A Weekend in north-east Kent

On a warm Friday evening in April, Eileen and I set out for a weekend in and around the Isle of Thanet in the north-east corner of the County of Kent. Our base for the weekend was to be The Crown Inn at Sarre, near Birchington. This fine inn, owned by the famed Kent brewing firm of Shepherd Neame Limited, is locally and unofficially known as The Cherry Brandy House. Sarre is now a small village with less than 100 residents but it was once an important seaport, catering for both lawful and unlawful trade. The seaway silted up and Sarre is now 1½ miles inland.

Crown Inn

On our arrival we were greeted by the resident hosts Ann and Brian, a very friendly Scottish couple. All resident guests are welcomed with a glass of The Crown's own-recipe cherry brandy (as a restorative after their journey) and we were no exception! The cherry brandy recipe was brought to Kent by French Huguenots in the 17th century when they fled from the religious persecution of Louis XIV of France.

We thoroughly recommend The Crown Inn for its atmosphere, welcome and the quality of its fare at table. No lover of beer should miss sampling Shepherd Neame's fine ales. For further details telephone 01843 847808 or fax 01843 847914.

In addition to The Crown, Sarre has another attraction in the form of its windmill. This commercial working smock mill has now been fully restored and is grinding corn. There is also a gift-shop, a bakery and a tea-room. We visited the mill on Saturday morning and, being very keen on home-baking, bought several bags of flour for bread-making, including spelt flour. Spelt is mentioned in the New Testament and was once grown throughout Europe. A small quantity is now locally grown organically and is milled at Sarre. We can vouch for the fact that the flavour of the bread made from it is wonderful.

We later made our way along the coast-road, past Birchington and Westgate-on-Sea to Margate. We didn't stay long in this rather down-at-the-heel seaside resort, just long enough to find a cash-machine. We then drove around the North Foreland to the charming town of Broadstairs with its associations with the writer Charles Dickens.

Broadstairs Cottages

Broadstairs Beach

Somehow, against all the odds, Broadstairs has managed to retain a charm that so many seaside towns seem to have lost. With its individual shops, friendly people, restrained ambience and sandy beach, Broadstairs is well worth a visit.


 

From Broadstairs we drove down the coast to Ramsgate, a seaside and yachting town, where we ate a fresh crab sandwich lunch on the top of the cliffs, watching the cross-channel ferries make their way to and from Dunkerque and Ostende. From Ramsgate we proceeded to Sandwich - along with Hastings, Dover, Romney and Hythe - one of the Cinque Ports. This alliance of the most prominent towns in this part of England reached an importance third only to the Crown and the Church in its heyday between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Sandwich - Inns
 
Sandwich - Riverside

After a short walk around the town we took a boat ride along the River Stour to the ruined remains of Richborough Castle (in the care of English Heritage).

We made a brief visit to the castle, then we returned along the river to Sandwich where we took refreshment at a delightfully old-fashioned tea-room. Suitably restored, we returned to Sarre by way of the country roads.

The following morning, after bidding farewell to The Crown Inn, we set out for our last visit of the weekend - to Quex House, Museum and Garden at Birchington.

Quex is the home of the Powell-Cotton family. It started its existence as a Regency gentleman's country house and was transformed into the Victorian mansion that we see today. As well as the house and extensive garden, there are the Quex Dioramas, assembled by Major Powell-Cotton, a remarkable man who was - among other things - an explorer, hunter, naturalist, and anthropologist. Major Powell-Cotton was fascinated by the exotic animals he saw on his travels and built a number of galleries to house dioramas in which over 500 animals have been arranged against authentic backdrops.

Quex House

To late-20th Century eyes, the Victorian concept of presenting natural history by means of big-game hunting, followed by taxidermy, seems at least strange and, to many, distasteful. One must remember that people in the last quarter of the 19th Century and the first quarter of the 20th lived without the benefits of colour photography, the Internet and an endless supply of nature programmes on TV. I also feel that we should be slow to judge, lest the next century judges some of our late-20th Century foibles (the Internet perhaps) harshly!

Lovers of country-house visiting will find Quex House very worthwhile. There is also a restaurant where we took a traditional roast lunch. Quex has a full programme of events and more information may be obtained by telephoning 01843 842168.

All good things come to an end, even weekend breaks, so after a short walk in the gardens, we set out for home, having enjoyed a variety of activities and scenery and looking forward to our next weekend away.


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