Smallhythe Place

Smallhythe Place cottage facade

2019 has been a significant year for Smallhythe Place, which takes centre-stage for day 16 of our Insider’s Guide KentAdventCalendar: it marked the 90th anniversary of this fascinating museum, and 80th anniversary since it came under the care of the National Trust.

Just 13 miles from our Kent holiday rental, Smallhythe Place dates back to the early 16th Century – to the time when the area was a thriving shipbuilding port, before the sea receded. Today the picturesque timber-framed cottage is a museum to the professional and private life of the Grand Dame of the Victorian stage, Ellen Terry, who bought the place in 1899 as a rural retreat from London theatreland. After her death in 1928, her daughter Edith Craig transformed the place into a museum in homage to her mother’s extraordinary stage career and somewhat unconventional private life.

Photos from Smallhythe place

A visit to this photo-perfect traditional English cottage really does feel like stepping back in time. Virtually unchanged since the 1930s, the rooms are crowded with Ellen’s personal and stage memorabilia that that give insights into her life. There are over 9,000 artefacts –  correspondence, manuscripts, portraits, photographs, press cuttings , theatrical costumes and stage props. The huge collection includes a letter to her from Oscar Wilde, her death mask, the Guinevere costume designed for Ellen by Edward Burne-Jones, and the beetle wing dress, covered in the iridescent wings of jewel beetles from Southeast Asia. Playing Lady Macbeth in 1888, Ellen commanded the Lyceum Theatre stage in this extraordinary costume, catching the attention of American artist John Singer Sargent who subsequently painted her portrait wearing the same dress.

In addition to the museum, there’s also a vintage tea room, a gorgeous rose-filled cottage garden and the stunning 17th Century thatched Barn Theatre which hosts production throughout the season. For more information, click here.

Click here these blog posts about about some other National Trust properties in Kent:

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Bodiam Castle

Scotney Castle

Cranbrook Union Mill

windmill against blue sky

The 200-year-old Grade I listed Union Mill in Cranbrook is our choice for day 15 of our #KentAdventCalendar. Standing over 70ft at the historic Wealden town’s highest point, this white weather-boarded smock mill is the tallest in England.

A quick history

The Union Mill was built in 1814 by a local millwright for one Mary Dobell who set her son Henry up in business. But his fledgling enterprise became a casualty of the depression that hit England after the end of the Napoleonic wars, and went into bankruptcy. The mill passed into the hands of a union of creditors  –hence the name – who sold it to John and George Russell in 1832. The mill remained in the Russell family for over 120 years, right up until the death of John’s great grandson (also called John) in 1958. Before he died, under pressure to sell the mill and its land to property developers, John chose to save it from demolition and secure its future by handing it to the Kent Country Council in return for their promise to preserve the mill in perpetuity. With the support of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the council returned it to good repair. Then in 1982 the Cranbrook Windmill Association started up to look after the mill, carry out further restoration work and open it to the public. In 2014, John Russell’s generous act received recognition with a memorial plaque outside the town’s Vestry Hall, unveiled during the Union Mill’s bicentenary celebrations.

2 photos of Cranbrook Union Mill

Take a tour

You can visit the Union Mill during certain summer afternoons and on special occasions such as National Mills Weekend in May and Heritage Open Days in September – thanks to the dedicated volunteers at the Cranbrook Windmill Association. This is your chance to climb the seven steep flights of stairs right to the top, see the wind powered milling machinery, learn how windmills work, and buy – or perhaps even make –wholemeal flour ground in the mill itself.

The Cranbrook Union Mill is only a four-mile, 10-minute drive from Barnfield House. Entrance is free. Before you visit, do check opening days and times on their website. If it isn’t open during your stay at our Kent holiday rental, don’t worry; you can take a fascinating virtual tour here on their website instead.

Kent Advent Calendar – day 14 – Bayham Abbey ruins

Bayham Abbey ruins

For Day 14 of our #KentAdventCalendar, we head to the historic 13th Century ruins of Bayham Abbey. This beautiful riverside setting right on the Kent/Sussex border is just eight miles away from our holiday rental.

