Original article from Kent Live
“The World, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and the Romney Marsh.”
This is the quotation from a popular author which various visitor websites, public projects and local residents have clung to since.
It's the reason you now see the strap line "The fifth continent" on so many promotional materials about the Marsh.
It comes from The Ingoldsby Legends, a collection of stories and poetry written in the 1800s supposedly by Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Manor, but actually a pen-name of an English clergyman called Richard Harris Barham.
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No doubt at least part of Barham's tongue was in his cheek when he came up with the particular line on the Romney Marsh.
Certainly anyone living in Australia or either of the arctic regions is likely to be miffed.
But the reason so many people have clung to it is probably that it is easy to see what he was getting at.
After all Romney Marsh is a unique place.
For starters it is the largest coastal wetland on the south coast of England, which is why you get the flat, green fields, separated by a maze of ditches.
Famed for its emptiness, another feature is the sweeping skies and sense of solitude.
The wetland status is also the reason that people on the marsh died in huge numbers for many centuries of malaria.
In the past, people who lived on the Marsh were said to frequently suffer from malaria, then known as ague or marsh fever, which caused high mortality rates until the 1730s.
It remained a major problem until the completion of the Royal Military Canal in 1806, which greatly improved the drainage of the area.
The Royal Military Canal itself stretches for 28 miles, hugging the old cliff line that borders the Romney Marsh from Hythe in the north east to Cliff End in the south west.
It was conceived by Lt-Col Brown of the Royal Staff Corps of field engineers in 1804, the time of the Napoleonic Wars, as a way to ensure that an invasion by the French could not use the marsh as a bridgehead.
Napoleon's aggressive foreign policy was also the reason for another feature of the Marsh.
The Martello towers were built along the south coast – most numerously on the Marsh – to protect sluices from potential invading French forces.
Another important piece of Marsh history is its affinity with smuggling. The flat, almost empty landscape, numerous waterways and proximity to the Channel made for a smuggler's paradise from the 1600s into the 1800s.
The most notorious groups were the likes of the Hawkhurst Gang, the Mayfield Gang, and the Aldington Gang.
Smugglers on the Marsh were known as Owlers – rumoured to be derived from the owl-like sounds they used to communicate at night – and some of the dens they used are still in existence.
In modern times, the area is probably best known for its caravan holidays.
Sites can be found up and down the A259, many used by people as places of permanent residence.
The other roads on the Marsh tend to be much more narrow and winding, partly because of the hundreds of sewers and smaller drainage ditches and the importance of the grazing land.
There's also a novel lack of road signs in some places, making navigating across the Marsh confusing for outsiders.
Several minor roads have no finger posts at junctions at all and at others, it is possible to find two or three lanes apparently leading to the same village.
Yet it remains a hugely popular place for walkers and cyclists.
Visitors also tend to enjoy the stunning seaside location, with places like Greatstone home to a massive sandy beach and dunes that stretch for over two miles.
They also sit right next to Dungeness nature reserve.
Lying beneath the shadows of the huge power station towers, it's another beautiful, unique landscape that represents one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe.
There are more than 600 different types of plant – a third of all those found in Britain – and other rare wildlife like moths, bees, beetles, and spiders, many of them found nowhere else in Britain.
Unique is a word that is probably thrown around too easily.
But it is a fair one to describe Romney Marsh.
And with travel restrictions still in place amid the pandemic, people are likely to continue struggling to reach the likes of Europe, Asia, Africa and America any time soon.
The good news is that we have a magical place, so distinctive that people say it is like being on another continent, right here on our doorstep.