Free things to do in Kent in the winter
PUBLISHED: 16:44 20 January 2020
When funds are low and the family is going stir-crazy stuck indoors, here is some fun, free stuff to get you through
January can be a challenging (and very long) month, but there are so many good things too about the start of a New Year.
A fresh snowfall and iced-over ponds are stunningly beautiful; tobogganing and long walks in the countryside come into their own. Increasing the help given to wildlife - food and, equally importantly, water - is satisfying and fun.
Brave souls relish barbecues (midges are absent in the winter!) while for the even braver, outdoor swimming is increasingly popular in all weathers. Ice skating is generally best undertaken on rinks rather than ponds or lakes and Kent is fortunate to have access to a surprising number of all-year-round venues.
Meanwhile, the less energetic can always curl up in the most comfortable armchair with a book by a Kent author; the choice is massive. And best of all, getting out and about needn't involve spending money on entrance fees, because the county has a staggering number of visitor attractions that open free-of-charge throughout the year - including January.
- Broadview Gardens
Few gardens are open to the public in January, but Broadview is a notable exception. Created on stony silt soil above clay on what was part of the Medway flood plain, the 10 acres are divided into individually designed areas with their own planting plans. The earliest part of the year is made special by a National Collection of Hellebores and thousands of spring bulbs.
Sandell Lake, the Wildlife Walk and The Meadow attract an amazing number of species and, because the gardens are used as a teaching resource for the college's horticulture students, many of the plants and trees are labelled. Large parts of the gardens are flat and so accessible to wheel and pushchairs; the map at the start of the gardens is a useful guide.
Adjoining the gardens, award-winning Broadview Tearoom is open seven days a week (closed over Christmas until 2 Jan) serving coffee, lunch and afternoon tea.
Broadview Gardens, Hadlow College, Tonbridge Road, Hadlow TN11 OAL, broadviewgardens.co.uk
Open Mon to Fri 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm
- Chiddingstone Village
A joy for historians and those who appreciate architecture, delightful Chiddingstone Village is a must. Mentioned in The Domesday Book, most of the largely Tudor period village (Grade 11* listed) is owned by the National Trust and the houses are tenanted.
Don't miss the Chiding Stone; follow the short path located near the school to see the huge lump of sandstone which formed many millions of years ago. Legends concerning the use of the stone abound but the most popular relates to it being where miscreants - usually in the form of nagging wives and ne'er-do-wells - were chastised.
Opposite the row of historic houses, the Church of St Mary (Grade ll* listed) is built from local sandstone. The nave, chancel, aisles and chapels are early 14th century and many Master Craftsmen were involved in their construction and furnishing.
The church has a copy of the Vinegar Bible (published 1717) and visitors can read the fascinating story that resulted in so many errors by the printers!
Almost opposite St Mary's, The Castle Inn (Grade 11* listed) is privately owned and offers refreshments, lunches and suppers in a delightful building that dates back to the early 15th century.
Visit the village (TN8 7AH) at any time, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chiddingstone-village. Castle Inn opening/bookings: 01892 870371.
- Buttercup Sanctuary for Goats
Back in 1989 Bob and Valerie Hitch had an interest in rare breed sheep - then a divorcing couple asked if they would take on two goats. Not long afterwards the RSPCA asked the Hitches to home a goat in need of urgent care, and they did.
Since those early days the Sanctuary has grown and grown and is now home to about 150 goats which are divided into two groups, all the billies being kept separately until they have recovered from castration.
During the day the goats wander freely over the fields and at night they have dry and warm accommodation either in an individual stall or one they share with a close companion.
In addition to the goats at the Sanctuary, a further 100-plus goats are in foster homes. Potential foster carers are selected carefully and once the goats take up residence, Bob and Valerie arrange twice-yearly visits to make certain all is well.
Although entry for visitors is free, the Sanctuary has charity status (it's the only UK-registered charity dedicated to the welfare of goats) and donations of £5 a person for adults are suggested. Buttercup has nine full-time staff plus numerous volunteers, but if you're interested, applications to become a volunteer are always welcome. The Sanctuary also offers husbandry courses for anyone wanting to learn more about goat-keeping, gives work experience to students studying animal management at Hadlow College and runs many events.
