If you tell your friends in London that you're heading out to Romney Marsh it's likely that your announcement will be met by a blank stare. Some may know of the area thanks to its association with Dickens but for many folks this corner of Kent, barely an hour from central London, might as well be on the moon.
Those who do venture down to Romney Marsh mainly go to experience a wild landscape the like of which is found nowhere else in Britain. This large swathe of low-lying land was under the waters of the English Channel around 1000 years ago. As the marshland slowly rose above the receding sea waters, man began to make his tentative mark on the landscape.
Various sea ports were established, but with the constantly receding coastline the newly built harbour towns soon enough became inland settlements. Man has rarely been a match for nature's progress. Churches were built in most settlements and these now stand as the primary guardians of local history.
Above all, this area is perfect for a short walking break. The flat ground will appeal to those who are averse to steep climbs while the country pubs, scattered freely around the villages that dot the marsh, provide a place to replenish. In winter months they also offer a welcome respite from the cold winds that blow across the shelter-less landscape.
Drawing up a 12 mile circular route we walked from our overnight stay at the Royal Oak in Brookland and passed through the villages of Old Romney, St Mary in the Marsh and Ivychurch before returning back to Brookland. Each village offered somewhere to stop and rest and most pubs serve home-cooked food.
Look out on Romney Marsh for signs of the area's rich military history. Always considered the most likely landing point for an invasion force, you can still find several concrete pill boxes built in anticipation of a German landing in 1940. Long before that the area was expecting Napoleon to march into England and the Royal Military Canal was constructed as an optimistic defensive measure to thwart the invading army. An overnight stay allows you to see the landscape of Romney Marsh change dramatically with the sun's daily movement. The night skies here are superb, with very little light pollution away from the few main roads that cross the area. We stayed in the Royal Oak in Brookland, a cosy country pub with 5 guest rooms in a 16th century building next door to St Augustine Church (remarkable for its detached bell tower).
The pub is also well regarded for the quality of its food and in the Good Pub Guide 2012 has been given the 'Knife/Fork' accolade as well as being placed in the 'Top Pubs' category. For dinner we shared a delicious shank of Romney Marsh lamb (passing all those sheep in the fields had made us hungry) and a wagyu burger. Wagyu is a highly-prized form of Japanese beef that is particularly tender and velvety. It is only served rare. I have to admit I hadn't tasted beef of this quality since our visit to Japan last year. I don't know if it was the comfortable beds or the mixture of a good walk and a full, satisfied stomach, but we slept very well that night. The hearty full English breakfast in the morning meanwhile was soon burned off on our hike across the marsh.
If you live in the south east and are looking for somewhere different to explore for a day or two, a visit to Romney Marsh is highly recommended. For those who are visiting London and want to experience the wild and remote British countryside but don't have the time to travel far, a short train to southern Kent is a great option. Andy Jarosz is a freelance travel writer who also owns the 501 Places travel site. I stayed on a complimentary basis at the Royal Oak in Brookland as part of Tourism South East's Great Country Pubs campaign .