Today’s blog continues the series of reflections following our expedition to Lodge Hill, part of the “remimagining lost and forgotten landscapes” project.
This is the second from broadcaster and writer Paul Evans.
The lane down from the Lodge has a roadblock and is bordered by chain-link fencing and barbed wire. The derelict buildings carry security notices but it is unclear why they warrant dog patrols. Branches reach from either side the lane, squirrels pass between them, dog roses light up green shadows. At the high wall topped with iron spikes there’s a metal gate with a rectangular opening for access to the lock. It also offers a peephole onto the hillside of grass and scrub. Through there, behind the gate, is a walnut tree and beside it a concrete sentry post. Only big enough for one man standing upright, the sentry post is 2.5 m tall with eleven sides and five observation apertures. It’s a concrete box, more like a sarcophagus or perhaps a walnut. Once a sentry was inside, he could hardly move. If attacked he may have been able to fire a hand gun through the slot but that’s unlikely to have ever happened. Instead, he could only stand and stare, wait and think to himself. What did he think about – guarding the old Chattenden gunpowder depot built in 1872, used in WWI to store explosives for the naval ships down on the Medway – staring out from his tomb as a thunderstorm lowered into a summer afternoon in 1916? The sentry listened to nightingales as he scanned the horizon for Zeppelins and lightning. A storm was coming from the continent. Crickets fiddled in the grass, the smell of cordite and elderflower in the air. He thought of a girl in yellow and spoke her name to the concrete. He wondered how long it would be before he sailed from Gillingham Docks to be torpedoed by a U-boat somewhere in the North Atlantic…thunder…birdsong… One hundred years later, the sentry post is the smallest scheduled ancient monument in the country, a grade II listed building. Even with the sentry gone, the empty walnut tomb is still vigilant. The ministry of war has abandoned this place. All its rehearsed battles and prepared violences are overgrown; pretend nothing really happened and it could more profitably be used for housing. But it is home to a wild enchantment older than the ghosts of war and as another storm detonates munitions across the Medway, nightingales are keeping watch.