PAMELA WADE FINDS CHARMS APLENTY IN KENT
Inever thought “glamorous” was a word I’d use in Kent. I expected it to be pretty but domesticated – and then the White Cliffs of Dover took my breath away.
Arriving early on a brilliant summer’s day, we beat the bank holiday crowds to the track that runs along the grassy top of the cliffs. Down below, the English Channel was doing a remarkable impression of the Pacific: clear, turquoise and sparkling. That was a treat in itself, but even better were the cliffs themselves, more than 100m high, brilliantly white in the sunshine, sculpted by the weather and – no other description would do – dramatically glamorous.
On our walk we found a lighthouse with a tea room at its base, wild ponies grazing, blackberries to pick, cheerful people walking shiny dogs and Dover Castle on the skyline. It was all just lovely and then it got even better.
With impeccable timing, just as we walked past a wartime gun emplacement, a Spitfire flew overhead, the clatter of its engine evoking the Battle of Britain and, again, more drama. It was a perfect moment.
In fact, our weekend in Kent was full of delights. We stayed in a converted coach house attached to a sweet little country pub where the boss was Charlie the terrier, and we cruised from one charming seaside town to another. Deal, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Margate – they all had pretty sand or pebbled beaches, or harbours full of colourful boats, surrounded by inviting pubs and restaurants. But best of all was Whitstable.
It was gorgeous, a classic little old fishing port with a craft market, art shops, cafés, stately buildings, churches, a theatre and old pubs festooned with colourful hanging baskets, all humming with the holiday weekend. Down at the harbour
it was even busier, with cute fishing boats reflected in the water, and quaint rows of tall, narrow huts converted into restaurants and art and craft shops. Mussels and oysters are big there and, at harbourside stalls, old men in long white aprons were cracking shells open with professional ease.
Along the seafront, people lay in the shade of wooden breakwaters, or got sociable at the Old Neptune pub right beside the pebbly beach, or sat on the edge of the harbour wall, hopefully dangling fishing lines. Parents paddled with their children near a fishing boat listing in the low-tide shallows. And then the sun set in glorious red and orange, to the universal delight of the audience scattered along the seashore.
Not all of Kent’s treasures are on the coast. We ventured inland to visit Leeds Castle which, confusingly, is nowhere near Leeds, but a 35km drive from Canterbury across the lovely Kent Downs. It’s had many incarnations since it was built 900 years ago, most of them at the hands of women, from Catherine of Aragon all the way up to Olive, Lady Baillie, who renovated it in the 1920s. Surrounded by a moat, it’s as lovely inside as it is impressive outside, and there’s history here, both major, from Henry VIII to Northern Ireland peace talks, and minor, a Dog Collar
Museum spanning 500 years of canine neckwear.
Out in the extensive gardens, there’s an elaborate maze, a grotto, and all sorts of other amusements, plus a birds of prey centre featuring dozens of feathery creatures from a cute kestrel all the way up to a Russian eagle. For me, Stella the magnificent Siberian eagle owl was the star, but honestly, glamour is everywhere in Kent. You just have to look.