The Great Storm of 1287

Watching #StormErik pounding my garden makes me think of stories of a February day in 1287 when The Great Storm hit the coastline from Kent to East Sussex with such force that whole areas of coastline were changed for ever.  Important ports that made their living from their vicinity to the sea found their harbours blocked by silt and shingle and even parts of the cliff, complete with fortifications. Old Winchelsea, a thriving port, was completely destroyed to be rebuilt in around 1292, a few miles inland, in the grid system (then typically used in Aquitaine) on the orders of King Edward 1.

Why would the King himself be so interested in the fate of these small towns/ports ? – Well before King Henry V111 established the beginnings of a Royal Navy, it fell to just 5 towns along the south coast to work in the service of the King, for short periods of time each year, in exchange for freedom from paying taxes, and other privileges. If they were needed for longer (which they usually were) a handsome fee would be paid.  These towns were Dover, Sandwich, Hythe, Romney and Hastings. They were assisted by the two ‘Antient Towns’ of Rye and Winchelsea.  The King recognised their strategic importance in the defence of his realm and in facilitating trade across ‘The Narrow Sea’, as the English Channel was described.


Probably the most dramatic change was wrought to the two towns of New Romney and Rye.  New Romney had been an important port, with the wide and deep flowing River Rother passing through it into the English Channel.  The storm was so severe that it served to completely silt up New Romney’s harbour and change the course of the River Rother bringing it to the town of Rye. So within just a few hours, New Romney found itself to be landlocked and a good mile from the sea, whilst Rye awoke to find itself with a brand-new River and a harbour!


It must have been terrifying, firstly having to deal with saving lives, and ships and property, but in the calm of the following days those villagers knew that they would have much work ahead in order to re-invent themselves or find a way of carrying on.  However, history shows us that they survived and the Cinque Ports carried on with their important role until well into the 16th century. Indeed, throughout Kent and East Sussex evidence of our past heritage survives today with due ceremony and pageantry, and town signs will still proudly tell you that this is a Cinque Port.

Discover the Cinque Ports and their fascinating and fun history on a guided tour with Yvonne Leach :

Memories of an English Summer

When I was a young girl, and yes, it was a good few years ago, I am convinced that the summers were longer and hotter and it snowed every winter (unlike Hollywood, not usually, and magically, on Christmas Eve).  However,  I do have memories of many Boxing Days and New Year’s Eves with silent snowfall reflected in the golden lamplight, viewed from My grandmother’s living room window.  Having a late December birthday, I can also remember my father trying to drive an excited bunch of school girls through swirling snow for supper and the theatre (a pantomime, of course) at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre.

Memories of the big freeze 1962/63 as a child, being taken sledging (very gently) by my mother in a winter wonderland with blue blue skies and bright sunshine – not a slushy puddle in sight.  Equally, I remember eating endless ice-creams, with my colleagues, sweltering in a non air-conditioned office in 1976 in Dover.  The sea breezes seemingly doing little to bring any relief from the heavy humidity of the room.

So when did it all change ? Or do the passing years dim the memory and nostalgia gives us rose-tinted spectacles ?  Well, I certainly know that there have been a few mild, grey, damp winters which seem to merge into mild, grey damp summers but the summer of 2016, from the point of view of sunshine, has restored my faith in the perfect English summertime.

When H E Bates wrote ‘The Darling Buds of May’ first published in 1958, he wrote of an idyllic life deep in the Kentish countryside which Pa Larkin, the central character, deemed to be ‘Perfick’, and perfect it was, the smell of roses and lavender, with the buzzing of the bees, the bird song, the crickets, and the call of the rooster (not just at dawn but throughout the day) – As September arrives and the hop harvest is beginning and the Victoria plums are in the farm shops and the corn on the cobs are being gathered in – if I close my eyes to any satellite discs or parked vehicles and wait for the calm of the evening when the traffic has quietened, it could be 50 years ago – just for a little while !

