Summer Walk

Yesterday afternoon, later in the afternoon, I decided to test the knee and go for a walk down the lane and across the fields. It was a perfect summer day – azure blue skies domed the entirety of the Marsh, the distant hills were far off across the great expanse of pasture and corn crops and the castle on the hill stood majestic in the sunshine. I was entirely alone as I strolled past the sheep field with the robust lambs and their rotund woolly mothers casually grazing – the only sound an occasional bleat between mouthfuls. The pond has nearly died up now and sits damp with pond weed. The scent of the Elder flower drifted on the gentle breeze and it seemed for at least a short while as if all was well with the world. Past the wheat field sea green and swaying in unison with the bearded ears standing sentinel in a tightly ranked army of ramrod straight stems. I wandered into the field and carefully made my way out into the midst of the crop – all around this blue green alive with insect life.

I had only intended to go to the end of the lane but the sight of the fields beyond lured me onwards. The tree that stands beside the road has leaves that are grey on their underside and in the wind they rustle loudly like the never ending sound of the waves breaking on the shore. Beyond, as I start my along the field path the reeds whisper almost imperceptibly as they gently sway to and fro. High above a bird trills out his endless song, a Rook caws his way across to the Vicarage trees while a couple of Magpies launch themselves from the tall hedgerow to alight in amongst the sheep. There they strut and stride, occasionally pecking, like debating clerics discussing the finer points of theological theory. There is no sound of human save the constant tap of my walking pole. Then as I cross the field along the dry cracked tractor track the distant hoot of the tiny steam train that makes its way across the Marsh carrying tourists on a holiday treat, a plane, high in the sky, leaves a snow white trail while a much more humble light aircraft with black and white stripped wings drones away into the distance and the land is silent again save for the sounds of the birds. Time to turn back and head home – I haven’t been far in the great scheme of things and certainly not as far as I used to go but I am pleased that my knee has stood the test – tomorrow I shall ago on a different route.

We have a footpath at the back of our garden, just outside the fence, and it is many months, maybe years, since I have taken that route across the fields and out to the lane beyond That shall be my route today. Again it takes me through a wheat field, and then back through the village this time. The garden is too hard and dry to do much work – a few weeds removed perhaps but not much else I fear.

In other news we had a meeting about the Village Hall yesterday and we are moving onwards. We are planning another Cake and Book Sale in very early October and then, fingers crossed, a Christmas type Fair/Sale in December. Ideas are buzzing in my head for this but nothing concrete as yet. We are looking for builders to come and quote for the demolition and building work – if anyone knows of a builder who might be interested please let me know. Once we have some quotes we can then set too and apply for grants etc. Slow progress but gradually the money is accruing and to all of those of you who have been so supportive a very big thank you – we do very much appreciate your kindness and generosity.

Now I must stop but I will leave you with some pictures from yesterday.

That was exciting!

Today has been something of a red letter day as well as being quite exciting. Why? Because we went to Canterbury – haven’t been there for at least two years and probably nearer three. Why the sudden visit then? To order a ‘morning suit’ I believe it is called with tail coat etc for Himself. Not to buy you understand but to Hire for a wedding in September – the one I am proposing to make my jacket and trousers for. It was all a very new experience. Himself is not very mobile now and getting around on pavements etc is something of a trial for him but kitted out with a sturdy walking stick he became quite intrepid if rather slow. For me, someone who used, a few years ago now , to work part time in Canterbury the whole experience was rather strange too. First of all the driving there was fine but once in the City the question of negotiating the multi storey car park to say nothing of the roundabouts was a whole new challenge. Until I reached them I thought I would just ‘pick up where I left off’ and sweep into the car park as I had several years ago but I found myself concentrating very hard on negotiating the roundabout, accessing the car park and then my heart sank as I spotted a sign that said card payment only. I had been used to, pre pandemic, the slot machine for coins and thus I had a purse full of coins at the ready. I have never used a card machine in a car park! Nothing ventured I had to go on not least because I was half way up the one way ramp to the car park proper! We found a space, Himself was ordered to remember Level 2 – I have a record of forgetting which floor I have parked on! Then we got the stick, a began to make our way to the lift. So far so good. Once out on the pavements Himself needed a helping hand and we slowly meandered or way stopping occasionally to have a sit down. Not too far but I think for him it was. Once we found the shop we took the lift to the floor we required and a very helpful young man kindly helped and took our order. All is arranged and we pick up the suit a few days before the wedding. Down to ground level and out in the street I discovered that there is a Blue Badge carpark only a few metres away – I could have saved Himself the long walk. At least I know where it is now and when we return to pick up the clothing I shall use it. Annoying though nevertheless. Then began the trudge back to the car. Many people were exceptionally kind – standing back so that we could make our ponderous way along the pavement, asking if we were OK, smiling as they stood back. A cup of coffee was in order. I remembered that M&S had once had a more than passable cafe with really rather nice food. We trundled along, with Himself getting slower and clearly finding the walk difficult, until we found a table outside. I went into get coffee and possibly something to eat. What a monumental disappointment. Three kinds of cake, sandwiches etc in a chiller cabinet and drinks. Where were the light lunches of a few years ago – pre pandemic? All swept away. One piece of cake and two drinks then. I now wished we had stopped at one of the other cafes that had looked quite inviting. Back to the car – very slowly now. As we left the lift the next challenge faced us – the paying machine. I stood in front of it trying to work out how it functioned – where did I put the ticket, where did I pay and more importantly how did I pay? A kindly gentleman came to my aid and explained carefully what I needed to do. It was very easy! not only that the barrier went up automatically. My final conclusion was that many things have changed since I was here last. The pandemic has caused much to change and I have clearly not kept up with things! clearly I have aged rather more than I care to admit and it behoves me to sort this state of affairs out!

