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Kent - he garden of E£ngland
We visited Kent during the first week of December 2008. We stayed at Broome Park, Barham between Folkestone and Canterbury just off the A260. This mansion house and its estate was once the home of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. On site is an 18 hole golf course which provided the view from our bedroom window. My husband was very good and spent the time with me exploring the Kent countryside and sites rather than on the course so I cannot comment on how the course played, only that it looked very English and green from our window.
This is not the definitive guide to Kent just a taster of what this lovely county has to offer and how much there is to see and do even in winter months.
On our first day we decided to explore the coastal ports from Dover to Dungeness and also look at Romney Marsh. I always feel that English seaside resorts have a rather sad and unloved look in winter with so many rather tired arcades and cafes closed, the sea grey and that strong wind that blows you along in one direction and you have to struggle to walk against going back. But off we went to have a look at these places that are so popular for family holidays and retired people alike.
The seaside resorts south of London have been popular as holiday places since the railway lines opened up and made it possible to get there easily from London. Folkestone was, until the outbreak of WWI, one of Britain's leading resorts. It remained popular between the wars and indeed for some years after as well. It lost popularity when cheap airfares to Spain and other sunny resorts allowed people to holiday further afield. Today these southern sea ports are a gateway to France, Folkestone, of course now has the Channel Tunnel terminal just minutes away from its town centre.
The area along this bit of coast was important throughout history and in both WWI and WWII many soldiers left these shores for battles in France and aircrews left from local airfields to fight in the Battle of Britain. Just on the outskirts of Folkestone is the Battle of Britain Memorial Museum which was unfortunately closed for the winter when we tried to visit.
Along the coast are a number of Martello Towers where anxious watch was kept in case Napoleon invaded our shores - they are large, round and rather threatening but they do remind us of how real the threat of invasion was at this time. For the people living along this coast .The Towers later became signalling stations and .look-outs against smugglers. They were used again as sentinels on the front line in 1914 and in 1940 after Dunkirk they were part of the defensive plan against Hitler.
Driving further along the coast you come to Hythe, an ancient town with its history dating back to '1066 and all that'. In 1278 King Edward I granted a Charter to give Hythe tax concessions in return for providing 5 ships with crew which could be converted into warships if needed .Hythe was one of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports - Hythe, Hastings, New Romney , Dover and Sandwich which were bound by this rather unusual charter. Of these five former ports Sandwich and New Romney are no longer on the coast and Dover is the only one still a port today.
The threat of an invasion by Napoleon not only saw the construction of the aforementioned Martello Towers but between 1804 and 1809 an incredible Military Canal stretching 28 miles, 19 metres wide and 3 metres deep was dug by hand. The idea was that this would stop or slow down Napoleon and his troops from getting to London. Today this canal is a place of relaxation, a great place for bird watching as well as being important for drainage and irrigation for Romney Marsh.
For railway enthusiasts there is the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway which leads on across the marshy area and Dungeness Nature reserve to the Old Dungeness lighthouse listed in 1992 as an Historic Grade 11 building. It was opened by His Royal Majesty the Prince of Wales in 1904 and survived two world wars before being decommissioned in 1960.
Dover, famous for the 'White Cliffs' is a strange sort of town. The white cliffs are amazing and really stand out but underneath them is the post of Dover which cannot really be described as attractive. I remember when I was a child visiting my great aunt who lived in a house right under the cliffs. When we went To Dover recently not a lot seemed to be that different!
On the top of the cliffs you will find an almost perfect looking child's impression of a castle. The castle was built in Roman times and had been a very important strategic military castle overlooking the coast of France in the narrowest section of the whole English Channel known as the Straights of Dover. We didn't go in to the castle but we did visit the White Cliff experience which was a pleasant way to spent an hour and learn a bit about the history of the immediate area.
