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st.vincent Hythe - A travel report by Clive
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Hythe,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
3951 readers

st.vincent's travel reports

The historic Cinque Port of Hythe

  18 votes
Hythe is a small seaside town on England's South East coast, just a few miles from Folkestone where the Channel Tunnel starts. It is one of the five original Cinque Ports - pronounced sink in the Norman way as opposed to sank like the French.

St. Leonard's Church -
St. Leonard's Church - "The Church with the Bones"
My association with Hythe is a nostalgic one as it is where I used to go on family holidays when I was a child. Each year we would pack ourselves into my father's car and head down to the coast. I had an Aunt who lived there and for two weeks of the year we would stay with her and bring chaos to her serene existence in this idyllic little seaside town. In recent years I've had a desire to rediscover Hythe, and possibly my youth, and see how the place might have changed in the 30 plus years since my childhood visits.

Hythe has a long and interesting maritime and military history. It is one of the original Cinque Ports which during Norman times were charged with providing ships and men to the King to help defend the Kent coastline from invasion. In return they were given tax privileges, the right to hold their own courts, and strangely the right to run an annual herring fair in Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast. The other Cinque Ports were Hastings, Romney, Dover and Sandwich.

Another important period was during the Napoleonic Wars. Hythe was seen as a vulnerable place for a possible invasion by Napoleon who, seemingly bored with waging war against most of mainland Europe, decided to have a go at England. To counter this threat two large building projects started in 1805, the first being the building of the Royal Military Canal running for 28 miles parallel to the coast and designed to be both a defence and a means of transporting supplies. It was built in straight sections with a turn every 800 feet as this was the range of a cannon and therefore it was easier to defend.

The other project was the building of 74 bastion-like towers stretching from just along the coast at Folkestone to Seaford near Eastbourne. The walls were up to 13ft thick and each tower held 24 men and had a huge cannon mounted on the top. They were known as Martello Towers named after a similar tower at Mortella Point in Corsica which the Navy captured from the French.

Favourite spots:
Fisherman's Beach
Fisherman's Beach
Although never needed for their original purpose, the towers were later used to combat smuggling and also as signalling stations and coastal defences during the two world wars. Two remaining towers in Hythe are still in fairly good condition having had some restoration work done, others have been destroyed for development, some lay in ruins and a few have even been turned into houses, one of which can be seen along West Parade.

At the end of West Parade is Fisherman’s Beach which is where the local fishermen set out from and where fresh fish wholesalers process the catch before delivering to local restaurants. Further along the beach is where the two remaining Martello Towers can be found but as the land is part of a Ministry of Defence firing range access is limited - and a little dangerous!!

What's really great:
The acoustic mirror up on the hillside
The acoustic mirror up on the hillside
You can’t go far in Hythe without being reminded of its history, and the perfect place to find out more is in the History Room which is part of the public library in Oaklands Gardens. It holds old seals, coins and documents plus displays relating to the famous Hythe School of Musketry opened in 1853 and used for weaponry training right up until 1968.

About a 30 minute walk from the town centre along the canal bank towards West Hythe you will find evidence of some pre RADAR experiments from the 1920’s. High up on a hillside is a large concrete dish known as an acoustic mirror which was used as an early warning system to pick up the sound of aircraft approaching over the English Channel. It is on Ministry of Defence land and whilst they claim it is open to the public they make it as difficult as possible to reach.

There are eight walking and three cycling routes marked thoughout the town and a leaflet showing details is available from the library and other tourist spots.

The Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway
The Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway
The Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway is the smallest gauge (15 inch) public railway in the world and a big tourist attraction. It runs 13.5 miles from Hythe to Dungeness crossing the famous Romney Marshes, home of old time smugglers and the setting for Russell Thorndike's Doctor Syn novels. It was opened in 1927 and has 13 steam and diesel locomotives, which are housed and maintained at New Romney

St Leonard’s Church sits high up on the hillside overlooking the town and is well worth a visit. Built in 1080 on the site of a Saxon church it has a beautiful stained glass window depicting Hythe's role as a Cinque Port and defender of the coast. It is known as “The Church with the Bones” due to the ossuary in the crypt, containing 2,000 human skulls, 8,000 thighbones, a few jawbones and various other gruesome relics. The exact origin of the bones is unclear but a likely explanation is that they were dug up and stored in the Middle Ages when it was customary to re-use burial plots

The gruesome ossuary in the crypt of St.Leonard’s Chruch
The gruesome ossuary in the crypt of St.Leonard’s Chruch
The Stade Court is one of the two main traditional hotels in Hythe, and is well located right on the seafront and within 5-10 minutes walk of the canal and the high street. It has a pleasant garden patio and a comfortable indoor lounge both of which overlook the seafront. There are 42 en-suite rooms with those on the upper floor being split level with the bathroom and a small seating area upstairs. The room price was £49 including breakfast but I went through an agent and got it cheaper. Even at the higher price it is good value and I would definitely return.

