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Frank's travels around Britain 2008.

Dungeness & Bodiam Castle.

Poor weather restricted where I took my photographs this time. The car played its part by returning an average of 54 mgp in very wet conditions but the south coast was the only place to get the sort of pictures that I travel to get.

Romney Marsh in Kent rests to the East of Ashford down to the unique area of Dungeness. Flat as the proverbial billiard table, you see very little except hedges & things that spring out and then its gone, very much like East Anglia. Luckily I saw St. Clements church in Old Romney on Romney Marsh & doing a quick turn round, I found one of those things that make a trip very different!

To see the church from the road it looks just like you imagine a church, that has been steeped in the countryside since before the 12th century, should look. Once you pull up outside, you can see the odd things that make it different. A red bricked buttress addition to hold up the side of the church, a strange blue door that looks like the entrance to a Methodist youth club and an interior painted in pink!

St Clements is one of the oldest churches in Kent. Originally constructed in the 12th Century, although there is some evidence of an original structure on the site dating back to the 8th Century. The reason it is a pink church was because it featured in a Dr. Syn film, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, made for television in 1963 by the Rank Film Organisation for Disney. They paid for its renovation with the Georgian minstrels galley and pews, retaining their rose pink colour that they were painted in, for the sake of the film.

Once you walk round to get those lovely scenes of traditional graves covered in lichen, you come across the other surprise. To one side of the grave yard  is a huge, plain, dark blue slab with just a signature written across it ... "Derek Jarman". On top are small pebbles left in the Jewish tradition, by visitors. It is strange, out of place, unique & obviously designed (and that's the keyword) to note the grave of someone different!

Our Derek wanted to be unique, different & apart. He may have thought it would be wonderful to rest, finally, in this lovely location but didn't want his gravestone to be the same as others. I think Derek's love of set design lead him to want  style, presence & élan. As a gay icon, maybe he loved the fact the church was pink and had it's connection to film, just like him. No date of death or surplus words to spoil the drama!

He lived his life in Prospect Cottage nearby on the wild & dramatic coast line that is Dungeness. Many of the cottages were built around old railway carriages, although most of them seem to have been replaced by newer properties. Uniquely bleak, beautiful, desolate, it is dotted with fishermen's cottages, had a power station & two lighthouses! (There have been 5 lighthouses since 1615.) It has the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway trains running across it to their station adjacent to the Old Lighthouse. Dungeness is apparently the largest expanse of shingle in Europe and is officially classed as a desert! There is a remarkable and unique variety of wildlife living at Dungeness, with over 600 different types of plant (a third of all those found in Britain). It is one of the best places in Britain to find insects such as moths, bees and beetles, and spiders; many of these are very rare, some found nowhere else in Britain. To the west of the pebble beach is Lydd airport & the RSPB has an observatory by the Lydd road. At the north end there are two villages that run along the sea's edge & lots of people must love it there ... no matter how unattractive I found it!

On recommendation, I learnt there as a castle just over the border in East Sussex. It was meant to be stunning and had a moat. Great for photographs, thought I!

It is a beautiful location. One that you'd like to live near so you could get all its light & moods as the weather & the seasons change. It is so dramatic, with so much detail left. Most of the castle interior was destroyed by parliamentary forces during the English Civil War, following their policy of slighting potentially threatening fortifications. After slighting in 1664 it fell into decay until the 20th Century, at one point its stones even looted by local builders. The outer shell remains & its location meant that it too has been used for locations! So picturesque is the castle has been seen in several films and videos. These include “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (an establishing shot identifying it as "Swamp Castle" in the "Tale of Sir Lancelot" sequence), the music video for Saxon's 1983 single "Power and the Glory", and the music video for Enya's song "The Celts”. It also appeared in the Doctor Who episode, The King's Demons. Bodiam Castle was also used for the exteriors of Huntington Castle in the third season of Robin of Sherwood in the two-part episode "Herne's Son", and as an unnamed rural castle in Joe's Palace.

It is still possible to safely climb up the inside of the walls via the towers. From the top, you can see a neighbouring vineyard, the entertainment area (this trip they were giving people a go at archery. All the instructors looking like a cod Robin Hood!), and a row of what looked like bungalows, hardly fitting the area.

When I was a lad, everyone had a penknife & you got into trouble for carving our initials into trees & desks. The castle has taken carving initials into another realm! There is beautifully carved out graffiti all over the place. It goes over many years but is so well done that there seems to be a pride in getting it right, as if they carried a masons chisel in their pockets & had the skill to make exquisite letters to be proud of. I'm sure that I will be looking for it in any future castle I visit in my travels!



Links for information on this page:

Derek Jarman

Pictures of Prospect Cottage


Bodiam Castle