The Downlands behind the village of St. Margaret’s at Cliffe, although not far from the dramatic edge of the chalk cliffs that drops precipitously to the English Channel, appears relatively unremarkable at first glance, the gentle rolling quality of arable fields that dips and rises punctuated by irregular banks of shrubs and trees, being a sight that would not necessarily arouse much interest apart from helping to frame some bucolic sentiment about the mild English countryside. And it is not until one draws closer into the landscape that certain details provoke questions about this place. The bands of greenery, despite their apparent naturalness, rise curiously when up closer to them, and their man-made nature becomes apparent. Moreover, the trees seem no more than seventy or eighty years of age. Indeed, this correlates to that dark time of conflagration when this coastal area, the nearest point to the continent, was under threat of imminent attack from across the channel. On entering a thicket of nettles, brambles, hawthorn and Alder there are even more traces of this unsettled past as here and there are chunks of concrete jaggedly sticking out of the ground like upended icebergs. And at the top of the rise is what appears to be a large brickwork well, though with a door within its side, this was not a place that held water. As I trace the direction from where the door is the termination point, I realise that this follows the line of the trees, and become aware that the brickwork hole is the site of a large gun emplacement, and that the straight line of trees conceals what was once a track on which a truck delivered shells.
Furthermore, It becomes clear to me that all over this landscape there are similar lines of trees sitting atop of artificial rises, and the sinister nature of this place is revealed. Not only were large powerful canons situated here, but because of their placement at the top of natural rises in the land, there would also have been stop lines, and from the top of the mound I am standing on, I make out two octagonal pill boxes, their slit openings pointing towards the shallow valley beneath me. These would have created killing zones, with the two pill boxes at either end of the rise providing enfilade machine gun fire, and where an invading army would have been industrially mown down.
Winding back to Canterbury by avoiding the A roads and the main arterial M2 motorway, I meander through a countryside that seems to have maintained a distinct link with the past, as the high hedged lanes, hollow-ways and tucked in villages resemble a J R Tolkien pastoral scene, and there appears to be a determination to keep it this way, despite that fact that an earlier population of grafting agricultural workers has been displaced by city professionals desiring a real connection with a natural way of life, albeit one where their groceries are trucked in by Waitrose. Yet the ‘real’ past that these people strive to simulate never really existed as it was a dream dreamt up by an urban arts and crafts movement that extolled ancient virtues they believed were inherently self evidently, yet they had never really encountered the true brutishness at the dark heart of the English countryside.