Visiting The Ghosts of Kits Coity House, Kent
1) Park in the side road at the foot of Bluebell Hill. Take the A229 south from Rochester, leaving at the slip road signposted to “Eccles” and “Barham”. Follow the slip road as it curves to the right and passes under the A229. Turn right immediately past the bridge and park near the top of the hill, where a footpath sign to the left indicates the way to “Kits Coity House”.
2) Take the footpath to the left signposted to “Kits Coity House”. This path runs downhill between an avenue of trees, the branches of which meet overhead creating a gloomy, atmospheric walk on even the brightest of days. After about 200 yards a break in the trees on the right opens into a sweeping hillside pasture, in which stands the tumbled megalithic monument that is today known as Kit’s Coty House.
Kit’s Coty House is, in reality, all that remains of a burial mound built some 5,000 years ago by the neolithic farmers who then inhabited Kent. The covering mound of earth has long since worn away, leaving the standing stones and the capstone, that once formed the burial chamber itself.
The ghosts here have nothing to do with the ancient farmers who erected Kit’s Coty House, but date back a mere 1,500 years to the time when the English were invading what was then post-Roman Britain. Led by the brothers Hengist and Horsa, a force of English warriors landed at Ebbsfleet (see Walk No 10) to act as mercenaries for the post-Roman government. In the year 455 Hengist and Horsa led their English warriors in rebellion against their employers, sending word to their homeland in what is now Germany asking for reinforcements.
For a while the war raged back and forth, but reached a climax here on the south facing slopes of the North Downs. An important Roman road ran down the slope here, while a second ran along the crest of the ridge just to the north. The River Medway, as it flows along the valley here, was both a trade route and a barrier, while the gap it cut in the North Downs had strategic importance. This was a crucial spot for the invading English armies and the forces that opposed them. Perhaps it was for this reason that Kit’s Coty House was chosen as the venue for a single combat between Horsa and Vortigern, leader of the Romano-Britons. At stake was Kent – winner take all.
The rival armies spread out on the slopes above Kit’s Coty House from where they could gain a clear view of the combat to come. Dressed in their finest armour and carrying the best weapons the age could create, the champions came out on to the green downland turf to fight for the future of Kent. The fight was long and hard, epic enough to have inspired poetry. In the end Horsa was killed. Hengist and his English carried away their fallen hero and retreated to offshore islands, such as Thanet, Sheppey and Grain. They would be back. In 488 Hengist’s son Oisc became independent King of Kent, and within a short period of time what is now England had been overrun by the invaders.
Meanwhile, Kit’s Coty House had become the focus for a dramatic haunting. The ghosts of both Horsa and Vortigern returned to refight the battle that had, temporarily at least, decided the fate of Kent. They return here still, appearing as shadowy, half-transparent figures wielding shields, swords and spears as they thrust and hack at each other. The fight rages for a few seconds, then the figures gradually fade to nothing before any decision is reached.
from "Ghosthunter Walks in Kent" by Rupert Matthews.
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