I’ve just spent the weekend in Kent with my aunt Arleen who, being only about 10 years older than me, is as much a friend as an aunt, and because she leads an active life doing lots of interesting things, I feel a need to explain to people that I’m not visiting some aged aunt in their 90s in case they imagine I’m sitting around doing little when actually we’re on the go much of the time, making the most of our weekend together. A weekend with Arleen is always a busy time doing lots of interesting and fun things and she goes to a lot of trouble to make it a lovely time for me, and so it feels like a little holiday.
I was brought up in Kent and spent a lot of time in the Canterbury area visiting my father’s family as a child and so many of the places are familiar, even if I haven’t visited them in many years. Last time I went to stay with Arleen we visited Whitstable and Margate, and this time she offered to take me to different places. Thus on Saturday afternoon we went to nearby Sandwich (photo at top), which I’m pretty sure I’ve never been to before, and on Sunday to Canterbury, which I definitely have been to before but not since my teens.
Sandwich is an historic town that was first registered in 851 as Sondwic. In the Domesday Book in 1086 it appears as Sandwic, which means ‘market town on sandy soil’. It was also one of the Cinque Ports, originally formed for trade and military purposes in medieval times. Of course the first thought has to be – is it connected to the snack ‘sandwich’? And indeed it is – or so it is said. It’s not certain but the story goes that the Earl of Sandwich in the 18th century invented the snack of two pieces of bread with a filling. I couldn’t help remembering though that when I was in Turin a few weeks ago, I visited a café which also claimed to have invented the sandwich – or tramezzini. So, who knows. Whatever Sandwich’s true connection to the popular snack, it is anyway a very pretty town with beautiful old buildings and narrow medieval streets.
As it was a bank holiday weekend, it turned out there was also a festival going on celebrating things of the 1940s. At the quay there was a boat from World War II and lots of old 1940s cars.
When we stopped for an afternoon coffee, the staff in the café were wearing 1940s clothes and had 1940s hair styles. It was all great fun and I really enjoyed seeing Sandwich, which is a very pretty town. On the way back, we stopped at the beach near Arleen’s home to give her dog Rosie a run. It was so nice to be by the sea for the weekend.
For our evening meal Arleen had booked a table at The Powell in Birchington, where she lives. A pub, it’s recently been done up with a separate restaurant. It was very attractive inside, the restaurant area similar to the pub area but feeling different enough for you to feel you’re in a restaurant rather a bar. The food was really good. We didn’t didn’t have starters but went straight into mains, both choosing a fish special of the day which was sea bass with vegetables stuffed Provençal style and a tomato confit sauce.
It was delicious and our glasses of wine were excellent too. We decided to share a dessert – a mango bavarois and mango sorbet. It was really good and, like the main course, beautifully presented.
The weather wasn’t so good on Sunday morning but Rosie needed a walk and it was agreed to take a longer circular route from Arleen’s house to the beach so that we didn’t need to take the car.
The tide was well out but I think it can look really lovely like that, especially early in the morning when there’s hardly anyone around – other than dog walkers! Rosie enjoyed the walk too – and Arleen offered to take a photo of me holding her.
We stopped for a morning coffee at the Minnis Bay bar & brasserie and sat outside, looking over the sea. Inside they had local beers – but it was definitely too early for alcohol!
We went back to Arleen’s for lunch, Rosie was delivered to neighbours who like looking after her, and then we set off to Canterbury. Canterbury, famous for its cathedral and archbishop (who is the primate of the Church of England), was a pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages, a history made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote The Canterbury Tales in the 14th century about a group of pilgrims making their way to the city. There is, unsurprisingly, a statue of him in the historic centre.
The city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s been a settlement in the area since prehistoric times and the Romans captured the settlement in the 1st century, building a forum, temple, baths and even a theatre. Some of the Roman city walls survive, although were rebuilt in the 14th century; there are the ruins of St Augstine’s Abbey where Christianity was brought to England; and the oldest extant school in the world – The King’s School. It was lovely to walk round and see some of the old streets – though also quite busy on this bank holiday weekend.
I particularly wanted to go into the cathedral and luckily we got there just before it closed for entry at 2.00pm – early because there was to be a service at 3.15. It’s one of the oldest Christian buildings in England and was founded in 957, though was completely rebuilt between 1170-1177. At the moment there is a lot of scaffolding up on both the outside and inside, but even so, it’s the most beautiful, truly awesome building and I think, unlike some cathedrals which are big tourist attractions, it still retains a sense of spirituality.
There was some stunning, wonderful stained glass.
After our visit to the cathedral we headed to an old tearooms – Tiny Tim’s Tearoom – for tea, scones and clotted cream.
We shared a ‘cream tea’ as a tea for one came with two scones and we thought we only wanted one each, and just ordered an extra tea. It was as well we shared – the scones were enormous! Too big really. Very tasty but crustier than I prefer (I think scones should be quite soft and light) and we had to ask for extra cream as we were given quite a small amount.
Back at Arleen’s home, she’d prepared us a delicious fish pie for Sunday’s supper. This morning I had a last walk along the beach with her before heading home.
Arleen came as far as her son Jason’s who has a farm near Canterbury so I could stop off and see my cousin and his family before heading home. It had been a lovely weekend of family and Kent delights.