The historic small market town of Faversham is a good reason in its own right to make a visit to Kent, but it also has a very good boutique hotel and restaurant as Anna Hyman discovered.
Nestling on the bank of a creek a small settlement rapidly developed into a port. The land was fertile, there was pure water from a spring and the navigable creek provided access to France. Belgic and Roman settlers arrived, appreciated it and also called it home.
The Romans marched to London on a track that today has developed into the A2. They were followed by Jutish immigrants who are thought to have built up the glass making industry in the area.
The little town and port flourished and became acquainted with royalty. In the reign of Henry III Faversham became known as The King’s Port. Henry V travelled through it on his return from Agincourt. James II was held prisoner there when attempting an escape to France in 1688.
The manufacture of explosives added to its prosperity (it holds the record for the oldest gunpowder mill in the world) not only for use for weaponry but also to blast out routes for railways and quarries. Fine English wool was exported through its port.
The fertile soil was good for growing hops and barley, and thanks to the supply of pure water Faversham gained a reputation for good beers – it is still the home of the Shepherd Neame brewery. Brick making also played a role in the town’s prosperity as did the building of sailing barges. And there were the Faversham oysters as prized in days gone by as they are today.
However, between the two World Wars Faversham’s prosperity declined along with that of industry. Nevertheless evidence of its wealth can still be seen today in several half-timbered buildings and the pretty houses along enchanting Abbey Street.
A car is useful if you want to explore the gentle Kent countryside or close by attractions like Canterbury and Whitstable; or visit Brogdale, home to the National Fruit Collection or the foody mecca – Macknade Fine Foods.
Take a train from London
But I took the train from London and in less than an hour and a half I was checking into the centrally located Faversham Creek Hotel. The small boutique hotel, has a wonderfully friendly atmosphere. Behind the bar, which acts as reception, were General Manager Johnathon Reynolds and Restaurant Manager Fabio Armenti.
I had spoken to Fabio a little earlier when I had phoned to apologise because of train delays on my journey to London, letting the hotel know that I would be later arriving than planned. His friendly ‘no problem’, reassurance set the tone for my all too short visit. I felt welcome and I hadn’t even arrived.
It is a Grade 2 listed building
In no time at all up I was up the narrow staircase – the Grade 2 listed building dates from 1723 - being shown into the Alice Arden room. Each of the eight rooms is named after a local personality. Alice’s claim to fame was that she and her lover murdered her husband, a past mayor of Faversham, way back in 1551.
The rooms, ranging from small to large are beautifully decorated as well as being comfortably appointed and furnished. I loved the wall paper in my room and had I been able to steam it off and take it home with me I would have.
St Mary’s church has an unusual spire
In spite of my late arrival I was in time to take a quick tour round Faversham; it had been some years since my last visit.
Even though the shops were beginning to close for the evening I had time to call into the parish church of St Mary of Charity the largest parish church in Kent, and which I had never had time to visit before.
The church dates back to 1300 and has a rather lovely and unusual crown spire.
It is an attractive building and I stopped for a few minutes to look at the medieval painted column and the carved choir stalls whilst listening to somebody practising the organ.
I also saw something else that intrigued me – it appeared to be a memorial plaque to King Stephen.
Later at the hotel when I was chatting with David Selves, the Creek’s charismatic owner, I asked if he could enlighten me.
It appears that King Stephen built the Cluniac Faversham Abbey as a resting place for his family in 1148. Four years later his Queen, Matilda, died and was buried in the abbey.
Stephen himself died in 1154 and was also buried in the abbey church. The abbey eventually fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. One story goes that the royal bones were then thrown into the creek, another that they lie in the church, another that their resting place is in a playing field that once formed part of the abbey grounds.
My tour round the town had taken me past an attractive old pub The Phoenix Tavern, not far from the hotel – David asked if I had seen it. He was delighted that I had, because he owns it. It has a good reputation for food - meat pies a speciality. For guests staying at 'the Creek' there are reciprocal dining arrangements.
A non-alcoholic German chardonnay
My dinner that night in the Red Sails restaurant was a splendid but not intimidating meal. The restaurant has a cosy, relaxed, informal air about it, but with all the niceties of beautifully laundered crisp white napkins, along with shining glasses and cutlery.
I was on very strong antibiotics and not allowed alcohol; which saddened me because Restaurant Manager Fabio knows his wines and had compiled an interesting wine list. But he did find me a non-alcoholic German chardonnay – and whilst not quite what I would have chosen – by the second or third glass I actually found it quite acceptable.
Even more acceptable was my meal. The menu changes depending on what is in season and available. Luscious Kent cherries were at the best when I was visiting and my cherry dessert was heavenly and a wonderful climax to a delicious meal starting with homemade bread, a pear and goats cheese starter and seabream on saffron tagliatelle with marsh samphire.
Next morning’s breakfast was delicious too: a slice of very good black pudding, some excellent bacon served with wonderfully buttery scrambled eggs. Plus toast, made from the kitchen’s home made bread.
Faversham is renowned for its markets, beer and creek
Faversham is renowned for its markets and as it was a Saturday morning I set out for one of them (a mixture of food, plants, clothes and bric a brac) where I bumped into David’s wife Tracy buying plants for the tubs and pots to adorn the courtyard garden. I contented myself with buying a loaf of bread from the Bread Shed – it smelt terrific and tasted it too.
I toyed with the idea of taking the Shepherd Neame brewery tour. But I didn’t have much time and I had done it before. However, it is a tour well worth taking. It is Britain’s oldest brewer and has its own well. The tour ends in the bar with a tutored tasting.
After wandering round the town I turned my attention to the creek itself. I noticed a change from my visit of several years before. The old warehouses were taking on a new lease of life with the likes of antique shops, a little garden centre, a café, and a bar. Moored on the quayside some old London sailing barges; one, the Greta, takes visitors for trips out into the estuary.
Talented young chefs
Later back at the Creek Hotel I found David and Tracy deep in discussions as to where to put the plants. They wanted to know if I had enjoyed my stay. The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’. Rather cheekily I asked if the chefs who had cooked my dinner and breakfast would mind if I thanked them personally.
And so it was that I met Head Chef Roger Heathcote and assistant chef Sarah Kemsley . One chef was missing - Scott Pendry was on holiday. I was staggered to learn that this very talented team of chefs are only in their early 20s. They have great career prospects ahead of them; and I wondered how long it would be before The Red Sails restaurant was awarded AA rosettes and maybe, before not too long, its first Michelin star.
A few days later, back at home, I heard, with great delight, news that Faversham Creek Hotel & Red Sails Restaurant had been awarded four star AA rating.
The Faversham Creek and Red Sails Restaurant: Conduit St, Faversham ME13 7DF. Tel: 01795 533535 www.favershamcreekhotel.co.uk
The Phoenix Tavern: 98-99 Abbey St, Faversham ME13 7BH. Tel: 01795 591462. www.thephoenixtavernfaversham.co.uk
Shepherd Neame: www.shepherdneame.co.uk
Macknade Fine Foods: www.macknade.com
Brogdale Collections: www.brogdalecollections.org