800 years of history

Quick potted history. The abbey was founded in 1207 and completed in 1234. King Edward I visited in 1299 and Edward II stayed overnight in 1322. In 1524, Henry VIII’s chancellor Cardinal Wolsey singled it out for dissolution to free up funds to found colleges in Oxford and Ipswich. After his fall from favour Henry VIII leased it to court favourites, and the land was eventually sold in the reign of Elizabeth I. In the 18th Century the ruins were ‘modified’ to provide a focal point within a romanticised landscape created by Humphrey Repton for Bayham Old Abbey House (now the Dower House, and admired by Horace Walpole in 1752). In the early 19th Century JMW Turner sketched the impressive golden limestone ruins. In 1961 the ruins and the Dower House were donated to the state.

Bayham Abbey ruins

Now in the care of @englishheritage Bayham Abbey is as magical as ever. Much medieval detail survives – mainly because hard-wearing local sandstone was used in its construction, not only preserving detail but making the ruins glow in certain light. Particularly eye-catching is the three large arched windows and buttresses of the church nave’s south wall. The impressive ruins also include the chapter house, cloister, and 14th-Century gatehouse.

Ruins of Bayham Abbey

Wandering around the peaceful ruins of the abbey once called the ‘Fountains of the South’, it is easy to imagine the contemplative life of the Premonstratensian order 800 years. This is in part due to the lack of crowds; we tend to have the place almost to ourselves when we go – a refreshing though inexplicable change from some of the hugely popular heritage attractions in Kent. This makes Bayham Abbey a special place to add to your Kent itinerary – click here for fabulous drone footage.

The ruins are open to the public daily from 10am to 5pm from April to October. Amazingly, entry is free!Check the English Heritage website for details.



Kent Advent Calendar – day 13 – Kent Wine School

Glasses in a table ready for a wine tasting event

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world ….. it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

With Ernest Hemingway’s words in mind, we’ve kept to the subject of wine for day 13 of our #KentAdventCalendar, and introduce Kent Wine School where you can learn all about wine.

Navigating your way round wine menus or choosing a wine from supermarket shelves can be a shot in the dark, while chatting to a sommelier can be a tad intimidating. Kent Wine School is an independent wine education company that offers wine tastings and wine courses for everyone from novices to serious enthusiasts. The courses, which take place at Hotel du Vin in the heart of Tunbridge Wells, are designed to take the mystique out of wine and give you confidence in buying wine. Choose from a wine appreciation evening to an in-depth eight-week wine course. If you have a deepening interest in wine or wish to gain accreditation to support your career, consider enrolling in Wine Scholar Guide courses and pursuing Wine & Spirit Education Trust qualifications.

People at a wine tasting

Kent Wine School has a full calendar of tastings and courses running throughout 2020. The next eight-week Introduction to the World  of Wine course starts on the 7th January.

If you have a wine lover in your midst, then a gift voucher would make the perfect gift. Choose from an open voucher starting from £25 which the recipient can redeem against a course of their choice, or book a specific tasting or course for them. Click here for details.

All photos Kent Wine School

Kent Advent Calendar – day 12 – Vine & Country Tours

Lunch among the vines

Did you know that the UK is one of the world’s fastest growing wine regions? And that some 75% of UK acreage under vines are in South East England? Kent is carving quite a reputation as one of its leading wine producing regions, and the larger vineyards offer organised self-guided and guided tours of their estates. But how fabulous would it be to have an invitation to small tour-free off-the-map vineyards quietly producing stellar wines away from the public eye? Step to the front Jamie Thompson, founder of Vine + Country Tours.

Sussex-born Jamie and  his partner Stephanie set up Vine + County Tours with the aim to create and host immersive, intimate and individually tailored wine and food experiences in Kent and Sussex. Their recipe is intoxicatingly simple: Good wine + good food + good company = a fabulous experience. And they have achieved this in spades, for this year-old venture has just seen off some long-established Kent tourism stalwarts to scoop up Best New Tourism Business and the coveted Experience of the Year in the Kent Tourism Awards.

Lunch among the vines

Book a Vine + Country tour for 2 to 12 people, and Jamie and Steph will customise the itinerary to suit your taste. They will pick you up from your home-from-home (and Barnfield House is proud to be their accommodation partner), take you to some hidden gems, and introduce you to the winemakers. During the day, they will also share their insider knowledge and love of local food as your chefs du jour, serving lunch in the winery itself, or even alfresco among the vines. It could be casual mezze/tapas style, or a multi-course tasting menu, always matched to the wines of the day.