There are some fascinating tunnels beneath the cliffs. The Secret Wartime Tunnels are a complex web of passages and rooms and which were to play a major role during World War II.These tunnel barracks were used during the Napoleonic Wars and then again World War II when they were converted to become Bomb Proof Bunkers.
After visiting these five ports we spent a day at Leeds castle which is an amazing place. I wrote a review on this some time back. Leeds castle is near Maidstone in Kent and is known as Leeds castle because way back in Saxon times it was The Manor house of Esledes which became a fortified castle in about 1119. The name Esledes became shortened in speech to Ledes which in turn became Leeds. This castle has had a long and interesting history from this time forward. This is well worth a visit.
On another day we visited Canterbury cathedral and the city of Canterbury. While we were in Canterbury we spent an hour or so in the ' Canterbury Tales' where you are taken through various scenes and hear some of Chaucer's tales told by characters from his stories.
The Cathedral has to be one of the most famous cathedrals in the world and is a visit recommended by me and my husband. The cathedral was the founded in 597AD, and is the head Church of the Anglican Church of England. It has some of the oldest and most beautiful stained glass windows in the country. It is possibly most well known because in 1170 Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral.
My mother's family ancestors lived in Fordcombe in the manor so we went for a look to see if we could see this place, near Tunbridge Wells. My aunt tells me it was a hotel or boarding school at one time and when it was for sale last time she and my grandmother were able to go in and look around. My aunt remembers staying at the house when her grandmother lived there. We did find the house but were not so lucky as to be invited in!
There are many other interesting places to visit in Kent but our time was limited so this is about all we managed to visit in our week. Kent is a lovely part of our country and if time allows when we have explored other counties we have not seen as yet then we will return to explore Kent further.
Thanks for reading my experiences of Kent. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
You may think that I am one of the more well known female contributors sitting here in my thong and high heeled shoes, greasing the nipples....of a classic sports car, but in fact I am not, I am just going to give an opinion about an area of Kent, the Romney Marsh. I know that there is a lot more to Kent than this, but it would be impossible to get it all into an opinion, a book would be more suitable. The Romney Marsh is a large, flat area of approximately 14 miles by 3 miles, but I am willing to be corrected on this. If I give you a little of the history of the area you will understand a little of the attraction:- It is thought that dry land first appeared as long,low, islands or shingle ridges around the present day sites of Lydd and New Romney, the town of Romney did not have to prefix "New" added to it until the 15th century. The Romans found a great tidal estuary which they called the Limen, but even at this time the area was probably silting up and the ancient inhabitants were already trying to drain the marshes and dam the tides by embankments. Romney developed as a flourishing port and was one of the five original Cinque Ports. The town repelled an attempted landing by William's invaders and after his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror marched to Dover via Romney in order to take vengeance on the men of Romney for the slaughter of his soldiers. The harbour however was gradually silting up. During the reign of Edward the first, in 1287, a natural disaster occured after a violent storm, the water in the Channel rose to an unprecedented height and submerged the town and destroyed the harbour at Romney. It diverted the course of the river Limen, so that Romney was no longer on the river and a new passage to the sea was opened up at Rye. Further storms followed. That is enough of the history lesson children, now more of the present day. The Romney Marsh itself is very pleasant to cycle or dr
ive round on the B class roads, and is famous for it's beautiful churches and hardy sheep, the sheep at present have all been shorn and remind me of goats, but that is my problem!! A particular point worth stopping off at after having surveyed the many sheep (there are black sheep in Dymchurch, a town I wiil mention later) are one of the several historic Romney Marsh pubs, a particular favourite of mine being Botolph's Bridge near Lympne. The food here is first class, as well as serving real ale, and the views from the pub are excellent across the marsh and up to Lympne Castle. Now, a few towns worth mentioning on the marsh itself, the first being New Romney, which is a bustling town centre, and the main shopping street has all the local resident or visitor