Spotlight on Sandwich
6th July 2021
Between 11th and 18th July the prestigious 149th Open lands in Kent, but where exactly is the host town Sandwich and what is it known for besides the eponymous breaded product? We take a look behind the veil of the golfing world and explore this historic town.
Sandwich – whose name originates from the nearby sands, ‘sand’, and ‘wic’ meaning a ‘building for trading purposes’ or simply ‘trading post on the sands’ – ensured the town was a bustling trading post. With Richborough Roman Fort just over a mile north of the town, the area has a rich and long history. In the 11th century Sandwich joined up with Dover, Hythe, Romney and Hastings to form what is known as the Cinque Ports, a collection of ports to hold ships for use by the Crown.
Since the 11th Century Sandwich has had a rich history, a lot of which you can see on a trip along Strand Street, which is thought to have the longest row of timbered houses in the country. While on a wander around the town you will surprisingly see some Dutch influence – which is the result of the Flemish refugees who were granted asylum by Queen Elizabeth I herself in the 1560’s – including some homes with large Dutch style windows and new industries for the time, such as weaving. With the jaunt continuing, you can take in links of the famous residents and people of Sandwich such as Edwin Lutyens and Roger Manwood. However, world famous for his modern-day food staple, John Montagu 4th Earl of Sandwich, is considered the ‘inventor’ of the fabled sustenance that is the sandwich and thus truly puts this town on the map.
Modern day Sandwich makes for a quaint and relaxed day out. Lining its ancient streets are a selection of independent shops, cafes and pubs that make for a very British day out. One of the best places to start the discovery of the area is at the Sandwich Guildhall Museum. On a visit you’ll be able to find exhibitions on the Roman past, artefacts from the Mesolithic (middle stone age) period, and Sandwich’s Magna Carta which dates from 1300. Not only fascinating on the inside, but the building from the outside is the town’s Guildhall, which dates from 1579 and is fitting of the town with its timber framed exterior.
Heading back toward the Stour shoreline sits St Peter's Church, which for a small fee you can ascend to the top of its tower and breathe in the fresh sea air and views across the medieval town. It was at the top of this tower that Dr Laidlaw Purves observed the outstanding piece of land to build Royal St George’s, giving Kent its famous course. Here you’ll also be able to spot the winding river, which once you’ve descended the tower, you can take a trip along and out to sea to spot some of Kent’s marine wildlife - which may or may not include seals!
If all that wandering and uncovering has got you hankering for a meal pit stop then the Bell Hotel is the perfect place. Sitting next to the River Stour, and opposite one of the towns defences in the patchwork front Barbican, once you step through the Edwardian revolving doors you are joining the long list of people who have travelled to this hotel since Tudor times. With a substantial amount of dining space both indoors and out, and a menu that encompasses dishes featuring Kentish Ashmore cheese to traditional fish and chips, you won’t be left feeling hungry here.
Venturing just outside of the town you will find Richborough Roman Fort that was founded by Romans who landed on the shores nearby in 43AD. Once a fortification on Watling Street that connected the area to London, Richborough developed into a civilian town and port which held an amphitheatre, of which you can still see today alongside the huge stone walls.
Moving further south toward the nearby town of Deal, you’ll need to spot the famous Ham Sandwich signpost (yes you read that right!) pointing to the nearby hamlet of Ham and toward Sandwich. On your journey be sure to stop off at Betteshanger Country Park, which reflects on Kent’s past as a coal mining hotspot. Today the area is an outdoors haven with 250 acres in total. So, if you’re looking to do a different type of activity from golf then you can join a parkrun or hire a bike and head out on the 3km tarmac track and 10km of mountain bike trails, but if you’re with the kids then take them out on the rope walks, swinging steps and swinging rope snake.
Once you reach Deal you will be rewarded with a beautiful seaside town, currently going through a bit of a renaissance period, with boutique restaurants, places to rest your head and plenty of shops.
With sweeping views across the English Channel toward Belgium, Henry VIII presumed that the town would be the ideal place for an attack by invaders and constructed the Tudor Rose-esque Deal Castle. Today, the castle is managed by English Heritage and on a wander around you can discover the captain’s residence to the keep which provides beautiful views toward the cliffs at Kingsdown.
Stepping closer toward the sea you’ll see traditional fishing boats on the shoreline selling the day's catch, as well as the 300-metre-long pier. Reconstructed in 1957, like the town, the pier still feels as though it’s holding onto its heritage, being a popular place to watch fishermen pull up mackerel or whiting. Continuing your voyage out to sea you’ll come across the pier’s café, which serves up local treats with unobstructed views right across the Channel.
Heading inland and to the town itself, you may get a little lost in the tiny lanes that were popular with the smuggling that occurred in the town, with many of the properties having remains of secret tunnels and places where the smugglers could hide! Once you’ve found a way out, it's time to take to the high street and smuggle some of your own goods back home. Whether you are after French wines, limited edition home furnishings or a new piece of art, Deal high street is a bohemian and creative spot which was picked up in 2013 when the town won High Street of the Year.
If after a few too many cakes or seafood delights you want to burn off the calories, take a walk along the flat and pristine shoreline toward Walmer Castle. A recurring theme is the Cinque Ports, and Walmer Castle is no different – as it’s the residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Previous holders of this post include the namesake of the Wellington boot, Wellington boot Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, and more recently Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother. Steeped in history as varied as the wondrous gardens themselves, the castle is worthy of a visit even if just to brush up on your national history!
Just a 5 minute drive from the castle is the Walmer & Kingsdown Golf Club, a prestigious Downland course on the White Cliffs. Designed by Scottish golfer James Braid, year-round golf is possible because of the chalk foundations, and with views of either the sea or the Garden of England countryside (and possibly France too), the course is a splendid afternoon’s choice. The 6,471 yards make for a challenge for all abilities, with the club priding itself on its inclusive identity, with ‘a deep-seated community-spirit and friendly, family atmosphere’.
As this discovery journey along from Sandwich is quickly turning into a coastal escape, it would be coarse to not include one of England’s most famous gateways to England – Dover. The town includes English landmarks Dover Castle and its wartime tunnels to the White Cliffs, so if you’ve just passed through you need to make a stop at this jewel in Kent’s crown.
Standing tall and proud is the iconic castle, which has had fortifications to protect the country for thousands of years at the closest point to France in England, and in turn has been at the forefront of defence for nine centuries. Stories from the castle are vivid and extensive from a Roman lighthouse and dramatic medieval interiors, right up to secret tunnels that were used in WW2 and today tell the story of Operation Dynamo. You can even relive some of this history as the castle holds plenty of interactive days!
Dover doesn’t stop at the castle, however. In the town itself, just down the hill is The White Horse Inn, a Visit Kent award-winning pub that serves all the hearty food needed in winter to the light classics for summertime. Continuing further past the chains of Victorian townhouses is the brand new port area with a new pier out to sea, to admire the cruise ships and ferries sailing to France, which makes a fine mark to the end of your time exploring the local coastline of White Cliffs Country.