If you love scallops, there’s only one place to be in February, and that’s Rye, a half-hour drive from the family holiday rental Barnfield House Kent. This pretty East Sussex harbour town is host to the annual Rye Bay Scallop Week, which will be back in 2022 after having to cancel in 2021.
Rye – steeped in history
Perched atop a sandstone promontory by the confluence of three rivers, the picturesque town of Rye in is a delight to visit at any time of the year. You can spend a pleasant day wandering around its warren of steep cobbled streets and secret passages lined with half-timbered medieval cottages and fine Georgian houses. As you take in the view across Romney Marsh, it’s a stretch to think that the town was once almost entirely encircled by the sea. Rye was part of the confederation of Cinque Ports originally formed by Edward the Confessor in the 11th Century to furnish ships and men for the defence of the realm. In medieval times it was a strategic trading port of note, but by the 16th Century the sea had receded, and silting had extended the marshes. Today Rye lies a full two miles inland, its port connected to the sea by the rivers Rother, Brede and Tillingham.
Fit for a king
Despite its distance from the sea, Rye’s fishing fleet continued to thrive. Such was its fame that its catch of herring, mackerel, cod, plaice and sole used to be reserved for the King’s table. In 1628 King Charles I himself proclaimed Rye to be “the cheapest sea-towne for provision of fish for our house”. Its reputation as a fishing hub has continued into the 21st Century, though today its fishing fleet moors almost two miles from the sea.
Rye Bay Scallop Week
Scallops in particular love the shallow, sheltered waters of Rye Bay, and right now they are at their finest…among the best in England! Hence the timing of the Rye Bay Scallop Festival, which involves the entire town in enthusiastic week-long celebrations of this tasty mollusc. There is a full programme of scallop-themed events and activities, from shucking demonstrations and tasting sessions to quiz nights and cooking classes. The town’s restaurants, cafes and pubs join in with gusto, dishing up inventive tasting menus and seafood feasts starring locally caught scallops.
Some 15,000 scallops are shucked during the week celebrations — you will find platefuls of them everywhere, from Michelin star-worthy establishments to humble chippies, market stalls and food trucks. One experience we enjoyed in 2020 was Webbe’s at the Fish Café’s epic six-course scallop tasting menu, which includes scallop sashimi, scallop pan-fried in curry and lime oil, and a risotto of seared scallop with Sussex truffle and Jerusalem artichoke. Mmmmmmm, delicious!
There’s also the chance to attend ‘scallop school’ at Webbe’s Cookery School in Rye, supervised by acclaimed restauranteur and chef Paul Webbe himself. With the guidance of this impassioned advocate for sustainable seafood, you will learn how to prepare and cook Rye’s famous mollusc, then savour a seven-course lunch served with wine.
Marinated, seared, ceviche, deep-fried….chances are you’ll find plump scallops prepared in a way you have never come across before during Rye Bay Scallop Week. Why not try your hand at cooking scallops at home, following some of these recipes here.
For more information about this fabulous gourmet week, including participating restaurants, menus and a programme of events, there will be announcements at scallop.org.uk.
UK holidaymakers could well associate Kent with orchards, castles, cliffs and beaches. But did you know that England’s southeasternmost corner is also the birthplace of British aviation? It may come as a surprise that this beautiful county has a wealth of exciting aviation-themed attractions to appeal to enthusiasts of all ages. Here are some top things to do in Kent if you love flying or want to explore the county’s rich aviation history both on the ground and above.
One place that is sure to fascinate every member of the family, whatever their age, is Headcorn Aerodrome in the High Weald, just 12 miles from Barnfield House Kent. This historic airfield has a fascinating aviation history reaching back over a hundred years. It is the last grass wartime air field left in Kent, and the perfect setting for an enjoyable few hours of plane spotting. The place is usually buzzing, with classic planes soaring overhead, and pilots and parachutists milling about. The grass parking area overlooks the runway, offering a good view of vintage aircraft, microlights and helicopters. You may even catch a glimpse of Spitfires taking off and landing – something of a rarity in other regions of the UK, and sure to bring a lump to the throat. Make a day of it and take a picnic! More information here.
If you want to take your experience up a notch, why not take to the skies and book a pleasure flight. It’s a fantastic way to see the Kent countryside from a different perspective, and a chance to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the county’s historic castles, rural villages, coastal towns and rolling farmlands. Headcorn Aerodrome offers pleasure flights for up to three people in a Cessna light aircraft; prices start at £150 for 30 minutes. If this sounds like the perfect excuse for a day out for your group, click here for more info and to make a booking. And if you’re bitten by the flying bug afterwards, consider booking in for a trial flying lesson before you leave.
