Friday, August 24, 2001

Walk 29 -- Richborough Roman Fort & St Augustine's Cross

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 108 days. Rosemary was 56 years and 250 days.
Weather: Baking hot, there was no respite from the sun.
Location: Richborough Roman Fort & St Augustine’s Cross.
Distance: 0 miles.
Total distance: 171 miles.
Terrain: Mown grass surrounded both these sites. I didn’t even put my walking boots on.
Tide: Don’t know.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.28 & 29 to get in and out of the site at St Augustine’s Cross.
Pubs: ‘The Greyhound’ in Sandwich where Colin enjoyed Bateman’s Mild and I enjoyed a shandy because I was even thirstier than yesterday!
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.8 at Richborough Roman Fort, and no.9 at St Augustine’s Cross.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We packed up our camp at Sandwich, and drove to Richborough. After looking round there and having our lunch at their thoughtfully provided picnic tables, we drove to St Augustine’s Cross.
At the end, we sat in the shade of some trees by the Cross to drink a cup of tea from our flasks. Then we drove home to Bognor. Whew! It’s hot!

The haze of yesterday had disappeared by this morning, and we were treated to a day of perfect blue skies, negligible wind and temperatures up to 30°C (86°F)! In other words—it was hot! Fortunately our tent was pitched in the shade of a tree; but even so, by the time we had packed everything away in the car, we were both bathed in sweat—sorry! “Horses sweat! Gentlemen perspire! and Ladies merely glow!” Well, I was ‘glowing’ a heck of a lot! We went into Sandwich and found the ‘real ale’ pub first in order to cool down a little.
The first site we visited was Richborough Roman Fort. Two thousand years ago, this site was by the sea at the southern end of the Wantsum Channel (which was up to half a mile wide) and the Isle of Thanet really was an island. Now Richborough is some two miles inland. Eighty-eight years after Caesar claimed to have ‘conquered’ Britannia—when in actual fact he was stranded in the Deal area for a few weeks by the weather and unexpected high tides which decimated his ships—the Romans came back in force and built their first fortification here at Richborough. They dug ditches from which they could repel the local Celts, and continued to land more and more troops with supplies.
Gradually they built up a city, called RVTVPIAE, which must have been of some importance because it had an amphitheatre. They built an enormous triumphal arch out of white marble (which they had imported all the way from Italy) and, after landing, all the Roman legions marched through it on their way to conquer the rest of Britannia. The first Roman road they built in Britain, Watling Street, leads away from the site towards LONDINIUM (London). Fortunes changed over the next few centuries, RVTVPIAE changed countless times, and eventually high walls had to be built to repel the Saxons in about the fifth century.
We followed the ‘tape tour’ which was very interesting and brought it all alive; but quite honestly, after two thousand years, there is not much left to see! It is just that this site is of huge significance in the history of the British Isles. The most prominent feature remains the outer walls which were constructed to repel the invading Saxons; but by the time they were built the Roman Empire was in decline and most of the Romans had already retreated to the warmer climes of their own country. A few of the original ditches have been dug out again, all that remains of the enormous four-sided marble arch is the base and the famous Watling Street is merely a farm track. We asked about the amphitheatre which is about half a mile away, and we were told that it is possible to get to it, though difficult. We would have had to struggle through a couple of fields where there are no footpaths, and there is hardly anything to see anyway—merely some grassy lumps. In view of the heat of the day, we decided not to bother.
We sat at one of their picnic tables which had been thoughtfully placed in the shade of a tree. We ate our lunch looking at the view of redundant cooling towers belonging to a redundant power station which we could see over the redundant walls of this redundant Roman fort, and we reflected on the irony of changing times!

Next we visited St Augustine’s Cross. St Augustine is reputed to have brought Christianity to our pagan shores when he landed at Pegwell Bay in 596AD and preached his first sermon on this spot. This was apparently enough to convert King Ethelbert and hence the whole of the British nation became Christians, discarding all their pagan practices. Bet it wasn’t as simplistic as that! However, this cross was erected in Victorian times to commemorate the beginnings of Christianity in southern England. The original plaque is in Latin, so another one was put beside it with a translation in English.
The area around the Cross was mown grass and partly in shade. So we brought our flasks from the car and enjoyed a cup of tea whilst sitting on the grass out of the heat of the sun. It was certainly not the weather for walking, we would have wilted within the first few yards! We decided to postpone the next part of the walk from Ramsgate to Broadstairs until September, and went home.

That ended Walk no.29, though it hadn’t really been a walk! We shall pick up Walk no.30 next time at the bus stop on Ramsgate Harbour. The journey home to Bognor on such a hot afternoon was horrid. We went across country, avoiding motorways because it was the Friday of a bank holiday weekend—now that we are retired, we always stay at home on bank holidays!

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