Once back home I have picked the first strawberries and the first sweetpeas, – I was going to go for a walk but the weather has changed and where it was sunny and warm it is now chillier and overcast. However the forecast for tomorrow promises more sunshine so a long walk will be called for and perhaps a good go at the garden.

Just a short one

The piece that is. It is pouring with rain here and I have just had to run in from the garden where I had ventured to do a bit weeding on the vegetable bed. The carrots are coming up quite well and the tiny leeks are beginning to grow now and I wanted to sow another row of carrots and plant out a few more leeks but to no avail because the rain has forced me to retreat to the conservatory! On the whole I am quite pleased with the garden, especially if I look past the brambles arching over from the field edge. I need to sort them out but the fight is one needs to be ready for – usually with some form of protective clothing for the brambles have a way of attaching themselves very securely to ones arms etc if not.

The pattern has come for the trousers and jacket. The decision has been made re colour – it shall be blue and I think the raw silk will be best – it has rather orebody’ in it. Now I need to brace myself to buy the fabric and then get started. It will cost a bit and therefore perhaps the purchase of samples would be a good idea – I don’t want to make a very expensive ‘mistake’. I think it has stopped raining but of course the ground will be sodden and therefore encrust my gardening shoes and the overhanging bushes and trees will drip all over me as I work so maybe it is time to stay in – maybe I will take a quick stroll done the road later. After all the garden will be there tomorrow and we forecast better weather by far for the weekend. The new mower – not sure if I have mentioned it – is an absolute dream. It is battery powered and being able to mow without a cable trailing behind me is a very distinct advantage. I have found too that mowing is a very good way of upping my step count for the day. Lately I have become somewhat obsessed by trying to average at least 5000 steps a day. That is easy to achieve and even surpass when the weather is fine but a few wet days and I struggle or else I have to do a long walk on the intermittent dry days.

I am wading my way through Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness at the moment. In many ways it was a very courageous novel for her to have written in 1928 but I can see, given the prevailing attitudes of the time, why a court case prevented its publication in this country. Society had become rather more liberal after the First World War but this was probably rather a giant step for most parts of society to take. I have just finished compiling the spread sheet of the graveyard stuff we have been doing – no more forays have been happening because we have both been taken up with other things – normal service will resume in the relatively near future however I hope. There are two Magpies on the lawn – a sure sign of good luck maybe- after all the rhyme does say two for joy! The rain has brought on the sweetpeas by leaps and bounds but also the weeds have been having a field day! I planted to colours of sweetpeas – a very dark purple blue and a creamy white. I gave some plants away believing I had kept some of each colour – so far I have only dark purple blue flowers!! Self seeded foxgloves and Hollyhocks have sprung up all over the garden and I am inclined to leave them to bloom. Pleasingly some of the Foxgloves are white and fingers crossed they will set seed and if I leave them next year we will have many more.

This was supposed to be a short piece and there is now a chink of blue sky, the pewter clouds have been replaced with fluffy white ones and I have just remembered I promised to clean the inside of the telephone box that houses our Defibrillator. Better go and do it I suppose. It is enough of a chore cleaning here so why I was foolish enough to volunteer entirely eludes me now!