Fly in a Spitfire
“The experience of being flown in a two seater Spitfire across Kent to the white cliffs, over the Battle of Britain memorial, to experience victory rolls and a 360 loop and most of all to be in control for part of the flight, is without question one my life’s great experiences.” This enthusiastic Trip Advisor reviewer sums up the extraordinary experience offered by Aero Legends: the opportunity to relive the flying experience of WWII pilots in an authentically restored wartime Spitfire. In this Spitfire Flight Experience you will be paired with an astonishingly experienced pilot – perhaps from the Red Arrows – who will fly you into the same airspace that was the stage for the decisive Battle of Britain 75 years ago. The company offers an excellent choice of experiences ranging in price from £295 for a Standby Spitfire Tour to £5,395 for the Ultimate Spitfire Package. Aero Legends also offers other experiences such as trial lessons in a Tiger Moth (from £139) or in a T6 Harvard (from £449) where you get to take the controls yourself. For more information, and to book an experience, click here.
If you’re a thrill-seeker, why not take to the skies in a different way —this time not from the cockpit, but alfresco, strapped to the wings of a biplane. Operating out of Headcorn Aerodrome, the Wing Walk Company can perhaps be described as a 21st Century equivalent of the barnstorming pioneers of the 1920s and 1930s who would buzz into rural towns and dazzle the residents with aerial stunts. Thankfully these days you won’t be literally walking on the wings, but securely harnessed to the top wing. It’s a sure way of getting an adrenaline-fuelled ‘I’m flying’ feeling! And as you’re hurtling through the air, you might just spot Leeds or Bodiam Castles…or the White Cliffs in Dover in the distance. Prices start at £350 and include a certificate and the option of a video of your experience. Read about them here or visit their website here.
Hot air ballooning
Sitting on the deck at with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or a steaming mug of tea, our holiday renters sometimes see hot air balloons gently gliding across the countryside towards Barnfield House; one time we even witnessed one making a landing in the field adjoining the garden. With such spectacular countryside, it’s hardly surprising that ballooning is popular in Kent, and you’ll find many companies offering flights. One of the most experienced is Skybus Ballooning which operates out of Headcorn Aerodrome and was set up some 30 years ago by one of the UK’s few female commercial balloon pilots. With them, you can choose to take off from the grass airfield at Headcorn, or from the picturesque setting of Bewl Water, or Bodiam Castle in East Sussex – both just ten minutes from Barnfield House. Their early morning and evening flights in the summer months are popular, but Skybus offers balloon flight all year round; just imagine seeing the russet-turned forests of the High Weald from high up in the Autumn! There’s something so special about taking to the air in a balloon; no deafening engine sound, nothing but the occasional puff of the burner firing up or the bleating of sheep as you float over farmland or drift above ancient castles. Prices start at £115 per person and you can get more information or book online here.
If you are the type that feels like risk-taking, revel in a surge of adrenaline wherever possible, or want to conquer a fear of heights, then skydiving is for you; it’s the closest you’ll feel to flying. The nervous build-up to lift off, seeing the airfield recede into the distance as you climb to 12,000ft, and preparing for the heart-thumping moment that you leave the plane and launch yourself into thin air — it’s all thrills from the word go. Then once the parachute unfurls, enjoy being on cloud nine as you gently glide earthwards, taking in the literally breath-taking scenery below your feet; on a clear day you might even see France. If skydiving is on your bucket list, you don’t have to stray far from Barnfield House for the experience. UK Skydiving Adventures offers tandem jumps from Headcorn Aerodrome (and static line jumps, accelerated free-fall and indoor diving at other locations). Click here for more information and easy online booking. Prices start at £310.
Vintage plane and aviation museums
Coming back down to earth, you’ll find that Kent has more than its fair share of aviation-themed museums that will particularly appeal to history buffs. Not to be missed is the Kent Battle of Britain Museum at Hawkinge an hour’s drive from Barnfield House, which showcases the world’s largest collection of aircraft, weaponry, flying equipment and memorabilia from the Battle of Britain. Among the aircraft on display are Hurricanes, Spitfires, Messerschmitt Bf 109Es, Defiant, Harvard, Tiger Moth, Magister and, a rebuilt Bristol Blenheim. The museum – info here – is open daily (except Mondays) from 4th April to 1st November 2020. Adults £10, children £4. Closer to home is one of the oldest, the Lashenden Air Warfare Museum at Headcorn where you can see a German Fi-103-R4 – a crewed version of the V-1 flying bomb, and one of just six remaining across the world. For more information on the museum, which opens weekends and bank holidays, click here.
