Batemans – Burwash: Once home to the famous author Rudyard Kipling
Battle of Hastings Abbey and Battlefields – Battle: The site where in 1066 King Harold was defeated by William of Normandy and England was to change forever
Bodiam Castle: A perfect example of a late medieval, moated castle
Royal Pavilion – Brighton: Magnifient royal palace built for Prince Regent
Lewes Castle: Coastal fortress dating back to 1066
Chichester Cathedral: This magnificent 900 year old Cathedral stands at the heart of Chichester
Arundel Castle: The seat of The Dukes of Norfolk, set in 40 acres of sweeping grounds & gardens
Canterbury Cathedral: One of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and part of a World Heritage Site
Chartwell – Westerham: Once the home of the great Prime Minister, Winston Churchill
Chiddingstone Castle – Edenbridge: A unique and unspoilt castle with various international collections
Deal Castle: Built for Henry VII as a coastal fortress
Dover Castle: This magnificent castle above the white cliffs has guarded England’s shores for 20 centuries
Hever Castle – Edenbridge: Once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, with a maze in the gardens
Leeds Castle – Maidstone: Discover this magical castle, surrounded by a moat and set in 500 acres of parkland
Penshurst Place and Gardens: Home to the Sydney family since 1552
Tonbridge Castle: 900 years of history connected with this castle
Walmer Castle and Gardens – Deal: Built during the reign of Henry VIII on the picturesque Kent coastline
Great Dixter House and Gardens – Northiam: A superb cottage garden around a medieval manor which was the home of gardening writer the late Christopher Lloyd
Pashley Manor Gardens – Ticehurst: A blend of romantic landscaping, imaginative plantings, fine old trees, fountains, springs and large ponds
High Beeches Gardens – Handcross: 27 acres of magnificent woodland and water gardens, full of rare, exotic and unusual plants
Sheffield Park Garden – Nr Maresfield: Magnificent informal landscape garden laid out in the 18th Century by ‘Capability’ Brown and further developed in the early 20th Century by its owner, Arthur G. Soames
Merriments Gardens – Hurst Green: Mature gardens planted for all year round colour with well stocked wildlife and bird centre
Doddington Place Gardens – Nr Sittingbourne: 10 acres of beautiful landscape gardens set in the grounds of a Victorian mansion
Beech Court Gardens – Challock: Nationally renowned 10 acre ‘oasis’ of tranquility and beauty
Godinton House Gardens – Ashford: A superb ancient estate with thrilling formal gardens all splendidly restored
Goodnestone Park and Gardens: One of only three gardens in Kent to be awarded the coveted two stars in the Good Garden Guide
Great Comp Garden – Borough Green: Seven acres, with many beautiful and rare plants surrounding a manor house
Riverhill Himalayan Gardens: Have a great day out in the most imaginative garden to visit in Kent
Sissinghurst Gardens – Nr Cranbrook: A garden in the ruin of an Elizabethan house with woods and streams, and views across the Kentish landscape
Groombridge Place Gardens: A fascinating mix of quintessentially English formal gardens and a wacky Enchanted Forest with giant swings and zip wires
Scotney Castle and Gardens – Lamberhurst: These gardens sweep around the fairytale ruins of the 14th century moated medieval castle and adjoining Victorian country house
Brighton Sealife Centre: Watch as giant turtles and sharks glide above you in the underwater tunnel. Visit the Tropical Reef, enjoy holding crabs and feeding the rays, and much more
Eastbourne Miniature Steam Railway: Ride for nearly a mile behind scale coalfired miniature steam locomotives around a five acre lake
Heaven Farm – Furners Green: Set in 100 acres of parkland, steeped in 600 years of farming history and includes the Bluebell nature trail
Smugglers Adventure – Hastings: Discover the fascinating world of the Smugglers Adventure in St Clements Caves in West Hill
Seven Sisters Sheep Farm – Eastbourne: The world’s largest collection of breeds of sheep (55) and and many other farm favourites; tame enough to touch and feed
Butser Ancient Farm – Charlton: An experimental archaeological site of world-wide standing. With on-going constructions of buildings based on real sites and are breeds of animals.
