It's well known that landscapes shift and change gradually over time, but it's quite something to learn that our vineyards were under seawater a thousand years ago. The 1086 Domesday Book cites important fisheries in our village. Appledore, our home village, was a busy maritime town throughout the Middle Ages, connected to the Cinque Ports of the south-east coast and directly opposite the Isle of Oxney, with the River Rother and the English Channel lapping at its doors.
Gradual silting of the waterways led to the slow, managed reclamation of the land. The Rhee Wall (rhee is an Old English word for river) held a ridge of canals constructed in the 13th century from Appledore to the coastline at New Romney, an attempt to keep trade via water transport going. But by the end of the 15th century, the oozing over-silting overcame such efforts. And so we have the Romney Marsh we know today.
On the nose
The smell of the sea carries across the six or so miles from the Channel into our vineyards. On days of north-westerly wind, it’s noticeable on the nose. Between Gusbourne and the sea, there’s plenty for the visitor to note. From the route of the Royal Military Canal to the scattered emplacements of Martello towers, the area speaks of defence against invasion from Napoleonic times to WWII. Running from Hythe to Dungeness, a 13-mile, 15-inch gauge railway built in 1927 was requisitioned during the war for Operation Pluto (pipeline under the ocean) to carry fuel for the D-Day landings. It’s now a visitor attraction with rides running through eight stations.
But the Marsh is probably best known today as a gentle place where sheep do safely graze. Romney Marsh lambs are celebrated for their tender texture and flavoursome juiciness. Unlike their mountain-bred cousins, these salt marsh lambs feed on plants that are rich in sea minerals, meaning the meat retains more moisture and melts in the mouth. The iodine-rich vegetation nullifies bacteria at source, reducing the need for chemical treatment to keep the animals healthy.
From the salt marsh pastures to history lessons and a tasting of Gusbourne’s award-winning sparkling and still wines, visitors find many reasons to visit Romney Marsh and discover the fascinations of this corner of the Garden of England.
Come visit us at Gusbourne. Book one of our guided vineyard tours or just pop in for a self-guided tour – no booking required. And make sure to spend some time exploring more of our beautiful corner of Kent.
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