Buttercup Sanctuary for Goats, Wierton Road, Boughton Monchelsea ME17 41N, www.buttercups.org.uk
During the winter months (October to Spring), Buttercup is open at weekends 11am-3pm. The rest of the year the Sanctuary is open every day.
- Turner Contemporary
The Gallery has made a big difference to an area in need of regeneration and today Margate is increasingly - and rightly - rising up the visitor attraction ratings. The name of the gallery relates, of course, to the famous landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Turner who first visited the town when he was eleven, stayed with a relative and went to school in Love Lane. Turner loved East Kent - Margate especially - and the area is featured in over a hundred of his paintings.
J.M.W.T's name is celebrated by the Turner Prize which was established in 1984. Considered to be the highest honour in the British art world, it was set up by a group of donors associated with the Tate Gallery. Every other year the award leaves London's Tate Britain and this time it is Turner Contemporary's turn to exhibit the work of the shortlisted finalists: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani. In an historic moment, all four were named winners on 3 December 2019 after the nominees wrote to the judges asking if they could share it as they wanted to send a message of togetherness in troubled political times. The exhibition continues until 12 January.
Turner Contemporary, Margate CT9 1HG, turnercontemporary.org
Gallery opening times: Mon-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat and Sun 10am-6pm
- Biddenden Vineyards
Kent's wine producers are up there among the very best in the world. Perhaps this isn't too surprising seeing that the county's soils share their identity with those that produce Champagne in France and, while climate change has many negative aspects, it is generally benefiting UK wine producers.
Such is our reputation, in 2017 grande marque Champagne house Taittinger planted vines in Chilham as the site for its venture into English sparkling wine.
And every grape used in the production of Biddenden sparkling wines is hand picked and after going through multiple processes (employing the Traditional Method, the same used to produce Champagne), the wine is left to mature.
A visit to Biddenden changes with the seasons and even early in the year it is possible to take a free, self-conducted walk through the vines (the labels attached to rows are helpful). On Saturdays from April to September, Biddenden offers open tours at £10 per person, pre-booking essential.
Biddenden Vineyards, Gribble Bridge Lane, Biddenden TN27 8DF, biddendenvineyards.com
Biddenden hosts various events including its annual Food and Drink Day (14 June 2020). Free entry and all stallholders' fees and any money raised is donated to Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance Trust. Closed 24 Dec-1 Jan and on Sundays throughout Jan and Feb. Otherwise it is open throughout the year Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun and BH 11am-5pm.
- Dover Museum
Think of Dover and the image conjured up tends to be either of Europe's busiest ferry port or those iconic White Cliffs, symbolic safeguards at Britain's closest point to continental Europe.
Although the town is close to some of the country's best-known tourist attractions, it doesn't itself attract quite the numbers of visitors it deserves. However, Dover Museum is definitely worth a visit, and it's now climbing the visitor experience charts.
Originally founded in 1836, the town-centre museum enjoys the distinction of being one of the oldest in Kent. In 1991 it was re-housed in a three storey, purpose-built building behind a Victorian facade. The ground-floor gallery tells the story of the town's development - a wonderful resource for history buffs and students alike. The middle floor is reserved for special exhibitions and it's worth checking up on the diverse programme.
The top-floor gallery houses the famous Bronze Age Boat, discovered in Dover in 1992 by archaeologists who uncovered the remains of a large wooden prehistoric boat thought to be some 3,000 years old, making it the world's oldest-known seagoing boat.
The gallery tells the story of this important find and its implications for understanding the Bronze Age by means of artefacts, replicas, models, video, computer interactives, hands-on exhibits and illustrated panels. Much of the information is presented in a range of languages and a lift provides access to all the galleries.
Dover Museum, Market Square, Dover CT16 1PH, www.dovermuseum.co.uk
Open all year Mon-Saturday 9.30am-5pm. From 1 Apr-31 Sep the Museum is also open on Sun 10am-3pm