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Village Gems

PUBLISHED: 18:36 15 October 2009 | UPDATED: 16:18 20 February 2013

Amanda Cottrell, Challock

Amanda Cottrell, Challock

Kent is a beautiful, diverse county that you can't help but fall in love with. While many of its towns are firmly on the map, its villages are often unknown. We take a look at six of our hidden gems, and the people who love them...


Kent is a beautiful, diverse county that you can't help but fall in love with. While many of its towns are firmly on the map, its villages are often unknown. We take a look at six of our hidden gems, and the people who love them

Challock

Considering its disparate nature, Challock is a village with a community that pulls together against all odds.

The village sits atop the North Downs, one of the highest places in Kent, and straddles two main roads - the A251 and A252. Its church is a good mile away from the village, along a country track. It's an incredibly close-knit community with no class barriers but a strong determination for the village to thrive.

Challock has a popular post office and village stores that is defying all odds and is about to expand. The post office is run by the fifth generation of the same family, which is testament to the loyalty that exists in the village.

Former High Sheriff Amanda Cottrell is chair of the parish council. The Kent Ambassador and Chairman of Visit Kent is proud of the place she's called home for 40 years.

"We have a passion for Challock here," she says. "People who move here stay. And those who do move out want to move back. There's a circle of friendship in this village and no sense of hierarchy. Nobody cares who you are or what you do or what background you come from."

Challock has around 800 residents, several pubs, a primary school,

pre-school and an impressive 28 organisations/clubs. It also enjoys its own micro-climate thanks to its position high on the Downs with snow in winter and warmer than average summers.

There are a large number of small rural businesses plus a local transport system - Wealden Wheels - which was set up and is run by local people and offers transport at reasonable prices to people in Challock and surrounding villages. Challock also has a village green, Challock Lees, which plays host to the popular Goose Fair, an annual event that sees the whole community come together to raise money for the village.

Challock's community atmosphere played a large part in it being named Kent Village of the Year in 2004. As Amanda says: "Everyone knows everyone else here, but it's more than that - we like each other, too.

"Kent is unique and the people here are immensely proud of Challock's uniqueness. The village pulls together, we support one another and we

embrace the fact that we have to grow organically to survive."

Did you know?

• Challock dates from around 800AD and its original name was Cealueloca or Cealfalocum meaning an enclosure of calves.

• Properties in Challock span all ages but the one most worthy of note is Nine Chimneys. This imposing Tudor house was built in the 1400s and is timber framed. It stood, as it still does, at the east end of Challock Lees.

• The village church sits a mile away from the village, at the end of a dead end road. This road was closed in 1589. The road from Ashford to Faversham was diverted to a new route which today forms the A251. It is almost certain that this caused the village to slowly migrate up the hill to its present position.

Cliffe

Cliffe sits on the sometime desolate-looking North Kent marshes and is closer to Essex than it is to most of Kent. Its proximity to the River Thames has put it under threat throughout most of its existence. In wartime, part of the marshland was used as a decoy for German bombers. Another area was used to make explosives.

In more recent times, the village and community have lived under the threat of an estuary airport. Climate change and rising sea levels look destined to put the community under pressure in the future too. And if Mayor of London Boris Johnson has his way, the area could come under the threat of an estuary airport yet again.

Despite this, and perhaps because of this, its community thrives. Villagers Joan Darwell and Gill Moore have lived in the village for 33 and 44 years respectively. They were at the heart of the No Airport at Cliffe crusade and now sit on the local parish council.

"The threat of the airport made many villagers realise just how special the place is," said Gill. "We all knew we loved living here, but perhaps we didn't realise how much until the area was under threat."

Joan adds: "It drew the community together. People who had known one another for years suddenly stepped up to join the fight and became good friends in the process. Everyone came out to make sure this horrible threat went away."

The community is close, that's for certain. You are noticed as an outsider, mainly due to the fact that Cliffe is at the end of the road - there is no passing traffic. But outsiders are welcome, especially if they have come to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the marshland.