Since the beginning of July and throughout August, we have had delightful, warm, sunny weather, here in the south-east of England, and I have been lucky enough to work in some of the most beautiful places. enjoying coast and countryside and mellow towns, villages and even cities. What a privilege and a pleasure to be a professional Tourist Guide and Tour Manager in this beautiful country I call home.  Early mornings at Dover Cruise Terminal where the sky and sea have been azure blue, and the iconic White Cliffs of Dover have stood out sharp and clear on the skyline with the majestic Dover Castle standing guard over the harbour and the town.  To live amongst the orchards, hop gardens and scenic villages around Sandwich and Canterbury and watch the still-present rhythm of the agricultural year dictate the life of those whose livelihood depends on the weather and the behaviour of the changing seasons.

As the frothy white hedgerows of June gave way to the lush green fields and meadows of July, what a joy it was to explore the North and the South Downs to travel with guests from the United States and Canada from Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Kent down into East Sussex and the idyllic ‘Antient Towns’ of Rye and Winchelsea, to explore Royal Tunbridge Wells, and re-capture ‘Foyle’s War’ and 1940’s Britain in Hastings Old Town.

The warmth enabled us to enjoy our clean beaches and our (surprisingly) warm sea, and what a pleasure to see children with bucket and spade doing just what we did 50 years ago!

As August began, I was once more privileged to work with guests from Ohio on a wonderful tour which took us up into the beautiful Cotswolds. Days in the warmth, admiring the honey coloured stone and soaking up the views whilst discovering the amazing history of this beautiful region. Still very evident from the sheep we saw, we can see and understand why the ‘Cotswolds Lions’ were so important to England at the height of the Wool Trade back in medieval times.  English Civil War stories and battlefields added anecdote to the visual delights and the opportunity to sit and watch the world go by enjoying arts and crafts (and ice-creams) will remain with us all for a long time.

Plenty more to recall about this wondrous summer, but back to the present for the moment, and nostalgia aside, how wonderful we still have all this, but we can come home to our labour-saving devices, and many other aspects of technology which were not there in those far-off days. On that note, time to open the freezer, aim for a little defrosting in the microwave, and fire up the oven for an up to date dinner. Did I hear you say ‘dishwasher’ ? – well, he is due home from work any minute……

Hopping in Kent

Turkeys, heresy, hops and beer, came into England all in one year !
Time: 1500s      The Place: Kent 

One of the most lovely things about living in rural Kent, amongst apple and cherry orchards and hop gardens is that, at this time of year, we can participate in the age old tradition of gathering some hop garlands to hang around our home, and enjoy that heady smell which says just one thing:

 ” It’s September down in ‘The Garden of England'”!

The county of Kent has long been associated with hop production whilst oast-houses (distinctive brick or stone built barns with their round or square towers) which were designed to dry hops have become characteristic landmarks and symbolic of agricultural life of the county during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Oasts and cornfields, Kent

The Latin name for the hop is Humulus lupulus which means ‘wolf of the woods’ ! – Interestingly the plant first was noted for its medicinal properties as far back as ancient Egypt.  Its association with Kent, however, just goes back to the 16th century when Flemish settlers, at the time of Queen Elizabeth 1st, preferred a beer with a flavour more like they found back home, and noted that hops also improved the keeping qualities of the beer.  It is probable though that the first hop garden was created near Canterbury in 1520. Conditions were perfect for hop cultivation, suitable soil, and of course, a good supply of wood for the poles upon which climbed the hop bines.

I think it took some time for the locals to catch on, as they rather thought that the hop was a bit of an ‘ evil weed ‘ and  ‘ inflated the belly’ – They were indeed rather suspicious of this ‘Dutch’ or ‘Germanic’ influence on the home brew !

Hops in Shatterling

The 19th century was the golden age of hop production in the county. I can imagine how it might have been, hops running up wires attached to poles from ground level to the top wires where stringers and harvesters walked on stilts to tend and harvest the hops!

I am thrilled to learn that my near neighbour, Derek, was one of the last stilt walkers in our village, and he still has his stilts!  I am looking forward to talking to him and a tour around our local hop garden soon – pictures to follow!
It wasn’t just the local farming community who assisted in the hop harvest and folk would come from the East End of London with their families, stay in the Kentish hop gardens in the little ‘hoppers’ huts’.  By day they would cut the hops from the released bines and earn ‘tokens’ from the tally-man.  By night, they would relax around the camp fires, maybe telling stories, singing songs.  For Eastenders, it was a holiday in the countryside.  The hops would then be taken to an oast to be dried by a warm air system until just the right level of dryness, and then taken to be used in the brewing industry!