It couldn’t be easier! Ahhh but it CAN. Because they now offer ‘At home’ wine tastings where you get to enjoy one of their tour experiences without ever having to leave home. What a fun way to celebrate a special occasion, or simply to learn about English wines in the company of family and friends. And what a fantastic Christmas gift for a wine-enthusiast loved one!

Click here for more information.

All photos courtesy Vine & Country Tours

Kent Advent Calendar – day 11 – Hawkhurst Now

Hawkhurst Colonnade

Our last post on Hawkhurst took a peek at its history. Today we take a look at the village as it is now. Hawkhurst is really two villages joined together: Highgate with its famed 19th Century Grade 11 listed Colonnade and, less than a mile south, the Moor where you’ll find the 13th Century St Laurence Church, its spire visible across farmland from our family holiday rental.

The white weather-boarded buildings in the picturesque Colonnade house an array of independent family-run shops, the oldest being Hawkhurst Pharmacy which according to Historic England was founded in 1830, around the time the Colonnade was built. There’s also a butcher (Park Farm Butchers), a bakers (Rye Bakery)…but no candlestick maker (though you can probably buy some across the road at vintage Charlie’s Orange). More recent (20th and 21st Century) arrivals to the Colonnade include Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winners Lindsay Barrow Designer Florist, clothing boutique Cordelia James, Two Chicks gift shop, and the Green Shop which raises money for the Hawkhurst Community as the League of Friends. Beyond the Colonnade is Ooh How Lovely, known for its eclectic gift selection and homewares. Other independent shops and services include hairdressers, beauticians, a barber, gym and craft shop. It’s wonderful to have so many independent shops in the village; the only high street names are Waitrose and Tesco supermarkets.

Hawkhurst Colonnade

Opposite the Colonnade and housed in the 1875 Victoria Hall is the Kino, the UK’s first ever digital cinema – a fantastic resource for the village, showing a range of blockbusters, documentaries, and arthouse movies.

Fancy eating in but not cooking? Order in a kebab, fish & chips or Chinese take-aways. The Prince of Kent is a popular Indian restaurant in the village, and pubs include the Royal Oak at the crossroads (known for its Friday steak night), the Oak & Ivy (on the Hawkhurst Smugglers trail), the Eight Bells on the Moor (with excellent set and a la carte menus and weekly steak, burger and fish-n-fizz nights), and the Great House in Gills Green, which offers with its elegant Orangery and dining area.

View of countryside from Barnfield House
Spot the church spire in the distance!

Kent Advent Calendar – day 10 – Happy & Glorious

Happy & Glorious gift shop window

Happy & Glorious, our choice for day 10, earns its place in our #KentAdventCalendar on the strength of its commitment to promoting British design and its smile-inducing shop name. Kate Tompsett launched her gloriously design-focused Cranbrook shop – a phrase straight from Britain’s national anthem – in 2012, on a wave of optimism and patriotism in the year of the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics. Six years later she picked up the Muddy Stilettos award for Giftshop of the Year. Her secret is focusing on great design lovingly created in Britain –jewellery, toiletries, homewares, scarves, decorative items, ceramics and craft kits. “There’s a real joy in getting to know the people who create wonderful things,” she explains. “It all feels very warm and fuzzy to sell products that you believe in, made by people you know and love.”

gift items in a gift shop

In addition to seeking out designers and sourcing products from all over the UK, Kate also designs and makes her own collections. I was very taken with her delightful botanical-inspired range of fine china mugs and wooden coasters featuring navy blue and white dandelion, skimmia, fern and sedum flowers, fennel leaves and cow parsley. Wouldn’t it be lovely to find one or two pieces under the Christmas tree!

Happy & Glorious is also known for hosting a monthly craft club, and for running some fascinating creative workshops covering everything from crochet and felting to paper cutting and poetry. I have my eye on Kate’s bullet journaling workshop taking place on the 8th January – what better way to get organised for the New Year.

Check out her website for more information.


Cover photo: Happy & Glorious

Kent Advent Calendar – day 9 – Hawkhurst then

Hawkhurst village sign

Our #KentAdventCalendar would be incomplete without a ‘window’ devoted to Hawkhurst. Its name comes from heafoc hyrst, an Old English phrase meaning a wooded hill frequented by hawks. (Other ‘hursts’ in Kent –include Goudhurst, Lamberhurst, Sissinghurst).

