Hope springs eter­nal

Kent Life - - Town Life: Tenterden - WORDS: Caro­line Read PIC­TURES: Manu Palomeque

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 ex­clu­sivTheManor,nowade­vel­op­mentofe

A small town with a friendly, vil­lage feel, West Malling is the per­fect

com­bi­na­tion of old and new

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.


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, pages 74-79, 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 (page 90).

Good pubs in­clude The Scared Crow, The Bull Inn, The Malling Jug (see our post­card from West Malling) 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.

cas­cade in Swan Street is is prob­a­bly the site of a very an­cient water­mill

ABOVE: Hope, a mod­ern bronze sculp­ture by Sarah Cun­ning­ton, de­picts the fig­ure of a run­ning woman hold­ing a dove which rep­re­sents the present mo­ment in time, while the rich ta­pes­try of West Malling’s past is shown on the back of the cloak that bil­lows out be­hind her

St Leonard’s Tower is be­lieved to be the re­mains of a Nor­man keep

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