Sandwich, Dover, Hastings, Hythe, New Romney
by Enza Ferreri
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The Cinque Ports (pronounced "Sink Ports", from the Norman French for "five ports") is a historical group of five coastal towns, four in Kent, Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, New Romney, and one in East Sussex, Hastings.
A good guide to Dover, the other Cinque Ports and nearby attractions, hotels, holiday rentals and other accommodation, complete with visitors' photos and what other travellers have to say about the places and hotels, is also on TripAdvisor .
History of the Cinque Ports
The Cinque Ports importance in history lies in their defensive role as a barrier along the English Channel against possible invasions, in the most vulnerable, open to attack stretch of coast where the crossing to continental Europe is at its narrowest and where it is easiest to control important sea routes.
Although the details are still debated among historians, it is believed that the Portsmen, inhabitants of the Cinque Ports, first came together informally in the 11th century to regulate their common trade interests like the Yarmouth annual herring fair in Norfolk, and that this economic union was reinforced by the strategic position of the five ports.
According to evidence it is thought that the Confederation of the Cinque Ports was instituted during the reign of the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), who first replaced the Saxon mercenary fleet with the fishing fleets drawn from the Ports, which formed the first Navy.
In return for these military services of supplying English kings with ships and men in case of need and war, the five towns were granted special privileges, for example that of not paying import duties for goods brought into the country, the right to hold their own judicial courts and the freedom to trade. These privileges were established in a series of Royal Charters, of which the earliest is believed to date from 1155 and the last, which can be seen in the Guildhall in Sandwich, was granted in 1668 by Charles II.
Other nearby coastal villages and towns assisted the original Cinque Ports in maintaining ships for the Crown, most notably Winchelsea, Rye, becoming Antient Towns, Deal, Ramsgate, Faversham, Folkestone, Margate, Lydd and Tenterden, which became Limbs.
Dover Harbour from the Cliffs
The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a position which was once of great importance but is merely honorary today, has his official residence at Walmer Castle near Deal, another coastal fort commissioned by Henry VIII, where the flag of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, three half lions joined to the backs of three ships, can be seen flying.
Dover, Hythe, New Romney
Dover and Folkestone are dominated by the famous White Cliffs celebrated in poetry and songs, a symbol of England for war-time Vera Lynn as well as for today's homecoming travellers arriving on a ferry from the continent whose patriotism tempts them into singing Jerusalem.
The cliffs appear higher and mightier from the sea than when you are near them. Railway tunnels are cut into the chalk of the cliffs.
Dover Castle was built on a Roman fort, and part of the original Roman fort still remains.
Folkestone town is larger than Dover, although Dover's harbour is bigger than Folkestone's: not so many ferries to/from the continent, and now even less because of the Eurostar train.
In fact, Dover is now the only Cinque Port to still have an important harbour.
Rye and Rye Maritime Festival
Rye was a harbour at the time of Henry VIII, before the town was separated from the sea by marsh and, from a coastal port, it was transformed into a river one, causing loss of trade.
Rye is an attractive, historic town in East Sussex, well known for its pottery, cobbled streets, interesting local shops, lovely tearooms, and for its castle.
Visit the Rye Heritage Centre for a 20-minute sound-and-light show introducing the town, then you may try to arrange a guided walking tour of the town and harbour.
One of the things Rye is famous for is its annual Rye Maritime Festival, a celebration of Rye's nautical heritage and seafaring history taking place in August on the Strand Quay, a free event for all the family.
Attractions at the Festival include beer tent, hot food, non-stop live music, Hastings Sea Shanty Singers, the RNLI, Sea Cadets, children's entertainment, maritime exhibitions, demonstrations and live entertainment. Boats of all types will be moored on the quay dressed and decorated for the occasion.
Other places to visit are the Ypres Tower Museum and Rye Castle Museum. Climb the tower at St Mary's church for good views across the area. There are entrance charges for these, but each is only a few pounds.
If the weather is fine, walk along the river bank and sand dunes to Camber Sands, about 4 miles/6 km one-way.
Similarly to Rye, during the Middle Ages Winchelsea and Tenterden became completely isolated from the coast when the sea retreated and the rivers silted up.
New Romney harbour silted up. Hythe is still on the sea, but its natural harbour has also ceased to exist due to centuries of silting.
Enza Ferreri is an Italian web author living in London, and former journalist.
Email: ehg89 at britaingallery dot com