I hope you had a great weekend. I did. I was working on ‘The Eastling’ when not relaxing at the bar or entertaining at home, putting in a claim with EasyJet for my cancelled flight and listening to the party at LOS in Yialos at four in the morning. (I was awake anyway, and you can’t hear it from inside the house.) It’s hot here, of course, it’s August, and it’s busy in the harbour but more relaxed in the village, as always.
Now then, on my ‘Rainbow Tour’ (as I named it after Evita) we have reached the south coast, and from Brighton, I travelled to Romney Marsh, the ‘my home town’ of the Tom Lehrer song. [“No fellow could ignore, the little girl next door, she sure looked sweet in her first evening gown. Now there’s a charge for what she used to give for free, in my home town…” And other naughty verses.] So, today’s blog is about Saddling.
Saddling is a place that doesn’t exist. If you have read the first novel in the series, ‘The Saddling‘ you might even think that it’s a mythical place that our hero, Tom Carey, wandered into, arriving as he did through the mist and more or less stepping back in time. In the stories it is real but ignored and only connects with the outside world on its own terms, and we do have to wonder how can that be possible these days, but it’s a novel, so it doesn’t matter. The point is, the village of Saddling, where all four of the books will take place, was inspired by Fairfield church, seen in these photos, which is a real place. An isolated church more or less in the middle of nowhere that’s still up-kept thanks to local people and the Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust to whom I will be sending a small donation when my pension comes in. It’s one of those places that has a sign outside: ‘If you want the key, it’s in the box outside the first farmhouse to your left’ which is about half a mile away or something. We didn’t go inside, my driver was keen to get on, but I did stand there for a while and take in some sights and sounds forgotten since youth.
At the church door
Fairfiled. ‘Saddling’ church
We’d already had lunch in The Woolpack, a 15th-century inn out near Brookland and had visited Brookland church which was open and came complete with an honesty box for someone’s locally grown marrows. If you are ever down that way, a day on the marsh is an experience not to be missed. We drove from Brighton to Hastings, through Winchelsea and Rye and then down onto the marsh; Brookland, Fairfield (take a map) and then onto New Romney where, that evening, I was to meet some friends we know from Symi.
Classic Romney Marsh (or Saddling)
I had a perfect stay at The Broadacre, a hotel I used to hang out at with my eldest brother in the 1980s. It’s only slightly changed now, very friendly and with everything, you’d need including very helpful staff, though it wasn’t costly. I had a room that opened onto the garden where I’d sit at night watching the foxes. I was rather impressed.
The zodiac font in Brookland church
Later, I went to dinner with Christina and Roger at The Ship Hotel at the other end of the high street. It was in the children’s room of this hotel/pub that I, when about six, famously threw an older brother over a sofa and cut his head open. I don’t remember that apart from it being a story from my childhood. I think I have been long forgiven. On the way to dinner, we took the backroad to view the church and my father’s flagpole – one was erected in his honour after he died in 1997 to commemorate his work on the town and district council and his job as town mayor for four years. We found the church open, and so had a look inside where I enquired about the organ…
The pipes are a short distance from the console, giving a brief delay between keys and sound.
This was the instrument I learned to play on when I was 15/16 and the vicar, on hearing my ‘returning home’ story kindly let me play it. Later, she stopped me as they were about to have a service and then asked me to play the first hymn which I did rather badly as I’ve not played the organ for many years and I don’t like playing in public at the best of times. But, it was an experience, and Christina and Roger were able to get some photos and a short video for me – thank you!
“Seated one day at the organ, I was weary and ill at ease…” That’s a song by Sullivan, but I look rather Monty Python here, except I was clothed.
And then on to dinner, where an old school friend popped up to make arrangements for the next day, and finally back to my foxhole for a nightcap and a sit in the garden at night to reflect on the journey so far. There are more delights of the marsh to come in the next couple of days.
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