The Romney Mashes are undeniably a unique part of England, with an atmosphere all of their own.
The nineteenth century rector of Snargate, Richard Barham, famously said “The world according to the best geographers is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh.”
The special atmosphere of this vast, sparsely populated area is not to everyone’s tastes. Some find it bleak or even ominous, but it is impossible to deny that this peculiar corner of Kent has a beauty and appeal that makes it essential to visit.
This is where Lydd comes into its own. For those who find the marsh to be desolate and uninviting, this small town provides a sanctuary – a cosy haven where you are surrounded by charming old streets and welcoming locals.
At the eastern end of the High Street the spectacular All Saints Church dominates. Far larger a building than a town of this size would normally be blessed with, it is known locally as “the cathedral of the marshes” and any visit should start here.
Impossibly old (some parts are thought to date to the 5th Century) and with one of the tallest towers in Kent at 132 feet, it is one of the most impressive places of worship in the south east.
Several relics are on display inside, but if you head up to the alter a plaque commemorating the life of Thomas Godfrey makes the most interesting reading.
The High Street runs west from the church and contains two modern convenience stores, a free cash machine, and also a post office.
But dominating the street is the George Hotel, a building so typical of an old coaching inn you feel obliged to ask where you should stable your horse. The traditional look is not continued inside, but with rooms from £50 or less then this is an outstanding option if you wish to base yourself in the area and take advantage of both the marsh and nearby Camber Sands, Dungeness and Rye. For that reason the hotel is particularly popular so it is recommended to book ahead for the best deals.
Visitors to Lydd are rewarded for exploring away from the High Street. An essential stop should be the Lydd Museum, located in the old fire station on Queen Street and dedicated to telling the history of this exceptionally individual little town. Entry is free, but opening times are limited to just a few dates a year so it is strongly advised to check their website before heading out.
Lydd is also home to the world premier James Bond resource. The 007 Magazine and Archive, located at 6 New St and open to the public on weekdays from 2pm to 6pm contains the most comprehensive collection of Bond magazines and more, and is naturally a Mecca for fans and collectors.
That the glamorous world of James Bond should find a home in this small town on the Romney Marshes is perhaps not all that surprising. Nearby Lydd airport, now just home to a flying school, was once a place beloved of film starts and VIPs. When it opened in 1954 it was the base for Silver City Airways who offered celebrities and the well-to-do the opportunity to fly with their cars on a Bristol Superfreighter over to Le Touquet and within five years it was handing a quarter of a million passengers annually.
Visiting the airport today (when we visited we were – uniquely for an airport – the only people in the entire building) there are panels on the wall detailing the surprising history of the place, with photos of Gregory Peck and Dirk Bogarde boarding planes very much at odds with the modern day scene.
There are however plans to reinstate commercial flights from Lydd to the continent, and so who knows … Perhaps this peculiar and winsome town will become home to the executive jet set once again?
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