Monday, January 31, 2011

Cliffe Marshes 25 January 2011 part 1 & 2

The Lumen Log - Part 1

Following our recent interview I was asked to accompany Sanderson and Ball on a field trip to Ciffe Marshes, the location for the filming of the original Green on the Horizon. Both Sanderson and Ball were intending to document the journey on camera but it was felt useful to have an impartial ‘third man’ to log the proceedings in note form.

We arrived at Higham station at about 11 AM. Upon arrival both Sanderson and Ball made use of the Victorian toilet facilities at the station before we set off over the railway bridge, passing through Lower Higham and then up Church Street towards the marshes.

At the top of Church street we turned left past a small cottage which I was assured was once a pub and onto the start of the footpath. The ground was heavily waterlogged from the recent rain and we had walked but a few yards before the path became impassible having turned into a small pond. Alternative routes were sought to the left and the right but here streams were found to block the route. After some deliberation we retreated a short way and entered a field looking for a way round. However after some time spent circumnavigating the field we found our route once again blocked by a stream.

It was felt best to try an alternative path altogether via the church. We retraced our steps through the village, passing a somewhat over excited Alsatian dog whose owner looked on impassively as it barked at us furiously before reaching the level crossing and finally on to the marshes.

We were now not at the beginning of the day’s planned route but rather the end point and so it was agreed we would to try and rejoin the intended path. We climbed a gate and began traversing a field. Overhead were two sets of impressive pylons and a number of telegraph poles. Sanderson had brought along some stills from Green on the Horizon and attempted to correlate the shots with the landscape before us. Meanwhile Ball took out his iPhone which it soon became clear was the only map/navigation device we had.

After some zig-zagging to avoid the more waterlogged parts of the field we found ourselves in the bottom corner close to the original path but with our progress frustrated once again by a stream. This would become a regular pattern throughout the morning, as it would seem that all the fields on the marshes are surrounded by streams or drainage ditches. Each field has one or more gates leading to another similar field. However upon entering the field it is far from clear where the next gate is, if indeed there is one as some fields are effectively islands. On repeated occasions we arrived at the edge of the field within sight of our intended destination but thwarted by yet more water.

This maze like reconnaissance went on for about an hour and a half with much criss-crossing and retracing of steps. We passed through fields of sheep and cattle that looked on bemused at the lack of progress we were making. Sanderson began suggesting that we should perhaps rewind altogether and take the designated footpath. Ball ignored this suggestion but began to spend more time peering intently at his iPhone.

By one o’clock we were but yards from the estuary wall but once again we were separated from our goal by a stream. It was felt that lunch was in order and so a short break was taken for sandwiches. After yet more studying of the digital device Ball announced that with a slight detour back through a couple of fields we might find the original path. Slightly reluctantly we tramped off expecting another set of maneovers but as luck would have it we did indeed find the path a few moments later. Spirits noticeably lifted; Sanderson got out his mp3 player and from the headphones came the sound of extracts from the original soundtrack to GOTH whilst Ball rested his HD camera on a fence post to record a passing container ship as it glided glacially by.

From the estuary wall (also known as the Saxon Shore Way) we could see over to Kings North power station, which was pumping out grey smoke into the already leaden sky. Whilst no doubt environmentally unfriendly it was a pleasing sight. A few yards further on we had an encounter with one of the many Shetland ponies that have now inexplicably taken up residence on the marshes.  Sanderson attempted to feed the pony some tangerine but the rather mournful animal was not the least bit interested letting the fruit fall to the ground.

 Part 2

A little way on we reached the elbow in the shore wall where the concrete second world war anti-tank blocks are still situated. This was the location for two of the original sequences; the first showing ‘the girl’ Judith Langham lying curled up on one of the blocks with her small portable tape recorder, and the second section in which Judith negotiates the blocks, appearing and disappearing behind, and then in front of them. This Sanderson informed me was achieved using the Super 8 camera’s dissolve setting, which allows for ‘in camera’ effects. There was no such magic on this occasion, though a curious déjà vu was created when Ball placed his iPhone on the block where the original shot had been taken.

I asked if the new performers, William Fowler and Leigh Milsom would be accompanying us on a future visit to the marshes to re-enact the sequences, but received a mixed response. Ball suggested that yes this was indeed the plan, but the answer from Sanderson was more opaque, creating the impression that perhaps that this was not a trial run but the actual shoot. 

It was now early afternoon and the weather was getting noticeably worse with the sky darkening. After some debate it was agreed to push on to the final destination of the original film Cliffe Fort, whilst the light was still good enough. We trudged along the shore almost in silence until somewhat unexpectedly as we came closer we could make out a figure on top of the fort. This was a man dressed in full army camouflage equipped with rifle. As no soldiers are currently stationed at the location we assumed he was some kind of enthusiast, though Ball looked concerned as he pointed his camera towards him to shoot some footage that he might repay the compliment. Whether his rifle was loaded it was impossible to tell but it was a slightly disconcerting sight. Having spotted us the ‘soldier’ however posed and grinned, his rifle aloft. Just at that moment from overhead came a whirring sound, and looking up we could see a small yellow single-seater helicopter, the sort one might glimpse in 1960s spy films. I began to wonder if all this was coincidental, or whether perhaps Sanderson and Ball had resources beyond my expectations, and this was all some elaborate prank. If so they were good actors as they seemed as nonplussed as I was by the turn of events. 

We were now by the rear of the fort and at the time of filming over twenty years before, it had been possible to gain entry to the fort through a gap in the fence, indeed there is a shot of ‘the girl’ doing just that. The metal fence was still there, but a further small fence had been added presumably to stop children and filmmakers gaining entry. This was broken down at one point and thinking that this offered a way in we slipped down the bank only to find ourselves ensnared in brambles, and after much muttering about torn clothing it was decided to abandon trying to get into the fort fro today at least, and we began to retrace our steps back towards the railway station. This proved relatively simple compared with our incoming journey, taking less than half an hour. We stopped on the way at the church which as with many village parishes was open, to firstly remove the caked mud from our shoes, and then to record a version of the ‘theme’ from Green on The Horizon,which Ball whistled as he walked back and forth in the resonant space. Back down Church lane and a couple of much needed drinks were had at the Railway Tavern, and then it was off back to London. 

Note: since writing the Railway Tavern has closed and Kingsnorth power station has been decommissioned. The marshes remain in a state of flux. 


  1. Bryden and Coogan eat your heart out - this is great comedy

  2. The guy playing my part is spot on he really has that grumpy bear on a duff picnic style down pat. I'm not so sure about the guy playing you he seems a little too enthusiastic perhaps?

  3. Yes he should tone it down a little