On my last day in Kent I saw Winchelsea Bay which is vast and shingly, and, further east, Camber Sands which is vast and sandy. Camber Sands faces due south and way off to the west we could see Fairlight, towards Hastings and, to the east, Dungeness. This is a favourite holiday spot and I assume the wind abates a bit in the summer. The light was incredibly beautiful and a thin veil of silvery sand blew across the ribbed beach. It got into my shoes and my ears and everywhere between, but what a special beach.
I couldn't hang about, as I was heading for a farm on the edge of the marsh to meet Deryck Body, a friend of a friend, who said I could park in his yard. Deryck has lived on this farm for all of his 87 years and, while his grandsons now do the farming, he is still plays an active part and lives in an annexe. The borders in front of the farm house are all perfect and the grass and edges the envy of anyone with a lawn. This is all Deryck's work, as is the vegetable garden and the asparagus beds, and the neatly clipped hedges.
We sat in his parlour drinking tea and he told me about farming on the marsh, his parents, and his beloved with Betty who died 12 years ago.
Having run pretty wild, helping on the farm, Deryck was sent, aged eight, to a boarding school, 21 miles away, in Goudhurst. He stayed until he was 14. The school, with just 14 pupils, had been started by a Reverend J J Kendon who had worked in the mid 19th century to improve the living conditions of the hop-pickers who came from London to work. Deryck may not have been in school for long (long enough he felt, I am sure!), but he is the most educated and intelligent man to talk to; he knows what he needs to know and a lot more besides.
|The vegetable patch|
|The Cottage and its garden|
He says he is a 'peasant farmer', and that his was a proper sustainable farm, “mainly sheep, but you did a bit of everything”. He gets up with the light and he enjoys his work. The sheep fertilise the land (“the richest pasture in England”) and “fertility is your bank as a farmer”. Betty was a farmer's daughter from Somerset and she did a bit of everything too – cured hams, made jams, milked the cow. “She wouldn't have me in the kitchen!”
He could barely make a cup of tea when Betty died, but he can now.
When their two sons grew up Deryck passed the farm on to them and took up his second career. “I had always looked forward to thatching in the winter months so I looked to improve my methods of long straw thatching.” In the early 80s he built a Cottage – in miniature but big enough for an adult to stand up in - for his grandchildren, timber framed with a thatched roof, and a perfect little kitchen with miniature table and chairs. It has chestnut palings round it to keep the sheep out of its beautiful garden and asparagus beds.
I felt truly enriched for talking with Deryck, and sad to say goodbye the next morning. He lent me a couple of his books. I felt a bit ashamed of my 21st century lifestyle, as I checked my emails and switched on my satnav!