Barnfield House Kent

Barnfield House Kent

Family-owned 5-bedroom holiday rental • Sleeps 10 • 2-acre gardens • Glorious views

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 visithawkhurst.org.uk

 

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 visithawkhurst.org.uk.

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

 

Kent Advent Calendar – Day 6 – Wing Walking

Wing walker on the top wing of a biplane

For day 6 of our #KentAdventCalendar we invite you to take to the skies for a bird’s eye view of the glorious Kent countryside — not from the comfort of the cockpit or cabin, but alfresco, strapped to the wing of a 1942 Boeing Stearman.

Our holiday renters sometimes see biplanes buzzing across the summer sky above Barnfield House….and hear their distinctive drone. Headcorn Aerodrome is just 11 miles away, and it’s from there that the Wing Walk Company promises a jaw-dropping, adrenaline-pumping aerial perspective on Kent you’re not likely to forget in a hurry.

The wing walking experience

Chief pilot Richard Pickin, his son Michael, two more pilots and three ground crew form the highly experienced and thoroughly professional team at the Wing Walk Company – described as the modern-day equivalent of the Barnstorming Pioneers of the 1920s and 30s who performed aerial stunts in rural towns as part of a flying circus. As a wing walker with them, you’ll experience the thrill of flight unfettered by cabin walls. After a briefing and practice, you’re securely harnessed to the top wing, ready for take-off. Then it’s 10 minutes of breath-taking, wind-whipping exhilaration hurtling through the air at speeds up to 110mph, climbing as high as 700ft, and zooming past admiring friends and family gazing skyward as little as 100ft below. At the end of your flight, walk away with proof of your daring: a Wing Walk Experience certificate and a recording of your flight taken from on-board HD cameras.

If you have ever hankered to stand on the wing of a biplane, are between 18 and 75, under 85kg and in good health, now’s a good time to pre-book your 2020 flight with them; check their special winter-booking deal here.

Biplane with person on top wing

Kent Advent Calendar – Day 5 – Castle Farm Lavender

Field of lavender at Castle Farm

For day 5 of #KentAdventCalendar we’re celebrating a farm that has changed the colour palette of Kent. Every year in late June, vast swathes of the North Downs burst into a haze of purple as the spectacular lavender fields of Castle Farm begin to flower. This corrugated carpet of lavender undulating across the Kent countryside is breath-taking – a reward for all the senses.

Lavender growing at Castle Farm Kent

During the short season – usually until the end of July – The Hop Shop at Castle Farm runs public and private tours. This is a chance to go behind the scenes at the UK’s largest lavender farm, learn why lavender is grown, how it is harvested and the oil extracted, and what it’s used for… while immersed in billowing rows of perfumed blooms. On certain summer evenings you can book a BYO pop-up sunset picnic right in the lavender fields – but be quick off the mark, as tickets for these outrageously popular events are only announced a few days in advance and sell out quickly.

Lavender season in Kent

While the lavender season is short, the Hop Shop itself is open all year round, selling seasonal produce from the family farm. With Christmas around the corner, now is a great time to visit and pick up some decorative hop bines and wreathes for the home, as well as special gifts for all the family: edible treats, lavender candles and essential oils, and their own Natural Sleep range – Sleepy Scent, Sleepy Balm, Sleepy Tea and Sleep Pillow. These are also available to purchase online.

The Hop Shop at Castle Farm is just north of Sevenoaks near the pretty village of Shoreham, a 40-minute drive from Barnfield House. Find out more here.

Photo credit: The Hop Farm at Castle Farm

Kent Advent Calendar – Day 4 – Dungeness

Dungeness beach with lighthouse behind

Dungeness is our choice for day 4 of the #KentAdventCalendar. We were watching the tide recede beyond the shadow of the nuclear power station there one crisp November day when I turned round to notice the tip of the lighthouse peeking over the shelving shingles. What quiet drama!

Shingle beach with lighthouse

But then Dungeness can feel like a dystopian film set, it is so otherworldly – and like nowhere else in the country let alone the county of Kent. As it happens, it is one of the largest shingle landscapes in the world, offering one of the most bio-diverse habitats you can find in England.

Fishing hut and boat on shingle beach at Dungeness
Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

Dungeness is well worth the 50-minute 27-mile drive from Barnfield House, whether you plan to visit for an hour or a day. Wander along the beach, past fishermen’s huts, beached fishing boats and a scattering of houses, some created from old railway carriages dragged across the shingle a century ago. Down a pint at the Pilot Inn. Visit film director Derek Jarman’s extraordinary shingle garden at Prospect Cottage. Then head inland to Dungeness Nature Reserve for the two-mile circular trail, stopping off at a few hides for a spot of birdwatching at this migration hotspot and birdlife haven.

For more information, visit the Dungeness National Nature Reserve website and RSPB.