Saturday, August 21, 2010

Train trippin'

Every now and again I am seized by a truly geeky idea and I must follow through on it. Case in point today, I decided to take a train trip to Sandwich. To eat a sandwich.

Yeah okay fine, it's totally dumb but I never said it was a great idea; I just said it would be geeky. And I never expected that the sandwiches in Sandwich would be any better than you could buy elsewhere. I just thought that the idea of eating a sandwich IN Sandwich had a geeky poetry about it. I was all over it.

Sandwich is a little town in Kent, a little over 2 hours train ride from central London. My train left from Waterloo East station at 9.15am and I was almost immediately thrown into chaos by the train messages that suggested the train would soon be splitting in half. The conductor explained that the front 4 carriages of the train were destined for Ramsgate (the stop after Sandwich and therefore where I needed to be), but the rear 4 carriages were going to Canterbury. I walked backwards and forwards down the aisle for a few minutes, muttering to myself and trying to work out which carriage I was in, much less where I was supposed to be! Ridiculous. When I finally worked everything out, I sat down to watch the English countryside whoosh past.

Just over two relaxing hours later, the train pulled into Sandwich and I was so excited. Again, I think this is the geek in me coming out. Sandwich is a medieval town and I really love those. To me, medieval towns imply draughty churches, cobbled streets and interesting architecture. But they also mean ancient, barnacled residents who have never left the place where their ancestry can be traced back to Norman times. What's not to love about that sort of community? In these respects, Sandwich did not disappoint.

Indeed the tourist literature tells me that in its day, Sandwich was a busy fishing and trading centre. Along with Hastings, Romney, Hythe and Dover, Sandwich rounded out what was known as the Cinque Ports (cinque being French for five but in an interesting snub to the French, cinque is pronounced "sink" in Sandwich). These five towns were England's first line of defence against attacks from the sea and as major port cities in their own rights, they effectively controlled the trade and commerce that was undertaken along the shipping channels in the area. Such was the strategic and commercial importance of Sandwich in particular that a number of royals visited and stayed in the town for some time over the years. Queen Elizabeth I encouraged Dutch families to settle in Sandwich, and their influence is still apparent in the town's architecture today.

I took a one-hour boat trip on the Sandwich River Bus to putter along the River Stour. The weather was pretty rotten to be honest, but I only had to share the boat with one lady and her grandson, so I was willing to put up with a bit of rain. Unfortunately there is not much of the town visible from the River, so really all I got to see on the boat cruise were some old barges, the stinky marshes and some scrawny ducks. But it was a relaxing way to spend an hour, and I got a good feel for the town's geography but at the same time, I didn't have to worry about navigating so that was good for me. After the boat cruise, I visited St Mary's Church (1 of 4 churches in the town) and it was pleasantly draughty, ancient and in desperate need of restoration. The Guild Hall was similarly charming - a tiny museum that captures the history of Sandwich from its Roman roots to the present day. Well worth the 1GBP admission price.

One thing that did surprise me about Sandwich was the traffic. I couldn't believe a) how much traffic there was, and b) how fast motorists hooned around the tiny cobbled, one-way streets. I wanted to take photographs of some of the architecture but I was so worried about being knocked over that I didn't bother. Fortunately by virtue of its medieval-ness, Sandwich used to be a walled/fortified city. The remnants of the wall still exist and so I spent a lovely hour or so just wandering around the old city perimeter that has been beautifully landscaped to encourage walkers and cyclists alike to make good use of the paths.

I stopped in at a small pub on the waterfront, and honored my pledge of eating a sandwich in Sandwich. How disappointed I was that the pub did not offer any fancy sandwiches or even lay claim to serving the best sandwiches in Sandwich. They were literally just run-of-the-mill, garden-variety, buy-it-anywhere kind of sandwiches. So in protest, I ate half a sandwich and then ordered fish and chips instead, which were much more satisfying.

On the journey back to London, I must have slept for the first hour or so. When I woke up, we were still deep in the English countryside and I loved just sitting back and watching the fields and farmhouses pass by. Before I knew it though, the landscape changed and we were coming back to the real world where the traffic is chaotic, the people are merciless, and the sandwiches taste pretty much the same.


Batreg said...

Tell me that you honoured the medi-evilness buy muttering to yourself that everything was very medg-evil, please?? It's not as much fun if you don't say it right :)

Gab In The City said...

You bet your keester, I did :)