Other than the Battle of Britain Museum, the above are all just a 20-minute drive from Barnfield House, which is conveniently located for all Kent-based aviation-related activities. If you are a group of up to 10 flight enthusiasts and would like to book our holiday rental for your aviation-themed stay, click here for information and online booking.
Camber Sands is a lovely place to experience a typical day at the beach. Just half an hour from Barnfield House, this miles-long beach of golden sand is gorgeous in all seasons; the first photo was taken on Boxing Day. In winter we take bracing walks along the promenade, or on the beach at low tide when huge swathes of sand are uncovered, stretching up to a mile out to sea. In warmer weather, kids love building sandcastles, paddling in the shallow water, and exploring the sand dunes. And of course in summer the place is buzzing with families enjoying at typical English day at the beadh! And there’s excellent kite surfing for the water sports enthusiast year-long too.
Kent and East Sussex offer many more beaches, but Camber Sands is our favourite. During your day at the beach, do visit Rye and explore the maze of cobbled lanes lined with medieval, Tudor and Georgian buildings (many now pubs and tearooms). We also recommend that you take a short detour to Winchelsea, one of the Cinque Ports built in the 13th Century, and today the smallest town in England to have its own mayor. In medieval times it was a hub for the wine trade; you can book a fascinating tour of the medieval cellars in the summer.
For day 22 of our #KentAdventCalendar we take a look at the magnificent Marc Chagall stained glass windows of Tudeley. All Saints’ is the only church in the entire world to have all of its windows created by Chagall. (There is only one other Chagall window in the UK, in Chichester Cathedral.) I had no idea such an extraordinary artistic treasure existed in Kent… and less than half an hour away from Barnfield House.
An immersion in blue
Stepping inside this diminutive rural church is a surreal and profoundly spiritual experience – an immersion into a world of intense marine blues. I was so lucky to visit in brilliant December sunshine. The breath-taking windows blazed in the light, casting shimmering patterns of blue and gold on the bare walls and flagstone floor. I had the church to myself, and was able to contemplate the windows close up – no museum barriers, no crowds, no sea of mobile phones. Unusually, the windows are at eye level … you are so close, you can trace the marks Chagall made on the glass, his painted signature. An amazing experience!
How did this great Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall come to bestow his art on an Anglican church in the Kent countryside? The story is one of love and loss. The daughter of a local landowner drowned off the East Sussex coast in a dreadful boating accident in 1963, aged 21. Her parents persuaded Chagall to accept a commission for a memorial window for her. When the artist visited in 1967 to oversee the installation of the east window, and saw the church for the first time, he reportedly declared “It’s magnificent. I will do them all.” He did…and they were finished in 1985, the year of his death aged 98. All Saints’ informative website tells the story here.
Even in a county blessed with so many things to do and places to see, the Chagall windows at All Saints’ Tudeley are exceptional. A donation of £3 towards the upkeep of the church is appreciated, and you may also be able to book a local guide in advance (for a £25 fee) to show you around.
Our choice for day 21 of our #KentAdventCalendar is Ooh How Lovely, a 10-minute stroll from our English holiday rental and our go-to for fabulous last-minute Christmas gifts.
With its distinctive lime green façade, Ooh How Lovely adds a dash of colour to Hawkhurst’s historic white weather-boarded buildings. Owner Lisa Edwards, who opened the shop in March 2019, loves playing with colour… the more vibrant the better. Take, for instance, her approach to designing the show-home for a local development. Spurning the usual neutral tones, she covered the walls with Koi carp in a blaze of orange and turquoise. No surprise then that her corner shop is a kaleidoscopic explosion of colour, pattern and texture.
Showcasing local artists
Lisa, who has a degree in decorative arts & crafts, loves supporting local artists. She values their talent and makes a point of paying them appropriately. Often she gives them the confidence to show and sell their creations for the first time. Showing me around her treasure trove, she pointed out some thoroughly individual teddy bears made by an artist friend, hand-sewn felted toys “made by a lady in Eastbourne”, and the cutest toddlers dresses in vintage fabrics “hand-made by a lady in Hastings”. The shop is an Aladdin’s cave of hand-crafted objects and curios. Everywhere you look, there is something unique – a bouquet of hand-dyed and felted flowers, lampshades in a patchwork of different fabrics, paper cut buntings, signed limited edition prints.