Essentially Hops, Bekesbourne. Parsonage Farm from a postcard printed by Oyster Press Whitstable.

I love it that some will tell you of the sunlit days, the fun and games in the countryside, the heady smell of the hops and the pennies to be earned. A romantic idyll ? Others will tell of the rough hob bines which scratched and stained your fingers, the race against the weather, and the very strict tally-man who was not easily pleased.  Locals may remember those London children turning up in their small, rural primary schools. Different ideas, different ways of life, and more than the odd playground fight between the children. The hops, at the end of the day, had to go immediately to be dried, which explains why there are so many oast houses in the area. – Many now have been turned into private houses but still make a distinctive mark on our landscape.

Hop Heart in my living room

Well, a way of life which has disappeared into the past, but which we remember. If we pass on a guided tour between Sandwich and Canterbury or near Faversham or even as we approach the main motorway to London, we see the hop gardens (always say garden, never fields)! – So many anecdotes, so many myths and legends to learn. Also, of course, like so many before me, I venture out to gather in my hops to bring good luck and plenty to my home for the next 12 months to come.

007 – and a ‘Madcap Count’ – Canterbury’s hidden past.

007 –  and a ‘Madcap Count’ – Canterbury’s hidden past.

Guiding visitors arriving in Canterbury, often involves a coach set-down at St George’s Bus Station and whilst we are waiting to tour the city or visit the Cathedral, we might catch a glimpse of the National Express Coach making its way between Dover and London. Chances are that we can see the number of this bus, and it might well be 007. So perhaps it comes as no surprise to us that Ian Fleming, novelist and creator of the James Bond novels knew Kent well, and spent a considerable amount of time here. An inspiration for his secret agent’s code number ?

He wrote, in his novel Goldfinger, of a game of golf  played between Bond and Goldfinger at Royal St Marks ! – probably based on the Royal St George’s Golf Course in Sandwich, Kent.  Fleming had played many a game here over the years, and one can imagine the beautiful May day, he described,  with the larks singing over this great seaside golf course – today occasional host to The British Open Golf Tournament –  I wonder whether Ian Fleming would have relaxed afterwards in the club house and sampled one of those famous dry martinis -’shaken, not stirred’ !  Sadly, It was also to be the stage for the author’s final curtain call. Elected captain for the club 1964/5, he was present for a committee meeting on August 11, 1964, and suffered a heart attack.  Fleming died at age 56 in the early morning of 12 August —his son Caspar’s twelfth birthday, in Canterbury. It is said that his last recorded words were an apology to the ambulance drivers for having inconvenienced them, saying “I am sorry to trouble you chaps. I don’t know how you get along so fast with the traffic on the roads these days.

Throughout East Kent we can see signs, sites, villages, houses and views associated with Ian Fleming and his James Bond novels, including one on The Duck Inn, Pett Bottom, where, it is claimed, he wrote: ‘You Only Live Twice’

Ian Fleming wrote of James Bond turning off the A2 Canterbury/Dover Road at Lydden village, and following an older road into Dover and I know, well, exactly where he would have spotted, what he described as, ‘the wonderful cardboard castle’  For sure, Dover Castle is so impressive that many a visitor has asked, in wonder, ‘ is that real’ ?  Well it certainly is, and very much worth a visit when touring in Kent

The little seaside village of St Margaret’s Bay is central to the James Bond –  Moonraker – novel.

White Cliffs, St. Margaret’s Bay

It was here that Ian Fleming bought the house, called White Cliffs, down on the beach, in the 1950s.   It can easily be recognised today, and it is

worth a detour on a visit to Dover to have a look at this small but pretty bay, full of history. This was Fleming’s holiday home for a crucial decade when he conceived and wrote many of the James Bond books.   Perhaps, it is less well known that Ian Fleming was the author of a novel called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all about a car that could fly ! – Later made into a film, starring Dick Van Dyke.  The inspiration for this novel also has connections with Canterbury. Count Louis Zborowsky, born in 1895, son of a Polish racing driver and an American heiress has been described as ‘eccentric’,’madcap, ‘a daredevil’ and a bit of ‘a playboy’  At just 16, he inherited Higham Park Estate near Canterbury where he was to build his own miniature railway ‘ just for fun’ ! He had married a chorus girl, Violet, and seemed to really ‘live the high life’  He designed and built his own racing cars, amongst them the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang !

