“The World, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh.”

Royal Military Canal

The Royal Military Canal is a canal running for 28 miles (45 km) between Seabrook in the north east and Cliff End in the south west, following the old cliff line which borders Romney Marsh.
 

View of the canal
Royal Military Canal

The Royal Military Canal was created as a major military defence during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century (see History below) and is universily recognised as an important component of the counties heritage. The canal runs for 28 miles from Seabrook nr Hythe through Romney Marsh to Cliff End nr Hastings in East Sussex. After Hadrian's Wall and Offa's Dyke, it is the third longest defensive structure in the UK

Although this ancient monument no longer serves as its creators had envisaged, it now forms a tranquil haven for wildlife as it threads across the Marsh. The 7km eastern section now forms the focus of Royal Military Canal habitat enhancement programme, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

This constantly evolving project already provided a myriad of opportunities for the whole family, who whether they choose to stay for short or long periods will soon be aware of the benefits of the project and the available information both historical and natural.


Map of the route of the canal
Route of the canal

The site can easily be accessed by all forms of transport both public and private at many points along its length. Today, the canal is an important environmental site.
The Environment Agency is the navigation authority and uses the waterway to manage water levels on Romney Marsh and Walland Marsh. It is important for fish and other wildlife and it passes through several Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

The canal won the 2014 Green Flag Award, the Award scheme that is the benchmark national standard for parks and green. First launched in 1996, the scheme recognises and rewards the best green spaces in the country

History

The canal was built in 1804 to 1809 on the orders of William Pitt, the Prime Miinister, with the support of local General Moore, as a third line of defence against Napoleon, after the British Royal Navy patrolling the English Channel and the line of 74 Martello Towers built along the south coast.

The Royal Military Canal was constructed in two sections. The longest section starts at Hythe in Kent and ends at Iden Lock in East Sussex. The second smaller section runs from the foot of Winchelsea Hill to Cliff End. Both sections are linked by the Rivers Rother and Brede. Building started in 1804 and completed in 1809.

Royal Military Canal
The canal showing its 'double bends' (Ack. 42)

The canal was conceived and built by Lieutenant-Colonel John Brown of the Royal Staff Corps of field engineers. Navvies dug the canal, while the military built the ramparts and turfed the banks. Flooding frequently became a barrier to progress and hand pumps were used day and night to keep the trench from filling with water. Eventually powerful steam-driven pumps were used to clear the water. 

The canal has a distinctive zig zag patten due to unique 'kinks' along its length. Located every 600 yards these sharp 'double bends' enabled the waterway to be covered by crossfire from field guns,

At its peak there were 1,500 men working on the canal. The canal was dug entirely by hand, using picks and shovels and the soil was carried away in wheelbarrows. Once the canal was dug it was lined with clay. The change of command and the greater work force speeded progress so that by August 1806 the canal was open from Seabrook to the River Rother.

It had previously been assumed that the marsh could be inundated in the event of an invasion, but Brown argued that this would take ten days to implement and would cause massive disruption in the event of a false alarm. At a meeting on 26 September 1804, the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, the Duke of York, both enthusiastically endorsed the scheme. John Rennie was appointed consultant engineer, and Pitt personally persuaded the local landowners to agree to the new canal. reference and more information.

 

Building of the Canal
Artist's Impression of the building of the Canal

Walking and Cycling the Canal

One of the most attractive walking areas on the Marsh is alongside the canal. The Royal Military Canal Path runs for 28 miles along the entire length of the Royal Military Canal from Seabrook to Cliff End. Many public footpaths link to the Royal Military Canal Path, so it is easy to plan circular routes that take in sections of the canal. For those who prefer to stay close to the water, you can walk the length of the canal in stages.

The Royal Military Canal offers a variety of cycle routes so you can chosse from a 4.2mile (7.6km), mainly of off-road ride following the banks for the tranquil canal or extend your route to 13 miles(20.9km) taking in some of the scenery of Romney Marsh.

Please see our Walking on Romney Marsh and Cycling on Romney Marsh pages for more information.
 

Wildlife on the Canal

The Royal Military Canal canal has lots of wildlife, including the Marsh Frog, Emperor Dragonflies, Kingfishers and the majestic Mute Swan.

The back drains and adjacent ditches of the canal provide an ideal habitat for the endangered water vole, which requires high water levels and thick bank side vegetation to survive. The main channel of the canal is more suited to the mink - a good swimmer and a voracious predator - which was introduced to this country in the 1930s. The high, tree covered banks of the defensive parapet have provided an ideal home for badgers. As night-time approaches they can be found snuffling around, looking for earthworms, grubs and bumblebee nests

The importance of the Royal Military Canal for wildlife has led to part being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), with the remaining length designated a Local Wildlife Site.

Fishing the Canal

The canal is one of the best areas in Kent for coarse fishing and still has a large quantity and variety of species, with stocks of Tench, Bram, Roach and Skimmers plus excellent winter Pike fishing.

Path along the side of the canal
Path alongside the canal

 

Mute swans and their cygnets on the canal
Mute Swans and their Cygnets on the canal

If you want to fish at the canal, you need to contact one of the clubs that control particular stretches of the canal.
They are:

Canal Stretch    
  Seabrook to Giggers Green Road         contact  Cinque Ports Angling Society
    11 miles approx
  Giggers Green Rd to Ruckinge              contact  Linton Angling Society
    3 miles approx
  Ruckinge to Church Lane,   Kenardington
  Church Lane to Appledore                     contact  Mid Kent Fisheries
  2 miles approx

It is possible to fish these stretches of the canal without being a member of the relevant clubs by obtaining a day permit.
Contact the individual fishing clubs for more information on day permit fishing and how to obtain one.

Boats and the Canal

Excellent fishing
Excellent fishing

The Royal Military Canal was never intended for navigation, being primarily a defensive structure. However, in a bid to raise much needed money from the enterprise the canal was opened for public use and tolls were charged. The canal was mainly used by barges carrying shingle and other cargoes, although there was a regular passenger service which ran from Hythe to Rye. The canal remained steadily busy until the Ashford to Hastings railway was opened in 1851 - this took away most of the traffic. Barges continued to use the canal sporadically until the last toll-paying barge travelled through Iden Lock in December 1909.

Pleasure Boating

From very early on in the canal’s history, the officers stationed at Hythe used the canal for sculling and for taking their families for a row on Sundays. Once the threat of invasion had passed, local inhabitants were permitted to row on the canal. The desire to take boats on the canal has never abated with a particular peak in the 1880s when the ornamental gardens along the canal in Hythe had matured.

Today, you can hire boats to row along the canal as far as West Hythe Dam from near Ladies’ Walk Bridge in Hythe.


Boating on the Royal Military Canal
Boating (Ack.42)

Taking boats on the canal

It is possible to take non-powered vessels on the Royal Military Canal from Seabrook to Iden Lock. The River Rother, which is part of the canal complex, has a public right of navigation. Unfortunately it is not possible to go all the way from Seabrook to Iden Lock unhindered: boats cannot be taken through West Hythe Dam or Iden Lock, and the size of the boat will be restricted by the height of the bridges. To use your own boat or canoe on the canal you must have a licence and have public liability insurance.

To obtain a licence for the Royal Military Canal between Seabrook and West Hythe Dam or for more information on rowing this section, pleas go to the Shepway District Counicl website.

To obtain a license for the Royal Military Canal between West Hythe Dam and Iden Lock or for more information on rowing this section click here.
Information courtesy of the Romney Marsh Countryside Project