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A Taste of Sandwich

A gentle trail around this picturesque town.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Easy town streets and field tracks, 9 stiles

Landscape Impossibly quaint townscape surrounded by salt flats

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 150 Canterbury & the Isle of Thanet

Start/finish TR 351582

Dog friendliness Pretty good, can run free in some sections

Parking Behind Guildhall in Sandwich

Public toilets New Street, Sandwich

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1 From St Peter's Church in the centre of the town, walk down St Peter's Street to The Chain. Turn right into Galliard Street, walk to New Street and continue to the Guildhall. Go left, through the car park and up to the Rope Walk, where rope makers used this long, straight area to lay out their ropes.

2 Turn right and when you reach the road, cross over and turn right down The Butts. At the main road turn left, cross over and turn right up Richborough Road.

3 Walk ahead, past a scrapyard, and go through a gate to join a footpath on the right. Follow the track round, under the main road and up to the railway line. Nip over the stile and cross the line with care, then go over two more stiles and on to the road.

4 Cross over, go over another stile, then walk across the field to the trees, heading for the third telegraph pole. The path now plunges into the wood and up a wide track. Where it splits, fork right and go through the trees to a stile. Now follow the fence line and two more stiles over a couple of fields to join the road.

5 Cross over and walk up the track ahead. Richborough Fort is ahead. The path runs around the fort with expansive views over this seemingly endless landscape. At the bottom of the track turn right along the end of a garden. Nip over the stile and back over the railway, leaving it by another stile. The path now leads to the right, over a rather neglected looking lock and back beside the river. You will eventually rejoin the road, and retrace your steps to the end of Richborough Road where you turn left.

6 Go left through a kissing gate, pass the Nature Reserve and go round the edge of a recreation ground. Turn right through a gate, come on to Strand Street and turn left. Go left in front of the Bell Hotel, and right past the Barbican. Walk along the riverbank, following the line of the old town wall. At a bend in the river, turn right to a road. Cross over, continue along the footpath, pass the bowling green, then turn right down steps into Mill Wall Place. Cross over and go back along King Street to the start.

As you walk around Sandwich, you can't help but be struck by the town's picturesque appearance. With its half-timbered houses and historic churches, it has a quiet English charm, the sort that makes you think of tea and scones and Thora Hird. It's hard to imagine these narrow streets echoing with the footsteps of raiders, smugglers and pirates. Yet Sandwich was once the most important port in England - the Dover of its day - and was one of the original Cinque Ports.

The Cinque Ports (pronounced 'sink') was the name given to the confederation of five (later seven) important ports on the south east coast that guarded England in the days before there was an official navy. Hastings, New Romney, Dover, Hythe and Sandwich, together with Rye and Winchelsea, were important fishing and trading centres. This meant they had plenty of men and ships that the King could press into service, whether he wanted free transport to Europe for his family or a force to repel invaders. It was convenient for the monarch - and in those days no one was going to argue. Sandwich was of particular importance as it occupied a strategic position on the coast, and was frequently raided by both the Danes and the French.

The tradition began with the early Saxons and was well established by the time of Edward the Confessor (c1003-1066), who made use of Cinque Port ships. By the 13th century, the towns had become so important to England that they were formally granted certain rights and privileges. These included freedom from taxes and customs duties, certain trading concessions, and even their own courts and punishments. In return, each town had to supply a quota of men and ships whenever the monarch required. It was a pretty good deal and provided plenty of opportunity for local merchants and traders to make money. The Cinque Ports consequently became some of the richest and most powerful centres in Europe.

The quay at Sandwich, now so quiet, would have bustled in those days as fighting men embarked for Europe, and ships laden with valuable cargoes of silks, spices and wine were unloaded. It would have been intimidating too, for smugglers and pirates operated from here, attracted by the rich pickings on offer. All the ports had a violent reputation. However, their power and influence was not to last. A terrible storm in 1287 permanently altered the coastline. The sea began to retreat and the harbour at Sandwich, and other ports, eventually became so choked with silt they could no longer be used. After a permanent navy was established the privileges of the Cinque Ports were revoked and Sandwich sank back into relative obscurity.

What to look for

Richborough Fort was once the gateway to Roman Britain. Claudius' legions landed here in ad 43 before launching their invasion and you can still see their defensive ditches. Known as Rutupiae by the Romans, the fort guarded what was then the main port of entry to Britain. Inside you can see a large masonry cross dating back to ad 80, which is thought to commemorate the conquest.

While you're there

At Ebbsfleet, a couple of miles from Sandwich, is the spot where the Jutes, Hengist and Horsa, are said to have landed their longships in ad 449. They and their troops quickly took control of Kent, which became the first Anglo-Saxon kingdom. The English nation was effectively born here.

Where to eat and drink

There is plenty of choice in Sandwich, which has a good mix of tea shops, pubs and restaurants. The New Inn on Delf Street serves hot drinks, soup, sandwiches and light meals such as baked potatoes.

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