Here are a couple of pictures I took last evening when the rains had ceased.

Mixed feelings

It has been awhile since I have posted on this blog but here I am, not least because the weather is pretty foul and I really don’t want to garden in the rain! As with the posts I did during the pandemic I will begin with the weather. Here it is cold, wet and the Marsh skies are dominated by an all encompassing pewter grey blanket of louring cloud. The hills are fading into the prevailing mistiness, the castle has disappeared and the garden looks bedraggled and damply dripping. All in all not the best June day!

In other news I have been prevented from doing too much gardening for a few days – my knee was giving me some discomfort. Nevertheless I did manage, with the aid of a stick, to continue walking, particularly when we had various visitors prior to the Jubilee weekend. It has improved lately and I have managed to chop down some of the brambles and undergrowth in the top corner of the garden that continues to be an ongoing project! The brambles, I have to say, have been and continue to be the bane of my gardening life. Just as soon as I clear one area they appear in another. Clutching and scratching at my arms and hands until when I look down thin streams of blood course their way fingerwards and wounds and scratches sting when I have a shower. Nevertheless the Peonies are blooming, the roses likewise and the first sweetpeas have been picked. The Hops are a cause for some pride this year as I have managed to string them along the fence so that they bear some passing resemblance to strung Hops in a hop garden. It should be possible for me to get a reasonable bine for indoors if all goes well but as any gardener of farmer would tell you it doesn’t do to count your chickens!

One evening last week I went for one of my usual walks down the lane – past the sheep field and the nearly dry pond, past the cottage and along the field path into the wheat field. The sun was low in the sky but not yet setting. The distant hum of voices from those who sat outside the pub, the calling of children playing in the lane and the dull drone of a biplane chugging its way across the blue combined with the twitter of small birds in the hedgerow to provide a sound back drop to my stroll. The farther down the lane I went the less I heard the human sounds and soon I was wandering in the natural world where a lone Heron silently arose from the pond edge and gracefully flew into the distant sunlit Marsh, where the busy arrow sharp Rook cut a coal black course above the fields as it cawed its way home ward to the Vicarage trees and where the sheep silently grazed as they have for so many hundreds of years. The woes of the world that we are bombarded with seemingly day and night were no more. They seemed, for at least a short while, to have faded and were of no significance in this “old” world of nature.

The same idea, I felt, is expressed in a poem I came across on social media (yes sometimes it is a good place to be) by Wendell Berry called The Peace of Wild Things.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Far more beautifully expressed than I could ever do. Thank you to whoever it was who posted it on Twitter. What does the week ahead hold I wonder. The past weekend has seen Himself and me watching the Jubilee coverage and enjoying the way the misery of the past few years has been put aside for a short while but in listening to the Radio 4 news this lunchtime I note that we are all back in a world of uncertainty. It was ever so I guess and a week is truly a very long time in politics!

I am thinking about – perhaps quite rashly – embarking on making a trousers and jacket outfit. It is many years since I have made any clothes and embark on this venture with some trepidation. Not any old outfit you understand but one that, I hope, might be quite classy. The ‘idea’ is that it shall be made of a silk fabric and the jacket shall have some embroidery on it. The big question is should it be silver grey or navy blue? Of course nothing can actually happen until this question is answered! I favour the navy with self coloured floral embroidery on the shoulders, neckline and down the front of the Nehru style jacket possibly with the flowers spilling over onto the top of the sleeves, maybe around the bottom of the sleeves too or would that be too much! Ambitious and probably downright foolish! I once made a ball gown out of a turquoise blue silk with flowers (beaded as well as embroidered) spilling down the train and hem line and I spotted it on the back of a bedroom door the other day and thence came the idea. I think beads etc would be a bit over the top though. I have sent for a pattern – always a good first step. I have located somewhere that I could purchase the fabric – not cheap – and do I go for a Dupion silk or a more raw silk look? So many questions – so many in fact that the answering of them might mean I give up on the idea sooner rather than later but I hope not.

Something like this below but without the beads or should there be some beads and far more importantly if and, it is a big if, I pull it off could I wear the outfit to a wedding with a giant hat??? Feel free to let me know what you think in fact I would really love to know. (And just for good measure a couple of pictures from the other evening’s walk.

All Change!

