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Town of Sandwich, Kent, UK

My daughter and I just returned from a twelve-day trip to England to visit my mother, who has lived in the UK for about thirty years.  Usually the trip involves tours of local attractions.  This year we went to the town of Sandwich, located near the English Channel between Margate and Dover.  At one time Sandwich was one of the greatest ports in England and is still one of the five Cinque Ports designated by the Crown to protect the coast.

Sandwich is renowned for containing some of the most complete sections of medieval town.  Tourism to view the antiquities began in the 1700s and has not abated.  We stayed at the King’s Arms, an inn built in 1580 on Strand Street.  At that time the street fronted the Stour River.  Since then so much silting-in of the waterway has occurred that there are houses with large backyards on the river side of the street.  The inn was originally called the Queen’s Arms and named for Elizabeth I who visited Sandwich.  The name was changed in 1687, during the reign of James II.

The inn is a charming and largely original structure.  Features such as the cheerful common room with its giant fireplace, huge exposed wooden beams throughout, narrow, steep staircases, and door clearances under six feet high are all proof of this house’s nearly 450 year history.  Our room was number three and our window was the middle one with the orange glow above the parked car on the right side of the first photo.  The elderly single glazed window was quite drafty.  Luckily the weather was warm during our stay.  We had a large, comfortable room with a fireplace that has been closed up.  The included full English breakfast was very good.  The psychic in me is certain residuals of long-gone lives still remain in our room and in the entire building.

Many of the streets in Sandwich are like the one above.  It is single lane, yet accommodates two-way traffic.  Medieval buildings crowd close, their jetties overhanging the sidewalks.  The lane above, Church Street, runs between the King’s Arms and St. Mary’s Church to intersect with Strand Street.  Walking along the streets can be challenging as the traffic is sometimes heavy and the sidewalks are narrow or non-existent.  Many are roughly paved with cobbles.

Sandwich has a long history.  It began as a small settlement on an island in a large, deep harbor.  In AD 43 the Romans established Rutupiae (Richborough) on this harbor.  The population of the area rapidly expanded as the army used Rutupiae for their base in the conquest of Britain.  Sandwich, once known as Lundenwic, stood near the harbor entrance to the wide, deep, important Wantsum shipping channel that ran all the way to London from the sea.  Massive storms with tidal wave surges deposited so much silt with major flooding that the harbor was partially filled in, leaving Richborough high and dry and making Lundenwic the new port town.  After the Romans left, and the Saxons were invaded by Danes, the name was changed to Sandwic, meaning sandy town.  Over time the name morphed into Sandwich.

In the 900s, the town moved to higher ground as continued silting formed a peninsula from the original island.  The channel remained deep enough for large ships.  By the eleventh century Sandwich had become a major English port with a large population and great wealth.  In the middle of that century it was designated a Cinqueport with obligations to provided armed sailing vessels and fighting men for the king in times of war.  In return Sandwich received money from surrounding towns to help with the arming of vessels and men, and privileged trade with the continent free from customs and tolls.

Ever at odds with England, France staged several raids on Sandwich.  In 1217, they burned much of the town.  A toll ferry carried traffic across to Thanet until a bridge was built.  A version of it stands today.  The structure was originally a drawbridge but was rebuilt as the current single lane swing bridge.  Traffic approaches the bridge through the Barbican or David’s (Davis) Gate (photo above.)  The town had been granted the right to have its own municipal court as a cinqueport privilege.  A Guild Hall with a court room was constructed in 1359 that still stands today.  The town had a mayor and all the eligible men of voting age participated in town business including serving on juries.

The Great Storm of 1287 brought a devastating tidal wave storm surge carrying so much silt that the harbor was filled in.  The river remained deep enough for good sized ships to navigate so Sandwich continued as a port two miles inland from the sea.  A wide place in the river called Sandwich Haven provided safe docking for trade ships.  The French attacked several more times including in 1457 when the mayor was killed.  Since that time all the mayors of Sandwich wear black robes of office to signify mourning.  In the 1450s the king became so concerned about attacks by the French that he ordered the town better fortified.  More and higher walls were built and stronger gates.

