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Discover: Kent’s Prettiest Villages

Amongst Kent’s rolling green countryside and fruit-laden orchards lie quaint chocolate-box villages that have for centuries beckoned and captivated visitors with their winding streets, ancient architecture and dramatic backdrops.

 

Inspiration to artists, poets, writers and creatives of all backgrounds, Kent’s diverse landscape has captured the hearts and minds of many. From its famous coastal scenes and imposing White Cliffs to its Garden of England hillsides blanketed with vines, hops and orchards, there is plenty to feast the eyes, satisfy the taste and nourish the soul upon in Kent. Scattered amongst this incredible scenery are villages of old, that add life, stories, charm and even more beauty to their surroundings. Sitting astride rivers, nestled amongst woodlands and tucked away in valleys, are some of the United Kingdom’s prettiest and most picturesque pockets of human life. Not only boasting of unique Kentish charm complete with oast houses and crooked buildings, these villages are also home to award-winning places to eat, cosy pubs with inviting hearths and not to mention an abundance of historic houses and castles, with both manicured gardens and enviable interiors. 

The village of Biddenden’s main attraction is its traditional high street. Crammed with pubs, restaurants and antique shops housed in half timbered buildings, any visitor would find it easy to spend the day here. One such building is the sixteenth century weaver’s cottage that is now home to The West House (www.thewesthouserestaurant.co.uk) a small family-run restaurant with rooms. The West House has a reputation for fantastic food, earned through chef-owner Graham’s focus on excellent delivery of Kent’s finest ingredients. Since opening, both Graham and the restaurant have been the recipients of numerous awards and accolades. Each room has been designed with a unique theme to suit different tastes, and stays include dinner and a bespoke breakfast hamper delivered to your door. Another of Biddenden’s prettiest buildings is again a result of the weaving industry’s influence on the village. Next to the village green and near the beautifully maintained church, explorers can locate the Old Cloth Hall, a superb six-gabled building which was once the centre of the local cloth trade in mediaeval and Tudor times, and housed the workshops of the weavers themselves. After locating the Old Cloth Hall and the church, visit The Three Chimneys (www.thethreechimneys.co.uk), yet another picturesque timbered building that houses an award-winning gastropub typifying everything one could want from a traditional Kentish pub. To get a real taste of Kent, visit Biddenden Vineyards (www.biddendenvineyards.com) to sample acclaimed wines, ciders and juices or to tour the beautiful vineyard itself.

Another village that can thank the ancient art of weaving for its architectural beauty is Sissinghurst. A long village lined with old-fashioned white-painted weatherboard houses, Sissinghurst has a feel of architectural unity and is therefore immensely satisfying to the eye. Many of the larger houses were built by prosperous weavers, a reminder and testament to the wealth that weaving created in the area. Sissinghurst is most famous for the lovely gardens which were the creation of the writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. Purchased by the pair in 1930, Sissinghurst Castle (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle-garden) was previously a prison and Victorian workhouse but was since transformed by the loving hands and creative flair of this miraculous couple. A true testament to their imaginative and artistic spirit, Sissinghurst Castle Gardens are a real wonder for both gardeners and appreciators of visual beauty alike. Much of the garden is laid out in Elizabethan style with each section set out as a ‘room’. Heralded as a ‘moonlit masterpiece’ the White Garden is planted entirely with only the colours of white, green, grey and silver, resulting in a ‘pale garden’ that is one of the most marvelled at areas of Sissinghurst. 

 

The village of Leeds stands on the grounds of a former abbey, which therefore has an enthralling collection of ancient features and buildings, such as oast-houses, a Norman church and surrounding farms which were all once part of the abbey’s entirety. The feature that dominates the village, is of course the iconic Leeds Castle (www.leeds-castle.com) also known as ‘the loveliest castle in the world’ which stands on two islands in the middle of the River Len. This peaceful moat is the home to the beautiful descendant waterbirds of those brought here by the Great Gatsby-esque figure of Lady Baillie during the roaring 1920s and ‘30s. The castle itself has 10 romantic turrets that add to it’s fairytale identity, one which Henry VIII revelled in, using it as his stately country residence. Echoing his love for this venue is the luxuriously designed Battel Hall (www.battelhall.leeds-castle.com) which can now be rented for staycations, coming complete with comfortable drawing rooms, an oak-panelled dining room seating up to 14 people, five exquisite bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and cosy open fires.


