Christmas in the… Country
Roaring fires in country pubs, long winter rambles rounded off with mulled wine and rural shopping perfect for unique gifts and divine food… Kent’s countryside is the most heavenly backdrop for a hearty, wholesome Christmas.
Kent’s sprawling countryside is home to a myriad of natural beauty spots, with perhaps the most well known and expansive being The Kent Downs Area Of Natural Beauty. The Downs rise to over 240m, cresting in a prominent escarpment above to yet another celebrated area of natural beauty in the south: the Weald of Kent. The surreal beauty of Kent’s countryside is awe-inspiring at any time of year, but the ethereal allure of winter and the magic of Christmas together offers a truly enchanting experience when out exploring. From brisk walks with marvellous mists that transform the countryside and wildlife into Christmas-card scenes, to traditional pubs and cute coffee shops that offer cosy sanctuary from the elements – Kent’s countryside is set to make marvellous Christmas memories to cherish.
One of the best ways to take in all the stunning scenery of the Kent Downs is by walking along, or visiting places on the Greensand Way. Named after the sandstone ridge which crosses Hampshire, Surrey and Kent, this long-distance path of 108 miles can be embarked upon in the picturesque village of Hamstreet. This area encompasses a myriad of delightful country pubs, a visit to which is, undoubtedly, the cherry on top of a lovely winter walk. One such place is Percival’s Rest in Harrietsham itself. With a brand new chef for 2023, Percival’s Rest’s menus are embracing the very best of Christmas and the foods we love so much at this time of year, from roast turkey with all the trimmings to chocolate orange mousse. This Christmas, Percival’s Rest are offering guests the opportunity to celebrate Christmas Day with them, and the option of hosting a Christmas party and meal with your friends or work colleagues. A jovial atmosphere and warm interiors make Percival’s Rest a top spot for such yuletide celebrations.
Take a picturesque 35-minute drive from Harrietsham across the Kent Downs towards Maidstone, and you will find yet another charming Kentish pub perfect for appreciating this area of outstanding natural beauty: The Pepperbox Inn, which sits in between both the Downs and the Kentish Weald. A charming 15th-century country pub and restaurant, this is cosy-country Christmas at its best. Timbered ceilings and beautiful inglenook fireplaces offer the ultimate winter sanctuary, ideal for romantic dates that could be straight from a Christmas film – watch out for that mistletoe! Situated on one of the highest points overlooking the Weald of Kent, there are outstanding views which can be appreciated from the large garden terrace. Back inside, enjoy prime steaks and sublime seafood, as well as local ales and wines.
Another walking route that will take festive explorers through a breathtaking section of Kent’s countryside, and only metres away from Percival’s Rest, is The Pilgrim’s Way. Stretching all the way from Winchester to Canterbury, this walk is the most well known of British pilgrimages, with journeys being made ever since 1172. Passing through the historic cathedral town of Rochester and its surrounding countryside, travellers will be spoilt for choice when it comes to wonderful places to dine at along The Pilgrim’s Way. A perfect example of this is The Butcher’s Block, Burnham, a laid back, multiple award-winning country-style restaurant. Owner Simon’s background in butchery has heavily influenced the identity of Butcher’s Block, with dishes only using the choicest cuts of meats and top notch ingredients, and a bar that prides itself on serving real ales and artisan spirits. All this deliciousness is underpinned by a friendly welcome and effortless service, especially at this time of year.
For those of us wanting to embrace Kent’s produce at home, whether that be through festive baking or a full Christmas dinner, a trip to one of the county’s fabulous farm shops is an absolute must. Just a 20-minute drive away from The Butcher’s Block comes yet another advocate for Kentish produce and inspirational winter dining in the form of Broadditch Farm Shop. This season is a wonderful time to visit, destined to get anyone in the spirit of Christmas with a whole host of festive events taking place. From 17 to 19 November, two barns will accommodate over 60 stallholders selling specialist food and drink, unique Christmas gifts, artwork, decorations and much more, as well as live entertainment and a festive food hall. Broadditch will also host a Magical Christmas Shop: a wonderland of decorations, festive lights and unusual gifts. Once the market finishes, the Christmas Shop and Festive Food Hall will continue to open daily until Christmas Eve. As well as shelves bursting with an abundance of fresh produce, condiments, meats, cheeses, festive cakes and more, there will also be an incredible selection of Christmas hampers and real Christmas trees (trees from 25 November with optional delivery). ‘Farmer Christmas’ will be arriving at the farm on Saturday 9 December, staying in residence on selected dates until Christmas Eve.
Kent’s countryside is scattered with a plethora of wonderful rural shopping experiences. As well as farm shops for foodies, there are also plenty of glittering gift shops perfect for picking out some sparkling Christmas treasures, from gifts to decorations. One of Kent’s best-loved Christmas shops is at Penshurst Place, a glorious grotto of goodies that even the biggest of Scrooges is certain to be enamoured by. Before visiting the Christmas shop, look around the magnificent country house that once served as a hunting lodge to Henry VIII. Dominating the rural landscape of Penshurst village, Penshurst Place enchants visitors with its 16th century, 10-acre gardens, beautiful architecture and glorious views across the Weald. Not only a source of satisfaction for the eyes, this medieval house is also renowned for the galleried Barons Hall and its fascinating collection of armour, tapestries, paintings and furniture which fill the state rooms – certain to have been the place of many yuletide feasts of Christmas pasts.