"We still get visitors now, years after the threat of the airport went away, who ask if this is where the airport would have been. People come to see the special area that would have been lost," said Joan.

"For us the fight wasn't about the bricks and mortar. My home would have gone if the airport plans had gone ahead. But the fight wasn't about my home, it was about the place."

Cliffe's uniqueness has been recognised over the centuries. Charles Dickens described the scantily populated marshland around Cliffe in the opening scenes of Great Expectations where Pip meets Magwich.

Shakespeare based the character Falstaff on Sir John Oldcastle who lived at nearby Cooling Castle, now home to musician Jools Holland.

And Lena Kennedy, a former resident of Cliffe Woods, used many locations near her home in her romantic novels.

The village has suffered a decline in facilities over recent years. Where once there was a thriving department store and shops and pubs galore, there is no longer even a post office. The village stores continues, but there are fewer pubs and businesses.

The No Airport at Cliffe crusade to save the North Kent Marshes, and particularly Cliffe, from the dearth of a London Airport, put the village on the map nationwide. It united the village, yet exhausted its residents too. The local GP reported stress increased as residents fought the plans.

The fight was long and hard, and it took its toll. Yet look out over the tranquil marshland and you realise they have preserved not only a piece of history, but a very special place on earth.

Did you know?

• Cliffe is steeped in relatively modern history.

• Its close proximity to the busy River Thames means it had a key part to play in defending Britian and particularly London, during Napoleonic times and especially during the world wars. Cliffe had the unenviable privilege of being the first place in England to be bombed in the First World War.

• During this time, the Government used Cliffe Marshes to produce high explosives and around 2,000 people travelled to work there from nearby communities. It also had a dummy airfield with decoy lights to attract German bombers.

• Wildlife and flora also played an important part in saving Cliffe from becoming home to up to four international airport runways.

• Little Egret, Garganey, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Avocet, Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Little Stint, Green, Common, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Black Tern, Turtle Dove, Nightingale, chats and warblers can all be found in the Cliffe Pools RSPB reserve.

• The area is deemed a Special Protection Area, Site of Special Scientific Interest and Ramsar site which offers the area protection because of its rich wildlife.

Pluckley

The Darling Buds of May put Pluckley on the map as a quintessential chocolate box village. Rose-strewn cottages and a community spirit formed the basis of the popular 1990s drama which made Catherine Zeta Jones a name for herself. It pictured the Garden of England at its best - beautiful, rural, and timeless.

But is community life really like that in Pluckley? It's certainly pretty, with homes from a variety of eras scattered around the village. It hosts the oldest working wayside station in the world, sits alongside ancient woodland, and is in a conservation area.

The community is close knit, home to diverse businesses including Pluckley Tea and a silversmiths. And if you talk to villagers they remember the time Yorkshire TV and David Jason came to town with great fondness.

Yet Pluckley also has an air of the mysterious - perhaps something to do with its title of Most Haunted Village in England.

Parish clerk Jackie Grebby has lived on the outskirts of the village since 1977. "If you want ghosts, we can give you ghosts," she says. "We're at 46 and counting." But, she hastens to add, there are fairly logical explanations that don't involve the paranormal.

The village's haunting persona becomes a problem each autumn, when thousands descend on the village for a spot of ghost hunting on Halloween: "It's awful. Chaos!" laughs Jackie.

The Black Death decimated the population in the 14th century, and in more recent times there are tales of gruesome deaths in the village. But it's not all gloom! Community life thrives in Pluckley which has its own school, library and village panto.

The church and post office are at the hub of the community - and there are a variety of events throughout the year to raise money for the village. There's a butchers, and a village stores, and Jackie remembers a wealth of shops the village had in the past.

Pluckley's 1,000 strong population is on a mission to retain its uniqueness. And whether you know the village as a haunted home of ghoulish ghosts, or as a 'chocolate box' Kentish village wrapped in roses, it's certainly a village that's worth a visit, but steer well clear on 31 October...

