25 romantic days out in Kent
PUBLISHED: 08:22 21 January 2014 | UPDATED: 08:22 21 January 2014
From coast to castle, cathedral to meeting cuddly creatures, try these great days out in Kent
1 A seaside day out
Everyone loves a stick of rock on Margate’s seafront but for something a bit more romantic try a visit to the mysterious Shell Grotto (www.shellgrotto.co.uk Margate CT9 2BU). It was only discovered in 1835 and no one knows who built it or even when the passageways, lined with murals made up of millions of shells, were constructed. Afterwards, take in the exhibitions at Turner Contemporary (www.turnercontemporary.org Margate CT9 1HG). With both historical and contemporary art, there will be lots to talk about afterwards in one of Margate’s vintage-inspired tea rooms (Kent Life loves The Cupcake Café, The Kitchen and The Shop, www.thecupcake.biz, Margate CT9 1EN
2 Guardian of our shores
Awe-inspiring Dover Castle, set high above the port, has guarded our nation’s shores for 20 centuries. Today it’s open to visitors who want to immerse themselves in the medieval Great Tower, where actors recreate life in King Henry II’s court, and to those keen to explore the atmospheric tunnels beneath the castle. Many of the secret tunnels were used as a base during the war. The castle is open weekends and school half term only until the end of March, when it opens daily (www.english-heritage.org.uk Dover CT16 1HU).
3 Walk this Way
After a long cold winter, blow the cobwebs away on a romantic Kentish walk. With some of the best views of our fine county, the North Downs Way stretches 153 miles from Surrey through the stunning Kent Downs. Wrap up warm, hold hands and try the West Kent part of the trail, which passes through idyllic Otford and Shoreham, near Sevenoaks. It’s just over five miles, starting and finishing opposite The Bull pub in Otford (www.nationaltrail.co.uk/north-downs-way Otford TN14 5PG)
4 Where the Wild Things Are
Zoos are not just for children. For animal lovers there is no better place in Kent to see rare and endangered animals roaming in such a natural setting than at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park. With safari vehicles to transport you to different zones of the park, you’ll get up close and personal with some incredible animals. There’s even a range of experience days, animal encounters and bespoke safaris available if you really want to make an impression (www.aspinallfoundation.org Hythe CT21 4LR).
5 On top of the world
Experience the rugged natural beauty of the White Cliffs from a very special vantage point: the top of an iconic lighthouse. A landmark of the Kentish coastline, this Victorian lighthouse at South Foreland was built to guide mariners through the Strait of Dover. Offering some of the best views of where our county drops away into the Channel, it was also the first lighthouse to display an electric light anywhere in the world. Open weekends only during February (www.nationaltrust.org.uk St Margaret’s Bay CT15 6HP). See also page xx.
6 Wonder of World Heritage
When it comes to history and romance, Canterbury has it in spades. The bustling medieval city is packed with fancy restaurants, cosy tea rooms and quirky shops, and there’s so much to see and do it’s almost impossible to fit in into just one day. Be sure to visit the magnificent Cathedral, which has enchanted visitors for more than 1,000 years. Even if churches aren’t really your thing, this World Heritage Site is an incredible piece of medieval architecture, on a massive scale. Guided tours run daily (www.canterbury-cathedral.org Canterbury CT1 2EH).
7 Ancient walls
Reopening after its winter break on 14 February, Penshurst Place is steeped in history. More than 650 years old, the grand country manor has passed through many hands in its time and was even part of Anne of Cleves’ divorce settlement when she parted from Henry VIII. Described as ‘the grandest and most perfectly preserved example of a fortified manor house in all England’, it’s set in 11 acres of walled gardens, offering many a romantic corner to sit on a bench and forget the world outside (www.penshurstplace.com Penshurst TN11 8DG). See also page xx.
8 In Dickens’ footsteps
Charles Dickens lived near Rochester for much of his life and set many of his books there. Walking around the older parts of the town, it’s still easy to see the place the way he would have seen it more than 150 years ago. The Victorian cobbled streets and the quaint tea rooms may hark back to the past but in recent years many independent boutiques have also popped up to tempt the tourists. But no trip to Rochester would be complete without a visit to its Norman castle. Though now not much more than a ruin, it still stands proudly defending the River Medway beneath it. Climb to the top and you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view (www.english-heritage.org.uk Rochester ME1 1SW).