The end of Sandwich’s days as a port city occurred in the late 1550s when Pope Paul IV lost a large ship. It sank right at the mouth of Sandwich Haven.  Soon silt and sand built up around the wreck effectively stopping up the entrance to Sandwich for large trading vessels.  Attempts to cut a deeper passage failed.

In the 1560s, craftspeople escaping religious persecution in Flanders and France came to England.  Queen Elizabeth granted the refugees licenses to set up shops and manufacture in different parts of England.  Several groups of Dutch weavers moved to Sandwich and began manufacturing broadcloth using wool produced in Kent.  They employed small vessels to carry their goods out to markets.  This created a boom for the Sandwich area.  The photo above is of the Sandwich Weavers building where the Dutch sheltered when they arrived in the area.  Over time many of these weavers became wealthy.

The Dutch influence in Sandwich can also be seen in architecture, ditches, drainage works and farm fields.  Because the area was once part of the sea, it is low, flat and damp.  The Dutch had experience with such conditions.  They drained fields to create farmland and grew crops such as grains, carrots and celery in the sandy soil.  A ditch called the Delf (Old English for ditch) and connected sluices were added in an attempt to bring better water to the town.  It was notorious for unhealthful conditions due to fouled drinking water.  Today the sluices can still be seen, stagnant water filled with duck weed and looking like tiny canals standing below street level in front of homes.  The Delf did not improve conditions as people continued to foul the open waterways and contract illnesses.  An attempt to pump in clean water failed in the 1620s.  The town didn’t have reliable clean drinking water until the late 1800s.

Prosperity brought by the Dutch began to fade in the early 1600s when King James I set up a company of merchants and granted them sole rights to trade in Europe.  With its commercial life strangled, Sandwich faded as a port for anything but the superior crops produced in the area, including its famed carrots.  Poverty became a problem for the locals until tourism began to restore some employment.  The town drew visitors to its quaint, narrow streets and blocks of antique houses.

The fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montague (1718-1792) is fabled to have eaten meals made of slices of meat between pieces of bread while gambling in the Guild Hall around 1762.  The sandwich is named for him.  In 1759 Thomas Paine lived for about a year on New Street in a small brick house.  He had settled in Sandwich after marrying.  His wife died a year after the marriage.  He later departed for the American colonies and found fame there as a patriot.

Today Sandwich has much to offer visitors.  Experience the adventure of staying in a medieval inn, take a leisurely stroll on the walkways by the Quay, enjoy a meal in one of the many fine establishments, amble through the ancient streets or hike along a segment of the well kept Coast Path which passes through town on its way around the entire southeastern seaboard.  Sandwich has something for everyone.

 

 

 

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Maine Eats

When people travel, they often like to sample the authentic flavors of the places they visit.  Well, you can’t find a more authentic Maine establishment than Karen’s Hideaway on Rte. 27 in Boothbay.

Conveniently located for tourists right on a main artery to the ocean and all the coast has to offer, don’t blink or you might miss it!  After Shore Hills Campground, keep watch on the left.  Karen’s food trailer is across the road from Adams Pond and parked next to the Maineiac Fresh Seafood shop.  This is where she gets the ingredients for many of her delicious offerings.

We found Karen’s a couple years ago when we were hungry after a long walk on the ocean-side trails that abound on Cape Newagen, also called the Boothbay, Peninsula.  Being an epicurean adventurer, I’m always ready to try a new place to eat.  My husband Tim’s motto is “I can get a hamburger anywhere.”  We were both very pleasantly surprised at the amazing food served up by this humble kitchen.

You know the seafood is going to be super fresh.  It is caught daily and brought over to the lunch wagon from next door.  I ordered the crab melt basket and Tim got the burger basket.  If you ever go to Karen’s don’t make this same mistake unless you are extremely hungry–lost in the woods for a week hungry.  The baskets are served with an overflowing heap of the best french fries around.  They are thick, crispy outside, and soft inside with no trace of oiliness.  I can’t believe we managed to eat all those fries except once you start, you just can’t stop.

