KENT

Kent, located at the south-easternmost part of South East England, used to be the playground of many Londoners during the weekend.  Its world-famous orchards and hop gardens, its sparking coastline, and not to mention its landscape dotted with heritage and history, made the home county an ideal weekend getaway.  However, as foreign travel became more within reach for the Eastenders, somehow Kent became a little ignored. 

White Cliffs Flickr Ian Wilson

But this does not take anything away from the well-rounded beauty of the county.  In fact, it may have helped restore its quaint charm.  Its seaside resorts are quite old-fashioned ones, yet are awarded the Blue Flag, which is an award for beaches that have high environmental standards.  Its orchards are fertile and beautifully-maintained, which is why even though many other places vie for the “Garden of England” title, they can’t take it away from Kent.  Medieval fortresses that used to protect Kent from invaders that used the county as a gateway to the rest of England still stand strong today, and can be seen in various parts of the county. 

Though it is part of the London Commuter Belt, don’t expect the infamous London weather here.  Kent has one of the warmest climates this side of the country.  But if the warm weather is not enough for you, you can always warm yourself up with the wines and ales that Kent is also known for.


A commuter town in West Kent, with a big skilled worker population, Sevenoaks (pop. 126,700) can be congested much of the time, especially in public transport and the town centre.  But, don’t let these scare you off.  Beyond these, Sevenoaks is a good place to explore, once you step off High Street and unto the designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that it has.  Then of course, there’s the Knole House and Park, which is Sevenoaks’ historical pride.

Knowle HouseBuilt in the 1400s by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier, (Sevenoaks, +44 1732462100, £10.50) is a calendar house standing on a vast deer park—and when we say vast, we mean a thousand-acre vast, the kind of vast that allows a medieval-style walled garden to be built within the park.  In fact, very little has changed about the house since the Sackvilles came in possession of the house in the 17th century.  It is very well-preserved. 

Walking inside the house and into some of the state rooms will give one the feel of time-traveling.  The rooms boast of an extensive collection of royal Stuart furniture and an impressive art collection notable for portraits.  Much of the house is still inhabited by the Sackville-Wests up to this day, and they still own the garden and the rest of the estate. Only 40 acres of the park are under the care of the National Trust.  The website has a clear schedule of the days and times that the park is open for viewing so do check ahead.

 


Chartwell House WikipediaChartwell (Mapleton Road, Westerham, +44 1732868381, £11.80).    Winston Churchill and his wife purchased this Westerham property back in 1922, and their family lived in it for forty years, until Churchill’s death in the mid-60s.  A year after the great statesman died, the National Trust, to whom Lady Churchill presented the house, opened the estate to the public.  Since then, the National Trust has taken care to keep the house looking as if Churchill still lived in it—with his medals and books still displayed prominently in the house, as well as his paintings, which were apparently inspired by the gardens he and his wife kept.

 


Hever CastleThree miles away from the town of Edenbridge stands the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.  Three periods can be seen in the stately manor: the oldest part of the castle, the gatehouse and the bailey, were from the 13th century, the Tudor dwelling was added in the 1400s, and the last were the repairs that William Waldorf Astor made to it in the 1900s.  So don’t expect to be immediately transported to Anne Boleyn’s era because of this.  However, many other details within the grounds will occupy you.

For art history buffs, the collection of Tudor portraits will inspire.  The kids will get a kick out of the adventure playground and the various mazes, while for those with a taste for the macabre, there’s the collection of instruments once used for torture and execution.    London Bridge trains go to Hever and to Edenbridge, but prepare to get lost on the way to the castle, because there is a lack of sign posts directing one to the grounds.




Leeds CastleWhen we think of castles, we think of grand fortresses with gardens and a moat.  So stepping onto the moat that leads one to Leeds Castle
(Junction 8 of M20, Maidstone, +44 1622765400, £17.50)
, one can’t help but think that it is the quintessential castle.  Located four miles southeast of Maidstone, Leeds Castle estate is huge, with plenty of sights to take in and activities to do.  It has parks and gardens that visitors can actually have a picnic on, an aviary for the bird lovers, an intriguing maze, and a golf course. 

Its interiors have been altered much by its last owner, American socialite Lady Baillie, who turned the fortress into a lavish palace for society parties. But before her, the castle was part of the Queen of England’s dower—or what was given to the queen when her spouse dies. 

Some, especially those who came from far places and wouldn’t go back to the castle within the year, might find the good-for-one-year fee exorbitant, but for those who have the luxury repeat visits will find the admission fee is more than worth it.  They also do not provide maps with the entrance, so equip yourself with one before coming.

