A Journey Through the Garden of England
I have viewed the Kent scenery flying past my window on my way to foreign climes on countless occasions, and I thought it was about time I spent a few days in this county; the little of which I have seen has always intrigued me.
As a total newcomer, I thought I would start with the two (and only two) things I know about Kent, firstly that it is called ‘the Garden of England’ and secondly, those mysterious and strangely shaped oast houses. My first port of call was the Museum of Kent Life which is half an hours’ drive away from where I am staying, and where I was able to see the last working oast house and learn about how hops were picked and dried, and the function of these unusual and iconic buildings.
It won’t surprise you to learn that I have actually chosen to stay in an oast house and Little Boy Court Oast at Headcorn did not disappoint. This is the most charming property in a beautiful and tranquil location. The kitchen and dining area is actually located in the roundel of the oast as is the master bedroom on the floor above it. Tastefully renovated and not overly restored, it is possible to get a real feel of rural life and times gone by here.
It was Henry VIII who coined the phrase ‘Garden of England’ when describing Kent and this was because of the production of hops and also the abundance of fruit growing, particularly apples and cherries. Right on the doorstep, I decided to pay a visit to the Biddenden Vineyards only ten minutes away to sample their cider and couldn’t resist coming away with some of their Strong Kentish Cider and local cheese, perfect for an impromptu supper on the lawn outside my Kentish oast house that evening.
Biddenden is one of the many pretty villages in this part of Kent known as the Weald, perfect for walking, cycling and just general exploring. Tomorrow I am going to split my day between Maidstone which is the county town in the morning, and then Leeds Castle which is only four miles away in the afternoon. We have dinner planned on the terrace at the Castle View Restaurant which has magnificent views of the Castle itself, described as ‘the loveliest castle in the world’.
Kent is definitely somewhere I want to return to. Apparently it has 17,000 listed buildings so only another 16,999 to go, and I didn’t even get near the coast, famous for the White Cliffs of Dover and the Cinque Ports which I remember learning about in history lessons. This coastline has a rich and varied naval heritage due in no small part to its location facing mainland Europe across the Dover Strait. I think I have only just begun to scratch the surface of this historic and beautiful county and will definitely be back for more.