Spotlight on: Maidstone
PUBLISHED: 08:16 19 June 2015 | UPDATED: 08:16 19 June 2015
It’s our county town and its central location, right on the River Medway, has meant that Maidstone has always been at the very heart of Kent
Maidstone has it all; great transport links, open countryside on its doorstep, affordable homes and good schools.
Add to that the regeneration that has transformed the town centre, the great eateries popping up, the top-class shopping and firm family favourites such as Mote Park, the Kent Life (no relation) farm attraction and Leeds Castle all within easy reach – and it’s to see why people put down roots here.
Eating and shopping
Maidstone is home to many of the chain restaurants that big towns attract but there are several interesting independents if you know where to look. Some of our favourites are the vegan eatery Fortify Café (ME14 1JF, 01622 670533) with its wholesome dishes, as well as Turkish restaurant The Gem Of Kent (ME14 1SR, 01622 675000), Italian restaurant Vesuvius (ME15 6LX, 01622 664969), Frederic Café Bistro (ME14 1HP, 01622 297414) for superb French food and wine, and the ever-popular Shamrat Indian Brasserie (ME15 6LX, 01622 683076).
New to the scene are The Heart OF Kent Hospice Café (ME14 1BA, 01622 609143), which has visitors raving about it, and Bill’s (ME14 1QT, 01622 763369) for everything right through from breakfast to dinner.
The modern shopping heart of the town is Fremlin Walk (ME14 1PS), where you can find everything from House of Fraser, Laura Ashley and Zara to Waterstones, the Early Learning Centre and HMV. You can park in the centre’s own 760-space car park, shop until you drop and refuel at Costa or Pret à Manger without leaving the open-air shopping centre.
But venture out a little from the centre and you’ll still find some of the town’s many independent gems. We recommend vintage emporium Trash or Treasure (ME14 1RS) and don’t forget to take a wander behind the town’s Hazlitt Theatre to the Market Buildings (ME14 1PL) and the Royal Star Arcade (ME14 1JL) for several little independent shops and cafés.
10 things you didn’t know you could do at Maidstone Museum
It’s easy to become blasé about local museums and to assume that if you visited years ago, there’s little point in going again. Here are 10 reasons you should think again when it comes to Maidstone Museum.
Extended in 2010 with a new state-of-the-art exhibition space, reception and shop now in striking contrast to the old Elizabethan mansion they are attached to, there is so much going on inside, it’s hard to know where to start.
1 Go dinosaur mad
In 1834 the fossilised remains of an Iguanodon were found in a quarry near Queen’s Road, Maidstone. The quarry’s owner, William Benstead, excavated the fossil himself, which was later identified and recorded by Gideon Mantell and bought for the Natural History Museum. Maidstone Museum has a cast of this amazing find in their dinosaur collection, which went back on display recently after 10 years out of the public eye.
2 Take an iPad tour
You can take a tour guided by ‘Spike the Iguanodon’, the friendly museum dinosaur, on one of their iPads. These trails are free and available daily from the front desk, on condition of leaving a valid photo ID as deposit. The trail takes around 40 minutes.
3 Stay after dark
Experience the museum after dark at their monthly Museum Lates on the last Thursday of every month from 6pm to 9pm. The museum will be open late for a host of interactive activities related to a monthly theme.
4 Follow a trails
The museum has a number of different trail sheets that will take younger visitors on a journey of discovery. It’s a great way to experience the exhibits and learn about the myths and legends behind them. Trail sheets can be picked up from reception.
5 View the Lambeth Bible, Vol. 2
This beautiful early Bible, written in Latin around 1150, is the second of two volumes but was never completed, though it would have probably taken six year to produce. It has recently been linked to Faversham Abbey with claims that it was being produced for King Stephen and Queen Matilda, before King Stephen’s death in 1154.
6 Interact with displays
As you explore the museum’s exhibits there are a number of interactive features that allow you to dig for fossils and examine specimens using a telescope, and there’s even a costume gallery so you can try on historic clothes.
7 Hang out with a mummy
Maidstone Museum has the only human mummy in Kent. The 2,700 year-old mummy of a teenage Egyptian girl called Ta-Kesh was brought to England in the 1820s. She’s the star of the Egyptology collection with other artefacts from sites including Alexandria, Naqada and Thebes.
8 Have a birthday party
Children’s birthday parties held inside the museum are very popular. The parties take inspiration from the museum’s collections and are led by a member of their friendly learning team. They are able to cater for children of all ages, interests and exuberance levels. Themes include: knights and princesses, pirates, explorers and of course the ever-popular dinosaur theme.