Tim’s cheeseburger was comprised of 12 oz of fresh ground beef on a big, soft bun.  He put it all away!  My crab melt was made with two pieces of Texas toast from the grill, stuffed with an obscenely generous amount of fresh crab barely held together with mayo, and topped with melted swiss and American cheese.  When I’m feeling really adventuresome I get the crab melt with bacon, lettuce and tomato, so yummy!  The fries in the photo below are just a small portion of the total provided.

On the side are served a choice of Karen’s pineapple coleslaw ( I usually skip the coleslaw, but not this one, it’s divine!) or her loaded baked potato salad.  I can’t find enough descriptors to do justice to the deliciousness of the spud salad!  It is filled with cheddar cheese and bits of bacon with hints of real baked potato in the skin and sour cream.  Since Tim doesn’t like anything with mayo on it, I get both the sides, yay for me!

You place the order at the window with Karen, a gregarious lady with a ready laugh and sharp Maine wit.  When we told Karen our trip to Boothbay was an anniversary celebration, she confided that she and her husband had been married even longer than our 35 years.  I suspect her husband runs the seafood shop.  Ordering is done from a laminated menu.  Be careful to specify whether or not you want a basket or you will be inundated with fries!  One basket meal provides plenty of fries for two.

While the food cooks, patrons enjoy the authentic Maine atmosphere up back behind the trailer where several tables with umbrellas are arranged in a small clearing in the woods.  A resident chipmunk will keep you company.  Note the proximity of one table to the portable outhouse, dining at its finest for the tough Maine natives who happen by.  The wall of a nearby shed has been painted with a scene from the Boothbay coast, it’s almost like eating right at the shore.  When your number is called, your meals are presented on a tray for ease of transport back to the picnic table.

After such a satisfying repast, we are usually ready to hit one final hike before heading home.  On our last visit we enjoyed a stroll on the Cross River Preserve trails and were rewarded with this view of the Cross River.

Valley Cove, Acadia National Park

The first week of September my husband and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary with our customary trip to Acadia National Park.  We camped overnight and did a lot of walking.  By day two our aging knees wanted a break.  We opted for a nice, easy morning hike.  There are not many easier walks in Acadia than the Fire Road to Valley Cove, a one-half mile path to the ocean.  The valley in the name refers to the space between two small mountains, Flying and St. Sauveur.

The trail is wide, graveled and well maintained.  Yet, it is a quiet and isolated spot, seldom frequented.  Trees push close, providing shade from bright mid-morning sun.  Cicadas and crickets add their high-pitched music to the ripe September day.  A gentle breeze stirs the treetops.  Gulls cry high overhead, blending with the occasional sharp call of a bird-of-prey.  Peregrine falcons nest nearby, although they don’t tend to make much noise.  The park is home to osprey, eagles and various hawks.

The predominant tree species is red spruce.  Several squirrels rustle in the undergrowth collecting spruce cones.  Nuthatches make petulant noises at one another as they scuttle along the tree trunks.  The air is fragranced with the scent of fallen pine needles baking in the sun.  In a few short minutes the end of the trail is near.  A view opens of the sheer face of St. Sauveur, a 679 foot edifice that stands with its toes in the ocean. 

Soon the cove is in sight.  Access to the shore is by a newly constructed bridge and set of stairs.  Trail repair is ongoing in this area.  The loop to access the summit of St. Sauveur from the cove is closed due to trail deterioration.  My hat is off to the workers, many of them volunteers, who haul material and labor mightily to maintain the hiking access at Acadia.

Valley Cove is part of Somes Sound, a deep inlet of the Atlantic Ocean that separates the two sides of Mt. Desert Island.  This beautiful place is on the “quiet side” of Acadia, away from the throngs visiting sights such as Otter Cliffs, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond and the Spring House on the northeast arm of the park.

While the southwest side sees plenty of visitors, we had the cove to ourselves this early fall day.  The ocean is at its warmest now, although the temperature would be considered bracing by many.  The clear water, slate and granite ledge, and coarse sand invite wading.  On a hot day, this would be an excellent spot for a dip in the sea.Gazing northeast, the height of land to the left in the foreground is St. Sauveur, then the flank of Acadia Mountain (681 ft) and on the right side, across Somes Sound, is Norumbega Mountain (852 ft.)  There are over twenty mountains on Mt. Desert, quite a feat for a little over 100 square miles of area!  What we see today are just the stumps, the remainders of much higher mountains that were ground down by glacial ice sheets.  The view to the south is of the side of Flying Mountain.  At 284 feet, it is the smallest peak in Acadia.