A village that, like Leeds, preserves a true sense of history is the quintessential Eynsford. With a number of timber-framed houses that nestle cosily under the shadow of the parish church’s tall shingled steeple, picture-postcard Eynsford is also home to some wonderful places to dine. The Plough Inn (www.theploughinneynsford.co.uk) serves up a delicious selection of top-notch food, prepared using the freshest, locally sourced ingredients by expert chefs. After a mouthwatering meal, wander along the banks of the Darent to appreciate the real charm of this village, and admire the pretty ford after which Eynsford is named. Visit the remarkable Lullingstone Roman Villa (www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/lullingstone-roman-villa) with its spectacular mosaics, rare wall paintings, a heated bath-suite and ‘house-church’ that date back to the second century.

Another lovely village which lies along the Darent, is Brasted, a place which almost reflects the miniature nature of the river it sits next to. Presented through a snug, cosy appearance, lying at Brasted’s heart is a well-kept, compact village green, which is shaded by a row of delightful Tudor period cottages. Adding to Brasted’s quintessential village tableau is a charmingly Kentish outlet that explorers are sure to be bewitched by – The Teashop (www.theteashopbrasted.co.uk). Enjoy a cup of strong coffee or indulge in an afternoon tea with fresh homemade scones and cakes that are baked daily, while watching peaceful village life go by.

Just under six miles away, the village of Downe, sits high up on the Downs near Biggin Hill. This position has resulted in a commanding setting with outstanding views, especially looking north towards London. To learn a vital part of Kent’s history, visitors can discover the story of Britain’s most famous fighter station during WWII, through the personal experiences of those who served there, and the community that supported them at Biggin Hill Memorial Museum (www.bhmm.org.uk). In Downe, visitors can admire traditional Kentish flint cottages against the backdrop of the open uplands of the downs themselves as well as views of the more wooded areas of Kent, such as the Weald, which lies further south. More than any landscape, Downe is associated with one man, and thus by extension to “Man” himself. It was here, in Down House (www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/home-of-charles-darwin-down-house) that Charles Darwin lived for 40 years until his death in 1882. The house is reflective of both Darwin’s character and its unique place in the history of science and evolution, now a site of outstanding international significance. Visitors can step into the very rooms where Charles Darwin worked and lived, including the study in which he wrote ‘On the Origin of the Species’, and discover a fascinating exhibition about his work. Follow in the great scientist’s footsteps as you explore the award-winning gardens where he spent many hours making observations and conducting experiments that helped develop his ground-breaking theories. 

Another famous Victorian frequented the idyllic village of Cobham, home to half-timbered Leather Bottle Inn (www.theleatherbottle.pub) which features in Kent native, Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. Serving traditional English style pub food, delight in a Sunday roast with all the trimmings and sip a Kentish ale, just as Charles Dickens would have done here himself. Despite its Victorian heritage, the village has a history that goes much further back than the Dickensian era. As well as having traces of Roman occupation, Cobham represents the Elizabethan period through the magnificent Cobham Hall (www.cobhamhall.com), one of the great houses of Kent, which is now one of the UK’s top independent schools for girls. 

A tiny hamlet, tucked in the folds of narrow wooded hills, French Street has the appearance of one of the most out of the way spots in Kent. Although rustic and rural, French Street is in fact situated next to one of one of the county’s most beloved attractions, Chartwell (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell) the country home acquired by Winston Churchill in 1924. With magnificent views across the Weald, Chartwell also boasts of beautifully landscaped gardens which famously enabled Churchill to find precious hours of diversion, occupying himself with the horticulture of the estate or painting by its lake. Visitors can delight in painstakingly preserved rooms in which a real sense of Churchill’s presence has been wonderfully maintained. Visitors have exclusive access to Churchill’s bedroom, studio, library and more, through which they will be taken on an intimate journey and gain much insight into the personal life of this great figure of history. 