A rich history

This charming Wealden village has an interesting history traced back over 1,000 years; “Hawkashyrst’ is mentioned in the 11th Century Domesday  Morachorum. The large pond bordering farmland at the bottom of Barnfield House’s garden is a reminder of the village’s involvement in the Wealden iron industry in the Middle Ages – it is one of a string of ponds on a south-facing ridge running to the west of the village that were once open iron works. The Weald was the centre for armaments during the reign of Henry VIII, producing cannon right up to the end of the Seven Years’ War. That was the era of the infamous Hawkhurst Gang – the Holkhourst Genge – the most notorious group of smugglers in England who ‘ruled the Weald’ in the middle of the 18th Century, controlling the movement of contraband such as brandy, rum, coffee and tea smuggled across the channel from France.

Hawkhurst Gang smugglers trail map
Map and brochure by


Today you can follow in the footsteps of this infamous gang,  visiting landmarks on their route from Goudhurst and Hawkhurst to the coast at Rye and Hastings, identified on a map produced for

You can also download a map of the 6-mile Hawkhurst Heritage Trail. And if you are interested in history, do download A Walk in the Past, a free guide that gives “a virtual view of things as they used to be 100 years ago”.

Kent Advent Calendar – day 8 – A Kent Garden

A woodpecker at the hanging bird table

We love reading the  reviews our guests leave at the end of their week-long stay at our holiday rental, and hearing about the fun they’ve had exploring Kent and East Sussex. Hever, Chartwell, Knole, Ightham Mote, Sissinghurst, Batemans, Great Dixter, Smallhythe, Bedgebury Pinetum, the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells, Bewl Water – they always find more to do in our part of the world than they can possibly fit into a week. Yet for many, our two-acre garden and the fabulous views from every room are up there among the highlights of their trip. And our “Let’s-get-away-from-London-for-a-weekend” guests have been known to not leave the house at all. So for day 8 of our #KentAdventCalendar we decided to stay close to home and share snapshots of some lovely avian breakfast companions taken through the kitchen window.

woodpecker and pheasant
Visitors outside the kitchen

Our Kent garden is blessed with an abundance of birdlife. The woodpecker has been a frequent visitor of late, given to chasing away the wrens, blue and great tits, nuthatch and robins. Below the feeders, wood pigeons and pheasants, perhaps finding refuge from a local shoot, sweep up the crumbs. They find rich pickings in our December garden, feasting still on the autumnal apple windfall.

Kent is one of the top counties for bird-watching in Britain, with five RSPB reserves and two dedicated bird observatories. Kent Ornithological Society’s website provides a wealth of information, as does  Kent Wildlife Trust .

bench in sunshine with countryside views
The view from Barnfield House

Kent Advent Calendar – day 7 – Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle reflected in its moat

Day 7 of our #KentAdventCalendar is Scotney Castle – one of those places that you can visit time and time again and always find something new, and on the ‘must visit’ list of many families – both from the UK and overseas – who holiday at Barnfield House.

Scotney castle reflected in the moat

I took this photo in late October when it was unusually still with clear blue skies, and the 14th Century medieval castle cast a perfect reflection in the surrounding moat. Such a scene is perhaps the epitome of this 780-acre estate with its wooded gardens and banks of rhododendrons and azaleas. The castle itself had been helped into its ruined state in the 1830a by architect Anthony Salvin who saw it as the romantic focus of landscaped gardens for a grand house he had been commissioned to build for industrialist Edward Hussey III. His descendant Christopher Hussey left the estate to the National Trust in 1970, since when the gardens, woodland and parkland have been open to the public. But it was only in 2007 on the death of his widow Betty that the house itself opened to visitors, showing the mark of different generations in its furniture, ornaments, artefacts and décor – from the formal wood-panelled Victorian ground floor rooms to Betty’s time-capsule second floor quarters complete with her 60s wardrobe.

view of the mansion house at Scotney across the moat

Visit in December for a taste of a traditional Victorian Hussey family Christmas: roaring log fires; towering trees with twinkling fairy lights, hand-crafted decorations, and piles of gift-wrapped presents at their base;  Noah’s Arc animals set out ready for play on the Persian carpet; dining table beautifully laid for the Christmas meal….and Christmas carols.

Click here for more information on Scotney Castle and events in the run-up to Christmas.

Victorian mansion at Scotney