 

 

 

The Scent of a Human

Foster kittens six weeks old

Many animals are sensitive to airborne chemicals in the environment.  It is a matter of safety to be able to quickly and accurately detect particles that are the product of fire, for instance, or to sense the presence of a predator or the reek of decay.  Smell is used to distinguish edibles and identify friends.  Humans, along with most mammals, have a strong sense of smell.

Some humans abuse that sense through smoking or are unfortunate enough to lose sensitivity due to allergies chronically clogging the nasal passages.  I recently read of a study that determined humans have very sensitive olfactory abilities, nearing those of dogs, that should not be dismissed.  Our reactions to aromatic compounds often occur at a visceral level, escaping our conscious notice.

For our closest domestic companions, dogs and cats, scent is an important means of communication.  We know this because both species have anal glands.  Sniffing under the tail is a social behavior for cats and dogs.  Observe a pet cat or dog as it encounters another member of the household menagerie.  A quick sniff of the nether regions leads to a visible body relaxation for both animals if the newcomer is a known friend.  There is almost a language of the bottom, as it were.

This sensitivity to aromatic organic compounds in cats was markedly demonstrated to me just yesterday.  I am currently fostering two kittens who are living in our home with their very feral mother, Moon.  The kittens are not feral, they adore humans.  Both have a natural affinity for me since I was the first human to become a permanent fixture in their short young lives.  One kitten is a black and white ball of adventure.  I suspect it’s a boy, although it is so dark under the tail I’m still not totally sure.  The other baby cat is a more sedate, pensive little yellow tiger female.  She has always been very snuggly with me.  She was the first to cuddle against my neck with a rattling purr.

This kitten is especially drawn to my lap.  She will run to me when she is frightened or unsure and press for comfort against my inner thighs if I’m seated crossed-legged on the floor.  That is her favorite place on my body.  If I’m standing, she will settle on my foot.  She sleeps contentedly in my lap.  I find this sweet and heartbreakingly endearing since she will soon enough have to leave my foster home for a permanent place and people of her own.  Imagine my despair when yesterday she suddenly wanted nothing to do with me!

It became quickly apparent that little girl kitten did not wish to be near me that morning.  I could think of no reason for the altered behavior.  She would not come close to me on the floor.  If I tried to hold her, she struggled and squirmed mightily to escape my clutches.  The kitten refused my every advance.  Her little “brother,” meanwhile, behaved as usual:  boisterous, reckless and full of antics.  Little sister just sat morosely off to the side with her tail curled around her feet, staring at me.  If I reached tentatively toward her, she fled in horror.  This behavior lasted all day.  By evening I was convinced the sweet lover kitten now hated me.

The look of a morose, disgruntled kitten

Late that night, as I was bathing, I was struck with sudden inspiration when I noticed the scent of my new perfume.  It was the first day I had worn Lancome Hypnose.  Since the kittens arrived, four weeks ago, I’ve only used one scent, a lily-of-the-valley sort of fragrance, JMC, Jessica McClintock.  Could it be the kitten’s response was triggered by the change in fragrance?  This morning I applied JMC again.  The main pulse point I use is the area of the inner thigh that corresponds to the underarm.

Favorite area on human

The change in the kitten’s response was amazing!  From her first whiff of me, everything was alright again.  She cozied up and even rubbed her tiny nose on mine.  When we sat on the floor, she claimed my lap immediately.  Her relief at the return to normal was obvious.  The good human was back.  Not the evil, strange smelling imitation that assaulted her the day before with demands for affection.

Ahhh, the right smell, the good human is back!