9 For beer lovers
Nothing says Kent more than the smell of hops and you can treat the beer lover in your life to a tour of Shepherd Neame’s traditional brewery. See how the mineral water, malted barley and local hops all come together to make some of Britain’s finest beers and to top it off there’s a fascinating tutored tasting of these Kentish ales. Tours, for adults only, run most days (www.shepherdneame.co.uk Faversham ME13 7AX).
10 Exotic climes
Displaying one of the most unique and fascinating private collections in the country, the Powell-Cotton Museum has Oriental fine arts, antique furniture, ceramics and weaponry. But it is best known for its impressive collection of 19th-century natural history specimens, collected during expeditions to Asia and Africa. Although adjoining Quex House will still be closed for winter, the museum and its acres of informal gardens will be open for visitors. Romantics can visit the fountain featuring the statues of lovers Atalanta and Hippomenes and the onsite Mama Feelgoods Boutique Café hosts a Valentine’s Tea Day on 16 February (www.quexpark.co.uk Birchington CT7 0BH)
11 Henry VIII was here
It’s been called one of the most romantic castles in the country and Hever was indeed the scene of one of the most infamous romances in history. Childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the castle was visited many times by King Henry VIII during their courtship. These days the moated manor house offers a glimpse into how its Tudor owners lived in the old part of the building, as well as how the most recent family to have owned it, the Astors, spent their days there (www.hevercastle.co.uk Hever TN8 7NG).
12 An enchanted forest
With an enchanted forest to wander through, Groombridge Place is a paradise for walkers and it also offers a boat ride, a birds of prey centre and all sorts of animals to meet. The house isn’t open to the public but you can stroll through the formal gardens and find many romantic nooks to sit and ponder the beauty all around you (www.groombridgeplace.com Groombridge TN3 9QG).
13 Fairytale Castle
When you imagine fairytale castles as a child, Leeds Castle is exactly what you’ll have in mind. Parts of the impressive castle are 900 years old and it sits majestically in 500 acres of ancient parkland. With so much to see and do at the castle, you’ll be spoilt for choice but for something a little quirky visit the attraction’s dog collar museum, the only one of its kind in the country. There’s also a beautiful maze with an underground grotto at the centre if you’re looking for somewhere really special for a Valentine’s Day proposal (www.leeds-castle.com Leeds ME17 1PB).
14 White Cliffs Country
The Saxon Shore Way runs 160 miles from Gravesend right round the Kent coast and down to Hastings but try this stunning part of the walk that takes you right over the White Cliffs of Dover. Starting in the quaint seaside town of Deal, the walk isn’t too challenging apart from some steep steps and the bracing air and spectacular views make it well worth the effort. Park the car near Deal station, head for the seafront and turn right along the shingle beach, past Deal and Walmer castles. The Zetland Arms pub offers an opportunity to stop for a bite to eat overlooking the sea and then head out along the Undercliffe Road and up onto the cliff top towards beautiful St Margeret’s Bay and on to Dover. It’s about eight miles in total and you can hop on a train in Dover back to Deal afterwards (www.visitkent.co.uk Deal Station CT14 6HD).
15 Secret Gardens
Oozing history and charm, Sandwich has much to offer romantic couples trying to get a peaceful day together. While you’re there, visit the Secret Gardens. A hidden gen encircled by the ancient stone city walls, the gardens are an oasis of serenity. Although they were flooded back in December, the staff have been working hard to get the gardens back to their former glory and the pretty little tea room will be offering all kinds of tempting treats (www.the-secretgardens.co.uk Sandwich CT13 9EW).
16 In Royal footsteps
Knole Park, the ancient parkland that surrounds the historic National Trust stately home, has to be seen to be believed. Set in the centre of Sevenoaks, as soon as you go through the gates you are transported back in time as you enter the deer park where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I would have hunted. Inside the house itself you see how six centuries of the Sackville family lived in this beautiful home and see the exciting new work the National Trust is undertaking to restore it (www.nationaltrust.org.uk Sevenoaks TN15 0RP).
