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A weekend away in Maidstone

PUBLISHED: 08:44 30 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:40 20 February 2013

A weekend away in Maidstone

A weekend away in Maidstone

Enjoy a romantic Valentine's break in Maidstone, with its fine ancient buildings, lovely riverside and surrounding scenery - and great shopping

A weekend away in Maidstone


Enjoy a romantic Valentines break in Maidstone, with its fine ancient buildings, lovely riverside and surrounding scenery - and great shopping


The award-winning Maidstone Millennium Bridge, the first cranked stress ribbon bridge in the world, has a self-supported walkway designed to harmonise with its rural site, where the river is flanked with mature woodland



Jubilee Square was completed last June as part of Maidstone council's High Street 2m regeneration scheme. The road has been narrowed and public pavements now dominate the area



The 2.5m restoration of Mote Park has brought back to new life its historic features such as the pavilion, waterfall and bridges



A concert hall was erected in 1869 using old stone columns from the former market site. The hall was renamed the Hazlitt Theatre after William Hazlitt, a local man who is widely regarded as the founder of modern dramatic criticism



Saturday funday


Architecture and artefacts


Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery (01622 602838, ME14 1LH) was originally adapted from an Elizabethan manor house, expanded during the 19th century and has just had a magnificent 3m extension. Theres a Japanese art collection, the finest ceramics collection in the region, vast Anglo-Saxon artefacts, more than 6,000 artworks and 40,000 fossils, including that of a dinosaur (Iguanodon). The Tourist Information Centre is based here.



Shopping and wandering


Shopping malls Fremlin Walk (454 stores, headed up by House of Fraser) and The Mall, as well as retail centres Royal Star Arcade, The Market Building and Corn Exchange are in addition to the many High Street Traders.


Historic Bank Street has an original medieval street layout and life-size statues set into niches, while steeply sloping Gabriels Hill is where youll find the Golden Boot, the oldest shoe shop in the country.



Dinner and a show


Hazlitt Theatre (01622 758611, ME14 1PL) is a cosy, welcoming venue in the heart of town, based in what was once the Corn Exchange building. The only weekend shows in February are both on the 23rd: Jackson Live in Concert (Michael Jackson tribute act) and Katherine Ryan Natures Candy, both starting at 8pm. Theres also the Graham Clarke Gallery, an excellent venue that displays the work of local artists. Restaurants suggestions in the area include: The Mulberry Tree (01622 749082, ME17 4DA) at Boughton Monshelsea, The Lime Tree on the Square Restaurant and Hotel (01622 859509, ME17 2PQ) in Lenham, and The White Horse (01622 738365, ME14 4DL) in Bearsted.



Sunday slowdown


Fairytale castle


The loveliest castle in the world is how Leeds Castle (01622 765400, ME17 1PL) has been described. Fairytale beautiful, dramatic and moated, it is surrounded by landscaped gardens and parkland, whose wildlife includes peacocks, swans, ducks, hawks, falcons and owls. The grounds have gardens, a maze, cafs, a golf course, a Birds of Prey display, a dog-collar museum, adventure playground, Falconry Experience, Go Ape High Wire Forest Adventure and balloon rides. Inside the castle are splendid state rooms, paintings, tapestries and antiques, and events are hosted throughout the year. See also My Town.



Down by the river


Maidstone Millennium riverside park is superb and the Archbishops Palace (not open to the public) sits beside the river, next to All Saints Church (dating from 1348), regarded as the grandest perpendicular church in England. On the other side of town, Maidstone Leisure Centre (0845 155 2277, ME15 7RN), within Mote Park, is one of the best leisure attractions in Kent, with swimming pools, an indoor adventure play area, fitness suite, sports hall, childrens soft play area and an events hall. Other notable parks are Whatman Park and Brenchley Gardens. Lockmeadow Entertainment Centre (01622 764410, ME16 8SF), just across the Millennium Bridge, has a cinema, bowling alley, restaurants, clubs and a leisure centre.



Peace and tranquillity


Just to the north of town at Aylesford, youll find The Friars (01622 717272, ME20 7BX). In the 13th century this assembly of buildings was a Carmelite Priory, and it is surrounded by riverside gardens. It is a beautiful, peaceful atmospheric place (only open 11am-4pm on Sundays) and theres a book and gift shop, tea rooms and pottery.


HOTELIERS VIEW


Liane Bayliss, sales manager, Best Western Russell Hotel


The Best Western (01622 692221, ME14 2AE) is a lovely Victorian property in a quiet secluded area with easy access to the town centre, station and motorways. Theres a 30 per cent price reduction on a couples two-night stay until the end of March.


The hotel has masses of character, beautiful gardens and sun terraces, says Liane. As for Maidstone its the heart of Kent, with plenty of historical buildings, and surrounding attractions include Leeds Castle, the Hop Farm, Detling Showground (which hosts the Kent County Show), while Maidstone Leisure Centre (see below) is a great place for children.


I personally love Leeds Castle, as well as Bearsted village, with its idyllic village green. Theres something for everyone, whether its shopping, country walks, museums, childrens play centres, fine restaurants and pubs.


● The Kent Showground is based at Detling Showground (01622 630975, ME14 3JF) and hosts the Detling International Antiques and Collectors Fair on 23 and 24 February. On 3 March theres a Military Fair.



BUSINESS LEADERS VIEW


Bill Moss, Maidstone Town Centre Manager


A 2m regeneration of the High Street is now complete and the benefits are there for all to see, says Bill. Maidstone is a fantastic town for businesses, but it is actually a medieval town, meaning its perfect for getting around by horse but not quite so easy by car! The Maidstone traders and ratepayers share the tremendous pride and belief in the town that I have.



MY TOWN


Gemma Wright, PR Officer, Leeds Castle



Tell us about your job


My role is to maintain good relations between the castle and visitors, public and media. I also oversee filming and photoshoots on the castle estate. I often have to pinch myself when I drive in to work, because this is such an idyllically beautiful place, and I do so enjoy the company of colleagues and visitors



Your favourite parts of the castle?


The 16th-century Maidens Tower on the Castle Island holds special memories for me, as its where my husband Chris and I held our wedding reception last year (see also page for photos of that weeding)



What do children like best?


Our daily falconry display, the Kings Realm Playground, and the new Elsie the Castle Train and the Black Swan Ferry Boat. I remember as a child spending hours in the maze and sledging in the snow here with my dad in the winter



Why visit Leeds Castle?


Were a living castle, not a museum, and theres something for everyone to enjoy. Because one day isnt long enough, the tickets are valid for a year and you can come back as many times as you like



Favourite places in the area?


Hollingbourne village I love it so much that I got married there at Hollingbournes wonderful All Saints Church last August! We love exploring the many fine rural villages around Maidstone



Favourite restaurant or pub?


The Mulberry Tree in Boughton Monshelsea (see above), The Black Horse Inn (01622 737185, ME14 3LD) in Thurnham, The Windmill (01622 889000, ME17 1TR) and The Dirty Habit (01622 880880, ME17 1UW).



Getting there


Maidstone is approx. 38 miles from London, accessible via junction 6 or 7 from the M20 (the M25 links to it). It has two stations, Maidstone East and Maidstone West, with links to London), plus good bus and coach services, call Traveline for details 0871 200 2233


Satnav postcode: ME14 1TF


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