This lesson on the sensitivity of the six-week-old kitten nose is not lost on me.  In the future I will swap perfumes slowly, blending the fragrances for a couple days, so the little feline can still recognize me.  I will also vary the scents I use to teach the kittens that the same human may have a different smell and still be safe.  We do not have anal glands (thank goodness!!) but we each do have a particular aroma that is memorized by our furry housemates.  I suspect that our scent, more than any other feature, is what our cat and dog pets rely upon to distinguish their humans.

Tudor House, Margate, UK

Tucked onto a quiet way called King Street in the seaside town of Margate in Kent is a neat house built around 1525 and maintained as a museum.  The Tudor House has withstood all the centuries of storms, modernization and even a close strike during the second World War when the place next door was destroyed by a bomb.  It is one of the oldest mostly complete buildings on the Isle of Thanet.

The close-set timber frame construction is typical for the late 15th to early 16th century.  The timbers are likely oak. There is evidence the building underwent some changes early on when the ground floor in the front was extended to be more in line with the first floor above.  In Tudor design the first floor usually overhangs the ground floor by several feet.

The house was subdivided into three units and covered with plaster and lathe in the 1770s.  In the 1930s it was scheduled to be demolished to make way for new housing.  Some of the locals realized the old place had historical significance and informed the authorities.  An inspector of ancient buildings soon comprehended the significance of the house and it was spared.  Throughout the 1950s the Tudor house was carefully restored.

The original timbers of the frame and the stones of the foundation are visible in their weathered condition.  Over the years, the house leaned a bit toward the front and one side.  It also settled a little when the bomb hit beside it.  Luckily, the building did not sustain any major damage from the strike.  Metal strapping and bars have been discreetly applied for support and the structure is stable.

The layout consists of a long, narrow entryway leading on the right to the main hall with a large fireplace (beside which my mum is having a break,) and on the left a servants’ area.

The main hall has a ceiling about eight feet high while the domestics’ space (pictured below) has a clearance of barely five and one-half feet. The doorway that the photo was taken through is just over four feet high, rather claustrophobic for most modern humans.

In its time, this house would have been a splendid manor, the home of local gentry.  The two chimneys, second floor and glazed windows were at the cutting edge of residential architectural technology.  The beautiful leaded windows, some with colored glass inserts, are original.  Much of the old wood paneling, some carved, also remains.Beyond the main hall is the parlor where the family would gather around another great fireplace.  The floor is all flagstone and a large set of windows opens onto the front garden and street.  The ceiling has ornate plaster decoration.

A narrow circular stair leads to the next floor.  Here the family would have slept, dressed, had sitting space and stored their clothes and other belongings.  The toilets would have been outside, of course, except for chamber pots.  The chimney and additional fireplaces provide heat upstairs.

The second story is floored with massive boards at least 18″ wide.  There are three large rooms and several closet-like spaces upstairs.  The ceilings are high, soaring to twelve feet or more.

The last room upstairs holds a collection of period costume.  The mannequin beside the doorway is about 5 ft tall.  Several lovingly reproduced ladies gowns are displayed along with hats, bags and undergarments.

The cellars are reached through a trap door.  These were used for cool storage of food and drink.  A small brew house associated with the main building stands in the back garden.  The brew made for home use was probably kept in barrels in the cellar.

The grounds include a Tudor knot garden, although it is unknown what the original gardens featured.  The north side of the house was built with wings that are completely gone.  When it was constructed, the home was situated on the banks of a brook that ran into the harbor.  No evidence of the waterway remains.

The Tudor House had some close calls over its life and is lucky to still be here today.  It provides an invaluable example of ancient construction and an enjoyable place to visit.