Birthplace of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

It is thought that Ian Fleming had seen this car racing at Brooklands Circuit, and been transfixed by it, when just a lad – motor racing was a new and glamorous sport back then. Not surprisingly, he remembered it later when he put pen to paper to write his novel: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Count Zborowski’s ambition was to drive for Mercedes. In 1924 he got his wish and entered the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Sadly on the 44th lap he lost control of his car and was killed.

Higham Park – home of Count Louis Zborowsky

Today, from the windows of the 007 bus between Dover and Canterbury, we can glimpse Higham Park (not currently open to the public) behind the English Hedgerows, and, pause to imagine  how it might have been with Count Louis at the helm back  in the ‘Roaring Twenties’







The Nailbourne Flows Again – Canterbury Kent

Out and about in the county of Kent last weekend, I am reminded  of the  legend about the Nailbourne stream which flows through the Elham Valley not far from Canterbury which takes us back over 1500 years to the 6th Century AD.

St Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great to bring Roman Catholicism Christianity to England must, at times, have had quite a struggle on his hands dealing with superstitions, myths and, of course, the local Pagan gods  The story goes that at the time of his arrival, there was a terrible drought  throughout the countryside. It is said that the people of the Elham Valley worried that this was a direct result of upsetting the ancient Anglo Saxon gods, and in turn they were less than happy about the concept of Christianity. Now, Augustine, it is claimed, decided action was needed, so he went, with his trusty staff (a stick rather than a team of employees) into the Elham Valley and having tapped the ground and prayed for a source of water, he was rewarded with a spring bubbling up at the very spot where he had been kneeling.

The Nailbourne in full flow Barham February 2014

However, Thor and his pals, on seeing this, were angered, and to prove that their power was the greater, brewed up a great storm which flooded the valley, destroying the crops  and bringing misery to the dwellers.  As a result, the people were none too happy with Augustine.  In order to appease the people and to avoid out and out conflict with Thor et al, Augustine determined that the spring should stay bubbling cheerfully underground and only be allowed to flow in full every seven years.

Not sure if anyone is counting, but I think it might have been over-performing this last few years.  At a time when winter weather is causing problems in many parts of the world, and we look for signs of improvement, we welcome the promise of spring when we see the snowdrops and catkins poking through the ground alongside the rushing waters.


Secrets of Kent’s churches.

Midsummer,  and the Summer Solstice has passed, ancient traditions and customs are remembered, and the countryside begins to change again, following the age old patterns of the agrarian calendar.  In Medieval times, people rose at dawn and went to bed at dusk and many of their activities during the day were linked to agricultural activity –  A time for every purpose under heaven – In spring, the sowing of the seeds for food crops through to the harvests of summer, and then ploughing, ready to start all over again.  In autumn, the pickling and salting of fish and meats, the brewing of ales and beer.  Hundreds of years before refrigeration, and the ‘ping’ of the microwave, it was necessary to plan, and work, all year round to keep the lord in his manor and the peasants in the field from starvation during the long and lean winter months.

During a year when the endless months of rain, followed by a burst of sunshine has given Kent the largest, juiciest strawberry crop for decades (and just in time for Wimbledon) I realise that, with all the technology in the world, Mother Nature still holds the trump card!

A  day out in the Kentish countryside with a little group of just 12 people from Japan certainly gave me some food for thought !- Their interest was in Romanesque architecture, but also the symbols and curiosities of our Medieval churches.

The Church of St Augustine in Brookland is one of the most attractive and interesting churches in Romney Marsh, and here we started our tour.  As the coach pulled up outside, the cameras were already clicking to capture the mysterious belfry. Many  local legends claim to account for this famous wooden belfry and why it sits, firmly, on the ground to the side of the church rather than in the more normal situation of up on the roof. Did it  fall off in shock when a confirmed old batchelor and spinster of the parish married in the church – at a time when many people just didn’t bother to ‘tie the knot’ ?.   Through the stable doors and into the Church itself where all attention was focused on the famous circular lead font. Rare and important and absolutely fascinating. Our first reminder of those links with the months of the year and the agricultural activities associated with all of the seasons. Possibly the work of Norman French or Flemish craftsmen, the message is clear. The upper arches bear the signs of
the Zodiac and beneath, the lower arches, bear the occupations associated with these months.

