I returned to Sandling, having read more about the Junction, the plans for the Channel Tunnel of years ago, the building and the closure of the railway. It is a good starting point for a walk. Leave the station with all its tedious traits of the twenty first century, ticket machines and endless announcements, corporate branding and expensive fares. There are deep undercurrents of class conflicts all across the railways, between the workers and the managers, between the passengers and the companies, between those who build the rolling stock and maintain the track and those who make decisions about rates of pay and working conditions. But none of this must surface, none of this murmuring can be allowed to be heard.
This walk, like many others, should be repeated over and over again. Only then are the nuances revealed, the striking pose of a particular tree, the murky depth of water inside an abandoned brick tunnel. Through the wood and along a track towards Saltwood. Fine houses come in to view, at least one which is fabulously arts and crafts, and one or two others which are monumental and late eighteenth century. The new proud squires demanded blisters in the churches of their great deeds and pious charms. And yet no monument to enclosure, to those forced off the land, with hangings, branding, deportations, hunger.
The church of St Peter and St Paul is solidly built with good stained glass windows. This one was pointed out to me by a woman in the church, ‘after Burne-Jones’, she said. She had appeared from behind a door with a cup of tea. I said ‘hello’ as the door was opening. ‘I didn’t want to startle you’, I explained. ‘It’s ok’, she replied, ‘I had heard you’.
Any of the atmosphere is lost in reproduction, it needs to be seen in situ, in the church itself on a cold and damp January afternoon. It creates what is now described as an ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’. Spine-tingling in another time, mystical revelation in a time before that.
There are two stone sculptures on either side of the alter of St Peter and St Paul. One was partly obscured by the Christmas tree which was being taken down. A return visit will be needed – (and also, because returning home, I realised I did not know the story of these statues).
I walked to Hythe, and St Leonard’s church there, and then back to Sandling, past the castle, and the church. And waited in the winter light for the train to take me home.