Hope springs eternal
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.
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, 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