Guide to Sandwich, Kent: What to do, see and eat

PUBLISHED: 13:16 11 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:16 11 February 2020

The River Stour flows through the heart of the former Cinque Port of Sandwich (photo: Manu Palomeque)

The River Stour flows through the heart of the former Cinque Port of Sandwich (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

This small town near the sea is packed with history and character, with a little bite of something for everyone

History

It is best known for having given its name to the world's favourite lunch option, but the little town of Sandwich delivers many more slices of history, charm and community spirit than you could fit between two pieces of bread.

A tiny, medieval town with narrow streets lined with ancient buildings, it's hard to imagine this was once one of Kent's busiest ports, not least because it's now a two-mile track down the little River Stour to the sea.

Before the river silted up, making it unnavigable to larger vessels, all sorts of cargo came ashore at Sandwich. It grew so rich and powerful that it became one of the original Cinque Ports, exempt from taxation and granted the powers of self-governance. During its heyday, between the 11th and 13th centuries, it was considered so vulnerable to attack from the sea that the entire town was fortified.

Earthworks and an original wooden wall were rebuilt in stone after French invasions in the mid-1400s.

The wall had five gates opening into the town but The Fisher Gate and The Barbican are the only two remaining today, with most traffic still entering Sandwich across the bridge and through the 14th century Barbican's archway.

Considered one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England, the narrow streets were never intended for modern traffic, so the town is best explored on foot.

The Old Dutch House on King Street is a prime example of the influence Dutch settlers had on local architecture (photo: Rikard Osterlund)The Old Dutch House on King Street is a prime example of the influence Dutch settlers had on local architecture (photo: Rikard Osterlund)

Many of the streets have remained unchanged for centuries, with Strand Street famously housing what is said to be the longest stretch of original timber-framed buildings in England.

And with so many other medieval buildings, Tudor cottages and listed properties all set within the heart of the town, it really is like stepping back in time.

In the 16th century, Sandwich became famous for its Flemish Huguenot settlers. Known at the time as 'the strangers', these Protestant refugees numbered in their hundreds and they brought with them their trade. Skilled weavers, they were welcomed into the area and added to its wealth - both financially and culturally.

But the historic roots of this area of Kent go back much further. Not far from Sandwich is Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre.

Cared for by English Heritage, it is perhaps the most symbolically important of all Roman sites in Britain, witnessing both the beginning and the end of Roman rule here.

It was from here that the Roman army launched its successful invasion in AD 43. Extensive remains of the walls and defensive ditches can still be seen and there's a fascinating museum.

Sandwich is considered one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England (photo: Manu Palomeque)Sandwich is considered one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Best bits

There's so much to do in the area, with everything from world-class golf courses to nationally important wildlife reserves. Starting with the oldest historic site, head to Richborough Roman Fort.

The best way to get there is like the Romans would have done - by boat. The Sandwich River Bus operates passenger cruises down to the fort, as well as out to the estuary for some seal spotting.

In the town itself, stop by the Guildhall Museum, housed in an Elizabethan building in Cattle Market. Its exhibits include the Sandwich Magna Carta, dated 1300. Take in the ancient Fisher Gate on the quay and the Barbican, then head to the 'Sandwich Weavers Building', made famous by the Flemish settlers.

And if you're a fan of important blue plaques, seek out the unassuming former home of political theorist Thomas Paine. He migrated to America in 1774 and, as well as going on to inspire the colony's fight for independence, he also coined the phrase 'the United States of America'.

For some more history, there's the White Mill Rural Heritage Centre. A smock mill built in 1760, it's been restored to working order and is open to the public.

And you know you're somewhere special when even the local cinema is interesting. The small Empire Cinema dates from the 1930s and features original Art Deco neon lighting on the outside of the building.

Today it's a two-mile track down the little River Stour to the sea from what was was once one of Kent’'s busiest ports (photo: Manu Palomeque)Today it's a two-mile track down the little River Stour to the sea from what was was once one of Kent’'s busiest ports (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Two of the country's most highly respected golf clubs are based near Sandwich, Royal St George's and Prince's. The former has hosted The Open Championship 14 times since 1894 and will hold the Open again this year (12-19 July).

For nature lovers, the Sandwich and Pegwell Bay National Nature Reserve, one of the most important birdwatching sites in the country, is just down the road, along with Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust's observatory and reserves.

And don't miss the lovely, expansive beaches at Pegwell Bay and Sandwich Bay.

One of the area's newest attractions is Sandwich Wildlife Park. Based on the same site as the Rare Species Conservation Centre, which closed in 2015, this sister park to the hugely popular Wingham Wildlife Park is now open to visitors - but in a less than usual manner.

The centre is home to cheetahs, lemurs, maned wolves and tigers, among others, but the animals are available to meet by appointment only.

Only visitors who have booked animal experience days are able to explore the park. There is, however, a café open daily to the public and you may spot a few animals from there.

The park expects to be offering open days and overnight accommodation in the future, so watch this space.

Developments

Discovery Park, one of Europe's flagship science parks, was formed when pharmaceutical giant Pfizer sold its 80-acre site in Sandwich back in 2012. Since then it has grown into a multi-business campus providing more than 3,000 jobs in the area.

Now there are plans to spend more than £5million supporting a major commercial and residential development. Around 500 new homes, a 75-bedroom Travelodge hotel and a petrol station are set to be built.

Events

There are a great many community events held in this friendly little town. Start the year off with a visit to the Sandwich Salutes the '40s and Celebrates the '50s event (8-10 May), then later that month sample the delights of the Sandwich Food Fayre (30-31 May). French celebration Le Weekend taks place on 13-14 June (complete with can-can dancing and Le Tour de Sandwich), then there's the Sandwich Folk & Ale Festival (3-5 July), the hugely popular Sandwich Festival (28-31 August) and Sandwich Arts Week (19-26 September). And don't miss Little Gardens of Sandwich on 7 June, when many private gardens will be open to see.

Shopping and eating

There are lots of little independent stores and antique shops to explore, mainly in Market Street and King Street. A few to look out for include Effie McLean, Little Curiosity Box, No Name Shop, Hazeedaze, The Changing Rooms, Collection, Sandwich Stationers, The Sandwich Sausage Co, and Locks of Sandwich bike shop.

Eat out at cafés including Goats That Dance, The Sandwich Shop and The Beach Hut Café. Or try restaurants like Brasserie on the Bay at Prince's Golf Club, Namaste, Charlie's Bistro, Luigi's, Edessa, Le Bistro and The Drill Hall. And enjoy one of the town's many cosy, historic pubs like The Crispin Inn, The Hop & Huffkin, The George & Dragon, The King's Arms, along with the Mermaid's Locker micropub, The Old Pharmacy bar and DiVino wine bar. u

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