This post is mostly about an up date on my Talks for Rye Arts Festival with a few other bits added in! You are probably wondering why I need to give you an update – well things have changed somewhat it seems. My Talks on the 13th Sept and 21st Sept will no longer take place at Lamb House in Rye. Rye Arts Festival runs on a very tight budget and each year the organising committee members have to consider carefully the cost involved in each and every event. Last year I managed to fill the Methodist Church for my Talk about a little known writer of the first half of the Twentieth Century and this year the Lamb House venue were only able to offer seats for 30 people. Not enough the Director tells me. Also the National Trust were asking for half of the ticket sales. The event would have barely broken even and many people I am told might have been disappointed that they couldn’t come along. Both Talks have moved to larger venues. The first (Part 1) is to be in the Baptist Church, beginning at 3.00, where all who want tickets will be able to be accommodated so please when they go on sale in early June don’t hesitate to grab some! From my point of view, and I suspect for those wishing to attend, this venue is in many ways preferable – no hills to climb, no cobbled streets to negotiate and parking quite close by in the Market. Also if you want a quick bite to eat Jempson’s cafe among others is close by. The second Talk (Part 2) will be at the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre – and will begin at 2.00 so that attendees can have lunch before and/or tea afterwards if they so wish. Again parking is available close by and the venue is easy to get to and it can accommodate a good sized audience. Don’t forget to keep your eye out for the opening of Booking so that you can secure your tickets. (I will post on Twitter and here when booking starts.)

AS I write I am sitting in my conservatory – soon to be replaced with a spanking new one – one that doesn’t leak like the preverbal sieve every time it rains necessitating the careful placing of towels and bowls on the floor to catch the deluge. It will, indeed, be something of a treat! My view across the fields is dominated by the sea green/blue of the wheat as it stands thick and bolt upright with fat ears of grain. Beyond it, and in stark contrast, stretch several fields of barley – swaying in never ending undulating waves of pale golden green, their bearded ears dancing in the breezes. Far across the Marsh the hills are fading in a haze of evening with a pearlescent sky forming a dome. Nearer to the windows the garden is full of colour – not fancy plants – it is no Chelsea – but rather those we all love and remember from our youth. Foxgloves, self seeded and scattered around, bearded irises in a delicate pale sky blue, columbines in shades of purple and roses of the old fashioned scented kind that glow in shades off cerise and pink, alliums that stand bold and in white and royal purple, Love in the Mist has sprung up all over the place with flowers in all shades of blue, a Clematis that has rarely bloomed has, this year, excelled itself as it creeps up the netting on the Well head. Dinner plate sized lilac blossoms jostle for position. The Hops are growing well and those beside the Well have reached the top of the poles I gave them for a support while the Hops on the wall have begun to spread out along the strings. My next concern will be that they are rich with Hop cones. While I managed to prune most of the Roses in the garden a few escaped my attentions and among them is a beautiful rambler called Alchemist – a pale golden/peachy almost apricot flower – It has had its head and has sent out great long arching branches that have produced a truly delightful show of blooms. It is a bit bare in places and I must prune it in the Autumn to bring it under some sort of control but until then I shall enjoy its wayward ways. A pure white Clematis has climbed its way up through the Bay tree and has added considerable interest to what would otherwise be a uniform green tree. There is still much work to do in the garden but the Strawberries grown in containers promise to be good, the raspberries have spread and should provide fruit, the blackcurrant has a good crop as has the Gooseberry so we should be able to have some fruit for freezing for winter, fingers crossed.

Exciting News

Not the exciting news but we have had masses of rain over night and I am told a crashing thunder storm. I say ‘I am told’ because had to be informed by Himself this morning that lightening had been flashing and cacophonous crashing thunder had rung out in the early hours – I remained entirely oblivious having slept through it all! I was pleased – sort of – to hear the rain pouring down when I did awake – the plants look very refreshed and those that were becoming a real concern – most notably the sweet peas – are now looking far more cheerful. The rain has passed, the sun is out and it is warm.

Now to the very exciting news – well for me anyway. As regular readers will know I gave a Talk at the Rye Arts Festival last year and it seems it can’t have been at all bad because I have been booked to do two this year! Full details below.

13th September – Part 1 – Writers of Rye and Romney Marsh in the Edwardian era. 3.00pm at Lamb House.

I shall be talking about Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford and Edith Nesbit and their association with Rye and their love of Romney Marsh. Along the way I shall be mentioning a few other much lesser known writers – did you know that the mother of Richard Aldington, First World War poet and author, was also a writer and lived at the Mermaid? No I didn’t either until very recently.

