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Harwich, Essex, UK

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Harwich is a busy and historical port on England's east coast. Situated at the mouth of the River Stour, the town has good road and rail links with the rest of the country, but most important of all are the town's maritime connections.

The Mayflower (the ship which took the Pilgrim Fathers to America) was originally from Harwich, as was the ship's master, Christopher Jones; his house still stands in the old part of the town.

The town was once home to a royal ship yard which built men-o-war in Napoleonic times - the area is still called Navy Yard Wharf. The town was also considered strategically important enough to be protected by large cannon housed in a be-moated, circular fort called The Redoubt. This fort is still in existence and is open to visitors on summer weekends.

A 17th Century crane still stands in the town which was used at the Navy Yard. Tiny by modern standards, it was vital to the work of the ship builders. The crane was initially powered by two donkeys and later by teams of sailors captured as prisoners of war.

In order to ease the passage of ships through the once treacherous estuarine waters, two lighthouses were built. One is a typically tall stone lighthouse called the 'highlight'; the other is a squat wooden structure called the 'lowlight'. When a ship was approaching the harbour, all the skipper had to do to stay on course was to keep the one light vertically above the other. This lowlight has since been converted to a maritime museum, although it can be seen as it originally was in a Turner oil painting in London's Tate Gallery.

The town's only cinema, The Electric Palace, was the first purposefully built cinema in the country and has been restored by volunteers to all its original glory. Prices are cheap but the films tend to reach Harwich about a month after the rest of civilization.

The population, which was almost entirely East Anglian a generation ago, now contains a large number of people who have retired to the coast from London or urban Essex and the town's character has become more dilute and mundane as a result. Conversely, this may help to scotch the scurrilous rumours of rampant in-breeding.

Although pleasant enough for a harbour-side stroll on a sunny day, it is probably fair to say that the town hasn't seen much excitement since Samuel Pepys1 left late in the 17th Century.

Today, the town is best known for the ferries which sail for the Hook of Holland, Germany and Scandinavia.

Those staying around long enough to eat could do a lot worse than a Sunday lunch at the Cliff Hotel (lots of food for about six or seven pounds, at the time of writing); or lunch or an evening meal at The Pier Restaurant, which serves very good seafood that will cost you rather more.

Nightlife is limited but there are a large number of pubs in a small area in the older part of town. Try The Stingray or The Three Cups if you are feeling young and energetic, otherwise try The New Bell or The British Flag. The Castle, at the bottom of Ramsey Hill, is good for a quiet pint and a game of pool.

1MP for Harwich and famed nocturnal scribbler.

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