmen also assumed responsibility for the administration of justice at the Fair. It was the need to defend and manage this vital economic interest which led directly to the development of the Court of Brodhull, which assumed responsibility for the appointment of bailiffs (magistrates) from the Ports to keep order at this often unruly gathering.

●Freedom from pleading ‘otherwise than as the barons of … the Cinque Ports plead’, that is to say, in their own courts of law.

●Freedom from a wide range of taxes which were payable in the course of travel and trade during medieval times; including custom, toll, lestage, passage, rivage and sponsage.

●Freedom from fifteenths and tenths (national taxes levied by the Crown).

●The right of withernam – if a Portsman was owed a debt by a resident of another town or if he was unjustly charged a toll or levy elsewhere; a warning letter would be sent to the offending town demanding (re-) payment within 15 days. If redress was not forthcoming, the next visitor from that town would be arrested and, after a hearing, sent home with notice of the judgement against his townspeople. If that failed, the next traveller from the defaulting town was liable to be detained and his goods confiscated and sold to cover the outstanding amount.

I used this website initially


and these ones




Much of this information was supplemented from this website which I used to research the origins of the canal.


The medieval churches of Romney Marshes

Whilst spending a few days in Kent we came across an archaeologist who was very well informed about the medieval churches around Hythe Brookland and Rye . This was something I had never heard about and so under his advice we visited some of these churches and began to read about them and here is what I found out. I also took quite a few photos.

Near the hotel was a tin tabernacle which doubled as a cinema and meeting space for the local community. I rather liked it and I hadn’t seen one before. Apparently they come in kit form a sort of IKEA church.



It is not surprising that in a county that contain the most famous church in England that churches would abound. In addition when one considers that this church was the scene of one of the most famous murders of the the middle ages then the place becomes much more attractive. I refer of course to the Murder of Thomas a Becket whose death was allegedly authorised by Henry II . Following this event Thomas was declared a martyr and his remains were carefully kept by the cathedral, who then turned the site into a place of pilgrimage and made a lot of money from it. This was due in part to the medieval fascination with relics and the belief that such remains could prove to be miraculous.

The church at Brooklands I have not seen this stable door arrangement on a church before


Owing to this, a number of churches have some nod to Thomas a Becket and here in  Brooklands on Romney Marsh, the church has a medieval mural of the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket. This is remarkable, not so much for the subject, but for the fact it has withstood the deprecations of both Cromwells Thomas and Oliver and the whole destruction of religious iconography that accompanied the reformation. Although to be fair it was covered up.



In addition the church has the most fantastic bell tower that is completely separate from the church and stands in the church yard. The tiles are wooden.


A reminder of the fact that a couple of hundred years ago everyone would have had to pay tithes a tenth of their crops to the church was found in these weights. This ensured the church received its due demands.


As well as this I found a tomb of a sailor with a rather amusing epitaph.


In case you can’t read it I added the description.


and a grave with a name I had never heard before. Gamaliel.



It sounds like something from Lord of the Rings. I felt a bit ashamed of myself for judging those parents who name their children after trendy things the Paris, Morpheus, Tequila, Chardonnay, Mercedes and Sarumans of the modern generation. Obviously this is not a modern trend.



Further on we found a lovely lead baptistry very heavy and  beautifully carved. I hope the church security is good. The lead was stolen from St Leonard’s in Wollaton last week again. Most churches in the area have replaced the lead with a less costly material. Indeed most of the lead on St Leonards was replaced  with an alternative material after the last theft.


Most of the churches on the marsh had that smell of damp and mould and old hymn books. However the one in Hythe did not. It has a ossory where you can go and stare at the bones of dead people if you are so inclined. however having given myself nightmares over the one in Rome I wasn’t about to repeat the experience. The church was much lighter than many of the other ones and didn’t smell which was a relief. It was cool on a hot day and very quiet we wandered around enjoying the silence and the high roof.  The churches in both Rye and Hythe are massive indicating either a much larger population or a more devout community or alternatively a stopover for pilgrims on the way to Canterbury.


Here is details of the altar it seems a bit ornate compared to what I am used to. I preferred this simple chapel. I know in Rome the churches are full of lovely art and sculpture. However they. did not have the reformation.


So this was our day for looking at churches I found it restful and interesting but I am glad that My favourite Geek prefers wildlife to old churches as I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. Thanks to the expert though I can now identify a Norman arch.


Lots of love your mother

A day on the Romeny, Hythe and Dymchurch railway.

We decided to forgo a visit to Folkestone and instead spent the day travelling the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway.


Being married to my favourite geek he was in seventh heaven. we spent considerable time in the museum. We then photographed the trains.







We watched the engines on the turntables  and photographed those.

The tracks are very narrow and it seems as if they are barely wide enough to accommodate the train. However apart from some jolts and noise it was a very smooth ride. We then photographed the tracks and the various carriages.  It was a rather windy day and Mr Geek lost his new hat owing to a particularly severe gust, we were travelling in an open carriage at the time.

at the museum there was a train in camouflage that had been used during the war.