17 Hop aboard
For a real journey back in time, why not treat your partner to a trip on board a train along one of the most beautiful routes in the country? The New Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway operates small steam and diesel locomotives from a bygone era and the views through Romney Marsh are nothing short of spectacular. Hop aboard at Hythe and you can travel through several stops to Dungeness – getting on and off to explore as you please. The service will be operating between 15-23 February but there’s also a special romantic dinner with a three-course meal on board for Valentine’s Day itself, so see the website for booking details (www.rhdr.org.uk Hythe CT21 6LD).
18 Hello sailor
Reopening after its winter hibernation on 15 February, the Historic Dockyard Chatham offers a memorable day out. With its historic warships – a stunning naval sloop, a Second World War destroyer and a 1960’s submarine – all preserved so visitors can climb aboard and see what life was like for the mariners, it’s an attraction that honours our country’s naval history and makes you hug your loved one just that little bit tighter (www.thedockyard.co.uk Chatham ME4 4TY).
19 Wild open spaces
Dungeness, Kent’s southernmost tip, can be seen as a little inhospitable but there’s no doubt that it boasts the county’s most fascinating landscape. The vast, flat shingle beach is interspersed with unusual structures; from rusted metal fishing huts to lighthouses and even a power station. But it’s also an area known for its birdlife and for attracting artists. Add in a visit to the home of the late artist and film maker Derek Jarman and top it all off with a fish and chip lunch at The Pilot pub (www.dungeness-nnr.co.uk. Park near Dungeness TN29 9NE). See also page xx.
20 Remembering Churchill
The former family home of Sir Winston Churchill, Chartwell provided inspiration and peace for our nation’s greatest leader from 1924 until his death in 1965. The rooms are much as he would have left them and the personal items on display give an intimate glimpse into the family life of the iconic Prime Minister. The gardens reflect his love of nature and there are many of his own paintings on display (www.nationaltrust.org.uk Westerham TN16 1PS).
21 Monkey about
If it’s a romantic afternoon in the woods you’re after, look no further than Bedgebury. The forest itself is perfect for sporty couples with plenty of walking, horse riding and cycling paths and there’s even a Go Ape climbing centre where you can monkey about in the trees yourselves (www.forestry.gov.uk Bedgebury TN17 2SJ).
22 Wool-lovers’ paradise
If it’s an animal lover you’re trying to impress, do something really different and book a walk with an alpaca. Alpaca Annie at Haguelands Farm in New Romney offers treks across the marshland with an alpaca of your very own for the day. Inquisitive, gentle and wonderfully soft, these fully trained animals are a treat to be around. The farm also sells hand-made alpaca wool products (www.alpacaannie.com Burmarsh TN29 0JR).
23 Tales from the riverbank
Running a river bus service as well as tours, Captain Colin, the Harbour Master at Sandwich, has been inviting visitors aboard his boat since 1999. Travel along the River Stour to the Roman fort at Richbrough or venture out to the sea in search of seals. It’s all done a sedate speed to avoid frightening the abundant river wildlife (www.theriverbus.co.uk Park near Sandwich CT13 9EN).
24 A Wealden jewel
Often described as the ‘jewel of the Weald’, Tenterden is one of those towns that visitors just fall in love with. Typically Kentish, boasting historical buildings, great shopping and a number of independent cafés and restaurants, it’s got it all. Treat your Valentine to afternoon tea followed by a browse through of the antique shops and boutiques (www.tenterdentown.co.uk Park near Tenterden TN30 6HP).
25 Sea breezes
What better way to spend a rare and precious day together than strolling along the coast from quiet Tankerton to bustling Whitstable? Park on the seafront at the top of Tankerton slopes and head down to the beach, past the FEB 14 Romantic pic 2 and turning left towards nearby Whitstable. It’s about a five and a half mile-round trip so nothing too taxing, but you’ll get great views along the way and once in Whitstable you can treat yourselves to a glass of wine and a seafood lunch at one of the wonderful restaurants (www.seewhitstable.com. Park near Tankerton CT5 2BQ).