|North Kent - a place which I had never been before but where Moth grew up. A festive visit to his old mate there perfectly combined with an opportunity for Mr Clark to show me his boyhood haunts and the Medway sites. After my recent invalidity, I was gagging to get out and about and the great thing about the Medway sites is that 1) they're all so close together, 2) don't involve much walking and 3) you can do all of them in a day.
Our first stop in the pouring, freezing rain was The Chestnuts, which we had already booked an appointment to see. Please see the miscellaneous note below for access. Joan unlocked her main gate and let us in, proffering a visitor's book for us to sign and big umbrellas to keep us dry. She assumes you know little of the history of this site and with her laminated information sheets dives into her guided tour, which I have to say, I thought was very good. She was well-informed, accurate and it's clear she cares deeply about her megaliths, moaning cynically about English Heritage's lack of passion for such places. She worries about the custodianship of her stones after she's gone: "Who'll care for them then?"
Also on Joan's land lies the bisected Addington long barrow.
This great monument of enormous megaliths comprises what is left of a whopping burial chamber, aligned, Joan thought, on the winter solstice. Carefully selected, shaped sarsens stand in a line 10 to 15 metres across making up the portal stones and main interior chamber which is all that is left now, but these are incredibly impressive. It remined me of Pentre Ifan
, but without the cuttlefish topping. I liked the glistening of them in the drizzly rain and the way the peppermint-green lichens shone out of the surface of the stones. The idly strewn capstones, which must weigh 15 tons or more each lie at the back of the stones which still stand. What a fabulous thing to have in your back garden! What a huge responsibility! Fortunately for us all, they're in the safe hands of Joan Bygrave. Learn from her, ploughmen.
Once mistaken for two monuments - bit of a burial chamber one side, bit of a stone circle the other, a road was driven through the middle in the 19th century. Only it isn't two monuments. At one end is a burial chamber, for sure, but what was once mistaken for a stone circle is in fact the kerbstones of a beautiful long barrow. Joan lovingly preserves it and proudly told us that, thanks to her guadianship, 47 different species of wild plant grow there now. She has had it designated as a nature reserve.About a mile away as the crow flies is Coldrum.
Coldrum and coke, please. Barcardi's fine, on the rocks. I could have done with a drink having visited Coldrum, for, rather stupidly, I had on my riding wellies rather than my grippy wellies so found myself slipping and sliding through the 500 ms of leaf-mulchy, muddy track through the fields to reach this place. And a what a place!
Like a rock 'n roll star, the chamber perches on top of the edge of a ridge, so that its stones look for all the world like some Freddie Mercury figure, arms aloft, allowing itself to bask in the glory of its adoring fans. Climb the steps to the left and rise up behind the 'stage' to see the pattern of placement of the kerbstones marking out the depth of the longbarrow. And look over the Freddie Mercury chamber and you see that the the rolling fields of Kent are the audience. Following ocifant's instructions, we parked at the Shell garage and squelched off through the mud, initially following the North Downs Way enroute for the White Horse stone. This is NOT the path you need. Instead, walk round the back of the camper van sales park (there was a very nice one for about £5k I quite liked) and cross the railway line. The path takes you up the edge of a field at the edge of the trees. About 100 metres along you'll see the megalith loitering on your left.
A ranch style fence indicates that you're not meant to walk on the top of the barrow, but people clearly had. Had the weather been better, I may have done so, just to get nearer the chamber, but it was so wet, and I so fearful of going arse-over-tit, I decided against.
This is a cracker of a monument, grand and spectacular and a real surprise to find such a beast lurking in Kent.
Standing broadside at the chalky escarpment, the stone screamed "Tomb!" to us, though there is no evidence of anything else to justify our assertion. It just felt 'tomby' on account of it being big and longer than it is tall.Knowing how much I like dolmens, Moth was quite excited about our next stop: Kit's Coty which is just over the A229 from the White Horse stone, but rather more difficult to drive to owing to a complex 21st century road layout.
Parking precariously in the recommended spot, we squidged the 200 metres up the muddy sunken path to the top of the hill and there it was - looking as cute as a puppy dog's nose.
With great views over the Medway valley, in spite of the murky weather, this little construction is rudely caged, with a fuck-off spiky fence reminding me of a fluffy chinchilla sitting inside razor wire. But look closely and you see why. The interior portal stone has been a honey pot to the graffiti bees. Mostly delicately carved in classical caps in the late 19th century, they nevertheless have all the charm of repetitious spray-painted 'Fucks' on a subway train. The delicious thing about Kit's Coty is, I think, it's proportions. It doesn't overwhelm or impress, it simply enchants with its human scale.
The mudslide walk back down the hill didn't do my Derbyshire-damaged knee much good though.
Just 500ms as the crow flies from Kit's Coty is Little Kit's Coty (Countless stones) on the lower ground below.
The sign says twenty. Moth counted n-n-n-nineteen. Countless? I think not, baby puppy. Whatever the number they're certainly countable, though you have to have a very lively imagination to reconstruct in your mind the fabulous monument that this once was. A huge burial chamber at some point has just laid down and died. Hopelessly collapsed, its bleached long-dead elephant bones lie strewn ingloriously in a heap. You have to be keen on stones to be impressed by this. It made me want to weep.
Nope, you don't have to be Superman or wear blue tights to fly round and see this lot. They're all there, close and convenient.
In a large field opposite Little Kit's Coty
lies the natural outcrop of the Coffin Stone. We could see it clearly, but it was right in the middle of a crop of developing brassicas and we walked as far along the field edge as we could, but the light was fading fast and despite attempts I failed to get a decent photo of it. However, even from the distance from which we viewed it, it looked monumentally huge.
You must book to see The Chestnuts. It's on private property owned by Joan Bygrave. Joan also owns the Addington long barrow but you can see this from the lane without booking.
Call Joan - she asks that you call her in advance please, and not when you arrive at the gate! - on 01732 840220.
She gives a nice little guided tour and takes her responsibilities as custodian of the sites very seriously.
Posted by Jane
31st December 2003ce
Edited 1st January 2004ce
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