Dover Castle

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Perched high on a hill looking down on Dover is the splendid Dover Castle.  There is so much history packed into this iconic castle, from Romans to the second world war.

We hit the castle on a fine bank holiday Monday, with more vehicles than the site is clearly designed to cope with (albeit the marshals did an excellent job of finding spaces and allocating cars to them).

First stop (for us) was the “Tower”.  This was built in the 1180s, and has many similarities with the Tower of London.

IMG_1300Take yourself back to medieval Britain and the court of King Henry II.  The kitchens are bustling with activity, meat is hanging and there are pots to stir.  The bedrooms are colourful and unexpectedly inviting.  The dining hall is fit for a King.  And – best of all – there are spying holes in the gallery (where you can see just who is plotting against you).

Better than above ground though, was what was happening below.  The chalk cliffs are full of tunnels, some dating from the siege of 1216 (when the dastardly French led by Prince Louis invaded) and others from the second world war.  The medieval tunnels can be explored at will, whilst the other tunnels have tours.  There are actually three sets of tunnels from the second world war, with tours around two of them (the third is not usually open to the public).

Our favourite was the hospital tour.  Set in tunnels in the side of the hill, safe from enemy fire, was a hospital.  We had a 20 minute tour of the hospital tunnel, “following” the experience of a patient who had been shot down over the Channel.  The lights flickered, we could smell dinner, see the Mess and hear the discussions.  It was fascinaIMG_1294ting.

It is quite a sizeable site and pretty hilly as you would expect, but little legs were motivated to explore by the number of cannons and “hideouts” around.

There is a pleasant coffee shop and a NAAFI restaurant for food.  Queues were longer than they should have been…

Tickets cost £18 (per adult), £10.80 (per child) and £46.80 (for a family of four).  It is free for English Heritage members.  The castle is open 10am – 6pm every day.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle/

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This weekend we are…

1.  Watching the Speldhurst Pram Race

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This sounds so much fun!  Not entirely sure how/why this started, but love the idea of men, women and children racing prams around the streets of this lovely village each year; this year with live commentary by Richard Hoiles (better known for his horse racing commentary).  The races start at midday on Sunday, with prizes for the best looking pram as well as the winner of each race.  If you want to enter you need to download an entry form (https://primarysite-prod-sorted.s3.amazonaws.com/speldhurstchurch/UploadedDocument/c5e0054b503646958e79d87b94e64df2/SPELDHURSTPRAMRACEENTRYFORM2015.pdf).  We understand there will be food and drink on offer.  A fabulous village event!

 

2.  Cycling at the Cyclopark

Join the MAMILs or just pooter along at this amazing cycling park, with a 2.9km tarmac “road” for cyclists, BMX track, mountain bike trails, skate park and play area, just off the A2 outside Gravesend.  From £4.50 per child per cycling track (excl bike hire).  There is a cafe for well deserved drinks, food and ice creams afterwards…

 

cartoon-313632_12803.  Visiting Turner Gallery, Margate

Our world class art gallery here in Kent!  Free entry to this amazing gallery.  Open 10am – 6pm every day except Monday.  Tying in with Sir Anthony van Dyck’s painting in the “Self” exhibition here is an “In the Frame” art workshop for children 1 – 4pm this Sunday (cost £3.50 per child) where they can make their own self portrait…

 

4.  Catch Folkstone Creative Quarter, Wooden Spoon preserves and Macnades Fine Foods at Bluewater

The last few days to shop with these fabulous Kent businesses at their pop up shops in Bluewater.  Of course if you can’t make it there, http://www.lovefromkent.co.uk is open for business 24/7 to buy all things Kent…

 

5.  Eating at the Sevenoaks Food and Drink Fair

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If these all sound too much like hard work, why not have a wander round the Sevenoaks Food and Drink fair.  On today, Saturday and Sunday (11am – 5pm).  Includes street food, music and facepainting/balloon modelling.  At Vine Gardens, Dartford Road, Sevenoaks.  Free entry

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This weekend we are….

It’s the bank holiday this weekend. Are you stuck for things to do?

May we suggest…

  1. A walk through the bluebells at Emmetts Gardens

This is the time of the year to go to Emmetts Gardens. Fabulous woodlands with a carpet of bluebells. See our previous blog post. Free entry to National Trust members, otherwise adults are £8.30 each, children £4.15 and a family ticket £20.75. Open 10am – 5pm

 

  1. bath-duck-574919_1280Watching or participating in the Shoreham Duck Race

This looks like the most crazy fun. £1 to enter your duck (prizes for the best duck and the winning duck) into the race which starts at 2.30pm on Monday 4th May

 

  1. Getting enthused by the Yamato drummers of Japan at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Tickets are still available for these amazing sense awakening drummers for Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th May

 

  1. Joining in the May Day festival at Hever Castle

IMG_9100Maypole dancing is on the agenda. Watch the professionals then have a go yourself. Traditional English bank holiday activity. See our previous blog post for more about Hever Castle. Entry to the house and gardens is £16 for adults, £9 for children or a family ticket is £42.50. Open 10.30am – 6pm (last entry 4.30pm).