The National Express from London to the Leeds Castle has been discontinued.  The best way to get to the castle is by Southeastern trains, with the nearest station in Bearsted.  In Bearsted, there is a shuttle run by Spot Hire that can take you to the castle.  Check here for fare and train schedule.

 


Sissington Garden Castle Flickr Jon's picsSissinghurst Castle Garden (Sissinghurst, Biddenden Road, Nr Cranbrook, +44 1580710701, £10.50) is one of the most beloved gardens in England.  Designed by Vita Sackville-West (who was known as a gardening correspondent), and husband, Harold Nicolson, in the 1930s, the garden is filled with choice plants.

The garden is most famous for its unique layout—it has several “rooms” with different “personalities”, the most famous of which is the White Garden.  Views of the garden rooms from the top of the Elizabethan Tower give a different perspective. 

To get here, board the Arriva 5 bus Maidstone-Hawkhurst, and get off at Sissinghurst.  From there, it is a 20-minute walk to the garden.

 

 


Whitstable Royal Native Oyster StoresThough it has become a popular tourist destination, Whitstable (pop. 30,200) maintains the atmosphere of a small seaside town northeast of Kent.  The small-town vibe is key to the town’s success, as it is most famous for city weekenders seeking respite, and Whitstable’s beaches never disappoint.

Aside from the famous shingle beaches (which means the beaches are pebble-y), another charming part of the town are the many historic alleyways that give travelers another glimpse into the town’s beginnings.  All these alleyways, with creative names such as Squeeze Gut Alley, lead to the harbor, so instead of making your way to the beach through the streets, why not use the alleyways as the old fishermen used to?

Layout
The town itself is easily navigable, as the town started and branched out from the main road (now called High Street) to Canterbury, so wherever you go, your point of reference is always High Street, which is hard to miss as it is the busiest part of town. 

Sights
Travelers venture to Whitstable for its harbor.  At Tankerton Slopes, during low tide, you can see The Street, which is simply as stretch of pebbled land that goes out to sea like a ramp.  At the Whitstable Harbour, you will find fish markets selling the day’s freshest catch.  If you’re coming straight from High Street, Cushing’s View, named after the town’s most famous resident, Peter Cushing, is the beach front you’ll most likely get to first, but as it is nearest the town centre, it’s most likely crowded.  As you walk towards neighboring town Seasalter, you will find darling beach houses facing the harbor.

Hotels
The proximity of the Premier Inn Whitstable
(Thanet Way, +44 8715279162, £49) to High Street is a double-edged sword—though it is convenient to have the town centre within arm’s reach, this also means that you have the noise emanating from the busy street at night within your ears’ reach, too.  At summer, it can be quite hot, and since there is no air-conditioning in the rooms, you may have to open your windows as well.  The friendly and thoughtful staff, though, more than make up for these tiny inconveniences as they all think of ways to make your stay as comfortable as possible.  Fees do not include breakfasts.

Hotel Continental
(29 Beach Walk, +44 1227280280, £55-150).  The fisherman’s huts are the hotel’s main catch.  These huts offer a great view of the harbor at sunset.  The rooms are large, if a bit conventional.  Many are irked by the quality of customer service, though, which varies just as much as the prices of the rooms, especially during peak season.

The Pearl Fisher (103 Cromwell Road, +44 1227771000, £95).   Elegant interiors, comfortable rooms, and great customer service (turn-down service before bedtime, restaurant recommendations from owners, offering guests the option to choose their own breakfast time slot)—these are the outstanding features of The Pearl Fisher.  A mere five-minute walk takes you to the town centre.

 


Viking BayWith a shady past as a seaside town built on the foundation of smuggling (or so according to town legend), Broadstairs (pop. 22,700) is decidedly quaint and quiet, reveling in its glorious past as a Victorian beach resort.  Nowadays, aside from its sparkling beaches, it is more famous for being Charles Dickens’ holiday getaway, where he was most inspired and wrote most of his famous novels, including David Copperfield and Bleak House.  Its chalky cliff-top setting provides additional quirk, as if the occasional Punch and Judy attractions on the sandy beaches weren’t quirky enough.

Layout
From the Broadstairs railway station, you land right on High Street, and it’s only a mere ten minute-walk to the seafront, where most of the attractions are, including the famous Dickens House Museum. 