Did you know?

• Pluckley's position means dense fog is often a problem, particularly in autumn. And it's this fog which helps to give the village an eerie feel. Perhaps it is the mist which can make well-known landscape features appear ghost-like.

• The earliest records of haunting seem to be in a book written in 1955, by Frederick Sanders titled Pluckley was my Playground.

• Of the 12 'official' ghosts mentioned in such books as Peter Underwood's Ghosts of Kent and Joan Foreman's The Haunted South, one of the more popular is The Coach and Horses, last seen in the mid 1990's. Four people claim to have seen The Coach and Horses in the past 30 or so years; one has also seen The Monk.

• Of the other 'official' ghosts, no one claims to have seen them - at least recently. These include: The Red Lady of St Nicholas Churchyard; The White Lady of both St Nicholas and Surrenden Manor; The Colonel; The Screaming Man; and The Tudor Lady.

• There are reports of a small dog haunting the churchyard; two cavaliers (one at The Blacksmith's and another near Rose Court); old ladies (one again at The Blacksmith's, the other at The Dering Arms); a tramp (wandering around the village); poltergeist activity at Surrenden, The Black Horse, and The Blacksmith's Arms during the time it was a tearoom.

• A local hotel has been investigated by the Centre for Psychic Research and at least four other houses have reported unusual occurrences.

St Margaret's Bay

Despite being on our doorstep, St Margaret's Bay is one of those places you could stop awhile. Stunning houses worth a million and more sit atop the white cliffs made famous by Vera Lynn, looking majestically out to sea.

Below, the sea laps against the rocks. Visitors and locals sit aside one another enjoying the beachside Coastguard pub and restaurant.

Phone reception fades, offering a time from the past when we were unobtainable while away from home or the office. Cares can be forgotten. Kids can rockpool. It's heaven.

Up the hill, The Pines offers another tranquil haven; its tea rooms have cake to die for - I've promised them next time I go back I'll spend the day and taste them all! An adjacent museum pays tribute to St Margaret's claims to fame - Ian Fleming the Bond novelist, wartime, communication marvels courtesy of Marconi.

Further up the hill, in the village itself, there are more pubs, tea rooms, guest rooms and hotels. The village has its own holiday park.

But this is more than just a holiday destination. It's a place with spirit, community atmosphere and loyalty.

The number of shops, a weekly market and library are testament to a thriving community which supports village life, despite being spread out over three sites - the bay, the village centre, and Nelson Park area.

Parish Council chair and retired schoolteacher, Brenda Paul, explains: "It's one of those places where we all say hello to one another. You can walk down the street and people are friendly and say hello or pass the time of day with you. Most people have friends in all three areas of the village. It doesn't matter where you live or what your background is, we're just friends."

The village has a lively socialising calendar with a variety of clubs. There are more than 80 members of the WI alone. Tennis, cricket, football and bowls feature on the sporting map in St Margaret's and the school and church play a big part in community life.

St Margaret's at Cliffe, as it's officially called, is home to around 1,000 houses which include flint cottages, estate homes and unique architectural masterpieces with views out to sea and a price tag topping £1million.

Ian Fleming, Peter Ustinov, Noel Coward and actress Miriam Margolyes have all made it their home.

The Oakley family moved to the village from London in 1976 and now own two hotels in the village - the luxury country house Wallett's Court and the White Cliffs in the heart of the village.

Wallett's partner Gavin Oakley said: "St Margaret's is one of those places you fall in love with. It has the feel of an island. There's a close knit community and although there are quite a lot of homes and a lot of tourists, it has a small village feel.

"I'm passionate about the village. I grew up here, went off travelling, and returned here. My kids go to school here, as do their cousins. We spent our childhoods rockpooling on the beach and now we take our kids there. We hold board meetings on the beach on a Sunday morning, picking up litter as we go. We take pride in the village and want to be part of the village."

