Walking towards the mound, it became obvious the knoll was so much more than a hilltop – much higher than the surrounding hillside and quite irregular. Scrambling up, I noted the ground was very chalky and full of burrows, and not a dome shaped mound, but more of a boomerang. Once on the top, the views previously sneered at for not encompassing the Marsh, seemed quite beautiful on the summer’s evening. My memories of a limited view were correct but the scene of towards West Hythe and Dymchurch was beautiful.
After walking up the knoll and fully appreciating the view, I was eager to include it in my new novel set in Saxon times and I used my own experiences as I wrote:
Here, Cym, who worked as hard as any man, but still remembered the fun to be had as a boy, looked at his brother with an unspoken challenge. Alfrid gave a broad smile and began to race up the mound, with Cym just a stride behind him. They slipped on flints, in shapely white and grey, reminding them of childish fun when they declared these were the bones of departed Romans coming to the surface. Sliding on the fine gravelly earth at the edge of burrows, the brothers recalled the times they longed to be a rabbit or a fox and explore the depths of the burial mound. Side by side, the summit was reached and, as young men, they were the first to survey Romney Marsh on this new day. (written in July 2020)
My writing led me to wonder how much Aldington Knoll appeared in the Dr Syn novels by Russell Thorndike, as I was sure this was how I had first learned about it. I found a few references but sadly only fleeting. The description in the books is more of the smugglers and their antics than the knoll itself. Here is one reference:
On the first night it will be necessary for you and me to command the beach, and when the pack ponies leave the hills, the Upton brothers will fire the great beacon from Aldington Knoll, which will bring the luggers inshore. But on the second night, I shall leave you in command of the beach, and no one but the Scarecrow himself must fire the beacon.
Not to be defeated, I wondered if the location featured in any other novels. Internet searches took me to a short story: Mr Skelmersdale in Fairyland, by HG Wells, written in 1901. Here the main character falls asleep on Aldington Knoll and dreams he has been transported to Fairyland. Sadly there was little description of the actual mound, but I like that it has been endowed with magical qualities:
The story was clear that he had stayed out late one night on the Knoll and vanished for three weeks from the sight of men, and had returned with "his cuffs as clean as when he started," and his pockets full of dust and ashes. He returned in a state of moody wretchedness that only slowly passed away, and for many days he would give no account of where it was he had been.
My final piece of literature inspired by the knoll is a poem by Ford Maddox Hueffer (date unknown) and named Aldington Knoll. It begins with the lines:
A L'INGTON Knoll it stands up high,
Guidin' the sailors sailin' by,
Stands up high fer all to see
Cater the marsh and crost the sea.
This poem was inspired by the local legend which says the knoll is said to be the burial site of a giant and his sword; they are protected by murderous ghouls who will kill anyone attempting to flatten the area.
Historic England website has information on the barrow and suggests that the present shape represents additional earth being put on top of the original barrow. Roman barrows are rare, the report says, with less than 150 recorded examples in the UK. Further additions and landslips have led to the shape changing again. I am not clear if the add-ons were as burial places after the Romans time here, or to raise it further to enable its use as a beacon. In contradiction to the report saying the mound had been increased in height, it later says that it now stands at 3m above the natural lie of the land, but would have been higher if it were not for military activity and excavation during the Second World War. The most recent use was as an anti-aircraft emplacement. The report states that the use of the knoll as a beacon relies on oral telling, not evidence. It is interesting to note that a nearby road is named Roman Road, giving further credence to the mound being of Roman origin. Further investigation led to me finding that this is the Lympne to Pevensey road.
Time to return to my novel and take my characters back to Aldington. They have important matters to deal with…