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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.

 

 

 

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.

Ducktrap River, Lincolnville, Maine

Today’s gloomy snow, sleet and freezing rain inspire memories of a warm, sunny early September day spent hiking along the Ducktrap River of Camden Hills State Park in Lincolnville.  With temperatures in the low 80sF, blue skies and a negligible breeze, the weather was perfect for my husband and me to enjoy a belated anniversary get-away.  Lincolnville is a small, picturesque blip on Rte 1 just above Camden.

Ducktrap Harbor was named for its peculiar topography.  Ducks entering the area could be trapped by cutting off their exit.  The high trees surrounding the water did not allow the birds to achieve enough altitude to escape hunters’ guns.  Ducktrap River flows into the harbor and then into the Atlantic Ocean.  This river is one of only eight in Maine where native wild salmon spawn.  It is a pristine waterway running through protected woodland.

Tall, old-growth trees crowd the trails, their roots throwing up obstacles for careless hikers.  To walk the path safely requires constant monitoring of foot placement.  The air is scented with a fragrance of conifer needles baking in the sun, moist soil and moss and the faint tang of the nearby ocean.  The silence of the trees is disturbed by frequent rustlings of birds and small mammals in the underbrush.  Birds call from the branches overhead, their songs mingling with the distant cries of gulls and other seabirds soaring above the canopy.

An easy twenty-minute walk (notwithstanding the ankle-turning roots) leads to the river.  In September the water level is low, exposing the bed of granite, basalt and metamorphic rock.  Water pools between the rocks providing cool sanctuaries for schools of tiny fish.  In places the rocks are slippery with damp moss, while in other spots tenacious flowering wild annuals display their blooms.  Cicadas whine in the early autumn heat.  The water is a refreshing treat for hot hikers’ feet.

Farther upstream, the incline of the land levels, reducing the water to a sluggish flow amid earthy banks and pocket wetlands.  The trail meanders along the banks, crossing small, dry streams.  Sometimes the way veers deeper into the woods, leading through thick stands of fern.  Unusual red bracket fungi sprout from the trunks of occasional dying trees.  The forest floor is carpeted with moss, partridgeberry, wild cranberry and wintergreen.  

The trail finally turns from the river, circling over a small hill, past the Tanglewood 4-H summer camp (empty in September,) traversing a thick forest of maple, birch, oak, pine, spruce and balsam.  Hikers must use care when reading the trail map or a wrong turning can lead to an extended walk back to the starting point and the waiting car.  Overall, a most enjoyable afternoon’s excursion, and fodder for a lovely winter daydream.

Whaleback Shell Midden, Damariscotta, ME

Just off Route 1 in Damariscotta, Maine, where the road crosses the river, the remains of prehistoric shell piles are visible.  A quiet little place named Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site awaits visitors on any day of the year.  A five minute walk from the parking lot to the river side brings a visitor to what remains of a giant pile of mostly oyster shells left by prehistoric Mainers.  The pile was created between 2200-1000 years ago.  At its extreme, the mound was once up to thirty feet deep and extended over 400 feet up from the river.  All these shells are the evidence of more than a thousand years of Native American feasts.

The photo above is from the State of Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands website, showing the Whaleback Midden in 1886 after mining had begun.  The pile got its name from the striking resemblance to the back of a whale, probably a humpback.  Once Europeans arrived in the late 1500s, the huge shell pile became a resource.  Settlers ground the shell up to make lime and to create roadbeds.  Then, at the end of the nineteenth century, full scale mining of the site commenced.  The huge pile of shells was ground up for chicken feed supplement.  What remains today was preserved beneath the mining buildings.

There are still a lot of shells in the area!  I picked up pieces of oyster shell and considered that the last person to touch this before me may have been a prehistoric native.  When the shell pile was mined, an historian did his best to record what was discovered during excavations.  The remains of fourteen humans were found and several dogs.  Artifacts such as painted pottery, stone tools and weapons, and many animal bones were turned up.  The natives apparently also consumed various mammals, fish and birds in addition to oysters by the canoe-load.  Some of the oyster shells were over a foot long!  It has been determined that most of the shellfish feasting took place in the winter and early spring.  

The Damariscotta River in this area is brackish and tidal.  During the midden period the river was less saline and  home to what seems a massive oyster bed.  Today the water has a higher salt content and no longer supports oysters.  It is still a beautiful waterbody rich in aquatic life.

Directly across the river from Whaleback Midden is another huge pile of oyster shells that is untouched since the days of the native mollusk eaters.  Glidden Midden (I kid you not!) is on private land and so far unsullied.  The bright white of the shells sets up a blinding glare in the sunlight.  Most of the pile is overgrown with trees.