Last minute Christmas gifts
Still need last minute Christmas gifts or stocking fillers? How about hand-knitted socks and bunnies, hand-sewn mushrooms, soy candles, ceramic angels, Moroccan leather slippers, mirror-mosaic flying ducks, a multi-coloured wingback chair? Or what about an old fire surround bookcase up-cycled for the BBC programme Money for Nothing – watch out for the programme in early 2020.
Lisa’s passion for all things hand-crafted is infectious. “Ooh how lovely,” she often enthuses. Hence the name. Nothing beats a unique hand-crafted gift! Check out her website here.
For day 20 of our #KentAdventCalendar we’re getting into the festive spirit with Wild Spirits of Kent. This supremely creative Kent company makes what they delightfully refer to as ‘hedgerow tipples’ – botanical liqueurs and flavoured spirits made from premium Kent gin and vodka infused with hand-picked fruits and flowers foraged from the Kent countryside. ‘Kent’s Countryside Preserved in a Bottle’ is their tagline.
I first came across Wild Spirits of Kent purely by chance. A late September visit to Smallhythe Place happened to coincide with ‘Orchard Day’ – and a bottle of Rose Sambuca waylaid me as we weaved past a row of stallholders en route to the museum entrance. Its companions were equally compelling: Rhubarb & Vodka, Raspberry & Gin, Blackberry & Whisky, Sloe Gin. Bliss in (beautifully labelled) bottles!
Wild spirits foraging
The Wild Spirits story is fascinating. Founders Louise Newland and Gill Ford developed a passion for foraging after noticing the abundance of wild fruits and berries adorning the hedgerows they passed on long dog walks in the Kent countryside. They started off making Sloe Gin and Damson Gin, and their drinks business took off from there. Now they gather fruits, berries, nuts, flowers and leaves every season, and use their own inventive recipes to transform them into delicious botanical liqueurs and flavoured spirits. Each is available in three sizes – 500ml, 200ml and a 50ml miniature (popular for wedding favours). Here’s a taster of their tipples, :
Wild Damson & Vodka – using wild Damsons hand-picked along the Pilgrims Way on the North Downs
Quince Vodka – said to aid digestion and ease sore throats. Drink on its own or drizzle over ice cream
Sloe Gin – “Drink on its own or with Prosecco for a welcoming Christmas cocktail”
Cocktail Kit – a set of six cork-topped miniatures in a gift box, complete with cocktail suggestions.
“We prefer drinking them after dinner, with cheese, as a night cap, in front of the fire, with friends, at a dinner party, drizzled on ice cream, soaked into sponge cake, as a Christmas welcome drink, as a base for a cocktail, on the rocks, with a mixer, with coffee,” Louise and Gill enthuse. For added inspiration, the they created some fabulous hedgerow cocktails such as Bramble Blush, Damn Wild and Sloe Highland Fling…. recipes here.
Wouldn’t these spirited infusions make wonderful gifts! I would be delighted to find ANY Wild Spirits hedgerow tipple lurking under the Christmas tree. Wouldn’t you?
With less than a week to go to Christmas Day, we’re in the mood for mulled wine and a festive meal. So for day 19 of our #KentAdventCalendar we’re heading to The Eight Bells, a traditional English pub in Hawkhurst, Kent.
No weekend escape or summer week in Kent would be complete without a visit to a few celebrated centuries-old inns in the historic villages of the High Weald. The Eight Bells is a favourite, both for us and for our holiday rental guests. This quintessentially English pub looks onto the Moor just south of Hawkhurst, with a pretty village duck pond and the 14th Century St Laurence’s church as near neighbours – that’s the church spire you can see from Barnfield House a five-minute drive or 25-minute walk away.
The Eight Bells has the ambience and architectural details you’d expect of an 18th Century hostelry – think head-grazingly low ceilings, a wealth of exposed oak beams, and blazing log fires. This creates a delightfully warm and welcoming setting for a pint or two in convivial company – there’s an excellent selection of local and national real ales as well as a good choice of wine. It is also an excellent choice for a meal out… and you can expect so much more than the usual pub grub. James and Annie Rogers, who recently took over the Eight Bells, have done wonders in the kitchen, creating a loyal following for their fresh locally sourced seasonal fare, changing menus and surprisingly competitive pricing. The set lunch menu in particular (served Tuesdays to Saturdays) is a steal at £10 for two courses, £13 for three; check out the sample menu here. In addition to a tempting Sunday lunch and a la carte menu, there are also some popular weekly specials: Tuesday’s Build-your-own-Burger Night, Wednesday’s popular Steak Night, and Fizzy Friday where beer battered cod is served with homemade chips and a glass of bubbly.
