Last Friday I was delighted to be invited to officially ‘open’ a new bench and rest stop on the North Downs Way near to the top of Tolsford Hill. This project has been led by the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and I was joined for the occasion by its Chairman Chris Reynolds and their Director Nick Johannsen. The location chosen is on land owned by the Ministry of Defence who have supported the project, and we were joined on the day by Major Rick Beven from the Brigade of Gurkhas stationed at Shorncliffe Barracks. The site for the bench had also been prepared and cleared of undergrowth by the Sprucer team from Folkestone Town Council. This event also coincided with the ‘Landscapes for Life’ week to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the passing of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which has also been marked by a new poem ‘Fugitives’ written by the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.
The oak bench itself has been positioned to take best advantage of the stunning view from the hill looking towards Folkestone and the Channel beyond. Into the wood there is a highly appropriate quotation from the famous ‘Sceptred Isle’ speech given by John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s play Richard II. This reads, ‘this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.’ I’m sure this excellent project will give much pleasure to walkers along the North Downs Way, and if you have not yet been up there I would highly recommend it.
Following this I joined Alastair Upton, the Chief Executive of Creative Folkestone, to give a tour to senior civil servants from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, of the Creative Quarter, Quarterhouse Theatre and the Harbour Arm. It is great to see officials from the government taking a direct interest in the arts led regeneration of Folkestone’s harbour and old town and to want to come and see the progress that has been made for themselves. It is the mark of the growing stature of Folkestone as a centre for the arts that it is included in the ‘National Portfolio’ of organisations funded by the Arts Council.
Later that day, I also met with Pat Alston and her team at Romney Tweed. This business started with the idea of reconnecting the Romney breed of sheep that graze on the Marsh to the textile industry that for centuries thrived there. Romney Tweed has produced a unique collection of fabric designs, inspired by the natural colours and landscape of the Marsh. You can find out more about this, and how to order the material and products made from it at their website, romneytweed.co.uk. They plan to bring textile weaving back to Romney Marsh and are also offering courses for local residents to be introduced to this skill.