I first looked at Sagittarius, and, as expected found the centaur with his bow and arrow, whilst underneath, for November, we could clearly pick out a man in a hooded cloak knocking down acorns with a stick to feed the swine.  My birth sign of Capricorn (Capricornus) showed a composite creature with a horned goat’s head and a winged body and serpent’s tail!  In December, the swine was not so lucky as the picture depicts a man with an axe and the pig is about to be consigned to the winter larder!  

After enjoying the other mysteries of this delightful church, we set off through country roads to the little village of Barfrestone.  

Here we visited the little Norman Church of St Nicholas, with its world famous carvings.  There is so much to see and admire here and curiosities and symbols galore to ponder over and analyse.  The famous South Doorway is the finest jewel in the crown.  The Master-Carver chose, for his theme, ‘ Our Lord in Glory ‘ or ‘Majestas Domini’ as designated in Mediaeval days.  Here we have a surprising and exciting link with Brookland.  In much the same way that the lead font showed the labours of the months, here our carver shows us the activities of the manor house and estate.  We meet the Men at Arms, fully equipped, and the Lady of the Manor as director and bread provider.  We can pick out the Minstrel with his viol and the Cellarer drawing a flagon of liquor from a cask.  A closer look shows us the Forester with his bow and the Miller with his bag of corn.   Every aspect of these carvings link the church with the village,and the village with agriculture, and agriculture with the seasons, and the seasons with the church.  A glorious cycle.  The countryside was looking fabulous, still a few bright yellow fields with the oil-seed rape crops, but now fields of bright red poppies line the roadside.  As we wove our way back into Canterbury, we just had to stop to buy some of those superb strawberries and early Kentish cherries being sold in a layby.  Whilst the rhythms of the agricultural year and life in the county has changed beyond recognition, that first bite of an English strawberry in the summer sunshine is still a moment to treasure.

Time Machine Tour from Port of Dover Cruise Terminal

I think it true to say that no two tours are exactly the same, and one of the most rewarding things about working as a tourist guide here in Kent in the beautiful Garden of England is that you never know what you might find which might make your day, and your tour, extra special.

Reporting for duty at the Cruise Terminal recently, I had been assigned an afternoon tour which included a ride aboard a steam train of the Kent and East Sussex Railway. This is one of the country’s finest examples of a rural light railway.  The line gently wends its way from Tenterden for ten and a half miles through the unspoilt countryside of the Rother Valley, terminating in the shadows of the magnificent National Trust Castle at Bodiam.

That in itself is a pleasure, but the fact that a luscious cream tea, with light and fluffy warmed scones, butter, jam and delicious clotted cream with pots of tea and cake are served during the journey just literally puts the icing on the cake ! – Of course, in true team-work spirit one of my scones is always neatly wrapped up to be taken back to the coach driver on arrival in Bodiam.

However, on this particular day, on checking the website, I discovered that we were going to be experiencing a true journey back in time, as the railway was hosting a 1940’s weekend.

The sun shone in a blue sky, and the whole day was just amazing. Although this tour guide was no more than a twinkle in her father’s eye during those times, those years were not so far away, and parents’ memories, films, books and music  painted extremely clear pictures within, of course, living memory. This event just encapsulated it all perfectly.

Our very modern coach wended its way through picturesque Kentish countryside, looking extremely – red, white and blue.. very patriotic.. with anenomes, gypsy lace, and frothy white ‘may’ blossoms, bluebells galore, and red campions peeking out through the verdant hedgerows and fields lining the twisty roadsides.  Sudden bright bursts of yellow oil seed rape just added to the kaleidoscope which reflected our bright and cheerful moods as we neared our steam train and our cream tea!

However, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the impact of the scene which greeted us in Tenterden.  On the home front, ladies in their flowery pinafores shared their cooking tips, the Home Guard (Dad’s Army) polished their guns (and boots) and regaled us with stories, which might have even made Captain Mainwairing feel a little panic-stricken !  Music rang out, and people strolled in their civilian 40’s clothes (so smart) and indeed their military uniforms..  Old buses and cars sat side by side with a tank and, to the delight of my guests, there were even a few USA navy lads, straight out of “New York – New York” …  Thank the Lord I had a train to catch or the coach driver might have suggested a quick jitter-bug !