If you are staying at Barnfield House in the winter, cosy up by the open fire with a steaming mug of mulled wine. In summer head outdoors to the beautiful beer garden for an alfresco tipple. And to get into festive spirit, just take a look at their Christmas set lunch and dinner menus. Venison, pheasant or Kentish roast turkey and all the trimmings, anyone?
The Garden of England is a foodie’s paradise, with a wealth of home-grown artisanal fare, so we’ve chosen Taste Kent for day 18 of our #KentAdventCalendar. This new online magazine focuses on Kent’s food and drinks scene, exploring new restaurants, menus, food and drink products and fine food stores. “If it’s happening in Kent, made in Kent, grown in Kent or produced in Kent we want to know about it,” they say.
Their Kentish Christmas Gift Guide is an excellent reason to check out Taste Kent right now. Every day until the end of the year they are sharing fantastic gift ideas from Kent. It’s an inspiring list full of surprises – e.g. Nim’s brussel sprouts crisps, O’er the Moon crystallised ginger fudge, Message in a Million personalised tarts, and environmentally-friendly Nespresso-compatible coffee capsules from Lost Sheep Coffee. Non-food products make an appearance in the guide too, such as Pure Wix natural soy candles, Kentish Soap gift boxes, Bray’s Bees reusable beeswax food wraps, and the cutest Romney Marsh Wools sheepskin baby booties,
Taste Kent is a must-read for foodies interested in exploring the diverse tastes of Kent. You’ll find their website here. Do follow them on Instagram and Facebook to receive their daily suggestions!
We’re celebrating country walks in Kent for day 17 of our #KentAdventCalendar. Walking is the perfect way to appreciate the county, which has more than 4,200 miles of paths. It’s the perfect way to experience the breadth of scenery: rich farmland and orchards, rolling countryside, marshes, swathes of beaches, chalk-white cliffs…all dotted with medieval villages and traditional pubs.
Country walks are one of the delights of a self-catering holiday in the Kent High Weald, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And you don’t have to go far. There’s a network of paths a five-minute walk away from Barnfield House that lead across farmland and along small rural lanes. You’ll see fields of Alpacas – full of character, often curious and even ready to photo-bomb your family photo. Stop off at The Great House with its wealth of exposed beams, acclaimed menu, log fires and Orangery. This 16th Century inn, which is less than a mile from our holiday rental, has created a series of scenic walks around Hawkhurst running from 1.5 to 5 miles. You can view and download them here.
Bedgebury a five-minute drive away is one of our favourite walking spots, offering walking, cycling, mountain biking and horse-riding trails criss-crossing the 2,000+ acres forest. Another is Bewl Water, a 10-minute drive away on the Kent/Sussex border, where you can take a short walk along the edge of the reservoir or tackle the entire 13-mile circuit.
There is also a series of interesting country walks centred on some of the historic villages in the High Weald, including Benenden, Cranbrook, Goudhurst and Sissinghurst. Our holiday rental house guide includes brochures and maps, and you can also pop into the Weald Information Centre in Cranbrook to pick up your own copies. Each includes a map and detailed route directions, plus some interesting notes on the area.
Drive further and you could walk part of the Pilgrims Way along the North Downs towards Canterbury, or take the 207-mile Kent Coastal Path; we’ll leave that for another blog post.
What our guests say
A Home From Home
"A beautiful home and equally beautiful grounds (complete with bunnies!) - you don't feel you are staying in a holiday rental. We had a wonderful family Easter break. Would certainly book Barnfield House again."
Great property for larger family get-togethers
The setting and size of the property allows for a very relaxed and tranquil get together. There is plenty of elbow room and the picturesque views over the Kent countryside at the end of the day really is beautiful. It's in a great location for the areas of interest around Kent.
Comfortable home away from home in fantastic location
Wonderful house comfortably furnished with many personal and interesting pieces. The garden and terrace are great - secluded with amazing views across the fields and perfect for stargazing.
The view will grab you !
The house is exactly like the photos except the paintings, furnishings and view are even better in real life....Our family had a wonderful time and after two weeks it was sad to leave. For me every day was akin to waking up in a Constable painting.