by Janis on 6th July 2021 / 0 comments

Explore the unique landscape of Romney Marsh

and discover remote rural villages, historic architecture, and some good ol’smuggling tales

It’s time to settle in for another relaxing, scenic road trip around Kent. On this charming tour, we’re visiting the weird and wonderful surroundings of Romney Marsh with its abundance of grazing sheep.

The extraordinary region of Romney Marsh is often referred to as ‘The Fifth Continent’. Once you’ve toured the diverse landscape, discovered its incredible natural beauty, centuries of history and unforgiving coastline, you’ll appreciate why.

I find creating our Kent road trips so satisfying and rewarding. Just when you believe you know a location so well, with its layers and layers of rich history, there’s always more to uncover. Romney Marsh is no exception; it’s astonishing to believe that New Romney was once a harbour town and one of the ancient Cinque Ports.

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Our Romney Marsh Road Trip Destinations

We'll be discovering;

Hythe, Dymchurch, New Romney, Dungeness, Lydd, St. Clement Church - Old Romney, Appledore and Port Lympne Reserve.

You can click on the link to jump to the section, and to return, just click on the title.

The Map & Route - 45 miles (72.5km)
We decided on a circular route starting and ending in Hythe on the edge of Romney Marsh. Hythe can be accessed from the M20 (jct. 11); the road trip’s entire loop is only around 45 miles (72.5km).
A miniature steam engine from the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway leaving the platform.
The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Don’t let me fool you into believing that this a fleeting Kent road trip. There are so many fascinating towns and villages along the route that you’ll be jumping in and out of your car to discover the locations first-hand.

How could you resist the surreal shoreline of Dungeness, the isolated medieval churches dotted across the sparse wetlands and the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Heritage Railway?

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The start of our Romney Marsh road trip is at the quaint market town of Hythe. Strictly speaking, Hythe is just on the edge of Romney Marsh, but hey, let’s not quibble. If you enjoy a demure seaside town, then Hythe is definitely for you, as it has that delightful laid-back feel without the candy floss and arcades.
Fishing boats on the beach at Hythe with the Martello Towers in the background
The shoreline at Hythe

The slightly unusual aspect of Hythe is that the historic High Street is around ½ mile from the delightful, cobbled beach. Not that this is an issue because you get to explore the Royal Military Canal as you stroll between the two.

The Royal Military Canal is a 28 mile (45km) stretch of waterway built as a defence against Napoleon. It runs from Seabrook near Folkestone to just outside Hastings in the south. The canal has a lovely, dappled tree-lined pathway to stroll along. However, if you want to enjoy Hythe from a different aspect, you can even hire a boat.

Boats moored up on the Military Canal in Hythe
Boats moored up on the Military Canal in Hythe

The Old Town of Hythe is full of character all through the High Street; independent stores and historic buildings are interwoven with the modern town essentials.

A great place to set off for your Romney Marsh road trip.

Where to stay

- Hythe Imperial Hotel, Spa & Golf – This charming 4-star Victorian hotel nestled within 44-acres of land with views across the English Channel. It offers spacious rooms and spa facilities.
- The Old Post Office Boutique Guesthouse – Located in Hythe Old Town's heart is within a few steps of historic inns and a selection of local restaurants.

Where to visit in Hythe

  • The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, this miniature railway is huge fun for all ages. It offers a hefty dose of nostalgia with all the steam and sounds from an old diesel locomotive.
  • St. Leonard’s Church and Crypt, houses and an intriguing Ossuary. The ossuary is fascinating, with skulls and bones stacked high within the crypt. Check the opening times of the ossuary as they are very limited.

Hiking and cycling around Romney Marsh

If you fancy discovering the surrounding footpaths and bridleways around Romney Marsh, head to the Ordnance Survey website.  The local OS Map covering the region is no. 125, ‘Romney Marsh, Rye and Winchelsea’.
We head onto our second destination, journeying south out of Hythe on the A259 for just 5 miles (8km). The kiss-me-quick and historic smuggling village of Dymchurch. And, yes, Dymchurch has a welcoming sandy beach, so bring your bucket and spade and let’s build some sandcastles.
The cars driving through Dymchurch High Street with it's mix of historical buildings
Dymchurch High Street

Dymchurch has an incredible amount of rich history dating back centuries and is a location that children will love. Dymchurch offers amusement arcades, a miniature railway and ice-cream parlours.