On board our train,  an RAF Officer walked down the carriages apologising for the meagre rations (!) and warning us that our journey may be subject to air-strikes.  We were instructed that if such a thing should happen we must hit the floor double quick and shelter under the table until the ‘all-clear’  A few nervous laughs from my passengers resulted in a finger wagging… ‘ this must be taken seriously Ma’am’  !

Arriving in Bodiam was another fantastic moment, Glenn Miller music, and exhibits (including a typical 40’s Post Office Counter) had our cameras clicking non-stop.

Another interesting link for my guests was the Cavell Wagon – a railway carriage restored and cared for by the Kent and East Sussex Railway.  Nurse Edith Cavell assisted over 200 Allied soldiers to escape from German occupied Belgium during WW1. She was arrested and found guilty of treason. Her execution by firing squad took place in Brussels in October 1915.  In 1919 her body arrived in Dover (just where the Cruise terminal is now) and was taken to London in ‘The Cavell Van’ for a memorial service in Westminster Abbey before burial in her home town of Norwich.  Possibly the most famous use of the Cavell Van was for the transportation of the Unknown Warrior (again from Dover) to London in 1920 . The wagon was parked in Bodiam station.

Sombre moments, of course, but a great sense of community and ‘buzz’ and some very happy passengers. Jiving in the sidings !   Well, then I saw one lady, rather tearful.  When I asked her if all was OK, she told me that her father had been stationed over here during WW2, and had spoken (a little) about things,  but she had never ever believed that she might experience some of the sights and sounds which he would have known in those far off days.

It was a great day out.  Thank you Kent and East Sussex.  All days should end with a celebration, so will it be a little Gin and Orange ? A little ‘digging for victory’ vegetable stew or perhaps back to 2013 with a bump!






Hungry ? Try a Guided Tour of Sandwich in Kent

Last week, the sun was shining brightly and it was warm ! – What is so unusual about that you might ask ? Well, after a very long and somewhat chilly winter, and ‘reluctant’ spring, we had begun to forget what a sunny day looked like !  However, this was the perfect spring day, looking exactly as a 5 year old might capture it on paper, clear blue sky, and the sun a splendid round golden spider-like orb beaming down to the earth.

Just right, then, to head off to the coast ( to swim? certainly not) – this was the chance to recce Walmer and Deal castles, and, camera in hand, check out what spring was bringing to East Kent

Both Walmer and Deal Castles were built by King Henry VIII in the 16th Century as part of his coastal defences against a threat of invasion by the Catholic Powers of Europe. Originally, designed to guard the Kent coast and The Downs anchorage, Deal was the largest of the three ‘Tudor Rose’ style castles built along this section of the coast.

Walmer Castle

Walmer Castle, Deal Kent

is one of the most fascinating visitor attractions in Kent. Over the centuries it evolved into the official residence of the Lord Warden of The Cinque Ports.  These busy little coastal towns defend the coast and country before the advent of King Henry VIII’s Royal Navy. The Duke of Wellington held the post for 23 years and enjoyed his time spent at the castle and in more recent years Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother made regular visits to the castle.

HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother at Walmer Castle

The armchair in which Wellington died and an original pair of ‘Wellington boots’ along with some of the rooms used by the Queen Mother, and her much beloved gardens are among the highlights to explore.

During its active life as a fortress, neighbouring Deal Castle had between sixteen and eighteen gunners. They earned about 6d (two and a half pence) a day during the Tudor period and lived on the ground floor of the castle in chilly, spartan and shared accommodation. It is likely that quite a few of them were married, so imagine the life of these men with their wives and children in tow!

It was positively chilly on this warm April day as we ventured down below sea-level. What must it have been like on a 16th century January day !  However, we did remark upon the fact that the wine store would have been very effective !

Deal Castle, Deal, Kent

A Century later when the Royalist garrison of 224 surrendered to Parliamentary forces during the Kentish Uprising of1648, the following items of food were discovered in the castle:


10.5 ‘hogsheads’ (huge barrels) of wheat,
10 Holland cheeses and 10 Suffolk Cheeses
12 firkins of butter,
2 hogsheads of beef and 8 pieces of beef in water !
20 pieces of pork in salt, and 17 Norsea Codd in water.