Sights
Broadstairs beachI
f you were ever curious about how the middle class of the Victorian age sea-bathed, then the bays of Broadstairs are perfect for you, for the town has, over the years, perfected the Victorian-resort atmosphere.

There are seven bays—the most northern one is the Botany Bay.  Next to it is the Kingsgate Bay, which has distinctive chalk cliff caves.  Joss Bay, below the old North Foreland Lighthouse, is famous among surfers when the weather is right.  The Stone Bay is reached by climbing down two sets of stairs down the cliff.  Louisa Bay is usually quiet, but this might be because during high tides, there is hardly any fine sand left on the shore.  The most southern is the Dumpton Gap, which is a few minutes away from neighboring town Ramsgate.

The most famous Broadstairs bay is the Viking Bay, situated between Stone Bay and Louisa Bay.  It is the main on, and if you are coming from High Street, it is the first beachfront you will encounter.  Along with a small harbor, you’ll find a sailing club and a fishing society, both active.  During summers, the children’s fair is busy.  The bays are all safe and clean, having won Blue Flags over the years. 

Dickens House Museum (2 Victoria Parade, +44 1843861232 or +44 1843863453 when museum is closed, £3)
This small museum was formerly the cottage house of Ms. Mary Pearson, the “kind of lady” who fed Dickens tea and cakes, and who eventually became the basis for Betsey Trotwood, David Copperfield’s aunt.  The house itself figures prominently in the novel, especially the parlour which was described in vivid detail, and which readers will instantly recognize upon entering the house.  The last owner, Dora Tattam, particularly bequeathed the house to the town, with the instruction of turning it into a museum.  Great care has been made for its preservation.  Many items here belonged to Dickens, including letters to friends in which he described Broadstairs as “Our English Watering Place”.

For more Dickensian references, there is also For House, where Dickens actually stayed.  It has since been renamed Bleak House, and is now a luxury B&B and is only open for private tours.

St. Peter’s Church and Graveyard.  A group of volunteers give free guided walks on St. Peter’s Church, the village it stands on, and its graveyard, which is considered to be one of the longest graveyards in the country.  The graveyards dedicated to the World War I and World War II casualties are especially haunting.

Crampton Tower Museum (The Broadway, +44 1843871133).   Perhaps not quite as famous as Dickens, but just as significant is Thomas Crampton, to whom this museum is dedicated.  Crampton may not have written a novel, but he did design a steam-rolling machine at the age of 16, and had since then contributed to the town’s and the country’s railway technology, even patenting the Crampton engine and being knighted in 1885.  This museum gives one a look into the life and the inventions of Broadstairs’ real-life knight.


Hotels
Bay Tree Hotel
(12 Eastern Esplanade, +44 1843862502, £74-82) has a great location, a few minutes’ walk to the town centre.  It also has sweeping views of the English channel.  The rooms are clean and comfortable, though they are on small side, especially the shower.  There are also no lifts, so this might be more ideal for people with less luggage ,and those who don’t mind climbing the stairs.

Fayreness Hotel
(Marine Drive, Kingsgate, +44 1843868641, £74) is not that near to the Viking bay, but it is located near the Kingsgate Bay, so you’re not missing out.  Though it is a fairly old hotel, its rooms have recently been refurbished, and now boasts of flat-screen satellite TVs and free Wi-Fi.

Royal Albion Hotel (6-12 Albion St., +44 1843868071, £127).  Built in 1760, this has been touted as Charles Dickens’ favorite hotel in Broadastairs. It has direct access to Viking Bay (which means great views), and is also at the centre of the town, so it can’t be beaten when it comes to location, which, along with the history, is probably what you are paying for.

Belvidere Hotel  (Belvedere Road, +44 1843579850).  The best feature of this small hotel is its breakfast, proudly made with fresh local produce.  The rooms are all different, with quirky one-off furniture that gives each room a personality.

 


For 250 years, Margate (pop. 58,500) was a great weekend destination, famous for the bathing machines favored by “the most refined female [who wants to] enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy” back in the 1800s.  But in 2003, a fire destroyed most of the attractions on its shores.  Nowadays, Dreamland Amusement Park is planning Margate’s big comeback, with one of the UK’s oldest wooden roller coaster originally destroyed by the fire.

Sights

Margate shell grotto Flickr minkymonkeymooAside from its beaches, the biggest draw of Margate is the mystery of the Shell Grotto (Grotto Hill, +44 1843220008, £3), a subterranean passageway discovered in 1835.  Its walls and roof are covered with intricate seashell mosaics.  But the biggest mystery is that no form of scientific studies can shed a light on how old it is, or which era it was created in.