The historical village may initially appear slot machines and inflatables. Still, as you stroll around and discover the charming architecture and picturesque cottages, you’ll uncover Dymchurch’s diverse past.

A selection of small shopfronts selling ice-cream, confectionary, gifts and beach items in Dymchurch
Dymchurch, a traditional seaside town

Keep a lookout for the unusual Martello Towers dotted along the Kent coastline. There were originally 74 towers built along the south coast of England between 1805 and 1812 as a defence against a French invasion.

Three towers remain in Dymchurch, and you can visit Martello Tower no.24 free of charge with the English Heritage.

We continue along the A259 to New Romney, which is just a short hop of 4.3 miles (7km).

I really loved visiting New Romney, a quaint little town full of independent shops, tempting cafés and restaurants and fascinating history around every corner.

New Romney High Street with its well kept historical buildings
New Romney High Street

As I mentioned above, New Romney is one of the ancient Cinque Ports. The Cinque Ports charter was established pre-Royal Navy in 13th-century to recruit mariners for the Crown. During this time, New Romney was a harbour town, and the River Rother flowed through.

Today New Romney is now over a mile from the sea due to a severe storm in 1287 that silted up New Romney harbour and vast areas of the Kent coastline.

The traditional Norman, stone-built, St Nicholas Church in New Romney, Kent
St Nicholas Church, New Romney

When you visit the medieval Norman church of St Nicholas, you’ll notice that its West Door is considerably below street level. This is due to the mud, silt and sand deposited in the town by the Great Storm.

Strolling around the charming streets of New Romney, you’ll discover some fascinating architecture; head to West Street to find a row of quaint charismatic cottages.

Where to stay in New Romney

Romney Bay House Hotel – This charming hotel is located along a private stretch of the Romney Marsh coastline. Offering sea views, free parking and an on-site restaurant.
- Camping Pods, Marlie Holiday Park – For something a little different, why not stay in a family Camping Pod? With garden views and all the facilities and enjoyment of a holiday park.

Where to visit in New Romney

  • Put on your comfy shoes and head off on a picturesque coastal stroll along the Littlestone and Greatstone shoreline.
  • If you enjoy a round of golf, book a tee-off time at the championship links golf course at Littlestone Golf Club.

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Jumping back in the car, we’re off to the curious and surreal landscape of Dungeness.

However, let’s head down Littlestone Road and pick up the coastline along the shores of Littlestone and Greatstone. The journey to Dungeness hugs the seashore for around 7 miles (11.5km) all the way into the incredible Dungeness Nature Reserve.

The old lighthouse of Dungeness behind a wooden picket fence.
The old lighthouse at Dungeness

The untamed landscape of the Dungeness private estate sits upon a shingle headland stretching out across the English Channel. And boy, on a chilly, windy day, it truly is breathtaking in more ways than one.

The abandoned fishing boats and rusty old trawling machinery create a spooky derelict maritime graveyard. Still, this is the alluring appeal of Dungeness and what makes Gary and I return time and again, all year round.

The other unique aspects to be found in Dungeness are its numerous lighthouses. There have been seven over the centuries, and three remain. Dungeness is also the end-of-the-line for the Romney, Hythe, and Dymchurch Railway.

The modern, fifth, tall, Dungeness lighthouse in the background, with the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch steam train, arriving at Dungeness station in the foreground.
Dungeness , a unique place

However, perhaps the most unusual feature in Dungeness is its Nuclear Power Station which is still operational. The original power station “A” built-in 1965 shut its doors in 2006. Dungeness “B” has been going strong since 1983 and has been granted a licence until 2028.

Heading back through Dungeness, keep a lookout for the black and yellow weatherboarded Prospect Cottage. The charming cottage was once owned by the late English film director Derek Jarman (who we refer to later) and now owned by the Art Fund.

Where to stay in Dungeness

- Coastguard Lookout – A perfect retreat for a bit of indulgence and a tranquil overnight stay. Take a peek at the converted coastguard lookout tower. It’s incredible, you won’t want your evening to end.

Where to visit in Dungeness

  • Explore the Dungeness Nature Reserve and discover the diverse wildlife found in the harsh surroundings along this shoreline.
  • Of course, you can’t miss the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. If you didn’t jump aboard the miniature railway further up the line, look out for the chuff-chuffing locomotive pulling into Dungeness.
Hopping back in the car, pick up the only road available, and that’s the Dungeness Road. Keep on this route heading slightly northwest, and you’ll arrive at our next destination Lydd, just around 5 miles (8km) up the road.
The 15th-century Old Court Hall of Lydd in New Romney, Kent
The Old Court Hall of Lydd

Lydd is the most southerly town in Kent; bearing in mind, Lydd is reasonably small it has the longest church in the county. The 13th-century All Saints Church is known locally as the ‘Cathedral of the Marsh’ and is 199ft (60.7m) in length.

