10 good reasons to visit Maidstone
PUBLISHED: 01:16 19 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:42 20 February 2013
With the River Medway running though its centre and a wealth of magnificent scenery, our county town has much to offer the summer visitor, but there's also plenty to see and do should the weather turn
Masks and a Mummy
Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery houses more than 660,000 artefacts and specimens from all over the world and occupies the former Elizabethan Chillington Manor; coffee and gift shops available, plus childrens activities, talks and interactive events. Exhibits include a 2,500-year-old Egyptian Mummy, the largest collection of Japanese art in the UK and, in August, Magnificent Masks and Maidstones history from toffees to cricket balls.
Gigs and Growlers
Housed in the 14th-century
stables that were once part of the Archbishops Palace estate, Tyrwhitt Drake Museum of Carriages is an impressive collection of all kinds of vehicle transport, from horse-drawn carriages to sedan chairs. It was the first of its kind in Britain and is the finest collection in Europe. All the exhibits were gathered together by Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt Drake in 1946 because he knew the days of horse-drawn cars were numbered and he wanted to preserve some for posterity. Open May-early Sept, Wed-Sun and some Bank Holidays.
The loveliest castle in the world
Leeds Castle is a fairytale moated castle surrounded by 500 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland. Inside find splendid apartments, paintings, tapestries and antiques, while the grounds have a maze, cafs, a golf course, Birds of Prey displays, a Dog Collar Museum, adventure playground, a Falconry Experience, a Go-Ape High Wire Forest Adventure and balloon rides. Wildlife includes: peacocks, swans, ducks, hawks falcons and owls, plus vast aviaries. Two childrens theatre events in August, plus family events.
Rest and relaxation
A place of peace for those who search for meaning in their lives is how The Friars is described. This peaceful and relaxing haven at Aylesford was once Englands first Carmelite priory. Built in 1242, it comprises a set of wonderful medieval buildings surrounded by beautiful riverside gardens. The restored 17th-century barn serves as a book and gift shop, tea rooms and pottery. Upcoming events this month include a Vintage Motorcycle Rally (4-7 Aug).
Parks and sensational scenery
White Horse Wood Country Park is in the Kent Downs AONB and here youll find lovely countryside, panoramic views, and the medieval ruins of Thurnham Castle (with an easy-access route around for wheelchairs and pushchairs). Maidstone Millennium River Park has a riverside walk and runs along a stretch through the towns historic centre onto Allington lock; theres a nature reserve, childrens play areas and Riverstage arena, a treetop walk and skatepark. Mote Park has 450 acres of mature parkland, a lake, pitch-and-putt, play area and skatepark, football and rugby pitches, and is also home to Maidstone leisure centre.
Maidstone Leisure Centre is one of the finest swimming pool complexes in Kent, with five pools (plus flumes, diving pit, 25-metre fitness pool and water slides),
new family changing rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness suite, sports hall, childrens soft play area and 1200-seater event hall. Theres also a workout studio, fitness classes and health suite with sauna and spa. There are swimming lessons, with qualified lifeguards, gym and swimming instructors, workout classes, health and fitness instruction and full disabled changing facilities. There are two bars and a caf.
Beautiful buildings and statues
Archbishops Palace is a magnificent mansion built in 1348 on the banks of the Medway while Sir John Banks fine Almshouses (1700) are opposite beautiful Brenchley Gardens. In Earl Street youll find the Corn Exchange, and at the crossroads of Week Street and the High Street is a drinking fountain and statue of Queen Victoria (1862). In the High Street theres the Town Hall (1762) and a monthly guided tour to see the finely decorated Council Chamber and old cells.
Stars and Stripes
All Saints church has a memorial tablet and crest to local man Lawrence Washington, ancestor of President George Washington, and it is Lawrences Stars and Stripes family arms displayed here that inspired the flag of the USA. All Saints is one of largest examples of a perpendicular church in England, with a 93ft-wide nave. Here you can see the Beale brass a brass memorial to the Beale family that gives their details over a period of 200 years, from 1399 a Jacobean font and interesting misericords (wooden carvings). It also has the John Wooton memorial (1418), the finest medieval tomb wall painting in England and the Astley memorial, dating from the 1630s. In the churchyard dont miss the table tomb of William Sholey, who founded the Royal Society of Arts in 1754.
Hazlitt Arts Centre has a varied programme all year of comedy, music, dance and drama. It incorporates the Graham Clarke Gallery where local artists can exhibit their work, plus a caf. Courses/workshops in August for adults (choir and a writers group, plus a Stage Combat workshop, and CEROC pure dance); 8-12 August childrens drama courses.
Shop until you drop
Leading off the High Street is Royal Star Arcade (largely fashion stores) and The Market Building and Corn Exchange (cafs and specialist shops). The main shopping centres are Fremlin Walk and The Mall, which both run shopmobility schemes (%01622 678777); the former has House of Fraser as its flagship, restaurants and coffee shops, whereas The Mall is an eclectic mix of shops on different floors. Bank Street and Gabriels Hill both have interesting independent traders. Lockmeadow Entertainment Centre has an eight-screen cinema, restaurants, nightclubs and a David Lloyd leisure centre.
Just 38 miles from London, accessible via the M20 (junctions 6 or 7) linked by junctions 5 or 3 of the M25. Maidstone East has one-hour links to the capital, Maidstone West and Maidstone Barracks stations are on the Medway line, for Kent stations as well as London.
Satnav postcode: ME14 1TF