Another of Kent’s prettiest villages that also houses a magnificent country house is Penshurst. Making the most of its hilly wooded setting, Penshurst boasts Tudor architecture with a set of houses sitting at its core that date from two to four centuries ago, adding a true sense of charm and unique identity to the village. 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 its neighbouring houses, make up ‘Leicester Square’, the centre of the village which is a prime opportunity for photographs. However, Penshurst Place (www.penshurstplace.com) dominates the rural landscape of Penshurst and enchants visitors with its 16th century, ten acre gardens, beautiful architecture and glorious views across the Weald. Not only a source of satisfaction for the eyes, this mediaeval house is also renowned for its galleried Barons Hall and its fascinating collection of armour, tapestries, paintings and furniture which fill the state rooms. If you are feeling peckish after your exploration, visit Porcupine Pantry Café at the entrance or Grade II listed Leicester Arms Hotel (www.theleicesterarms.com) which serves seasonal British dishes and also offers ‘stylish rooms for weary souls to rest their heads.’

Also centred around a charming traditional village square is Chilham. Mostly made up of listed buildings, alluring Chilham has been the setting for many films and television shows, including plenty of period dramas such as the BBC 2009 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. On one side of the square is the magnificent gate to Chilham Castle (www.chilham-castle.co.uk) an imposing and grand Jacobean manor house that can now be visited by guests wanting to lap up sweeping views of the countryside, manicured gardens installed by Capability Brown and of course the splendour of the house itself, which is unrivalled and unique. The castle also plays host to a range of inspiring events throughout the year, including open air performances from the touring Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Company and fantastic horse trials. On the other side of Chilham’s main square sits the village church, which is guarded by an ancient yew tree, said to have survived for an incredible 1,300 years before being fatally damaged in the great storm of 1987. Whether you are wanting a room with breathtaking views to relax and unwind in for the night, or locally sourced, delicious food, The Woolpack Inn (www.woolpackhotel.com) is sure to provide. Honouring local producers and farmers through their elegant menu and celebrating some of the finest Kentish wines on offer, guests can delight in a true taste of Kent when visiting The Woolpack Inn too.

Oozing with character and traditional weatherboard cottages is the quaint village of Plaxtol. Typical to this part of Kent, weathboarded houses are a sweet sight to see, as is the fourteenth century Ightham Mote (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ightham-mote) constructed of soft ragstone, which beautifully catches the evening light reflected by its moat with a warm glow. This location can be enjoyed throughout the day however, with fourteen acres of varied garden to wander through, including dells and glades, amongst apple trees and lakes to capture the heart and imagination. The remains of a late thirteenth century knight’s dwelling can also be wondered at in the form of Old Soar Manor (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/old-soar-manor) which is in a truly idyllic setting, surrounded by orchards and woods, including nearby Mereworth Woods, one of England’s largest forests. 

Winner of Village of the Year in 2011, Elham, is still a showstopper over ten years later. Set in the heart of a luscious green valley, stop by at Vineyard Garden Centre (www.vineyardgardencentre.co.uk) 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 gorgeous vineyard views, wonderful food and sweet homemade gifts for sale, this is the perfect place to start your visit to Elham. The rest of the village echoes back to English days gone by, of cricket whites, bicycles, village post offices and of course the cosy and welcoming village pub – of which Elham has three. Built in the sixteenth century, The Rose and Crown (www.roseandcrownelham.co.uk) 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. Now, the pub-restaurant serves freshly prepared and locally sourced pub-favourites. Neighbouring pub, The King’s Arms (www.thekingsarmselham.com) also dates back to the sixteenth 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.

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