Here – or so the story goes – Sir Gawain fell in love with the beautiful Lady of Farthingloe. After promising her his heart, Gawain left for France and didn’t return for seven years. When he came back he found her disfigured by smallpox, and, despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, Gawain married her. His wife was probably part of the DeFfarninglo family whose claim on these ancient meadows and woods stretched back to Saxon times. For a while at least, Gawain settled here in this astonishing valley with his bride. Later, legend tells how Gawain is killed fighting for King Arthur at Barham Downs, not far from his new home. The Lady of Farthingloe brings his severed head to monks who carry it to a monastery in Dover, and then hide it inside the church within the walls of Dover Castle.
Not so many people care for such tales these days. Or it seems, for the landscape to which these legends are inextricably tied.
Farthingloe sits in the glorious Kent Downs, one of 46 AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in England and Wales. It’s home not just to Arthurian stories but to early spider orchids, and Adonis blue and small butterflies. This rural hinterland is an important conservation site, protected by law and defended by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Much good may it do it.
In the New Year that same organization failed to secure a review of the decision by a recent local planning committee to approve an upmarket housing development in the valley. Over 600 houses, a hotel, and a leisure centre will soon bury part of the Arthurian cycle and destroy the habitat of rare species.
You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to count the cost of that.