We visited the model railway museum where Mr Geek was in heaven. Whilst enjoying the trains, I confess I was rather bored with the models, although judging from the numbers of children and their parents in the museum I was in a minority. Still I read a book in the corner whilst Mr Geek indulged his passion for all things mechanical.

We explored the sands at Romney Sands and saw our first waders feeding. I have to admit that this is the first ‘seaside ‘ resort where we haven’t seen many birds except the ubiquitous Herring Gulls. I found it disconcerting.


We found some lovely plants and invertebrates at Dungeness, despite its bleak appearance it was full of plants and invertebrates. We also found a lovely pub that did spectacular fish and chips. In spite of being in the middle of nowhere this establishment was packed. This usually indicates it is a good place to eat and has a reputation. It did a spectacular lemon drizzle cake. So fortified we had a long walk before returning for the return journey on the train. When we returned to the hotel we had walked seven miles.

Hope you like the photos


Rye an unexpected pleasure

We were making our way to Dungeness to Travel back to Hythe on the train. However as one of us was an archaeologist who knew a great deal about the medieval churches of the area we kept stopping to have a look at various churches of interest. One of our stops was a Rye where we spent a couple of hours. Rye is not actually in Kent but in Sussex. However it sits on a hill overlooking the marshes most of which were drained and used to graze sheep. I was intrigued by the huge gates across the road.



It was quite steep and my achilles tendon was throbbing, but I struggled up the hill. I was rewarded when halfway up the hill I found a viewing platform where it was possible to see over the town.




The whole experience was transformed for me when I read on the plaque that EM Benson had based his Mapp and Lucia novels in Rye and called it Tilling.  I found these Novels after hearing them spoken of on a radio 4 programme and once I had got over my irritation with the snobbery, I was hooked. They are a bit like PG Woodhouse rather of that era.

It was a bit like finding middle earth was a real place. I looked for the house that is central to the books that has a room overlooking the high street (Mallards)  and found  just such a house as described. Home to an artist according the the blue plaque



I found a small tea shop similar to the one mentioned ( Diva’s tea shop) half timbered cramped and absolutely charming.  We had the most fantastic cake and tea there. I saw the station  where they would catch the train to London.

I saw the  church and the town hall ( Lucia was mayor Tilling just as EM Benson was mayor of Rye).


It was like playing That new Pokemon game but so much better. It lifted my whole day. We didn’t get to visit the castle as there wasn’t time.

I also found the house where the novelist Radclyffe Hall Lived . She wrote a book called the Well of Loneliness  it was the first English novel to describe lesbianism.




So this was my literary day. I confess it was one of the best days of our trip.

Kind regards Your mother

Canterbury apart from the cathedral

So like the pilgrims in Chaucer’s tales we went to Canterbury. The difference being that we travelled in comfort and ease. In addition we were not expecting to earn salvation through our visit and we didn’t tell stories on the way.



The only day of our holiday that was wet was our day in Canterbury.  The heavens opened as we walked along the high street and we dived into the first building we came to which was a museum come art gallery and library with a tourist information inside as well.

canterbury museum

I was rather pleased to wander around looking at the pictures and the interactive displays in the museum. It was free an important consideration if you have a family. However we did treat ourselves to coffee and cake in the tea shop.

art gallery

My favourite geek was with me and he enjoyed himself identifying all the wildlife specimens and looking through all the military memorabilia. The place was full of families and we found that rather heartening. There were young children everywhere and whilst it was noisy it was also bustling with life.

We went as far as the cathedral but found a huge queue of tourists. I also have to confess to feeling quite upset about the commercialism of christianity and despite an interest in historical sights I really couldn’t stomach queuing to pay to visit the cathedral.  It really did make me feel quite ill and reminded me of the money changers in the temple.

We therefore sought for alternatives and found a Roman museum instead.


Inside the museum were mock ups of Roman shops and rooms with dummies set up dressed as romans. A whole street of these shops had been created.

Here is the weaver


The sandal maker


The bone pin maker


The  fast food shop with bowls of food sunk into the counter. An ingenious idea


The   veg shop


Dining room with reclining modern man. We played with the board game in the table a bit like draughts or checkers if you are American.


Here are the rules should you feel inspired to have a go.


The kitchen



The lady having her hair done. The issue of slaves was glossed over as they were described as servants.



There were some lovely Roman glass and mosaics.

canterbury mosaic roman

Here is a close up of the central motif.

roman mosaic Children were dressing up as Romans, making their own mosaics from tesserae, drawing colouring. It was very well attended and inspirational.

We finished our afternoon with a walk on the walls. Along the walls were defensive structures.


These were labelled with the location and some information. Again this was all well set out and clear



This provided me with the opportunity of seeing into other people’s gardens and finding ideas for my own. We walked back through a park.


There was a huge statue of a chalice at one corner and a shady garden with benches.




All in all we had a very interesting day and were very pleased with the choices we had made.

I will tell you more about our stay tomorrow