This is the third instalment in my bus journeys with a friend series using our bus passes; all journeys leave from Canterbury and end up at a coastal town in Kent. Since we started making our trips, which used to be almost weekly during the warmer months, we’ve had the pandemic and `things have changed`. There was a long period when we couldn’t go on the bus for excursions and now that we can a lot of the bus routes have been cut or re-routed and sometimes the timetabled bus just doesn’t turn up at all! I’m sure this is the case throughout the UK but it does make it difficult to plan a day out to be sure of being able to get home again. Some destinations are now just too much of a risk, while other places we just have a two to three hour slot for some lunch and a walk before dashing to the bus stop to get the last bus back to Canterbury. More of that in the individual reviews. We catch the 10.16 or 10.46 Stagecoach South East bus from Bay D3 in the bus station for the 36 minute journey.
The no. 43 route from Canterbury to Sandwich is one of my favourite excursions. I really like Sandwich. I feel at home there, but that may be because my ancestors came over from the continent in the 16th century as a result of religious persecution. Sandwich is one of the best preserved and most beautiful medieval towns in the country. It is also one of the principal Cinque Ports and is on the River Stour about 2 miles from the sea. The river used to be large enough for big ships to sail to and from the quay which also meant it was open to invasion; one such attack came in 1457 when 4,000 Frenchmen from Honfleur invaded the town and killed many inhabitants, including the mayor, resulting in the mayor nowadays wearing a black gown when on official duties. All has been forgiven though and now Sandwich is twinned with Honfleur and annually hosts `Le Weekend` – a popular French food and music fare – 10 and 11 June in 2023.
Back to our day trip to Sandwich. Having passed through the villages of Littlebourne, Wingham and Ash the No. 43 bus arrives at its destination – the Guildhall Square in Sandwich – the bus hub for the town. The old Guildhall and museum are on one side of the square and well worth a visit; guided tours of the town can be organised for groups by the museum and there are leaflets available with suggested walking route. On the other side of the square is a coffee shop, charity shop and The Sandwich Shop cafe. We got off the bus and went straight to The Sandwich Shop to buy a drink and a snack. Although the cafe serves other food we ordered sandwiches (obviously) and sat at a table outside watching the world go by. After our very good sandwiches we had a look round the central area; Sandwich is still blessed with many good independent shops; there are also many cafes, pubs and restaurants, a 1930’s Deco style cinema and a Co-op supermarket. We walked down No Name Street to Market Street where we went in St Peter’s Church, which hasn’t been a working church for a long time. It is now a community centre, open from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm and has a secondhand book shop, craft stalls and, on Saturdays, a cafe. We bought some books and craft items but didn’t climb the tower, the tour costs £3.50 to access `magnificent views over Sandwich`. I left that for when I visit with my husband. We then walked along Delf Street, past the cinema, and along more of the beautifully quiet medieval streets to the Quay to look at the boats moored there and to see the old toll bridge. Near the bridge is the Bell Hotel where we’ve enjoyed many very good cooked lunches but on this occasion we just stopped for another drink as it was a warm day and we’d already eaten. The quay was lined with various boats and outside the Sandwich Medieval Centre work was being done on a reconstruction of a medieval boat. At certain times of the year there are boat trips from the quay, either towards the mouth of the Stour to see seals basking on the mudflats, or upstream .
Unfortunately the nearby lovely Salutation Garden is now closed, the house and garden having been sold to private buyers who do not open it to the public. Continuing our clockwise route we walked along the High Street but it is a busy one-way route for traffic so I led my friend along Holy Ghost Alley that emerges opposite the Old Town Gaol in St Peter’s Street, which is now a house. Turning left we continued along King Street. It is easy to get lost but that means discovering more beautiful streets and after many years I know my way around, walking along Millwall Place and up the steps to the top of the Rope Walk where we turned right along a short picturesque section of the raised path that follows the line of the old town walls and then back through the large car park (with public toilets) to the Guildhall Square and the bus stop. We thought we’d timed it right to miss the hoards of schoolchildren coming out of school for their journey home, but we were wrong. We asked one of the uniformed schoolgirls in the queue what time they finished school and she told us that one of the secondary schools finishes at lunchtime on Wednesdays and the other one finishes at lunchtime on Fridays! We might avoid these days in future; not that the students are badly behaved, but the journey is noisy when the bus is full of school children and it stops frequently. Return buses leave at 21 and 51 minutes past the hour during the day, but make sure you don’t get on a school bus that makes a detour to do a pick-up at the school.
Sandwich is also a good place for a short break – I’ll do a review on this aspect soon.