Hythe Tourist Guide
Hythe is four miles west of the cross- channel port of Folkestone and 16 miles south west of Dover.
It is a small coastal market town on the edge of Romney Marsh. The word Hythe or Hithe is an Old English word meaning ‘haven’ or ‘landing place’.
The town has Medieval and Georgian buildings, as well as a Saxon/Norman church on the hill and a fashionable promenade. Hythe was once of such importance that it was defended by two castles, at Saltwood and Lympne. The Town Hall was built in 1794. Hythe's market once took place in Market Square (nowadays Red Lion Square) close to where there is now a regular Farmers' Market. A wide promenade overlooks a long stretch of beach, and over the English Channel to France. It is ideal for a summer picnic and safe bathing. From the sea-front the town is on level ground.
Most of the area is residential, but a short walk along Stade Street brings you to the Royal Military Canal. This was dug during the Napoleonic era (1804-15) as a defence against the threat of French invasion. The town spreads up the hillside in a mix of small streets, containing many appealing historic buildings. At the bottom of the hill is the old, narrow High Street. It is the main shopping area and dates back many centuries. There is a variety of architectural styles to be seen in the buildings.
The town and surrounding neighbourhood contain numerous excellent facilities for leisure. Golf, tennis, riding, bowls, squash, boating, wind-surfing, freshwater and sea angling, and bathing in the local indoor heated pools or the sea are all available. The Royal Military Canal's banks provide many attractive walks, as does the local countryside.
After the Norman Conquest, the name of 'Cinque Ports’ was given to the ports of Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich in return for the obligation to provide ships and men for the monarch, to guard the south-east shores from invasion and provide cross-Channel passage for the monarch and his entourage. The oldest Cinque Port Charter was granted to Hythe as long ago as 1278, in the reign of Edward I and is still held by Hythe Town Council with other charters from Richard II, dated 1392, and Elizabeth I, dated 1575.
During the next few centuries, the Hythe continued as a south coast port, but it was in slow decline. The harbour began to silt up very gradually, despite exhausting dredging efforts, and eventually become impossible to use. The threat of invasion arose again at the end of the 18th century, this time from Napoleon. This led to the creation of the famous Martello Towers and the Royal Military Canal.
The large parish church of St Leonard's, on Church Hill, can be found high above the town, some way up the hill. It originally was a Norman structure and was expanded in about 1175 to provide a larger nave. The transepts were added in the 13th century. The chancel was rebuilt to provide the ambulatory and a tower was added. In the 18th century the south transept was rebuilt and in vaults below it are buried members of the family who financed the work. The ossuary, in the ambulatory, contains human bones with 2000 skulls and 8,000 thighbones; they date from the medieval period, probably having been stored after removal, to make way for new graves. This was a common practice in England during the period but bones were usually dispersed, and this is thus a rare collection. The tower at its eastern end was destroyed by an earth tremor in 1739 and restored in 1750. Lionel Lukin, credited with the invention of the lifeboat, is buried in the parish churchyard.
The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway is a 1 ft 3 in (381 mm) gauge heritage railway. The 13.5 mile (23 km) line runs from Hythe via Dymchurch, St. Mary's Bay, New Romney and Romney Sands to Dungeness, close to Dungeness Power Station and Dungeness Lighthouse. Constructed during the 1920s and eventually opening on the 16th July 1927, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway was the dream of millionaire racing drivers Captain J.E.P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski. The line carries over 100,000 passengers each year with a unique experience of main-line speed in miniature form.
The Royal Military Canal stretches for 28 miles along the old cliff line that borders the Romney Marsh from Hythe in the north east to Cliff End in the south west. It was built as a third line of defence against Napoleon, after the British Royal Navy patrolling the English Channel and the line of 74 Martello Towers constructed along the south coast. The Royal Military Canal was built in two sections. The longest part starts at Hythe in Kent and ends at Iden Lock in East Sussex. The second smaller section runs from the foot of Winchelsea Hill to Cliff End. Both sections are linked by the Rivers Rother and Brede. Today the full length of the canal has a public footpath along it and makes an excellent waymarked long distance trail with many interpretation panels. The canal is also a haven for some of the special wildlife of the Romney Marsh, Kingfishers can be regularly seen and during the summer months the canal is full of patrolling dragonflies and noisy Marsh Frogs. The canal corridor provides a 7km stretch of footpaths and bridleways from Seabrook Outfall to West Hythe Dam. Both ends of the canal have free car parks and interpretive panels explaining the importance of the habitat for the wildlife, some of which are national rarities. The nearest train station is Sandling (2.5 miles).
