Kent – a county of castles and garden of England
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.
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.