What to see, do and eat in West Malling
PUBLISHED: 15:16 16 October 2018 | UPDATED: 15:16 16 October 2018
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
A small town with a friendly, village feel, West Malling is the perfect combination of old and new
West Malling isn’t a large town but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. Not far from Maidstone and surrounded by pretty, rural villages, much of this ancient market town has remained unchanged for centuries.
Its history has always been closely linked to the original abbey, founded here in around 1090 by Bishop Gundulf. Giving the nuns the right to hold weekly markets, the town grew around it, first known as Town Malling and later as West Malling.
The abbey still exists today, although it has massively altered over the centuries, and an Anglican Benedictine community calls it home.
Thought to have been built at around the same time, another of West Malling’s historic buildings is the mysterious St Leonard’s Tower. Believed to be the remains of a Norman keep, its exact history is uncertain but by the 18th century it was used for storing hops.
Just along the road from it is Douces Manor, now a development of exclusive apartments but originally a manor house built in 1738. During the Second World War it was requisitioned as an officers’ mess for the men flying fighters out of nearby RAF West Malling – now the modern housing development of neighbouring Kings Hill.
Although the manor house is privately owned, the local history society managed to preserve a small but important part of its RAF history. Used as a bar during the war, one of the manor’s cellars still bears the graffiti of the airmen who drank together there to steady their nerves.
Known as the ‘Twitch Inn’ due to the tremors many of them suffered, it’s been designated a heritage centre and The Malling Society hold regular open days.
The extensive former grounds of Douces Manor make up the town’s main green space, Manor Park. A 52-acre country park, it’s a lovely combination of streams, lakes, meadows and woodland. Popular with dog walkers and families, there’s an excellent children’s play area and a good café.
The centre of the town itself is known for its Tudor and Georgian architecture, with a pretty High Street and lots to explore.
Look out for the series of blue plaques, set up to commemorate notable citizens of the past and special events. There’s even one that marks the date The Beatles visited the town, filming a scene of their Magical Mystery Tour at a newsagent.
For more history, stroll down Swan Street to see the Mill Yard Craft Centre, dating back to the 1550s and now housing a number of small shops and businesses. Further down you’ll come to the Abbey Cascade – an historic waterfall with another mysterious story behind it.
Or take time to visit the Church of St Mary the Virgin, a Norman church with a fine spire, huge tower, rare James II coat of arms and 15th-century brasses.
But while West Malling has plenty of history to uncover, it’s also a vibrant modern town with a range of tempting shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants.
In keeping with its past as a market town, there’s a popular Farmers’ Market which draws a crowd on the fourth Sunday of each month, and a number of annual community events.
If you’re in the area, other places to visit include the nearby Leybourne Lakes Country Park and Coldrum Long Barrow at Trottiscliffe – a stone monument thought to be 1,000 years older than Stonehenge.
Eating and shopping
West Malling has plenty of places to eat, from coffee shops and tea rooms to fine dining. A few to try include popular café Bean Rush, The Hungry Guest (a finalist in the 2018 Food & Drink Awards), Frank’s restaurant and mussel bar, The Farmhouse, Pad Thai and The Swan. The new Amano Italian restaurant is receiving good reviews and has stylish rooms for overnight stays too.
Good pubs include The Scared Crow, The Bull Inn, The Malling Jug (see our postcard from West Malling below) and The Joiners Arms. Further afield you’ll find The King and Queen in East Malling, The George at Trottiscliffe and The Angel at Addington.
West Malling is pretty lucky when it comes to shopping too. Unique independents include Moor and Mountain ski shop, Down Swan Street gift shop, ladies fashion boutiques Fragolina and Eves of West Malling, Soles With Hearts children’s footwear, Monks menswear, Andrew Smith Jewellers and The Chocolate Umbrella sweet shop. There’s also a new bespoke jewellers called Varoshe.
And don’t miss Abbey Arcade. It’s a little hard to find, with its tiny entrance on the High Street, but inside there are several small businesses all under one roof –including the new Made In Malling, which showcases the work of local crafters.
Postcard from West Malling: The Malling Jug micropub
My name is David Catterall and along with my wife Sarah I own The Malling Jug micropub. We sell real ale from the cask and a large selection of bottled beers from around the world.
We also sell a small selection of unique cider and wines, but no spirits or gassed lager. Our food is simple and ‘old school’ - pork pies, scotch eggs and cheese boards. We opened in April 2017 and we are open every day except Tuesday.
We have always had a passion for real ale and were keen to offer a place to drink in our lovely town where the prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is low tech; you’ll find no phones, TV screens or loud music here.
An opportunity arrived for us to use our property to start something new and exciting. It was hugely important to us that the whole town be involved with planning and consultation so this community venture would have a positive impact for all.
West Malling is an exceptional place to live and we feel blessed to have brought our three children up here.
The array of restaurants and small boutiques is amazing and to have so many different places to socialise and drink means we are very spoilt.
We feel we have joined the pub community with ease here as we offer something a bit different and choice can only be a good thing.
We continue to frequent The Swan and The Farmhouse as we always have and during the working day, Bean Rush is our place of choice for the best sandwiches.
A month ago we opened The Dartford Jug which is also proving to be a success, so we’re spreading the love of real ale across Kent!