Visiting Birchington, Kent, UK

I’m in England, visiting my mum who lives in Birchington in Kent.  This part of the country is known as the Garden of England.  The grass is green and flowers are blooming here in February.  This area receives a minor dusting of snow on occasion, but the temperatures rarely dip below freezing.  My mum lives in a ground floor unit of the building above.Birchington is on the English Channel, near the mouth of the Thames.  It is not surprising to see gulls in abundance.  Except these gulls have names:  Molly and Golly.  They have nested on this roof for years, producing one or two babies each season.  My mum feeds them scraps and bits of cat food.  Every morning this is the view out the kitchen window.  Molly and Golly begging for breakfast.  If the food isn’t produced quickly enough, these pushy birds will fly down and tap on the cat flap in my mum’s door to get her attention.  I hope the birds don’t figure out how to use the flap, or they will be in the kitchen at feeding time.My mum’s housing development is an easy ten minute walk from the main street of Birchington, called Station Road (it leads to the railway station.)  Many of the buildings are quite old.  Here is found a nice range of shopping.  It’s good to see most of the shops occupied and busy.  Once there were five banks in town, but they have all closed.  There are five charity shops providing selections of donated items.  Once in a while I score a real find, some piece of English pottery, jewelry or flatware to fill any empty spots in my suitcases.This is The Square in Birchington.  The most notable features on The Square are the round-about, All Saints, the Norman church (originally built in the 12th century and restored over the years,) and the Powell Arms pub.  The pub has been there since at least the early 1800s, likely earlier, and was probably built on the site of an old hostelry.  It is named for the Powells, a wealthy family who lived on a nice estate called Quex, just outside the village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birchington’s main street feels quaint and homey.  The old buildings, many friendly, locally-run small businesses and village atmosphere make browsing the shops an enjoyable pastime.

At the other end of the street from the Powell Arms is the Sea View, a pub, restaurant and inn built in 1865 and enlarged at the turn of the century.  Across the street is a small green where the crocuses are blooming.

One of my favorite spots in Birchington is the Smuggler’s Restaurant and pub on the Canterbury Road.  The building dates to the 1600s and has a snug and welcoming atmosphere and delicious roast of lamb.

When I visit the village to see my mum, it always seems like a little homecoming to step off the coach (also known as the National Express bus) on The Square in Birchington.

Dug Jars

These old Dundee marmalade pots were found in a trash pit on property in Wiscassett, Maine that was recently purchased by my brother.  This summer while he was excavating in preparation for erecting power poles he dug out these jars plus a couple dozen old Coca Cola bottles and some assorted other odds and ends.

My brother piled the finds in 5 gallon buckets and brought them to me.  They were all covered and filled with thick clay.  After a considerable amount of cleaning, and soaking in bleach, these pots look fairly presentable.  They have some staining from rust, a few small chips and a couple are crazed.  These and the rest of the goodies from the pit date to around 1949-1955.

For some reason, old pottery marmalade pots are sought after.  Perhaps people like them for decorating.  They measure about 4.25″ tall and would be useful to hold things like pens or coins.  These five recently sold at auction in my eBay shop for $70.  A pretty good return on a few hours of elbow grease.  Thanks brother for the generous gift!

I still have to clean the Coke bottles before they can be listed.  They are all from Maine or New England.  Those bottles are not likely to be as valuable as the marmalade pots, but they will sell well.  I also have listed some interesting old toiletry bottles and jars from the pit.  They were quite dirty.  Some still contained remnants of the original product including the hair pomade and hormonal cream.  The contents were black and sticky, a real joy to clean out.  These all are from the same era, the early 1950s.

The pieces are, clock-wise from the top left, a Lentheric aftershave or cologne bottle, a Tame by Toni creme hair rinse bottle, milk glass jar for Paglo Pompom hair pomade, with real lanolin (I’d love to smear that stuff in my hair!) and, Helena Rubenstein Estrogenic Hormone cream, purported to reduce wrinkles.  The Tame bottle says “the new invisible hair dressing that rinses on.”  Tame was a new product in 1953.

My brother also dug out some old locally bottled soda bottles that have already sold.  I have listed some household bottles for Clorox bleach, Vermont Maid syrup and perhaps an old Milk of Magnesia bottle that is dark blue glass, a couple old milk bottles from Maine and an amber bottle that once held Felton’s rum.  He also found the lid for a French pate pot and the enameled cast iron top for a Volcanic color Le Creuset roasting pan.  The roasting lid is too corroded to rescue, unfortunately.

Altogether, the trash pit was a good find with some well preserved treasures from mid-century America.  It is interesting to see what sorts of products a particular family in Wiscasset used during the early 1950s.  Perhaps not as exciting as excavating a medieval, Roman or pre-historic trash midden, but entertaining enough for me!