This would have been a typical basic diet for garrison troops and sailors for centuries until the invention of canning and refrigeration in the 19th century. The food would have been preserved in salt and packed firmly into large barrels.

All this talk of food made us feel hungry, so we decided to venture inland to the small market town of Sandwich.  A favourite little town of mine, with some delightful, independent shops selling antiques, books, curios, furniture, arts and craft, jewellery (and yes money hadto be spent!)

Town Sign with Cinque Ports Arms

The first recorded mention of Sandwich was around 664 AD but there was probably some kind of settlement in Roman times as the site is very close to Richborough Roman Fort (Rutupiae).

The name of the town is, most likely, Saxon in origin, and probably meant ‘ a settlement on the sand ‘  Once a ‘Head Port’ in the Confederation of the Cinque Ports and the original ‘Gateway to England’ – a thriving, important port.  Over the years with the silting up of the waterways, the town of Sandwich is now a few miles inland.  Looking out over the River Stour it is difficult to imagine, Richared The Lionheart departing on a Crusade, or Queen Elizabeth the first surveying the English fleet at sea from the quayside.

River Stour and Sandwich Quay today

Today, the quiet narrow backstreets are home to boutiques, quaint houses, little alleys and a wealth of timber-framed houses and churches with great stories to tell.  Street names also have their stories: No-name Street,

No Name Street

Short Street, and Holy Ghost Alley.

You can find a great choice of restaurants, tea rooms and traditional pubs, with food ranging from Thai through to fish and chips!

Some day, I hope you may visit Sandwich with me, and hear how, but for a quirk of history, your lunchtime snack might have had a very different name.  However, in the meantime, let me introduce you to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich !

John Montagu
by Thomas Gainsborough

Now whether he was a very busy working statesman or whether he was equally busy playing cards and gambling, it is said that he didn’t want to pause to eat.  He would ask for his meat to be brought to his table/desk in between two pieces of bread.  Others would ask for ‘ the same as Sandwich’! – so the sandwich was born.  I wonder what John would have made of tachos, tortillas, wraps, pitta, bridge rolls, panini and BLT Clubs?!  or ordering take-away on his mobile phone?   We shall never know, but can enjoy his legacy.

Well, having reluctantly left a great little shop where we got tempted into buying some ‘new’ dining-room furniture (a bargain)! We found ourselves enjoying smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches

A sandwich in Sandwich

and a glass of locally produced ‘English Wine’ (Cheers! 4th Earl) and wondering how to re-arrange the house to accommodate our find !

English Wine
Barnsole Vineyard, Kent

Walmer, Deal and Sandwich are all within a 20 minute drive of the Port of Dover and individually or separately make a great day out.



Top Secret – 007 shore excursion from Dover ?

May is my favourite month. ‘The Garden of England’ wears a frothy white lacey gown, with a cloak of bright lush green.  I have childhood memories of watching Kentish woodland become carpeted in white, blue and yellow.  This is the time for wood  anenomies, cellandines, and bluebells to be in full bloom.  I can remember once leaving some picked bluebells on a red-ants’ nest whilst playing in the sunshine and on my return they had all turned pink ! The wonders of nature ! Many poets and writers have had plenty to say about May.  Another schoolgirl memory was learning all about Robert Browning (1812 – 1889) and his poem; ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ – the second verse begins:

And after April, when May follows,
And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark! where my blossomd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture !

William Shakespeare wrote of ‘The Darling Buds of May’ and English author, H.E. Bates, borrowed the phrase for his novel: The Darling Buds of May, the first of the Larkin novels which tells us how Pop, Ma, Mariette and the children beguile Charley, a rather naive and shy tax inspector, into abandoning his investigations and to take up residence at their rural paradise in 1950s Kent !  

The novel was taken up by UK’s Yorkshire Television and a delightful series about The Larkin family was filmed here in East Kent, starring David Jason and Pam Ferris as Pop and Ma Larkin, and pre-Holywood, Catherine Zeta-Jones as their daughter, Mariette.

I love the village where this was filmed and the church and in springtime, it still has the idyllic feel captured in the book and television series.  A fabulous theme for a guided tour !

However, another writer who knew Kent well and whose favourite month might well have been May was Ian Fleming, creator of Bond – James Bond !