 

  1. Eating fish and chips at Whitstable

Whitstable is probably our favourite coastal haunt, with the combination of independent shops on Harbour Street, sea air and gorgeous restaurants and coffee shops. Wander round the town and enjoy fish and chips outside. For a more special meal, head along the coast to the Michelin starred Sportsman at Seasalter (need to book!)

 

Enjoy!

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Hever Castle

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Hever is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.  As well as being seeped in history, it has beautiful gardens to enjoy and is great fun.  A real win – win and a fantastic family day out.

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Hidden garden

One of these days we will have a nice leisurely amble through the gardens.  But meanwhile, the children love running and racing through, stopping occasionally as something catches their eye.  The gardens really are stunning and we need to know how they get their tulips to grow so straight!  This time we found a “hidden” (at least we had missed it on previous visits) Italian garden.  Perfect for contemplating the meaning of life…

We aren’t history buffs but love the castle here and the cast of characters that often roam around outside.  There is something about Henry VIII (“divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” may have something to do with it) that just fascinates children.  The castle contains a great collection of armour and torture instruments from Tudor times. Very grisly!

Picnicing

Choose your picnic spot!

We eschewed the restaurants and opted for a picnic.  There are many pretty spots to enjoy a picnic (if the weather allows!) in the grounds.  Some are not too far from the car park so there is shorter distance to haul all the stuff.  And of course the cafes have a great supply of ice creams for later in the day (although on a warm, sunny day the queues can be longer than the selection!)

Next stop for us was the adventure playground.  This is great!  Lots of things to climb on and slide down or just swing…  Perfect for burning off energy after lunch.

The yew maze is a must.  Despite having been in goodness knows how many times,  I always get completely lost!  Keep hold of your children or be prepared to run to keep up!

And finally of course the water maze.  This is absolutely the thing to do last.  Why?  Well the object is supposedly to get to the centre without setting off any of the fountains, but if you are under the age of 16 the object appears to be to set as many off as possible and push your brother/sister/dad/mum/friend into the them.  We thought we were well prepared with a towel and change of clothes, but speaking from experience, can we suggest you may want to bring spare shoes too!!!

Getting wet compulsory!

Getting wet compulsory!

 

Hever Castle is open 10.30am – 6pm until 24 October.

A family ticket is £39.70, adult £15.50, child £8.70 (castle and garden)

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This weekend we are….

 

Shopping at Apple Ducks RVP, Tunbridge Wells

Little Blue Zebra prints are available from http://www.lovefromkent.co.uk

Apple Ducks is back at the Royal Victoria Place in Tunbridge Wells.

We will be popping in to see some of our very talented makers, including Fat Pudding with their handy noticeboards and Little Blue Zebra with their gorgeous animal prints.

Lots of other great Kent makers will be selling their wares there too.  Find them all there this Friday and Saturday, 29th and 30th March.

 

Going out for lunch to the George & Dragon, Speldhurst

One of the oldest inns in the county, nestled in the pretty village of Speldhurst.  This is a recent discovery of ours and we were so impressed the first time, we are heading back again.  With a fabulous menu for Mother’s Day it is just a question of what to have…

 

Enjoying a long soak in the bath after a run in Knole Park

We love love love the smell of Wild Planet’s lime and bergamot range.  Handwash, bath and shower gel and body lotion.  We can’t get enough of it!  Smells divine, and what is more, it is made with essential oils so good for your skin too.

Made in the Darenth Valley.   Overlooking the lavender fields.

A long soak in a lime and bergamot fragranced bath.  Just the tonic after a run (or even without one!!)

 

Going to see Marti Pellow in Evita, Marlowe Theatre Canterbury

The gorgeous Marti Pellow in one of our favourite musicals at one of our favourite theatres.  We can hardly contain ourselves.  Unbelievably, tickets are still available.  On until Saturday 5 April.  Wonder whether he will manage to sneak in a “I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes”???

 

And making breakfast in bed for mum

Of course

 

 

 

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Afternoon Tea

IMG_0024Afternoon tea is a wonderful British invention, believed to be introduced in the early 1840s to stem the hunger before dinner at between 8 and 9pm.  The 7th Duchess of Bedford, Anna, is said to have complained of “having that sinking feeling” during the late afternoon (we know exactly how she feels…).  The solution for the Duchess was a pot of tea and a light snack (not polishing off the kids leftover fish fingers), taken privately in her boudoir during the afternoon.