21st September – Part 2 – The Long Weekend – writers of Rye and Romney Marsh in the 1920s and 1930s. 3.00pm at Lamb House.

In this talk I shall consider the association with Rye and Romney Marsh of Sheila Kaye-Smith, Radclyffe Hall, Edith Craig and the ladies who lived at Small Hythe Place as well as such as Noel Coward and Russell Thorndike and, again, with mention of some you may not have heard of.

Please come along if you can. Booking will open in early June and as Lamb House can only accommodate limited numbers please get your tickets as soon as you can.

I am excited to be doing these two talks but also to be at Lamb House where Henry James was resident for many years and then in the 1920s and 30s where the well known author E F Benson resided. All of those mentioned above loved Rye and the Marsh and many used that very same environment as a backdrop to their fiction. Equally interesting is the fact that in many ways and in both eras these people formed literary friendships with the likes of H G Wells and Rudyard Kipling travelling to Rye to visit.

Enough of the blatant and unashamed self publicity and back to the here and now. We acquired a new mower last week and it is no exaggeration to say that I made an absolute pig’s ear of assembling it! It came in an enormous box that we placed in something of a ceremony in the centre of the garage floor – we have a giant double garage so there was masses of room all around the box. The lid was lifted, packing materials were removed, the two pieces of handle were placed carefully on the floor, and finally the machine itself was lifted out. The box was shifted to the side. The batteries and battery charger were placed on the work bench and the search for an instruction booklet began. There wasn’t one to be found. Neither did there appear to be a set of fixings for the handles. All very annoying and frustrating. Eventually the fixings were found in the battery compartment and instructions were found on the internet. Ready to go then – well you would think so wouldn’t you. Pieces in hand I tried to attach the largest of the handles. No matter how hard I tried it would not fix. One part worked the other wouldn’t. we placed the handle round the other way but that wasn’t right and it still wouldn’t fix. Much grumbling, muttering and I am ashamed to say cursing later I was determined that I had a defective part. On a point of principal I thought that B&Q, from whence I purchased the mower, should rectify the problem. After a phone call they agreed that if I took in the fixing part they would replace it. A car drive to Ashford and back – several hold ups and snarl ups later and I had a new fixing part. Most of the day had gone by now! After supper I determined to have another go but to no avail. A neighbour kindly came round to assist but also could not make it work. I went back to the parts ready to put them back in the box and then and only then did I discover my amazing incompetence – I had been trying to fix the “wrong” handle to the machine all along. When I tried to attach the “right” one needless to say it went on easily and then the “other” one easy attached too. I haven’t used the mower yet but if the grass disc sufficiently dry in the next few days it will have a run out.

In less amusing news – well for me anyway – I have been doing a lot of weeding lately which has involved much kneeling. This morning I reaped the ‘benefit’ – when I got out of bed a searing pain shot down my leg and my knee more or less gave way. I staggered about a bit hanging on to the wall until Himself, in his best gallant mode, assisted me with flattering steps to the bathroom. But his gallantry was finished there – he went downstairs and acquired a walking cane for me – one that had been my grandfather’s ‘best’ stick. I hobbled around for some while until gradually the knee seemed to loosen up a bit but it still looks a little ‘fat’. a cold compress a bit of rest and I am sure it will be Ok but it is messing up my walking regime to say nothing of the need to get back to gardening!

If you are on Twitter I shall be putting more updates re Rye Arts Festival booking etc on my Twitter @theruralwriter. If you know of anyone who might be interested but doesn’t read the blog or isn’t on Twitter please feel free to pass on details. I look forward to meeting you at the Talks if you can possibly make it – it would be truly lovely to meet some of you.

Meanwhile the Irises have been splendid this year and I leave you with a couple of pictures of them.

Catch up

Not an inspired title I will agree but all I could think of I am afraid. However, there is news from here out in the Marsh. Great rejoicing that it has rained – the sweetpeas that I planted yesterday really needed it – a watering can is just not the same! Meanwhile the lambs in the field down the lane are growing ever bigger, the Hawthorn trees are heavy with blossom, birds flit in and out of the hedges and the garden is full of colour. More especially the Bramley apple tree that I rescued some while ago from amongst the undergrowth but which is a strange shape to say the least – a sort of espaliered but not properly so that it is two outstretched branches – well it is covered in blossom and promises plenty of fruit if the flowers are pollinated. Fingers very much crossed. It is something of a shock to me not least because I chopped about at it not knowing what I was doing. I am sure it hasn’t been done properly but the result is pleasing none the less. Yesterday I mowed one of the lawns and planned to do the other today but the rain has put paid to that! I very minor drama here too yesterday when the trimmer reel shot out and put up a serious fight when I tried to “mend” it. Much cursing, complaining and threatening to get a new one eventually ended with my succeeding in making it work. It did a great job on the edges! The worst thing about the whole episode was the fact that I had put the reel in the wrong way round – of course it wasn’t going to work! The French Beans and Runner beans are doing well but it is too early to plant them out I think. I have sown multiple sets of tomato seeds and had not a one come up – beyond frustrating. I shall now buy courgette and tomato plants at the church plant sale next weekend.