In 2010, the talk of the town, Turner Contemporary (17-18 Parade, + 44 1843 294208), endorsed by homegrown artist Tracey Emin, will finally open.  It will be by the harbor itself.

Hotels
Premier Inn Margate
(Station Green, Marine Terrace, +44 871 527 8762, £36).   A mere 2-minute walk to the beach, this inn chain is everything you’d expect an inn chain to be—clean, comfortable, a little lacking in personality, with a professional staff.

Somerville Hotel (9 Canterbury Road, +44 1843 224401, £40 ).   The hotel itself is on the seafront, so it provides easy access to the beach if that is what you’re there for.  It is also only five minutes away from the hotel. 

Walpole Bay Hotel (Fifth Avenue, +44 1843 221703, £60-105).   This eccentric Edwardian-era hotel is shabby chic, not boutique hotel slick, so it is for guests who love a little bit of personality in their hotels.  The location is by the sea, so rooms are afforded with a great view. 

 


Canterbury Cathedral InteriorEngland has many cathedral cities, but Canterbury (pop. 43,600) is the mother of all cathedral cities.  The first English city to be Christianised, Canterbury boasts of two thousand years of history evidenced by the ruins and structures left by the Romans, Normans, and the first Christians of the city.  Nowadays, it is one of the most visited cities in England, and yet it has a relatively small population (only 43,000) for a city.  This does not mean, though, that it is simply a city with lots of historical ruins and nothing more—its vibrant student population saves it from merely basking in its glorious past.  Many structures here which date back from 1400s (some even older) are still living and breathing, so that they are not simply relics of the past.

History
The Romans named this area Durovernum Cantiacorum in the first century AD.  Its old English name Canwareburh means “Kent people’s stronghold”.  In 579, upon the instructions of Pope Gregory the Great, St. Augustine arrived in Canterbury to convert King Ethelbert and his wife Bertha, and subsequently the rest of England, to Christianity.  Before his death, he was able to found two Benedictine monasteries.  One of these monasteries, the Christ Church, became the first ever cathedral built in England.  Many of the earliest Christian sites were destroyed when the Danes and the Normans separately attacked the city. 

The murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket spurred many Christians to make pilgrimages to the site of his assassination, which was a result of the power struggle between archbishops and King Henry II.  These pilgrimages inspired Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  The tomb was eventually destroyed under the orders of King Henry VIII.

The city experienced another blow to its historic legacy when the Nazis planned to destroy England’s historic sites.

Layout
Canterbury is serviced by two train stations—the west station is at the northwest of the town centre, while the east is at the south.  You will find the local buses on St. George’s Lane, just within the ancient city walls which enclose the town centre in three corners.

Sights
Canterbury CathedralCanterbury Cathedral
(The Precincts, +441227 762862, £8) looms over the city and simply owns its skyline, especially its most distinguished feature, the Bell Harry Tower, which was added to the structure in 1505.  Before entering, make sure to check the church schedule as it is a fully-functioning one with regular services.  Once you the Christ Church gate, you will find one of the best views of the cathedral near the booth which takes the entrance fees. 

The insides of the cathedral are breathtaking both in the details and the scale—one can literally spend hours just walking, taking in its magnitude.  

In the Trinity Chapel, you will find the tomb of Henry IV and his wife, and the effigy of Edward III’s son.  The shrine of Thomas Becket was once here, and now simply marked by the sculpture of the weapons used on him.  The altar is called The Altar of the Sword’s Point.

The stained glasses are all marvelously detailed.  You will also see the white marble throne, called St. Augustine’s chair, which seats all of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

St. Martin’s Church  (N. Holmes Rd., +44 1227 768 072).   Queen Bertha, the wife of King Ethelbert, welcomed St. Augustine here in 597, and though the structure looks more medieval than Saxon, there is ample evidence that it may be the oldest church in England.  It is still a functioning, and boasts of a friendly congregation.
 
St Augustines Abbey www.english-heritage.org.ukSt. Augustine’s Abbey (+44 1227378100, £4.50) repeatedly took the brunt of many plans to destroy it, during the Danish invasion, and a year after it was a restored, a fire.  It was the site of the Benedictine Abbey that St. Augustine founded in 598.  The ruins are just outside the city walls which is why many miss it.  Recreate history while walking on the grounds led by a free audio guide.