Lydd has plenty of character throughout its narrow streets, especially around Coronation Square. Here you’ll spot the medieval courthouse, timbered-framed homes and quaint, picturesque cottages.

With Lydd’s vicinity to New Romney, it became a member of the Cinque Ports during the 13th-century as a “limb” of Romney.

While strolling around Lydd, you’ll probably hear the occasional light-aircraft overhead; this is because Lydd has a local airport named Lydd Ferryfield initially. It was the first airport to be built in the UK following the end of WWII.

If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".
Kent's Strangest Tales Cover
You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.

Our next stop is only 4 miles (6.7km) north. From Lydd, pick up the B2075, passing by Lydd Airport and Lydd Golf Club. Turn left onto the A259 towards Old Romney, which is a tiny village in Romney Marsh.

You’ll notice all across the flat marshes and wetlands there’s a snaking network of waterways and draining ditches, these are known locally as “sewers”.

At Old Romney, follow the signs to St Clement church which is a little turning on the righthand side. The picturesque church was constructed during the 12th-century with just a nave and a chancel. The aisles were added in the 13th-century.

St Clement Church was used by Walt Disney Productions in 1963 while making the Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow, movie. The series of smuggling adventure books were written by Russell Thorndike and set around Romney Marsh.

The slate headstone at the grave of Derek Jarman in St. Clement Church, Old Romney, Kent
Derek Jarman's grave
While strolling around the ancient churchyard of St Clement, we came across a sizeable modern slate gravestone, which was the headstone of Derek Jarman. The English film director who lived in Dungeness died in St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, in 1994 and was buried at Old Romney.

Escape for a few days

Are you looking for that ‘perfick’ holiday hideaway to relax in while you discover the Garden of England?

After a day exploring the Kent coast and its many historic castles enjoy one of the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

Popping back onto the B2080, turn right and head northwest for 6 ½ miles (10.km). You’ll cross the Royal Military Canal that you left behind in Hythe, and you’ll arrive at the beautiful little village of Appledore.
Tables & chairs outside the traditional Black Lion pun in Appledore, Kent
The Black Lion Pub, Appledore

Appledore on the northern edge of Romney Marsh is unquestionably stunning; I was quite taken aback when we arrived. The main street that runs through Appledore is lined with idyllic country cottages, charming homes, a friendly tea-room and a very welcoming village pub.

Similar to the town of New Romney, Appledore was once a port on the estuary of the River Rother and capable of mooring over 200 ships in its harbour. The same fate befell Appledore as it did with New Romney during the Great Storm of 1287.

Our Kent road trips

If you’ve fallen in love with the county of Kent, we’ve created a few road trips around the “Garden of England” that we believe you will enjoy too.

We start to weave our way back across the Kent countryside towards Hythe, our starting location. However, we have one last stop on this Romney Marsh road trip, and that’s to Port Lympne Reserve. Yes, Port Lympne Safari Park is home to gorillas, big cats, bears and rhinos.

From Appledore, we’re heading northeast and picking up the B2067 all the way to Port Lympne Reserve, which is a distance of around 11 ½ miles (18.5km). Passing by Gusbourne Estate winery and many more of Kent’s pretty villages, including Hamstreet.

Port Lympne Safari Park is such an incredible experience for all the family. You stroll amongst the woodland and discover the magnificent wildlife. You also have the option of jumping in the back of a safari truck and soak up the African experience face to face across the Kent savannah.

A close-up of a lion resting at Port Lympne Safari Park in Kent
A lion at Port Lympne Safari Park

If a few hours at Port Lympne is not enough, you can turn your visit into a mini-break and stay overnight in the safari park. Click on the accommodation link to book your panoramic bubble pod, or a luxury stay in their 4* boutique hotel.

To complete our circular road trip, it’s now the short journey of 4 miles (6.5km) back to Hythe, where we embarked on this adventure.

Staying in Port Lympne Reserve

- Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve – Located deep in Kent’s savannah in Port Lympne safari park. Enjoy a unique getaway and wake up to the roar of Africa.

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