|England Plus Tours||
Although some attractions may be closed and the temperature may be on the brisk side, there are so many benefits of visiting Kent in winter. Just after the New Year, we visited medieval Sandwich, enjoyed free parking and had the wonderful town almost to ourselves. The light was great for photography and the home-made scones tasted better than ever in one of our favourite tearooms!
Together with a group of Tanya's Blue Badge Guide colleagues, we were lucky enough to organise a private visit to Provender House, near Faversham. Provender House is the residence of Princess Olga Romanoff, the great granddaughter of Russian Tsar Alexander III. Olga's father, Prince Andrew Romanoff, was the nephew of the murdered Tsar, Nicolas II. He is buried in Norton church across the fields from Provender House.
To our amazement and delight, Princess Olga greeted us in person and gave us a guided tour of the home where she was schooled and has lived on and off throughout her life. It is a 13th-century property, now reduced in size to just 30 rooms. In 2003, Ptolemy Dean, known as the Queen's Architect, completely renovated the house, revealing a lot more of its 5 centuries of history.
It is an unbelievable experience to meet one of the Russian Royal Family and we will certainly try to offer this on one of our tours in the near future.
The American Garden, Sandling, Kent
Many of Kent's best gardens are privately owned and are only open at certain times of the year. In the month of May, the Harland family open up their estate to the public at weekends and let you explore the magnificent 8 acre garden to your heart's content. The garden is named after the somewhat leaning Californian Redwood tree planted here 150 years ago, but it is most famous for the exquisite collection of rhododendrons and azaleas which are in full bloom at this time of the year.
The garden was first created by Archdeacon Croft of Saltwood in the 19th century. He purchased rhododendron from all over the world including the Himalayas, China and Japan.
When you feel like a break from exploring the garden, there is a lovely tea house with a selection of drinks and homemade cakes served by the proprietors. It is a real treat to sit out on their lawn in the most quintessential English setting you could possibly imagine. If you feel like escaping from the trials and tribulations of every day life, try and make an annual pilgrimage to the American Garden. It will do you the power of good!
As the northern half of England was sliding about in snow yesterday, we decided to make the most of the spring weather in the south and took a drive through the lesser known lanes in the heart of Kent. There are many villages in this area with the suffix 'den', the most famous of which is probably Tenterden. The Old English word 'denn' is a woodland pasture, especially a pasture for pigs. The first part of the village name generally refers to the early settlers that lived there.
Biddenden is most famous for the conjoined twins, Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, who were supposed to have been born in the village in 1100, joined at the hips and the shoulder. When one of them died aged 34, the other refused to be separated and died 6 hours later. The Biddenden Maids are still celebrated in the village sign.
At one end of the village is the magnificent 13th-century church of All Saints Biddenden. A lot of wealth in the village came from the lucrative textile industry that started with Flemish workers during the reign of Edward III. Nowadays, there are numerous vineyards and orchards in the area that produce excellent wines, ciders and juices.
We stumbled across the Red Lion public house by accident. It was originally 3 private houses but has functioned as a pub since 1735. The current landlord and his wife have been there since December 1989 and do a great job. Bob made us feel most welcome as we stepped through the door and invited us to sit next to the roaring fire. The pub's atmosphere was amazing and we can't wait to make a return visit to sample some more of the delicious food. The homemade beef and stilton pudding is highly recommended if you can't decide what to go for. We also plan to take our visitors to the Red Lion as Biddenden is only a hop, step and a jump from Sissinghurst, one of our favourite gardens and places to visit.
I am sure nature was confused by the leap year yesterday, as spring started a day early (unfortunately, it sprang back to winter today!) Yesterday, we were really lucky with the warm sunshine on our walk around the coastal town of Hythe. Although the wind can be biting on the seafront, in Hythe you can always retreat to the ancient High Street with its amazing range of buildings dating back to the 12th century. These days, Hythe is a relatively small and quiet town, but it can boast a very rich and fascinating history. After all, it was one of the five original Cinque Ports, which provided the first makeshift fleet to the Crown, and received in return significant benefits, including some highly desirable duty and tax exemptions.
But Hythe is not only about one street, it has the wonderful 11th-century church of St Leonard, which has many remarkable features including a processional ossuary (basically a bone store), lined with 2,000 skulls and 8,000 thigh bones. Actually, it is one of only two surviving ossuaries in England, and, if you would like to see it for yourself, it will reopen for visitors at Easter.