Museum of Canterbury (Stour St., +44 1227 4527471, £3.60).   Standing on the old site of the medieval Poor Priests’ Hospital, this interactive museum are targeted for families with kids.  Parts of the museum are dedicated to local history, to literary figures from Chaucer, Joseph Conrad, Rupert Bear-creator Mary Tortel, and Christopher Marlowe.  It also features a 30-minute video on the story of Thomas Becket’s death.

The Eastbridge Hospital
(25 High Street, +44 1227471688) houses readings of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales by volunteers dressed in period costumes.  The hospital itself is noteworthy for having the history of housing poor pilgrims in the 12th century.

Canterbury Norman Castle (Castle St., +44 1227378100, free).   The city wall train’s main feature is the ruins of the Norman castle established here in the 1080s.  It has interpretation panels and an elevated viewing area.
Canterbury Tales www.canterburytales.org.uk
West Gate Towers and Museum (St. Peters St., +44 1227452747).   The West Gate is one of the city’s seven wall gates that managed to survive the years intact.  It has a museum, but you must come here for the amazing view atop the tower. 

Canterbury Tales (St. Margaret St., +44 1227479227, £7.75).   This 3D interpretation of some of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales may not be up to par with literary scholars’ standards, but it’s good en
 ough to entertain kids and possibly introduce them to English literature. 
 

 


YHA Hostel Canterbury (54 New Dover Rd. +44 8453719010, £12).  It’s a little far from the town centre, but it’s perfect for backpackers on a budget.  The cozy hostel is in a Victorian villa.

Falstaff Hotel
(8-10 Dunstans St., +44 12274622138, £66-99).  This is another 1400-era hotel for people who look for character in their hotels.  People expecting modern facilities will be disappointed, no matter how central the location is.  The rooms are quite old, but are nevertheless well-kept, clean, and comfortable.

The White House
(6 St. Peter’s Lane, +44 1227761836, £70-105).  This family-run B&B is just within the city walls and near the Canterbury World Heritage Site.  All rooms are en-suite (though admittedly on the small side), centrally heated and comfortable.

Canterbury Cathedral Lodge (The Precincts, +44 1227865350, £75-109).   Located right within the grounds of the great cathedral—do you need another reason?  Book early, though ,because it tends to get fully booked quickly.  This means that you may get a room at the annex, which is not as well-maintained a, and a little older than the main rooms.

Ebury Hotel (65-67 Dover Rd., +44 1227768433, £100-165).   A fifteen-minute walk from the hotel takes you to the town centre.  This Victorian hotel is family owned so you can be sure of personalized service.  The rooms are clean and spacious, with modern facilities, though it can get quite warm.  They also offer serviced, self-catering cottages and flats.

Abode Canterbury (30-33 High Street, +44 1227766266, £105-165).   Right at the center of the action, Abode Canterbury is the only chain boutique hotel in town.  Comfortable with high-quality beds, modern bathrooms and free Wi-Fi—all the modern conveniences of a typical city hotel is here.  The best thing about the hotel is that the rooms are sound-proof, so that being at the center of the action does not mean being at the center of the noise as well.

Ann’s House [63 London Road, +44 1227768767, ₤55-75].  A well regarded Victorian house that has individually designed bedrooms with television and bathroom, and welcoming staff.  It is perfectly situated for easily getting in and out of the city centre. They have a large parking space for those arriving in their own transportation.

Cathedral Gate Hotel
[36 Burgate St, +44 1227464381, ₤62-75 shared WC, £105 with WC].  A quaint hotel just beside the Cathedral with adequate sized rooms, clean bed.  The building is a 15th century pilgrims' hostel so offers architectural charm, if you don’t mind uneven floors and windy corridors.   The hotel is not be suitable for the less mobile person for the lack of lift but is very conveniently located within the city centre which is an advantage when sight-seeing and touring.

Ebury Hotel [65-67 New Dover Road, +44 1227768433, ₤75-155].  A clean, well presented and personable hotel located just 10 minutes away from the city centre. The hotel offers a spacious room with very comfortable bed, an indoor heated pool, satellite TV and wireless internet access.  The quiet atmosphere usually guarantees a good night’s sleep.

Thanington Hotel [140 Wincheap, +44 1227453227, www.thanington-hotel.co.uk ,  ₤65-90].  A listed 18th century Georgian style, imposing with its white stone exterior, balconies and black cowls over the first floor windows.  The attractive décor is also maintained both inside the building.  It is conveniently located because of the short walk to the Cathedral and City Centre. All rooms are spacious and clean with television and free wireless internet.