If you are craving a hot choc and slice of cake after your exploration, visit Porcupine Pantry Café at the entrance, or for more of a Tudor-style feast, the Grade II listed Leicester Arms. As well as seasonal British dishes, this country pub also offers ‘stylish rooms for weary souls to rest their heads.’ Make the most of a Christmas country stay here and explore Penshurst’s hilly wooded setting and Tudor architecture. This includes an ancient ‘lychgate’ and a two-storey Tudor house which still stands today and has been built around bulging walls and crooked beams. This gate, together with neighbouring houses, make up ‘Leicester Square’ at the centre of the village, a prime opportunity for photographs – especially next to the pretty Christmas tree and glowing fairy lights.
Another nearby attribute to the countryside of Tunbridge Wells is the dramatically picturesque Bidborough Ridge. As well as sweeping views of the surrounding valleys, Bidborough Ridge also boasts acclaimed gastropub, The Kentish Hare. A must-visit for foodies, this stylishly designed, hare-themed establishment is known for quirky furnishings and for serving the very best of fresh local food. Since 2014, The Kentish Hare has been awarded various accolades including two AA Rosettes and a Michelin Bib Gourmand, and is currently ranked number five nationwide in the Estrella Damm Top 50 GastroPubs listings – with this array of culinary awards that speak for themselves, do we really need to say any more?
The Pilgrim’s Way traditionally ends in Canterbury, and although a city, the surrounding area has miles of enchanting countryside complete with captivating views and rural havens to visit. This area is particularly picturesque as it is full of Kent’s fruit orchards and traditional hop gardens. A great rural pitstop at which to enjoy this hop heritage of Kent is Chalkpit Farm, Bekesbourne. Neighbouring fields full of hops and lavender provide Chalkpit Farm’s Essentially Hops. As well as locally grown dried hops (a traditional decoration for Kentish kitchens and pubs) Essentially Hops sells a plethora of other dried flower arrangements, ornaments and small decorative items. At this time of year find beautiful, natural Christmas decorations – perfect for those who opt for the ‘rustic look’. As well as lovely purchases for your own home or gifts for friends, Essentially Hops runs lots of different workshops throughout the year including Christmas a wreath workshop. After you have stocked up on your rustic decorations, visit Mamafeelgoods next door, a superb spot for lunch, brunch, breakfast, coffee and cake.
Just a few villages south of Bekesbourne, the picture-perfect Elham Valley begins. Carved out by the River Nailbourne, its chalky soil has made it luscious, with plenty of vineyards now calling it home. As well as an ancient defunct railway line which is now part of a beautiful walk, the valley is home to Elham, a previous winner of Village of the Year. Stop by at Vineyard Garden Centre as you approach the village; a vineyard, garden centre and café owned by The Fifth Trust, a Kent-based charity for adults with learning disabilities. With vineyard views beautiful at any time of year, wonderful food and sweet homemade gifts for sale, this is the perfect place to find quirky handmade gifts and plants to give friends at Christmas, with proceeds going to the charity. This season, take something even more special home when you take part in the trust’s Christmas wreath making workshop.
The rest of the village echoes back to English days gone by, the cosy and welcoming village pub being an essential element – of which Elham has three. Built in the 16th century, The Rose and Crown was used for many years for the ‘Elham Petty Sessions’, and the courtroom can still be made out on the first floor. Mortises and grooves in the beams show where a small room was set aside for the use of the magistrate who visited here once a fortnight. Recently taken over by a family of new publicans, this Shepherd Neame pub-restaurant serves freshly prepared and locally sourced favourites. Neighbouring pub, The King’s Arms also dates back to the 16th century and seeps plenty of character through its old walls and into a brilliant atmosphere. Family run and serving traditional English dishes and local Kentish wines and ales, plus many more beverages from their extensive bar, this pub continues to uphold a centuries-old reputation to be proud of. Elham’s third and final pub, The Abbots Fireside, is a stunning 15th-century freehouse standing in a prominent position at the centre of the village. Inside, step back in time and enjoy the ambience of this ancient building. The unique interior décor is well suited to this building’s historic features and is the creation of its owner, Peter Malkin, who has been restoring ancient buildings for the past six decades – including several in Kent. With a bar stocked full of great beers, and a good selection of wines and spirits, this is the perfect spot for merriment and toasting the season. Stop by for tea or coffee, enjoy a snack or a hearty meal after exploring the surrounding area. With seven beautifully designed, characterful guest rooms with exquisite four-poster beds, diamond pattern windows, exposed bricks and beams, why not stay a few days to enjoy this stunning part of the county?
On the other side of Canterbury, festive explorers of Kent will find themselves in the countryside that sits between the city and the town of Faversham. This includes the popular walking spot of Blean Woods and the picturesque village of Boughton-Under-Blean.
The countryside surrounding Faversham is no stranger to a good country pub restaurant with rooms. On the other side of the town, another chocolate-box village, Stalisfield, is home to The Plough Inn. Feed your inner foodie with their award-winning cuisine, which is made from scratch in their kitchen using fine ingredients sourced from local suppliers. This Christmas, chef Richard has prepared a menu stuffed with old favourites and creative, contemporary dishes. And because everything is prepared onsite – from baguettes and brioche to burgers and bangers – The Plough’s food is always fresh and succulent. It’s one reason why they’re AA-accredited with two rosettes and were named Kent Dining Pub of the Year in both 2020 and 2021.
Make your stay here that bit more indulgent by booking one of The Plough’s lovely rooms. Located in a separate traditional-style barn, with fresh air and glorious countryside all around, these spacious and well-appointed suites are the perfect place to lay your head this festive season. Each suite is named after a local woodland and has its own unique character; with exposed woods and earthy neutrals, expect the type of peace and tranquillity that can only be found in the countryside. Many rooms have spectacular views over the countryside towards the sea, perfectly positioned for yuletide adventures across the county.