may require, however the residents do not currently agree with the building of a new Sainsbury's store on the edge of the town !! One of the attractions at the town is the one third size railway station of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. It is worth walking around the station to see the movement of freight etc, and also the hand operated turntables. On the station itself is the Romney Toy and Model Museum, with it's collection of toys, games and other memorabilia, but also a very large model railway system which always has about 50 trains running. Opposite the railway station is one of Romney's several pubs, the Captain Howey, which is named after the millionaire racing driver who caused the railway to be built. Heading away from Romney in the direction of Sussex, there is at Brenzett, the Aeronautical Museum which features an impressive collection of wartime equipment for an admission fee of approximately £2.50. Further along the road towards Rye, but still keeping in Kent (just) is the Philippine Craft Centre at Brookland, and this colourful and unique free attraction is well worth seeing. From here one turns onto the coast road and back towards New R
omney, finding Camber with it's famous sands being a popular destination for holiday makers. Also nearby one will find the quaint village of Lydd, better known today for it's airfield, and the town also possesses an active watersports centre. The next area of particular interest is Dungeness. Birdlovers of the feathered variety (mostly!!) come to this area to visit the massive RSPB run nature reserve, where some of the rarest feathered creatures are known to visit and live. Dungeness is an area like no other, it is the largest shingle area in Europe, and has approximately 1,000 different varieties of plant life, though I haven't personally counted them!! Everything in Dungeness is unusual and massive, like the nuclear power station. This has a visitor centre, and trips round the station are free, but may need to be pre-booked at busy times on 01797 321815, or Talking Pages on 0800 600 900. You will be tested for radiaion afterwards. There is also The Old Lighthouse, where you can climb the many steps for a small fee to gain a lofty view of this unusual panorama. Be sure to buy some fresh fish at one of the nearby houses, these fish are caught by the boats one can see on the beach. Walking around this vast shingle area, one sees many wooden houses, these are in fact people's permanent houses and very saught after. Before leaving Dungeness, be sure to try the fish in the Pilot Inn, this is always extremely popular, they serve two sizes, medium and large at £5.95 and £6.95, but if you were to go for the large one you would need the appetite of an elephant. Just a couple of miles further on is Littlestone, for many years a popular relaxing resort for the upper class with it's coastal golf course and attractive buildings, it retains a charm today unmatched by many similar areas. It has shingle beaches stretching far and wide. Further along the coast, passing through New Romney again, is Dymchurch. Thi
s has a busy but small amusement park, and a similar bustling but High Street. It has award winning large sandy beaches for the children like me. Around the town are several Martello towers, these are round buildings built as sea defences, one has been turned into a house and another is an English Heritage Museum, currently being restored. Every other August Dymchurch features "The Day of Syn", named after the fictional Doctor Syn books. When I last saw the festival it featured the landing of smugglers on the beach, followed by a retreat to the playing fields for recreations of battles etc, and there were groups playing in the car park of the Ocean Inn, just behind the beach. However, it rained so I had Sex On The Beach, a frozen alcoholic cocktail served in the Ocean Inn. It was fuuny seeing elderly gentlemen ask the bar maid for a Blow Job, another frozen cocktail however!! The fish served here was also very good, being fresh with no batter and well worth £6.95. The final area of especial interest in the area is Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, see webcams on www.Howletts.net. This is a vast area containing many animals in their natural environment such as lions, elephants, bison, gorillas, lynx and so on. There is a trailor ride around the park to see animals in areas which are inaccessible on foot and is to be highly recommended. There is also a mansion to visit, as well as seeing the magnificent animals. The entrance fee is currently under review, following problems with the local council, but is not expensive, and a £2 reduction can be obtained with vouchers from the Ocean Inn, Dymchurch. I spent a fascinating and full day there, visiting my cousins the gorillas I hear you say. Well, I know I've only covered a small portion of Kent, but then as I say, it is an opinion, not an encyclopedia, but anyone wanting further info is welcome to contact me.