Discover Fossils – Peacehaven: Enjoy a taste of paleantology in Great Britain
Bluebell Railway – Sheffield Park: One of the first preserved standard gauge steam train railways
Knockhatch Adventure Park – Hailsham: 40 acres of countryside with a wide selection of indoor and outdoor activities, including a falconry centre
Observatory Science Centre – Hailsham: Needing clearer skies, the Royal Greenwich Observatory moved here in 1947. Enjoy hands-on science amongst the domes and telescopes
Drusillas Park – Alfriston: One of the best small zoos in the country with hundreds of exotic animals – monkeys and crocodiles to penguins and meerkats, and also Go Wild! Go Bananas! Amazon Adventure and Thomas the Tank Engine
Diggerland – Strood: A unique adventure park based on the world of construction machinery, with diggers and dumpers for all to drive
Eagle Heights Birds of Prey – Eynsford: Spectacular view across the Darent Valley while watching Eagles, Hawks, Falcons and Vultures flying all around you
Hop Farm Family Park – Tonbridge: Rides and undercover wonders to entertain and fuel imaginations
Howletts Wild Animal Park – Canterbury: 100 acres of beautiful ancient parkland, home to some of the worlds most rare animals, including gorillas, snow leopards, Iberian wolves and black rhino
Spa Valley Railway – Tunbridge Wells: Runs from historic Tunbridge Wells, via High Rocks, to the charming village of Groombridge
Bedgebury National Forest – Goudhurst: Cycling, walking, riding, adventure play area and Go Ape. Visit the world’s finest conifer collection in the Pinetum
Chislehurst Caves – Nr Bromley: Miles of mystery and history in this labyrinth of man-made tunnels – a maze of 6 hectares, 30 metres below woodlands
Chatham Dockyard: See 400 years of Royal Navy history with more than 100 structures and ancient monuments on the 80 acre site
Secret Wartime Tunnels – Dover Castle: Explore the tunnels and experience wartime action
Crabble Corn Mill – Dover: One of the most complete and working examples of a watermill in Europe showing Georgian and Victorian engineering excellence at work
The Canterbury Tales: Step back more than 500 years to join Geoffrey Chaucer and his colourful characters on their magical pilgrimage from London
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS AREA:
The chalk ramparts of England – from the white cliffs of Dover westwards to the Seven Sisters – have for centuries been the first sight of island Britain for friend and foe, traveller and invader.
Chinks in the defences saw the Romans led by Julius Caesar landing at Deal after a less than successful attempt at Dover. And they allowed William, Duke of Normandy – later to be known as The Conqueror – to come ashore at Pevensey, before routing the Saxon King Harold at what is now Battle.
Beachy Head, standing out into the English Channel nearly 550 feet high, was admired by the Norman invaders. So much so they named it Beau Chef – beautiful head.
With invasion from Europe a constant threat through the Middle Ages, the ports that nestled in the shelter of England’s chalk walls were fortified to become the Cinque Ports. The five towns of Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, Romney and Hythe provided ships and men to serve the king.
There are more than 250 miles of coastline to explore from Dover and those dramatic cliffs to the peace of Cuckmere Haven. The Cuckmere River meanders through fabulous countryside and the haven opens onto a huge, unspoiled bay of chalk and flint.
It was to such inaccessible bays and beaches that smugglers brought ashore “…brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk. Laces for a lady; letters for a spy…”
That’s a line from just one of hundreds of epic poems, yarns and songs about the smugglers of this part of England in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were cruel and remorseless and have been romanticised over the years and their legacy is a colourful, historical tour.
In 1896, Walter Arnold, of East Peckham, near Tonbridge, Kent, became the first motorist ever to be convicted of speeding. He was travelling at 8 mph in an area where the speed limit was 2 mph. He was fined one shilling (5p).
Let’s stay by the seaside and call in on Brighton, one of several south coast resorts that enjoyed royal patronage.
Today it’s a fun-loving mix of the great British seaside, cosmopolitan arts and something that only a visit to this occasionally outrageous town can reveal.
The Prince of Wales, later to become George IV, first visited Brighton in 1783. Here he could indulge in his more raffish pursuits that were best followed away from Court. He converted his farmhouse retreat into the flamboyant Royal Pavilion and the aristocrats who followed him there had the town’s magnificent Regency terraces built.
Round the corner from Dover into the Thames estuary and maritime Kent. On the way there’s another of George IV’s favourites – Ramsgate.
Up the River Medway, Chatham and Rochester share a fascinating maritime heritage.
The dockyards at Chatham saw the keels laid of some of the great ‘wooden walls of England’ – the fighting ships that sailed against the Spanish Armada and saw victory at Trafalgar. Rochester has a cathedral and Norman castle.
The great Victorian novelist, Charles Dickens, grew up in Chatham and spent his last years at Gad’s Hill, on the outskirts of Rochester. He wrote several of his novels in Bleak House, overlooking the harbour at Broadstairs.
“Kent, sir,” observed Mr Jingle, in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. “Everyone knows Kent – apples, cherries, hops and women.”
Moving inland we make the most of the stunning landscape of the south east. The rolling chalklands of the North and Kent Downs; the eerie Romney Marsh, once beneath the sea; the High Weald with its ridges and valleys.
Orchards and hop fields fill the valleys alongside ancient woodland; sheep graze hedgerowed pastures and downland.
Oast houses and thatched, half-timbered or weatherboarded cottages and farmhouses set off the great castles.
Leeds Castle was one of Henry VIII’s homes and Hever was the childhood home of his ill-fated wife, Anne Boleyn. And there’s the medieval fortress of Bodiam.
The classic landscapes are a foil to some of the finest gardens in Britain, if not the world. Certainly, Sissinghurst Castle garden, at Cranbrook, ranks as one of the most celebrated. At Merriments, in Hurst Green, woodland and a Monet-style water garden set off dazzling herbaceous borders. The feast continues at Penshurst Place and Groombridge Place.
Canterbury Cathedral, the awe-inspiring mother church of Christendom, is set in one of England’s oldest cities.
This 12th century treasure is a spectacular conclusion to a tour of the inland villages and towns of the south east. These include the Saxon town of Sevenoaks; Tonbridge, with its Norman castle; fashionable Royal Tunbridge Wells; Tenterden, where Tudor, Georgian and modern buildings mix and…well, the list is endless.
So much history; so many fabulous walks and drives; such peace…and enough city lights. They call this corner of England ‘special’.