Over time, she started to invite close friends to join her, to exchange news and stories over tea and light refreshments, and gradually these kinds of afternoon teas became fashionable.  Before long all of high society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.

We may not live in those times, but there is something very decadent about Afternoon Tea.  “Posh” sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and cake.  Loose leaf tea drunk from china cups, good company and nice surroundings…

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We love afternoon tea.  One of our favourite places is the Fir Tree tea rooms in Penshurst.  Gorgeous sandwiches, crumbly scones with homemade jam and cream and, rather than dainty little pastries, large slabs of cake.  We tried the chocolate (of course), lemon and orange & walnut (our favourite).

Delicious.

Fir Tree tea rooms is open weekends 2pm to 5.30pm until the end of March (2.30pm  to 6pm every day except Mondays April to October).

Penshurst has some gorgeous walks to exercise off some of the indulgence if you feel inclined!

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And if you like your tea, or know someone who does, we now sell beautiful bone china cups with Shakespeare quotes hand calligraphed by Ellen Waldren at her beautiful workshop in Appledore, Kent.

As Peter Pan asks, “Would you like an adventure now, or would you like to have your tea first?”

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Bluebells at Emmetts Gardens

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It is hard to think of a more beautiful sight than the sun shining on a woodland floor carpeted with bluebells… Emmetts Gardens at Ide Hill near Sevenoaks is particularly renowned for its bluebells.  And we love bluebells, so for that one day at the beginning of May when the sun shone and the bluebells were out, we packed up our car and headed off to Ide Hill.

We were certainly not disappointed with the sight of the bluebells.  We had a beautiful walk through the woodland gardens at the far end.  Although on the side of a hill, it is not a difficult walk at all.  The only difficulty is not stopping every few yards to take another photograph!

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The rest of the gardens are pretty too.  There is a lovely rockery area and we managed to catch tulips out too (how do they manage to get them to grow so straight?)

Although not the most interesting of gardens for children, credit must go to the efforts put in by Emmetts.  There are large magnifying glasses and binoculars for children to borrow and they also have 4 geo-caches onsite/nearby with the Garmin equipment to find them if needed (ask when you go in – they have a few that can be borrowed).

It is not a very large site, and at the time of the bluebells gets pretty busy.  We gave up on the tea room (queue was so long…) but the shop sells ice creams and was far less busy.

Emmetts Garden is another National Trust property and therefore free to members.  If you are not a member, the cost is £6.50 per adult and £2.70 for children, for lots of bluebell photographs!

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Sissinghurst Castle

“What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful” Vita Sackville-West

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We presume Vita very much had Sissinghurst in her mind when she wrote this.  Nestled in the beautiful village of Sissinghurst is Sissinghurst Castle, where Vita Sackville-West lived and wrote.  Now owned by the National Trust, the “Castle” (it is not in the league of Leeds or Hever castles) is perhaps more famous for its gardens.

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It was a beautiful sunny late April day when we visited.  Everywhere looks better in the sunshine (not least after the long winter) and we caught the gardens full daffodils.

We climbed the many steps to the top of the tower (a bit of exercise in readiness for the cake to be consumed).  It was a very clear day and we could see for miles across the beautiful Kent countryside.

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To be honest it wasn’t the best time of year for the rest of the gardens, but in a few weeks time it will be amazing.  The Spring bulbs were beautiful though.

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The garden is only covers 5 acres but is packed full of interesting features and is just a gorgeous garden.

Sissinghurst is free for National Trust members.  There is the usual National Trust restaurant with cakes in an old granary (although at 3 in the afternoon when we visited it looked like it had been visited by a plague of locusts, or at least coachfuls of over 60s!).

There is also a coffee shop by the car park.  The gift shop is not the most exciting (National Trust need to stock more local goods) but there is a lovely plant shop.

There is always lots going on at Sissinghurst.  We will be there on 1 and 2 June for their Arts and Crafts fair.  Come and see us!

Love from Kent
x

www.lovefromkent.co.uk

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Kent Life

Spring is the time for lambs and farm visits with small children.  And there were just a few signs of Spring at the weekend so it was off to Kent Life in Maidstone.

There are many things that I could criticise about Kent Life, but the visit was all for a  5¾year old.  And she loved it!

The best thing (although the 5¾ year old disagrees) was the closeness of the animals.  We bottle fed lambs (well tug of war may have been a more accurate description), hand fed animals (feed purchased at £1 a bag), cuddled rabbits and guinea pigs and stroked numerous animals.  The animals (well except the lambs) were all pretty docile and seemed happy or at least resigned to being handled by small children (and a fair number of dads too!).  There were plenty of staff around to help with the animals and they were happy to talk to the children about them too.  The children were also reminded to wash their hands after handling the animals.