9 Visit Brick City
From 4 July to 6 September, Brick City, a stunning temporary exhibition of architectural landmarks made in LEGO® bricks, is coming to Maidstone Museum. There will be lots of activities in the gallery including some LEGO for visitors to build a giant mosaic. There will be an admission charge for this exhibition so check on the website for details.
10 Relax in the café
Enjoy a range of delicious food and drink using local produce in the Kentish Deli Café. Located in the Brenchley Room, and with its own Café Gallery hosting temporary exhibitions, the café has a warm and welcoming atmosphere and is a great place to take a break from it all. It’s open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm.
Visit www.museum.maidstone.gov.uk for opening times and details. Apart from special exhibitions and activities, the museum is free to visit.
Music in Mote Park
With a green space the size of Mote Park, it’s no surprise that Maidstone has hosted many outdoor music events over the years, most notably the Radio 1 Big Weekend in 2008.
But this summer the county town will be rocking out to the likes of Scorpions, Marillion, Saxon, Seasick Steve and Blue Oyster Cult.
The new Ramblin’ Man Fair, which will take place 25 and 26 July, is set to bring the best of classic rock, progressive rock, country and blues to the 450-acre site. The music festival may be a new name on the circuit but the acts are well established and bring with them a huge fan base from across the country.
Organisers say: “A quality musical line up with a number of UK exclusive performances will be coupled with excellent amenities throughout, including gourmet food, a beer festival, spoken word stage, the best in music cinema, luxury camping and accommodation packages and more. The event’s unique experience will transform Ramblin’ Man into a staple of the UK festival season.”
Visit www.ramblinmanfair.com for ticket information.
An entirely different music scene will take over the park in September, with boutique dance festival The Social. The brainchild of DJ Nic Fanciulli, the popular event is in its third year. With handpicked DJs from all over the world, the day-long event is happening on 12 September this year. Visit www.thesocialfestival.com
Villages surrounding Maidstone
Maidstone is lucky to be surrounded by some of the prettiest of Kent’s villages. Just along the River Medway is Aylesford and its lovely riverside buildings. Here you’ll find The Hengist (ME20 7AX, 01622 885800), one of Kent’s finest restaurants and fully refurbished last year, as well as beautiful Aylesford Priory (ME20 7BX, 01622 7155272).
A trip upriver from Maidstone leads to the pretty villages of East Farleigh, Teston and Wateringbury. Teston Bridge Country Park (ME18 5BX) is one of the best places to enjoy the tranquil riverside and with a car park, a huge picnic site, children’s play area and footpaths, it is a lovely place for a family day out.
East of Maidstone is Bearsted, with its pretty village green and popular pubs and restaurants. Try The Oak On The Green (ME14 4EJ, 01622 737976) and Soufflé (ME14 4DN, 01622 737065) here.
Further afield, the pretty Wealden village of Staplehurst is well worth a visit. Try The King’s Head pub (TN12 0AR, 01580 891231) or the café at Staplehurst Nurseries and Frankie’s Farmshop (TN12 0JT, 01580 890713).
And a visit to Headcorn, with its famous airfield, could include a cup of tea and a snack at the Headcorn Delicatessen (TN27 9NH, 01622 890108) or Coffee Corner (TN27 9NE, 01622 411234).
In East Malling, historic tours at The Orchards Events Centre (formerly East Malling Conference Centre, ME19 6BJ) have proved popular since their launch in 2013 as part of the centre’s centennial celebrations. Taken by historian Pete Batty, the tours offer an insight into the research station that has helped to shape the Garden of England today. Tour guests will also find out about the people who have dedicated a lifetime to science and understand how work on the site has shaped the fruit we eat globally and goes behind its 100-year-old history.
The 45-minute tour starts at 10.45am and costs £20, including a two-course lunch in the café. Spaces are limited, so pre-book on 01732 523781 or visit: www.theorchardseastmalling.co.uk
Five-bedroom detached properties can be priced between £375,000 and anything up to almost a million pounds. Three-bed semis are quite reasonably priced and plentiful, between £220,000 and £360,000. Two-bed terraces can be picked up for around £180,000 and one-bed flats for around £120,000.
Haart (01622 922020) and Bairstow Eves (01622 922024) are two of the many estate agents operating in this area.
Truly at the heart of Kent, there is easy access to the M20, at junctions 5, 6, 7 and 8, and two train stations; Maidstone East for London and Ashford services and Maidstone West for Gatwick and Strood services.
Sat nav for the town centre: ME14 1PS