The Oakley family certainly are part of the village. As well as employing around 60 local people at their hotels, they are also active in the community. Gavin's father Chris, a former Michelin star chef, is chair of the tennis club, mum Lea is chair of the local history group, and Gavin is mastermind of the First Light Coast and Country Group which promotes St Margaret's.

It sounds like a great village to live in. But if you're not lucky enough to have a St Margaret's address, pay it a visit and linger awhile.

Linton

Linton is a village you could blink and miss. Situated on the busy A229 road from Maidstone to Hastings, it is blighted by heavy traffic and lorries.

But stop and step off the road and you find a close community pulling together, a thriving farming community (including the Firmin family, who diversified and now run a thriving transport firm), and stunning views across the Weald of Kent.

Linton is on a steep hill. With 250 homes, it is not a large village and is spread along the road. The Shepherd Neame pub The Bull and the church are at the heart of the community.

Paul and Kath Cooper live next to the pub and are intrinsically linked to village life. Kath says: "A lot of people have lived in the village for a long time. Some play a very active part in the community and we do all we can to make sure village life is enjoyable."

Jerry Whitmarsh is the vice chair of the parish council and treasurer of the village hall committee, as well as chair of the Friends of Linton Church.

He says: "It's an active community that punches above its weight. We have regular events and raise money to improve the village and keep it thriving."

Cream teas, harvest suppers, quiz nights, open gardens and other events keep villagers busy. But walking is a pinnacle of the village. As well as Linton's walking group, which attracts up to 30 walkers each week, there are many others who visit the village, making it a starting point for walks along the Greensand Way.

The history of the village dates back to at least Saxon times. The Cornwallis family played a big part in village life, employing local people to work on the Linton Park estate. The mansion house towers above the Weald, looking out towards Goudhurst, but rather than being a family owned country estate, it is now a company HQ.

The 20th and 21st centuries have brought change for Linton: the road has got busier, shops have closed, there's no post office and the butchers and haberdashery are long gone.

Linton is a village you could easily pass through, but it's worth stopping by to enjoy the views from the The Bull and take a peaceful country walk.

Chillenden

The tiny village of Chillenden has only 46 houses. It's a rural idyll where everybody knows everyone else and it has a unique sense of community, with villagers congregating at the local pub as if it were their own front room.

Yet this idyllic life came to an end for one local family, and forced the village into the midst of a media scrum. In 1996, Lyn and Megan Russell were murdered while walking home from school. It is this horrific event which put Chillenden on the map nationwide.

Visit the village today and it is hard to comprehend the tragedy that befell the village that year. It strikes you as the sort of place where you can leave your door ajar without fear of crime; maybe the safest place in Kent.

Michael Stone, who was convicted of the double murder, was an outsider. But while the horror may have left villagers wary of outsiders, they are a welcoming bunch whose lives centre around the village pub, The Griffins Head, and the church, which attracts churchgoers of all denominations.

Villager Sarah Smith says: "The pub is the throbbing heart of the village and the beautiful, ancient church is also at the heart of the community. The village got together to save the church and we are immensely proud of it - people in this village support the church whatever their approach to religion or spirituality." Of the 100 village residents, an impressive 30 are regular churchgoers.

Homes in the village range from medieval timber framed Wealden Hall houses to cottages, barn developments and even a more modern home which wouldn't look out of place on Grand Designs. One boasts the village cricket pitch on its back lawn!

A host of events, including open gardens, a panto, fireworks set to music (1 November) and a concert by nearby mining village Snowdown Male Voice Choir (14 November) raise money for the village and draw in crowds from neighbouring villages and further afield.

Vintage cars descend on the village on the first Sunday of every month, where they congregate at the Griffins Head, a Shepherd Neame flagship pub with hops hanging from the ceiling and great food.

The pub alone is well worth a visit, and a detour off the A2 between Canterbury and Dover.

Chillenden is a village you stumble across by accident, drive through in awe, and leave determined to replicate.

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