News on the Hall front is sparse at the moment but the village gave us their support in continuing with the renovation. The monies are slowly but surely growing but with rising prices we have a very long way to go. At the plant and cake sale – well its more grand than that really – it is a Pimms and Ploughman’s for lunch, cake sale and afternoon teas, and a plant sale as well for the Church but with me manning the book stall in aid of the Hall renovation. Please try and come along on the 15th – from 11am until 3pm – we would love to see you.

On the churchyard front we have done another two visits and a few people have caught my eye. One was a gentleman named Jeremiah Washford – he is not buried in the churchyard but two of his wives are. This gentleman lived at Forge House in the High Street and was the veterinary surgeon. In all he had three wives with the last out living him. She is buried in the town Cemetery and I assume that because he too lived into the twentieth century he is also buried there. Interesting too is John James Moody who for many years ran the Victoria Hotel in the High Street. He was also a carrier. In our latest visit we found a number of dedications to members of the Cowin family. The father of the group – Matthew Cowin – it transpires was a man who made good. The first reference I could find to him was as a Fellmonger. This is transpires is a dealer in skins – in his case sheep skins. Later he was the owner, at the age of 34, of 200 acres of land on the edge of Lydd at a place called Pigwell Farm and he was employing 4 men. Later he went up in the world and moved to New Romney where he farmed 500 acres and employed 6 Lookers. Most irritatingly the transcript of the Census is illegible in the section where his place of residence is recorded.

The rain has stopped and it is brightening up. Maybe, just maybe, I can get some more salad leaves sown and some carrot seed. I am determined to try a new way with the carrots – Monty Don suggested sowing them in a patch as opposed to rows because that way they are not crammed together and are less likely to be prone to Carrot Fly. Worth a try. My early potatoes are peeping through and the strawberries I planted in the containers are covered in bloom. Soon be time to set up some netting. The Raspberries have gone mad and appeared all over the place. The Gooseberries and Blackcurrants are showing signs of tiny fruits while the onion sets are looking perky too. The weeds however are also having a major field day in all of the borders and the tough ones that I finally put weed killer on are clearly rather tougher than I could ever have foreseen or perhaps the weedkiller has lost some of its killing power! Now it has rained perhaps I shall be able to remove weeds more easily.

More, much more, exciting news – always leave the best till last – I shall be giving two talks at the Rye Arts Festival this year. Both will be on literary topics associated with Rye and Romney Marsh so please keep your eyes open for booking info – I will, of course, let you know via this blog and via my Twitter account but the Festival runs from 9th to the 25th September. Please keep the date and more information will appear here as and when dates and venues have been agreed. Watch this space.

More from the churchyard

Well you won’t believe this or perhaps you will! I have just written several hundred words and then inexplicably lost them all. So annoying. Here we go again.

We had a short break from our churchyard research but now we are back with a vengeance so to speak. Last week we made a rather successful foray as we moved on into a section of the churchyard that contains a cluster of graves that, as it turns out, are all dedicated to members f an extended family in the main. They huddle together and as an added bonus most of the inscriptions are fairly easy to read. The morning also had another added interest. We were in the process of crawling around and bending down to inspect faded inscriptions when we were approached by a gentleman who began the conversation by suggesting we might be able to answer a question he had. We couldn’t but explained we had only begun to scratch the surface, so to speak, of who lies buried in this extensive churchyard. He was searching, with his wife, for the grave of a Rev. Mittell who it transpired had written a number of folksongs in the 19th century. These people were folksingers and they were on a sort of pilgrimage to find this writer of the songs they had often sung. We had never heard of said reverend gentleman but by way of introduction to his work our visitors gave us a short rendition of the first verse and chorus of Mittell’s song about the sinking of the Northfleet. It was in all ways utterly delightful. They went on their way and we returned to our recording of long lost lives.

