A little bit different from your usual seaside town
Where is Hythe? I hear you say, well, it’s a coastal market town in Kent, in the southeast of the UK. On a clear day, you can even see France, but hey we’re not going there today.
Alice on the beach
Hythe had been on my list of places to visit for quite a while, not only as it’s on the coast and I love anywhere with a shoreline.
But Hythe has an ossuary, and if you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that I have a bit of thing for visiting cemeteries and churchyards.
This was going to interesting!
Up close, inside the Ossuary
I don’t want to put you off immediately if visiting a crypt isn’t for you, so, I’ll let you into a few other secrets as to why you’d enjoy a visit to the charming town of Hythe.
The heritage town sign
What no sand?
Now, firstly as a coastal town you may be thinking, yay we’re going to the seaside; however, that’s what’s different about Hythe. It’s not candyfloss, arcades and sandy beaches, this is a coastal town with a difference.
The pebble beach
The seashore is awash with pebbles and is still used by the local fisherman to haul their daily catch across.
So, definitely, a place to visit for some fresh fish.
Griggs of Hythe for seafood
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You can certainly sit on the beach and enjoy the sunshine and sea; I’m just saying you’ll need sandals. Take a stroll along the coastline, and you’ll see the working fishing boats and also two of Hythe’s Martello Towers.
Martello Towers on the shoreline
Once there were 74 Martello Towers all along the coastline from Folkestone in Kent to Seaford in East Sussex. They were originally built as a defence against an invasion by Napoleon and then later used to combat smuggling, a trade that was quite prevalent along this coast.
During the 12th-century Hythe became one of the five main “Cinque Ports”, this was set up by Royal Charter pre-Royal Navy to supply ships to The Crown and recruit local mariners.
Different from the norm
Now, what is slightly unusual about Hythe is that the town is around ½ a mile inland from the sea, so it almost doesn’t feel like a seaside town.
When wandering into Hythe from the coast, you stroll through some quaint streets and lanes passing by cottages that were once home to local fishermen, traditional pubs and businesses from an era gone by.
The Hythe Garage
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Row, row, row your boat
Then what also gives Hythe its unique character is the Royal Military Canal that runs through the middle.
Boats on the canal
This 28 mile (45km) stretch of canal was also built as a defence against Napoleon. It runs from Seabrook near Folkestone to just outside Hastings in the south. Nowadays it has a tree-lined walkway along its edge, and you can hire a boat to enjoy the canal first-hand.
The Military Canal
Strolling along the canal is really pleasant, there are some delightful statues and memorials, children’s play areas, gardens and it’s a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by.
Head to the Old Town
Crossing over the canal, we arrive at Hythe’s historic market town centre.
The Old Post Office & Malthouse
There are so many delightful shops and old stores. It really does make you wonder how some of these businesses survive when there is so much competition from the “Big Boys”. It proves that local support is still thriving in some towns and villages.
Over the years the town has developed, still managing to keep several of its charming Medieval and Georgian buildings. Although it is Interspersed with some of today’s modern stores, where possible the locals have tried to blend with the character of the town.
King Head pub & Hendricks of Hythe Chocolaterie
Along the main High Street is Hythe’s Town Hall a former Guildhall built in 1794. There are some beautiful half-timbered buildings, traditional old pubs and I certainly wouldn’t say no to the chocolaterie.
The Town Hall
If you head up the lane to the side of the Town Hall, you’ll discover some of the lovely little streets, with beautiful cottages and manicured gardens. Also, the 12th-century ragstone building ‘Centuries House’, which was the birthplace and home of the Bishop of Rochester. In 1336 he founded St Andrew’s hospital for the poor in this same building.
Off to the Ossuary
If you keep heading up, you’ll arrive at St. Leonard’s Church and Crypt. Yes, you’ve reached the Ossuary. This place is incredible, it’s around £2 admission and so worth it.
Skulls in the Ossuary
The Crypt was created as the chancel was to be extended. Therefore, graves were dug up to accommodate for this.
The earliest written evidence of this collection is from 17th-century.
Ossuary “All you need to know”
The Ossuary in the crypt of St Leonard’s Church is only open from Easter through the summer months, so check on the link for more information.
It is the largest and best-preserved collection in Britain. Just within its four arched alcoves are 1,022 skulls. Go take a look is fascinating.
Additionally, there is a stack of bones and skulls measuring over 25 feet (7.8 metres) in length by around 6 feet (1.8 metres) in width and height. It is believed that the total number of individuals represented is about 2,000.
Inside the Crypt
The larger stack of bones was placed on a concrete base in 1910 and has never been dismantled since. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it. Although in July 2018, some nasty ‘erberts stole 21 of the skulls from the Ossuary, it’s unbelievable why someone would do this.
A look inside the Ossuary
Hythe has a railway and not just any old railway, it runs a route named the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR).
Steam in miniatture
The train isn’t full size though, it’s a one-third size steam & diesel locomotive.
It runs along a 13½ mile line, stopping at seven stations en-route.
Starting from Hythe and terminating at the very intriguing coastal Nature Reserve of Dungeness.
The next train departs...
The locomotive has been chugging through the countryside since 1927, today it is run by a very friendly and enthusiastic group of volunteers.
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