The Martello Towers are fortifications that were built by the British Army for coastal defence during the nineteenth century. They were built all over the British Empire, from Ireland to Canada, and many survive to this day. The towers built along the coast of Kent and Sussex were the first to be built in England. Tower 13 stands on Hythe seafront in Western Parade and somehow survived the building of the promenade. It is now a private residence. Tower 14 stands within the danger area of the Hythe Ranges and is derelict as is Tower 15.
Saltwood Castle was first built in 488, probably on a Roman site, though Bronze Age implements and copper ingots have been discovered in Hayne's Wood. It was replaced by a 12th century Norman structure which was extended throughout the next two centuries. The castle was rendered uninhabitable in 1580 by an earthquake but was restored in the 19th century, since when the tall gatehouse has been used as a residence.
Brockhill Country Park was previously part of a large estate dating back to Norman times. You can still see the old manor house adjacent to the park. The rest of the park is dominated by a large grassy valley, bisected by the Brockhill Stream as it makes its way to the Royal Military Canal at Hythe and excellent views to the English Channel. There are two sign posted trails around the park. The rabbit-grazed turf is ideal for low-growing herbs and the rich mosaic of plants provides shelter for many beautiful butterflies. Tel: 01303 266327 for information.
Situated just off the large shingle beach at Hythe is the Hythe & Saltwood Sailing Club. The club provides great facilities for sailing and windsurfing in an informal, friendly environment. A real 'family' club welcomes visitors and new members alike. The sailing and windsurfing at Hythe is excellent, ranging from those warm, flat days, ideal for beginners, to demanding force 8 gales; enough to test the most proficient windsurfer. Usually, however, conditions are a more sedate force 2 to 4 in the prevailing south-westerly winds.
If you fancy a round of golf The Hythe Imperial offers a very challenging nine-hole, 18 tee and 5,402 yard golf course. Bounded by the Royal Military Canal and the English Channel, you can really enjoy some invigorating sea breezes. The course is at Prince's Parade Tel: 01303233745. Alternatively Sene Valley Golf Club is most fortunate in having one of the most picturesque golf course locations in Kent. Visit http://www.senevalleygolfclub.co.uk for details.
The children might prefer the Hythe Golden Jubilee Skateboard Park which was opened in December 2002. The Park is operated and owned by Hythe Town Council and four hour sessions cost £1.00. The Park has a half-pipe, quarter pipes and flat banks, a pyramid and a grind box.
Hythe Farmers' Market is held at the Methodist Church Hall in Chapel Street. Run by volunteers, the market takes place on second and fourth Saturdays of the month from 10am to midday. Parking is available nearby. Tel: 01303 266118 or 268715
Hythe Local History Room in Oaklands, 1 Stade Street has a display on the history of an original Cinque Port, the Confederation itself and the Small Arms School. There are items of local archaeological interest and everyday life relevant to the town of Hythe. Tel: 44 01303 266152 for details.
As an alternative to the sea try the Hythe Swimming Pool at Sea Front in South Road. Tel: 01303 269177.
Also look out for…..a short distance from Hythe and well worth a visit is Westenhanger Castle. Then there is Port Lympne Wild Animal Park which is a must if you love animals. The Kent Battle of Britain Museum at Hawkinge Airfield in Aerodrome Road, Hawkinge has the most important collection of Battle of Britain artefacts on show in the country. There are sixteen aircraft, vehicles, weapons, flying equipment, prints and relics from nearly 600 Battle of Britain crashed aircraft.
Lathe Barn in Donkey Street, Burmarsh, Romney Marsh, is a children's farm with sheep, a donkey, pigs, goats, rabbits, chickens, a children's play area and putting green. There is also a tearoom and gift shop craft shops. Visit http://www.lathebarn.co.uk.
Elham Valley Railway Museum at Peene, Newington near Folkestone is a family attraction where visitors can see steam engines, trains, a signal box and the largest railway model of the Channel Tunnel. There is a lot to see for all age groups including lovely gardens and a local history display.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015