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The programme of events lets you know when you can participate in the feeding of different animals (lambs, goats and horses on the day we went).

The play area was a big hit, with a pretty cool giant swing, rocket like climbing frame with slide and climbing wall amongst others.  There were also junior quad bikes (additional cost), zorb like balls on a pool (additional cost), fairground swing carriage (additional cost) and carousel (you guessed – additional cost).

IMG_4637-1Other things to keep small children entertained included alpacas, horses, goats, chickens (from eggs incubating, to little chicks and somewhat larger chicks) and tractor rides.

For poor weather there is also pottery painting (additional cost) and an indoor playbarn with the usual soft play area and coffee bar.  There is no additional charge for the playbarn and whilst not the largest, it is a welcome add-on and the equipment kept the 5¾ year old sufficiently entertained.  There is a separate part for smaller children.

There are also a number of “heritage” interests including a farmhouse set up as per the 1950s.  Fascinating for children to see the size of tv and parents/grandparents to reminisce about only 2 or 3 or 4 channels and childrens’ programmes for no more than 2 hours per day.  I think the 5¾ year old thought I was making it up!

We (ok I) liked Dotty’s tea room.  Late on a fine Saturday afternoon cakes were in fairly short supply but the flapjack was delicious, staff helpful and friendly, it was fairly clean and the menu looked better than at most of these sorts of places.  The prices were not too extortionate either.

As is usual at these sorts of places, the exit is through the gift shop.  The usual tat (but plently of not very expensive tat for children to spend their pocket money on) and not enough locally sourced items (Kent preserves excepted) for me.

Cost?  Adults are £8.95, children £6.95 (under 3s free) and concessions £7.95.  You can also buy an annual pass.  The biggest criticism is that there are a number of things which are not included in the entry price, meaning that you should expect to pay more than this (unless you have an iron will/non pestering children with you).

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Westerham

Westerham is one of our favourite towns/villages in Kent.  It is just the right size to while away a couple of hours and has lots of independent shops (in case you hadn’t guessed from our last blog, we are big fans of independents).  It is also just down the road from Chartwell which is one of our favourite National Trust properties.

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We always start with a stop at Food for Thought on the green with Churchill looking on.  It doesn’t look much from the outside (and the inside is somewhat dated too) but they make “proper” tea in a teapot with tealeaves, served in a cup and a saucer and the food is excellent.  Bacon sandwiches, soup, and of course the homemade cakes.  It is a busy tearoom (and welcomes children).  Every town or village in Kent needs a proper tearoom!!

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Then we like to pop next door to Annies Attic, one of our favourite shops.  It has jars of buttons, reels of pretty ribbons and reams of fabric.  It also runs workshops where you can make things.  The next one is on 7 April to make “love” cushions.  They claim to cater for complete beginners but have not tested them!  Nonetheless we always come out with something and a determination (never followed through) on things we are going to make.

Around the green are other lovely shops.  Beverley Deen Interiors is worth a browse for inspiration.  Chocs on the Green has, as the name suggests, a wonderful selection of handmade chocolate truffles which we struggle to resist and Vintage Home is a real treasure chest of bits and pieces for the home.  Another real find is Amelia Rose, at least if you like handbags (which we do)!  We could spend half a day in there trying to choose between the many gorgeous bags they stock.

Steamer Trading is a chain of about 28 shops in the South East, but is a wonderful shop packed full of kitchenware.  They claim to stock over 10,000 items.  All those things that you never knew you needed!  The staff are very helpful and cheery too.  Stile Interiors is a new shop (6 weeks old!) which deserves to do well in Westerham.  It has Scandinavian influenced homeware (think grey cushions) and clothes.

The Interior Design Studio is another relatively new addition to the village.  It has certainly added some bling to the very traditional shopping in Westerham.  It is next door to an antique shop.  Quite a contrast!!  Also on that bit is the independently owned Prelude, selling stylish clothes.

If you want to make a day of it we highly recommend Chartwell, the former home of Winston Churchill and a National Trust property.  It doesn’t have the largest of grounds but provides a fascinating insight into the life of one of our most admired leaders.

Westerham is also a great walking area.  You can walk to Chartwell from Westerham.  It is about 2 miles (each way) and the National Trust tea room at Chartwell is open all year round if you are in need of refreshment before the return journey!  Alternatively, you can park around Toys Hill and Ide Hill.  Yes it can be quite hilly but there are lovely views.  If you are there on a weekend watch out for all the cyclists!

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