The Imperial a little further along the coast towards Folkestone is more up market and therefore expensive. Many of the pubs also have accommodation, like the Red Lion in the main square the Swan in the High St. There are also a number of guesthouses and bed & breakfast properties available. Folkestone is just a short bus ride away and is another option for a place to stay if visiting Hythe.

The canalside setting for the Venetian Fete
The canalside setting for the Venetian Fete
Like many similar seaside towns, Hythe has attracted a significant older population and as such does not have a great deal of nightlife, especially during the winter months when visitors are few and far between.

There are a number of pubs dotted around the town including the historic King’s Head in the High Street. It was here that Oliver Cromwell was proclaimed as Lord Protector in 1653 when the English monarchy had been suspended after the Civil War. The Three Mariners in Windmill St is a friendly back street pub and the Hope Inn on Stade St is worth a visit and has a large beer garden and a restaurant attached.

Every two years in August (next one in 2007) a Venetian fete is held in the evening along the canal. Local companies and organisations decorate floats that are illuminated and sail up the canal accompanied by music and fireworks. I remember this as an exciting event and the highlight of our holiday on the occasions when we saw it.

A romantic row along the canal
A romantic row along the canal
The beach and the promenade is where many people will head for on a summer’s day. West Parade stretches from Fisherman’s Beach to the end of Stade St. where the old harbour used to be. The harbour disappeared more than 400 years ago when it silted up after an earthquake and a huge storm. It leads into Marine Parade which was a restricted area in WWII with barbed wire, pill boxes and machine gun stations.

Oaklands Gardens is a pleasant pace to relax especially on Sunday afternoons when there are musical performances at the bandstand. The canal is close by where rowing boats can be hired by the energetic, or the romantic. The Malthouse Arcade is located at the bottom of the High St. and holds antique and collectors markets every Friday and Saturday. Each alternate Sunday there are boot fairs on the Green and a farmers market in the hall behind the RH&D railway station.

Two of the remaining Martello Towers
Two of the remaining Martello Towers
Sotiros is an upmarket international restaurant based in an attractive building that was once an old pub. I can recommend the Red Tea Chinese Restaurant on the High St. where you will also find a number of traditional tea rooms.

The Hythe Bay is a popular seafood restaurant at the bottom of Stade St. on the seafront. If you prefer to buy your fish & chip supper wrapped and take it to the beach then the Park Road Fish Bar is ideal. This is a popular practice as can be seen by the number of chip papers strewn about the promenade in the early morning, it’s not that people are untidy but the result of the seagulls picking through the rubbish bins for their breakfast. Thankfully the town council clear it up before most people get there.

For anyone who has been to Hythe, I have to report the sad demise of the iconic Four Winds. A typical seaside café with formica topped tables, cream teas, and kiss-me-quick hats and plastic windmills for sale. A sad loss to Hythe's recent history

Other recommendations:
The West Parade promenade - so many childhood memories
The West Parade promenade - so many childhood memories
So after more than 30 years did Hythe live up to my earlier memories? Well, some new buildings have appeared on the seafront, the putting green where my brother and I played is gone and the pub garden where I sat looking after my sister with a bottle of coke and a bag of crisps is now a restaurant. Other than that it's much the same, apart from the fact that everything looked smaller, and sort of normal.

But I guess that has more to do with perception. As we grow older we seem to see things as we expect them to be, to look without seeing, to accept things without question. We often lose that unbridled excitement of seeing something new, exercising our childish imagination and seeing things the way we'd like them to be. The crashing waves that chase us along the beach, the swooping gulls circling like kites on a windy day, the bells and sirens of the funfair drawing us in with promises of endless fun. That's what being at the seaside is all about as a child,.....then we grow up!!

Published on Tuesday June 6th, 2006

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Sat, Aug 26 2006 - 03:16 PM rating by jorgesanchez

One of your best reports

Sat, Jun 17 2006 - 06:42 PM rating by gloriajames

a great report! loved the pics!

Tue, Jun 06 2006 - 11:08 PM rating by marianne

Excellent information and well written. I especially like the way you see it now, with adult eyes.
It is so true hen you say: that everythingis the same, but smaller. I have the same feeling about places where I was before. Also distances seem to have shrunk, but that is probably because in those days our children had small legs and walked slower than we do now.

Tue, Jun 06 2006 - 09:25 PM rating by frenchfrog

A very complete report and very pleasant to read. I might pop down here on of these days!. Very interresting, lots of info provided. Thanks for sharing that

Tue, Jun 06 2006 - 12:29 PM rating by quikflikchiq

wonderful! Hythe has now been added to my list of places to go - and it was interesting to read how you thought it had changed. Great report.

Tue, Jun 06 2006 - 10:21 AM rating by mistybleu

A lovely report; I had similar feelings when I returned to Deal and Sandwich after many years, such wonderful childhood memories when life was perfect...

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