2015 was a busy year of travelling and exploring, both abroad and in the UK. There are some beautiful places in England but I readily admit that I don’t always feel at home in Kent; I know all the guidebooks say it’s a beautiful, rural and historic county but that is not always the ‘Garden of England’ that I see.
There are so many local sights that I am yet to visit (and no fear, I’ve got those planned for 2016) but, when I think about it, there are some brilliantly fun, breathtaking and charming things to see and do in Kent which may not be featured in the guidebooks or have made it onto TripAdvisor. So here are my 15 favourite Kentish activities from 2015.
- A burger and milkshake at the 50s inspired Hot Rods Diner, Northfleet. Your cheesy chips will taste even more delicious if you’re warming up from standing in the cold at the hand car wash next door – only a tenner for a very enthusiastic inside and out clean.
- A snowboard lesson at Chatham Ski and Snowboard Centre. An hours private lesson for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children) will set you back £85. I took my boyfriend and two of his children. It received a teenager rating of “good” so obviously I was delighted. If you really want to release your inner child or tame-to-moderate adventurous side, take a trip on their metal toboggan run which I’m told is the longest in the UK.
- An afternoon of bargain hunting at Ashford Designer Outlet. Personal favourites include the many outdoor shops, Fossil, Le Creuset, Sketchers and Polo Ralph Lauren. Other popular brands include Superdry, Abercrombie and Fitch, Nike and Ted Baker. If you arrive after 6pm, parking is free.
- New Year’s Day exploring Botany Bay, Broadstairs and warming up with a fish finger sandwich in the unexpectedly stylish and dog-friendly Botany Bay Hotel. There is free on-road parking outside the hotel which is opposite steps to the beach. The beach is very rocky so there is much exploring to be done in the rock pools and various caves.
- See the charming Victorian and 1950s Christmas display at Ightham Mote near Sevenoaks, followed by a walk in the estate and a cream tea in the cafe. There is also a program of carols and other festive events.
- Dinner, cocktails and dancing at the fabulously flamboyant MuMu Maidstone. Don’t let the camp decor put you off, it’s all part of the fun. The food is excellent and the cocktails are high quality; Mayu Margarita is my personal favourite.
- Stroll through the carpet of bluebells at Emmetts Garden in early May. I know an afternoon with the National Trust may not be your first idea of fun if you’ve not tried it, but it’s not just for the nanas. Most National Trust sites are dog friendly to varying degrees, and they put on all sorts of activities for children and families. For everyone else, it’s a beautiful, peaceful place to walk, chat and take some killer flower shots for Instagram.
- Walk along the North Downs Way around Wye, near Ashford. Marvel at the unexpectedly beautiful views. Scrump a turnip.
- Set the dog free at Jeskyns Community Woodland, 147ha (who knows what a hectare is, but it’s big!) of open space with trees, and paths of varying accessibility levels. For dogs there is an activity trail, plus an enclosed training pen and a doggy pond with a easy access ramp for washing off those muddy paws.
- Climb up Windmill Hill, Gravesend to watch the Bonfire Night fireworks. From your vantage point at the top you can see the fireworks from Gravesend’s riverfront prom, as well as displays set off in Essex and east London. Take a flask of mulled wine or hot chocolate if it’s nippy!
- Summer walks or adventurous mountain biking in Bedgebury Forest, Goudhurst. Parking is hellishly expensive at around £10 per day, but there’s lots of space to explore either on foot or biking the mountain bike trails. Come summer you can watch big names in music at Forest live events – Tom Odell was my favourite of 2015.
- Book a table for Sunday lunch at the Cricketers Inn, Meopham – great roasts, log fire, cosy atmosphere, dogs allowed in the bar. What’s not to love?
- On a sunny day, wander along the Saxon Shore Way from Gravesend to Cliffe. The passing cargo ships, industry of Tilbury and the grazing horses make for a different kind of scenic, but the path is relatively quiet with the exception of fishermen. Look out for the wreck of the Hans Egede near Shornemead Fort.
- Order a croque monsieur at La Trappiste, Canterbury, washed down with a pint from their selection of more than 100 beers including chocolate and strawberry flavours.
- Lazy summer evenings on pebble beach at Whitstable, also home to the famous oyster festival. For something to eat, highly recommended is Samphire, an intimate bistro with plenty of fresh fish on the menu – but shockingly no samphire when I visited!
So that was my 2015 in Kent and it turns out I had a great time! Stay tuned for the 16 Kentish activities I’m going to try in 2016.
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