He wrote in his novel, Goldfinger, of a game of golf  played between Bond and Goldfinger at Royal St Marks ! – probably based on the Royal St George’s Golf Course in Sandwich, Kent.  Fleming had played many a game here over the years, and one can imagine the beautiful May day, with the larks singing over this great seaside golf course – today occasional host to The British Open Golf Tournament. I wonder whether Ian Fleming would have relaxed afterwards in the club house and sampled one of those famous dry martinis -‘shaken, not stirred’ !

Throughout East Kent we can see signs, sites, villages, houses and views associated with Ian Fleming and his James Bond novels ! He even writes of James Bond turning off the A2 at Lydden (where I used to live) and following an older road into Dover and I know, well, exactly where he would have spotted, what he described as, ‘the wonderful cardboard castle’  For sure, Dover Castle is so impressive that many a visitor has asked ‘ is that real’ ?  Well it certainly is, and very much worth a visit here in Kent.

The little seaside village of St Margaret’s Bay is central to the James Bond –  Moonraker – story.  It was here that Ian Fleming bought the house, called White Cliffs, down on the beach, in the 1950s.  It can easily be recognised today.  This was his holiday home for a crucial decade when he conceived and wrote many of the James Bond books.

This blog would reach epic proportions if I were to point out all the links and sites associated with this author and his ‘007’ and a day or half day touring Kent, really is an interesting way to understand the background to and essence of these novels, and, later, films ! Even Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11  joined in the fun as she  made a spectacular entrance into the Olympic Stadium at the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics when she appeared to  parachute out of a helicopter with James Bond (Actor Daniel Craig)

I have to finish, again on a personal note, whilst living in Lydden in the 1970s, I worked for our local bus and coach company, and the number of the National Express Bus from Dover to London in those days, as now, was 007 !  Many say that Ian Fleming used this service, and certainly… as a local… he would have known these buses.. so, did he sit, pen poised, watching the bus go by and did he find, from this bus, his inspiration for his famous spy?  I like to think so.

Mr Fleming liked to wait unti the clock struck 6 pm  before enjoying his martini cocktail.. today, in just 10 minutes, I might just raise a glass and toast his memory  as this glorious (nearly) May day draws to a close over The Garden of England.  Cheers !


The mystery of Richard Plantaganet – hidden down in Kent

As a South-East England Tourist Guide, I often travel the road between the city of Canterbury and Tenterden on my way to The Weald of Kent in the beautiful Garden of England.  Always plenty to see and to talk about, but recent finds under a car park in Leicester could just be providing me with some additional food for thought as we pass near to Eastwell Manor.  Today Eastwell Manor is a delightful 20th century country house hotel, spa/ wedding/conference venue.  However the history of the site goes back much further and hides an intriguing mystery at its heart.  Imagine, if you will, the year is 1546, and a magnificent brick-built house is being constructed for  one Sir Thomas Moyle. To his surprise he came upon a bricklayer, quite an oldish gentleman reading a book –  a most unusual skill for a 16th century labourer! – Who was this man, and what was his story? According to antiquarian, Francis Peck’s writings we learn that there was a young man named Richard who boarded with a Latin schoolmaster until he was 15 or 16. He did not know who his real parents were, but was visited four times a year by a mysterious gentleman who paid for his upkeep. This mystery person once took him to a “fine, great house” where Richard met a man in a “star and garter” who treated him kindly. At the age of 16, it was written,  the gentleman took the boy to see King Richard 111 at his encampment just before the Battle of Bosworth. The King informed the boy that he was his son, and told him to watch the battle from a safe vantage point. The king told the boy that, if he won, he would acknowledge him as his son. However, should he lose he told the boy to forever conceal his identity. King Richard was killed in the battle, and the boy allegedly fled to London.  He was apprenticed to a bricklayer but kept up the Latin he had learned by reading during his work.  So was this Richard the Bricklayer, really Richard Plantaganet, illegitimate son of King Richard 111?  A rubble-stone tomb with modern pointing, within the floor plan of the now ruined nearby church has a plaque with the following legend: Reputed to be the tomb of Richard Plantagenet, December 22nd 1550! So many questions and the mystery remains to this day, but now we understand that the body of King Richard 111 has been found under a car park in Leicester, do we seek to find out if his son lies in a disused churchyard down in Kent ?