What to do, see and eat in Sandwich, Kent
PUBLISHED: 13:22 11 February 2019
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Oozing history and as charming as ever, we take a walk down the medieval streets of Sandwich
It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when sleepy Sandwich was one of our county’s most important ports.
The peaceful little River Stour was once deep enough to be navigated by ships and barges transporting all sorts of cargo. It was a profitable business
and Sandwich grew rich on it, becoming one of the original Cinque Ports to be granted self-governance and exemption from taxes.
The area has been settled since Saxon days, and was certainly considered important enough by the Romans to have Richborough Roman Fort built nearby.
The height of its power was reached between the 11th and 13th centuries but, thanks to the storms of the 16th century, the river partly silted up and changed the fortunes of Sandwich forever.
The river is now used by smaller leisure craft and a popular river bus which takes visitors on the two-mile journey out to the sea, in search of the local seal colony, or to the ruins of the Roman fort.
Sandwich itself is considered one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England and is surrounded by the remains of the wall which protected it for centuries.
Some of the town’s most impressive landmarks are the gatehouses which remain today, including what is easily the most recognisable building in Sandwich, the Barbican.
Built in the 14th century and standing at the end of the bridge, it was a tollhouse for hundreds of years. Similarly, the Fisher Gate on the quay dates from 1384 and is a scheduled Ancient Monument.
The town’s narrow streets have remained largely unchanged for centuries and Strand Street is thought to have England’s longest unbroken stretch of timber-framed buildings.
There are dozens of listed buildings, Tudor cottages and ancient inns all crammed into the heart of the town. So many of note, in fact, that it’s well worth picking up a town trail map from the visitor information point at the Guildhall Museum, itself an imposing Elizabethan building in the town square.
Sandwich was well known for its Flemish settlers in the 16th century. There had long been close trading relations between Flanders and Sandwich, and when a number of Protestant families sought asylum
in the 1560s, Queen Elizabeth herself gave written permission.
Known as ‘the Strangers’, the community grew to the hundreds and became well-regarded for their skills as weavers. One of the town’s most historic buildings is known as the ‘Sandwich Weavers building’ in Strand Street. Although it’s named after the settlers, it was built even earlier.
And look out for the blue plaque on the unassuming former home of political theorist Thomas Paine. He migrated to America in 1774, inspired the colony’s fight for independence and invented the phrase ‘The United States of America.’
Visitor attractions in the area include the Salutation Gardens. The grounds of the fabulous Salutation boutique hotel, the 3.7-acre secret gardens are open to the public and feature the new Salut café, gift shop and plant nursery.
There is also the White Mill Rural Heritage Centre, which still runs with most of its original wooden machinery, the Art Deco-style Empire Cinema and the Sandwich and Pegwell Bay National Nature Reserve, which is regarded as one of the most important birdwatching sites in the country.
Despite original plans to open in 2018, the new Sandwich Wildlife Park – on the site of the former Rare Species Conservation Centre – hadn’t yet fully opened at the time of writing. But its coffee shop opened last summer and a series of artisan pop-up markets have already taken place. Owned by the people behind the hugely successful Wingham Wildlife Park, it’ll be a small conservation zoo for endangered animals and is bound to be a hit with visitors.
The town is also home to two first-class coastal golf courses: Royal St George’s and Prince’s. And while you’re so near the sea, do make time to stroll along the lovely beaches at Pegwell Bay and Sandwich Bay.
This active little community doesn’t miss an opportunity for a celebration either, with several exciting events held throughout the year.
In 2019 there’s Sandwich Salutes the 40s (4-6 May), Sandwich Food Fayre (18-19 May), French celebration ‘Le Weekend’ (8-9 June), Sandwich Folk & Ale Festival (5-7 July), Sandwich Festival (23-26 August) and Sandwich Arts Week (14-21 September).
Shopping and eating
Sandwich has plenty of small independents and antiques shops. Look out for Collection womenswear, No Name Shop, Hazeedaze craft and gift shop, Halcyon Ways, Little Curiosity Box, Locks of Sandwich bike store, Effie McLean (see our postcard from Sandwich below), The Changing Rooms and much more.
For a pint of local beer by the fireside at this time of year, there are plenty of beautiful, historic pubs to choose from – many of which also serve great food. Try The George & Dragon, The Hop & Huffkin, The King’s Arms, The Admiral Owen or The Crispin Inn.
Or there’s The Mermaid’s Locker micropub. Restaurants include Luigi’s Italian, Charlie’s Bistro, Namaste, Edessa, Le Bistro and The Drill Hall, while cafés include Goats That Dance, Scrumalicious Cake Co, the Beach Hut Café, The Sandwich Shop and the Haven Café. The restaurants of The Salutation, The Bell Hotel on the quay and the Brassserie on the Bay at Prince’s Golf Club are recommended. The Blue Pigeons Brasserie in nearby Worth is also highly rated.
I’m Yvette Spence, owner of Effie McLean in Sandwich, and it’s my job to help people find the perfect present! Effie McLean, which opened in May 2018, is my first venture into retail.
Our lovely premises at 3 Market Street is hundreds of years old; we’re proud to be its current caretakers. The shop is full of unusual, modern gifts for every age and occasion. We place a big focus on quality – be it hand-made glassware or design-led lights. We also have a baby and toddler section full of wooden toys, books and organic cotton clothes.
The shop is named after my great, great aunt, Effie McLean. Born in 1903, Effie was the family’s favourite aunt. She was warm, friendly and kind-hearted.
We hope the shop named after her brings our customers the same sense of comfort and joy.
Sandwich is such a special town. It’s beautiful to wander around, historically significant in so many ways and the offering of independent shops and eateries is fantastic.
Some of my favourite shops are Collection for womenswear, Carpenters the ironmongers, the Flower Basket and Priory Interiors.
In terms of food, my highlights are The Sandwich Shop for yummy sandwiches, No Name Shop for a French treat and the Bell Hotel next to the quay to sit outside and watch the world go by.