I leave the train at Sandling station. It seems curiously quiet and still. I have passed this station hundreds of times and never noticed it. Now I have the opportunity to admire it’s Tudor-Beathan architecture and the rather pleasant surroundings.
This was once a much more grand place, and there is an extensive history, plus some excellent photographs and maps at the Disused Stations website.
There are still remnants of a platform from an earlier time when this was Sandling Junction (there had been calls to call it Sandling Park Junction) and it was possible to catch a train to Hythe and Sandgate. It must have been a lovely journey. It was once intended that this line would be extended to Folkestone Harbour and be used to run the boat trains.There was speculation that this was prevented by opposition from local land owners. Other suggestions had been to make the station at Hythe more central to the town, and to run a railway along the north bank of the canal. And if nothing else, people asked at a public meeting in the town in 1904, could they not at least have a through train to and from London, avoiding the change at Sandling. The newspaper report in The Folkestone Herald and Hythe and Sandgate Standard records ‘applause’ at this point. Although reading through those newspaper reports anyone who might be considered a commuter seemed to be satisfied with arriving in London around 10am and leaving again at 4pm. Much more civilized times than now.
I leave the station and follow the disused track. There is a well built looking tunnel but I avoid this. The Channel Tunnel Report which was published in March 1930, suggested that Sandling Junction would be the terminus for the English end. This tunnel might once have taken passengers to France. There was also a proposal to construct a bridge from Folkestone to Cap Gris-Nez which would have been 200 feet above the water. The report also considered a ‘tube’ which lay on the floor of the sea, and a barrage across the water from Deal to Calais. These two ideas were dismissed as ‘impractical’. If the engineering challenges could be met, and the necessary funds raised, the estimated date of the opening was put as 1940. One wonders what the implications of all that might have been.
Instead of the tunnel, I follow the steps up the embankment into a wood. It’s one of those places were the trees are bare and there is a dense carpet of copper coloured leaves. Many of the trees have bleached-white trunks and branches grown into fantastic shapes. From the edge of the wood there are glimpses across the fields of Saltwood which has all manner of interesting buildings. That will require a return visit with the requisite Pevsner.
There are early morning runners and a man with a dog.
‘Nice looking dog’, I say
‘Yes, nearly nine years old, past his prime’, he pauses, ‘just like me!’
‘And me’, I add
Now the walk is towards Lympne and I wonder exactly where it was that Cavor and Bedford build the machine and created the Cavorite which shot them into space. They went with little more than a cricket cap, towel and slippers and, if I remember correctly, a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare.
The view from the top of the hills at Lympne, over Romney Marsh and to the sea is fantastic. It can be termed dramatic, and the drama is heightened by the increasingly wild and free-form sea. For a couple of hundred yards it is sandy coloured, but further out it is a deep, salty turquoise with the tops of the waves rolling into white surf.
There are some spaces and buildings which have such a serene quality that one wishes to live there in perpetuity. It is as if they are carriers of an atmosphere from an earlier age, some fantastic time way back in the past. Lympne Castle is one such place. There is an immediate sense of Arts and Crafts; the influence of the architect Robert Lorimer who helped with the restoration in the 1900s.
Next to the castle, the church of St Peter’s. The origins are twelfth century and again, it needs its own page. I open the small blue door carefully, hoping that it is open. The latch yields to the pressure applied and I am in a small lobby. There is little light, but another door which I can faintly read, ‘Be careful of step down’. I have to feel the door for the latch this time, aware of the wood and the metal of which it is built. The latch is lifted and light is found.
It is icy outside, but the contrast with the warmth within is unexpected. A woman is arranging holly branches and making decorations for the interior.
‘Gosh, it feels lovely and warm in here after being outside’.
‘It’s got underfloor heating’, she replies, ‘it’s all very clever. The heat comes from deep within the ground. They drilled right down through the earth’s crust!’, she laughs.
‘It has worked well’, she continued, ‘they tried all sorts of things before, heaters in the corners and on the walls but either the heat went out of the door or it went straight up and warmed the ceiling’.
Having rested for a while, refreshed the spirit with some conversation and nourished the soul, it is time to leave again.
Now the threatened storm is beginning to threaten more seriously. By the time the sea is encountered again at Hythe, icy sleet is blowing to the shore, the wind is louder and the waves longer and more powerful. The walk along the shore to Folkestone is elemental and brilliant.