Sandwich Bay

Every July my husband, Atticus, my scottish terrier, Bambino, and I visit our artist friend Magdalena at her sea house in Sandwich Bay, Kent. This large stucco and pebble-dash house reminds me of summer houses in East Hampton, Long Island. So it’s no surprise to learn that the architect who built the house in 1910 was American.

The house hosted literary, political figures and suffragettes in the 1920s. Black and white photos of distinguished friends in bathing costumes and some in top hats and tails are dotted around the hallways and under the glass table tops. Ladies are wearing tiaras and lords the ermines of the House of Lords. George Bernand Shaw and Charlie Chaplin were frequent guests when Magdalena’s American grandmother billeted here for the summer. “Granny’ called it her cottage by the sea’” laughs Magdalena, “of course, she brought a large staff and entertained on a grand scale.”

Bambino runs along the sand dunes which are strewn with wild flowers, wild horseradish. sea lavender and asparagus. He hurdles into the sea; looking over his shoulder to be sure I’m watching. He paddles out waiting for me to call him back. He’s listening for that note of anxiety in my voice that tells him he’s out too far.

Back at the house Bambino rushes around the full perimeter of the walled garden at break neck speed. My bedroom, the Shell Room, is on the first floor and has a balcony for sitting and reading or staring out at the Channel. On a clear day you can see across to France. In the distance ferries are puffing their way to and from Margate and Calais, and you can hear the occasional tug boat hooting its’ departure. The house is so large that there is usually a breeze blowing through it. You feel like you’re out at sea on an ocean liner in the blue and white rooms. Even when it’s raining there’s space for painting or just sitting and enjoying the cruise.

Magdalena’s bean pole frame and ancient ducal heritage hide a constitution and will of iron like the “true grit” of the American pioneers. She drives her jeep like a Comanche over the sandy track along the sea, hurling insults left and right to anyone who dares to slow her down, “Moron…swine!…” The three fingers of gin she pours into my tonic are a welcome relaxer after our journey.

There’s normally a large group of guests for breakfast and twenty or so for lunch and dinner. Tea is laid out at four thirty without fail, and houseguests marvel at traditional honey sandwiches, brandy snaps, raffia biscuits, fruit cake and crumpets.

“Come on,” urges Magdalena, putting a wad of cash into her pocket like a sailor on leave who’s just been paid. “It’s Saturday. French Market day in Deal.”

Deal is a small but bustling sea side town where Victorian gingerbread houses in shades of pale pastels line the sea front just past the Royal Cinque Ports Golf Course a few miles from the house. The white balconied Cinq Ports clubhouse reminds me of the old colonial club in Penang.

Deal’s narrow streets reveal antique bazaars and bread shops and holes in the wall for all sorts of products which have washed up from France. The Allotment shop grows all its own veg. The fishmonger displays a wealth of fresh, glistening monsters. The No Name Shop has fresh breads, olives, and cheeses. The French Market is hit or miss, but I bought rather interesting vintage cook books, like Madame Prunier’s Seafood Specialities and wet garlic and tarragon mayonnaise, and a goat’s cheese from a small village in Brittany.

All and all a visit to Sandwich Bay is a refreshing change of air. It’s like casting a net into the sea and pulling up a cornucopia of little treasures, which we pack into the back of the Volvo and head home with a new perspective on life!

— Mrs M


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