If you care to put in a little more effort and walk up to the top of the graveyard, you will be rewarded with incredible views over Hythe and the English Channel beyond.
There is much, much more to see in Hythe and the area around: for example, the numerous Martello Towers along the coast and the Royal Military Canal, built as part of the defences against the Napoleonic invasion, which fortunately never took place. You can also drive up the hill behind Hythe to the picture-postcard village of Saltwood, home to Saltwood Castle and a really great pub on the green. In 1170,
Saltwood Castle belonged to Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and ironically, it was there that four knights overnighted before going to Canterbury the next day to murder him in the Cathedral.
Do you fancy visiting these places and learning all about them from a local guide? And maybe we could tempt you with a delicious pub lunch in an idyllic Kentish village such as Saltwood? If this appeals to you, just give us a call or send us an enquiry and you certainly won't be disappointed!
Yesterday, we made a short drive to picturesque Downe village in northern Kent, where we explored the home of the famous naturalist, Charles Darwin. Although within the M25 motorway and just a few miles from London, this area is surprisingly rural and well worth a visit.
Charles Darwin wrote his most famous book 'On the Origin of Species' in the house and lived here until his death in 1882. He studied plant species in the grounds, which he turned into an open-air laboratory. You may not know that his wife Emma was the granddaughter of Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter from Staffordshire. The village of Downe was given an 'e' in the 1850's to prevent any confusion with County Down in Northern Ireland, but the Darwins kept the original spelling for their home, Down House.
The lovely village of Downe is built around the 14th-century flint church of St Mary and the nearby George and Dragon Inn, a great pub for a spot of lunch!
Today we went on a great drive along the country lanes of east Kent, stopping off in a few villages to take photographs. The first place we stopped was Elham, pronounced 'Eelam', where we discovered that the Kings Arm pub is now also used as the village Post Office! It was a bit early for lunch but the menu looked great- we will be back soon...
Elham is only a small village but is jam-packed with amazing pubs, a 13th century church and a 17th century restaurant! Apparently, Audrey Hepburn spent some time as a child here.
From Elham, we headed north and stumbled across the Elham Valley Winery. Yes, a winery! You may not realise that we have had grapes in the south of England since Roman times! We had a very nice filtered coffee and a very naughty giant teacake in the adjacent café. The centre is run by the Fifth Trust, a charity that engages young people with learning difficulties. They not only serve in the café but also make pottery and interesting wooden articles that are for sale in their wonderful garden centre.
We headed along the winding country lanes to the east of Canterbury and found ourselves following the River Stour, which must do a great deal of meandering, considering the number of times we saw it! After a brief stop in Wickhambreaux, we found ourselves in Fordwich. By now, the shared teacake was wearing off, so we ventured into the very welcoming Fordwich Arms and treated ourselves to a most delicious lunch. This lovely pub has a great lunch menu including Ploughmans Platters, baked potatoes and ciabattas to die for. We could highly recommend a visit if you are in this neck of the woods. All in all a great day out, made even better by the spring-like weather!
Today, Tanya and I visited Botany Bay. No, not Botany Bay in NSW, Australia, but Botany Bay on the east coast of Kent, with its spectacular chalk cliffs and beautiful sandy beach! It is a really great place and has been used as a film location, several TV productions, commercials and photoshoots. Apart from the beach, there are some great cliff walks and bike paths. We went for an exhilarating walk here, took some photos and then drove into nearby Sandwich for a great lunch. The weather was sunny and amazingly warm for the time of year - around 13C!
We had nowhere in mind for lunch in Sandwich but as we wandered along Strand Street we came across a cute looking café called the 'Piece of Cake'. This turned out to be a great choice. There was a tempting selection on the blackboard specials menu but eventually we both went for the French Onion soup which exceeded all expectations. It came out of the oven piping hot with a tasty slice of baguette and grilled Gruyere cheese. We could definitely recommend the 'Piece of Cake' as everything is clearly home made and very reasonably priced.
On the way home we stopped off to look at the Viking Boat in Pegwell Bay. This is a beautiful and historic bay where the Emperor Claudius arrived in Britain nearly 2000 years ago. It is also where St Augustine landed with the 1st Christian Mission in 597AD. The Hugin is a reconstructed longship that was given to Britain by the Danish government to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of the arrival in Kent of 2 Jutes who led the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. It arrived in Kent in 1949 after it was rowed across the treacherous waters of the North Sea by a crew of 53 Danes!
'Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore' - André Guide