Most of us have heard of the Hythe Venetian fete, but did you know that this ancient town has another lively festival? No. Well, you're in for a treat.

Hythe Festival: The High Street fights back!

Sadly, for many of us, a trip to the High Street is a thing of the past. Shopping usually consists of a trolley dash around a supermarket or a visit to one of the ubiquitous malls that have replaced traditional town centres. If you were beamed into any of them from Mars, you would not know whether you were in Manchester or Canterbury due to the homogeneous shopping experience offered by our major retailers. Same shops, same layout, same products – even the same coffee.

A by-product of global commerce is the disappearance of individual shops and the unique character of our towns. But, thankfully, there are some places that have bucked the trend. The ancient Cinque Port of Hythe is one of them. Not only does it possess a wonderful variety of shops in its ancient high street, it positively celebrates them.

In 1994, Arthur Kensett and Maurice Maisey, the town’s mayor and deputy mayor, launched the Hythe festival in order to revive the town which, at the time, was suffering a decline. Now firmly established, this bi-annual event alternates with the Venetian Fete.

Sponsored by Hythe’s shopkeepers and businesses, the 10-day festival will run from 28th June to 8th July. It will feature over 70 events – many of them free – catering to all ages and tastes and highlighting the town’s unique history. For instance:

  1. On 4th July at 7 p.m., there will be a concert on the Royal Military Canal featuring Rock ‘n Roll, Military and concert music with a firework finale (9.45 p.m.). The event is free and visitors can eat their picnics by the water. A separate canoeing event will also take place on the canal. Constructed during the Napoleonic era (1804 – 1815) as a defence against possible invasion from France, the Royal Military Canal stretches 28 miles from Seabrook near Folkestone to Cliff End in East Sussex. Its primary purpose was to protect the wide expanse of Romney Marsh. Today, Hythe’s section of the Canal provides some beautiful walks and a quiet place for reflection, reading or watching the ducks. Alternatively, the more energetic can hire a rowing boat.
  2. The Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway will host a number of events including a Wildlife Safari and Big Breakfast, a backstage tour and a sunset dining trip to Dungeness. Founded in 1927, the RH&DR is a 15-inch gauge railway with a fleet of one-third scale steam and diesel locomotives. It runs between Hythe and Dungeness with various stops along the way including a Visitor Centre at New Romney. 
  3. There will be a number of musical events in St Leonard’s parish church ranging from jazz to classical and a special quarter peal of the church’s bells. Named after the patron saint of prisoners, the church exhibits some traces of Saxon stonework, although most of what remains dates from the Norman (11th c) and Early English (13thc) periods of architecture. The magnificence of the building is partly due to the Archbishops of Canterbury who, for a time, possessed nearby Saltwood Castle and who probably employed the same artisans who worked on the Cathedral. When Hythe was a port, the High Street was the quayside and St Leonard’s was an important point of departure and arrival for many voyages. The graffiti of medieval ships, carved into its pillars, attest to its historic association with travellers and seafarers. One of the church’s most extraordinary features is the ossuary, or Bonehouse, which is the subject of an excellent article by Kent Life writer Rachael Hale.
  4. There will also be a tour of the Grand Redoubt, a Napoleonic fortification situated on Hythe firing ranges. One of the oldest ranges in the country, this has been in use for nearly 200 years. The £5 entrance fee will be donated to the Army Benevolent Fund. (30 June, 5 p.m. – 6.30 p.m.)

Proceedings will get off to a grand start with The Big Parade on Saturday 30 June. Taking place between 10.00 a.m. – 2.30 p.m. this will offer all kinds of music and entertainment, including stalls, street performers and Punch and Judy.

Hythe’s high street may be historic, but it has lots to offer. Here’s a sample of what you will find there:

Literature: For a touch of nostalgia – or just to get yourself in the mood – why not read something that re-creates the lively atmosphere of a traditional English High Street. I recommend E. F. Benson’s hilarious Mapp and Lucia series. Even better, why not visit one of Hythe’s independent bookshops?

Music: Play Handel’s Water Music while sitting by the canal. Or visit the music shop.

Arts: With so many beautiful buildings and vistas, Hythe is a gift to the artist. With both a camera shop and an art shop, there are ample opportunities to learn or improve on these skills.  

Antiques: There is an antique shop, a shop selling re-cycled goods and, at week-ends, the Malthouse has a variety of individually-run stalls.

Treats: Specialist leather and chocolate shops and a choice of gift shops and jewellers. There are also clothes and shoe shops and a toy shop.

The body beautiful: Several hair-dressers, a beauty shop and a Barber’s.

Getting about: Get fit on wheels. Hythe has two bicycle shops.

Sensible stuff: For those, like me who are addicted to traditional hardware shops, Hythe also has one of these! There is also an old-fashioned haberdasher’s shop with a very wide range of goods, a carpet shop, a Post Office and a newsagent’s.

Eating out: Anything from one of the many eateries ranged on or near the High Street. These offer everything from tea, cakes and traditional British fare to authentic Nepalese. (The Royal Gurkha Rifles are stationed nearby at Shorncliffe barracks).

Eating in: Of course, you can always cook your own. For instance, Hythe High Street has a greengrocer, a butcher and a baker. Just a little way outside the town centre, is what must be one of the county’s freshest fish shops. Griggs wholesale fishmongers virtually sits on the sea-shore at fisherman’s beach (Range Road) just yards from where local fishing boats land their daily catch. 

Hythe Festival information:

Click here for the Festival Home Page

For a programme of events click here

Alternatively, you can visit the festival shop in Hythe High Street.