Most of the graves belonged to members of an extended family – the Rayners. Most noteworthy perhaps is one Stillingfleet Rayner. Not least because he has such an unusual and interesting name. I think his family originally came from Norfolk and as far as I can tell the name is passed down in each generation. This makes research rather confusing!! The Stillingfleet Rayner in question, who nows lies in New Romney churchyard, was born in 1839 in a Martello tower in Folkestone. He died in 1900. How he ended up here on Romney Marsh is not at all certain but I think his father had been a coastguard so perhaps that explains it at least in part. More work to do I think! Stillingfleet first wife was Rosa Victoria Bond – born in Shoreham in Sussex but baptised in New Romney in 1845. Sadly Rosa, who also has a headstone in the churchyard, died at the age of 27 in April 1872. In the same year her two children also died – her son Richard in March 1872 and her daughter Rosa Jane a short while after her mother in April 1872. Both deaths are recorded on Rosa Victoria’s stone. Stillingfleet went on to marry again – this time to Fanny Mittell in 1876. In the 1871 census Stillingfleet is recorded as the Inn Keeper of The George, Lydd. On the same census entry I had a sort of bonus – I found that a several times great uncle of mine was the Ostler at The George at the time. By the time of the 1891 Census Stillingfleet was married to Fanny and still running The George. Stillingfleet had one son from his first marriage and 4 sons and 2 daughters from his second marriage. They were – William Stillingfleet 1869-1925, Henry Crisp 1880-1956, Stillingfleet 1883-1959, Robert Victor 1885-1958, Frederick George 1891-1977, Gertrude Fanny 1877-1939, Charlotte Agnes 1879-1960.

It has proved to be rather difficult to work out the relationship between the gentleman above with Henry Rayner born 1806. He too was born in Norfolk and was, I think but am not certain, the father of Stillingfleet. Henry is recorded in 1851 as being a Coastguard and Stillingfleet’s father was a Henry who worked as Coastguard – Stillingfleet is recorded as being born in a Martello tower in Folkestone. By 1861 Henry is listed as the Inn Keeper of The Ship, New Romney. He is married to Phebe who was also born in Norfolk and her name appears on the same stone. This couple had a number of children and the 1851 Census records Stillingfleet aged 12, Jane aged 9, Charlotte aged 7, Catherine 4, Robert 7 months. By 1861 there are three more children – Julia Elizabeth 8, Frederick 7, and an Infant who by 1871 is recorded as William. After Henry’s death Phebe, in 1881, was living at Rose Villas, is a widow and has one lodger and one servant. By 1891 Phebe has her daughter Julia and her granddaughter Edith living with her and one lodger who is a bookmaker. Other Rayners have yet to be documented and perhaps there are still more in the churchyard that we have yet to find. In a strange twist we had some difficulty in finding one particular woman until we managed to work out that she too was a Rayner before she married a George Bartholomew Baker. She is in fact the self same Julia Elizabeth Rayner listed as living with Phebe I think.

The search for the past residents of New Romney continues and I trust there are many more stories to reveal. Meanwhile the sun is shining and the garden needs attention. There are seeds to plant and beds to weed among other things. Thank you for reading these ramblings and watch this space for, possibly, more news next week.

A Splendid Day

Yesterday dawned cold and bright. Sharp sunshine from a cornflower blue sky but appearances belied the truth for while it looked inviting from the warmth of the house it was was somewhat of a shock to the system when one ventured out of the door into that brightness. A cold razor honed wind from the north cut through all but the most resilient clothing. It was the day of our Cake and Book sale for the Hall Renovation Fund. We were to hold the sale in the church – we are not able to se or Hall because the insurance company say that it is unfit for use! Tables were set up, The urn was full and the books were spread out across the tables. Were ready for customers but would they come? That hiatus of waiting, that nervous anticipation, that wondering what we would do if we were left with boxes and boxes of books and mountains of cake. As an extra draw we had invited along a local novelist, Emma Batten, who writes fiction based in ur unique environment of the Marsh. She, too, had set up here stall and was waiting or people to come. They did come and they came in droves. On the dot of ten they began to arrive. Cakes were snapped up, books were purchased and Emma sold novels and had a good chat with those who are fascinated by her novels. We continued unabated with a steady stream of customers until around about twelve and then we began to shut up shop. Emma had old a fair number of books, we had sold a lot of books too, and the cake stall was denuded. The count up of monies revealed a healthy profit for our first, but not the last, sale of cake and books. I think it may be a winning formula! In the great scheme things the sum of money raised is small but several small sums make a large one!

