Yes, South East England’s home to our crazy, smoky capital – but let’s forget about that for a few minutes. Transport yourself just an hour or so outside (or just a few minutes away from your work desk or kitchen table…) and come with me to what is arguably the loveliest home county: Kent.
The White Cliffs of Dover, pummelled by waves; Canterbury Cathedral, and its turbulent history; hop farms, orchards and vineyards in spades: the ‘Garden of England’ (rightfully named, thank you very much) packs a pretty hefty punch when it comes to attractions, but it offers lots of activities too – and they’re diverse, to say the least.
Fancy taking a breath of fresh air with me? I thought so.
First I’ll take you to 28 acres of time gone by – to farmyards, historic villages and gardens. Kent Life is a haven for countryside types: celebrating the county’s history and heritage, but bang up-to-date with attractions, it’s got everything from tractors and farm animals to ghosts in Petts Farmhouse (don’t say I didn’t warn you…). Taking you from the Victorian period to the pre- and post-war ‘30s and ‘50s, you can discover Kentish life through the ages. And that includes gardens – the smells of herbs, flowers and apples fills the area, alongside Goldings and Fuggle (yes, Fuggle!) hops, which have been used in Kentish brewing since the 19th century.
Kids, of course, have more than enough to keep them busy – while parents chill out in Dotty’s Tea Room. With donkey and tractor rides, outdoor and indoor play areas, farmyard animals, a cuddle corner (too cute!) with rabbits and guinea pigs, and the opportunity to bottle-feed lambs in spring, well – they’ll use up that energy in no time. I think I just have, listing all of its attractions…
Thankfully, I won’t have to muster the gusto to take you to the water’s edge – that’s left in the hands of Kent Surf School, found both at Margate Main Sands and Broadstairs’ Viking Bay. Run by Andy and Gemma, they offer small-size classes so you’ve got their full attention, and Andy’s an ASI surf/SUP instructor and lifeguard (which is important, when you’re as inept in the water as I am). Catering to all ages and offering all the equipment you need, surfing isn’t the only activity they cover: kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, summer academies and kids’, stag and hen parties can all be arranged (so better stay off that vino ladies!). If you’re already familiar with tackling the waves, they have improver lessons and family packages, too. Beginners be warned – once you’ve taken that first plunge, you’ll be hooked on the surf bug.
But towels at the ready, because you’re going to have to dry off for our next stop: Canterbury Tales. You can’t go sopping wet, salty haired into Chaucer’s world! Five of the author’s literary masterpieces are brought to life here, with the costume-clad company wrapping you in a world of medieval life and misadventure. Taking you on a journey from the Tabard Inn to the shrine of Thomas Becket (Arch Bishop of Canterbury until his shocking and grisly murder in 1170), you’ll become part of Chaucer’s world with the aid of fascinating audio guides and five of his stories – told by a knight, miller and nun among others. Fan of fables? It’s a must.
Now, let’s wind down a little – all of that’s made me thirsty. How about ending the day with a glass of chilled white? Though perhaps you prefer a well-rounded red. Whatever your tipple, make your way to Biddenden Vineyards, and you’ll have just the right bottle to pop open come evening. Established by the Barnes family way back in ’69, it wasn’t till the ‘70s that they bottled their first sample – originally an orchard, they’d speculated, and accumulated.
Because today, there are 23 acres in this sheltered, south-facing valley, growing 11 different grape varieties to produce – by hand – reds, whites, rosés and fizz. Oh, and don’t forget the cider; they didn’t get rid of all the fruit! Free to enter, there’s a marked-our route you can take around the verdant, fragrant vineyard, before stopping midway to see the winery’s pressing and bottling. Top it all off with a free tasting in the shop (designated drivers have pear juice at their disposal), and then peruse their fine wines made with German Ortega or French Gamay grapes, to name but a few.
Phew! I think you’ll agree we’ve had a hectic day – but that’s Kent for you: full to bursting with fun and activities. So why not take that breath of fresh air this spring? Once you’ve tasted its rural beauty on the edge of the city, it certainly won’t be your last.