The church is going to have a Pimms and Ploughman’s plant sale in May from 11.00 – 3.00 and with a bit of luck I shall have a book stall there to try and raise some more money for the Hall Fund. Meanwhile he books are ranged in boxes along the sides of the church porch with notices with prices – 50p per paperback and £1 per hardback – and a request that purchasers put their money in the box set in the wall inside the church. The hope is that visitors to the church – and we usually get quite a few through the summer – will buy the odd book or two and keep the fund raising ticking over. We shall share the monies with the Church for they are kind enough to lend us the space and need money just as much as we do. Heady with this minor success I am now contemplating other ventures. Not least the possibility of purchasing a number of baking tins so that I can batch bake ready for future cake sales. Who doesn’t like a piece of cake or even a whole cake? Could we sell other baked goods? Quiche perhaps. One lady said that she makes Coconut ice – is there a market for that? I suspect there is. Running before I can walk maybe and one success does not make for future success I guess. Try walking before you can run I hear echoing in my ear!

Later, after a quick supper, I decided to wander down the lane. I am trying to walk at least 5000 steps a day and yesterday I hadn’t reached my total. A walk to the farm and back would up my count. The sun was beginning to set and was slowly drifting down towards the distant fields. In the golden glow of the late light it was as though I had stepped back in time. The sights and sounds were those, and only those, that our forbearers had seen and heard. I walked in the steps of those who had trudged home from the farm so many years ago. The haloed sheep calmly grazed casting a cursory glance in my direction and then ignoring my progress, deep long shadows reached across the darkening fields in delicate fingers of gloom as Rooks like tatters of coal black cloth tossed on the wind made their way across the velvet skies cawing in unison. Gulls shrieked and pigeons flapped as they made off from a verge tree. The bushes a trees, not yet clothed in foliage, formed a framework of ebony netted lace filigree against the ever sinking orb of the sun. Farther down the lane, along side the field edge, the remains of last summer’s reeds swayed and whispered low, seed head prayer flags were turned to burnished bronze in the last rays that spread their intense needle sharp piercing light across the darkening Marsh. Time to turn and make my way back and as I passed the pond I noticed the Ducks were back. Were they the pair I had seen walking along the verge through the village a couple of days ago? I will never know but it pleased me to think they were. They swam serenely across the dark waters parting the weed as they went with their rhythmic paddling. I managed to take some photographs and although I didn’t get the red sunset I had hoped I might I am pleased with the results on the whole. I shall go back today if even only to try and recapture my step back in time and perhaps to also see if the Ducks are still there.

First snow of the Winter!

The snow is here on April 1st. Today we awoke to a monochrome world – all was black and white with dark shades of grey in the looming cloud cover. The Daffodils lie bent and cowed under a hefty globule of snow, Tulips were, likewise, bowing their heads in obsequiousness to the great god of winter who had suddenly returned with a vengeance while the Primroses clung to the last vestiges of any warmth there was to be had by huddling into the shelter of over hanging trees and bushes. Undeterred by the cold and the stinging, bitterly cold sleety snow that drove in from the north across bleak field and distant hills, the Great Tits persisted in clinging to the bird feeders. The Magpies, clearly made of stern stuff, continued to build their ever grander tree top residence. It is still snowing with cascading wet, frozen, tiny, needle sharp sleety whiteness that has obliterated the hills and rendered the yard trees the end of my universe! The snow is not settling now and turn s to wetness as soon as it pierces the earth but it still lingers in all its cold purity on the hills and the castle blanketing them in a cold covering for this spring day.

This afternoon I am due to go over to the church to help with preparations for tomorrow’s sale. We are promised that it will have brightened up by then but will it? Wrapped up warm will be the order of the day for even if it has stopped sleeting and snowing it will still have the bitter north wind. Saying which reminds me of a part of a rhyme from my childhood – probably meant for winter proper but nevertheless pertinent. “The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow, what will Robin do then poor thing”. I think it went on with something about him putting his head under his wing! I have just glanced out of the window and it is brightening up – there is a tiny hint of the sun breaking through. As quickly and silently as it came the snow and sleet has disappeared with only my photos of the garden to attest to its ever having been. Not so the hills however for now the Marsh is rimmed by an edging of white like a giant platter of green with a decorated edge.

The cakes are iced, the books are ready, and tomorrow we need a good day and masses of customers.