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Top things to do in Kent if you love flying

Balloon ride over Bodiam castle

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.

Plane spotting

Headcorn Aerodrome from the air
Photo credit: Headcorn Aerodrome

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.

Scenic flights

Leeds Castle from the air
Photo credit: Headcorn Aerodrome

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

Spitfire flying over Kent
Photo credit: Aero Legends

“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.

Wing walking

Wing walking in Kent
Photo credit: The Wing Walk Company

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

Ballooning over Bodiam Castle
Photo credit: Skybus 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.


Tandem skydiving in Kent
Photo credit: UK Skydiving Adventures

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

Kent Battle of Britain Museum
Photo credit: Kent Battle of Britain Museum Trust

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.

Kent Advent Calendar – day 24 – Christmas Eve

Christmas baubles in a bowl

Day 24 and it’s the last day of our  #KentAdventCalendar… the countdown to Christmas has come to an end.

I have really enjoyed showing you different aspects of Kent during our daily December posts. It has been a daily reminder for me to seek out, share and celebrate all the good things in life.

May this holiday season bring happiness to your home, joy to you and your loved ones, and wonderful memories that will forever touch your heart.

Christmas decorations

Barnfield House Kent’s 2019 KentAdventCalendar

Day 1              Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Day 2              Blighty’s Gift Shop

Day 3              The Walled nursery

Day 4              Dungeness

Day 5              Castle Farm lavender fields

Day 6              Wing walking in Kent

Day 7              Scotney Castle

Day 8              A Kent garden

Day 9              Hawkhurst then

Day 10            Happy & Glorious

Day 11            Hawkhurst Now

Day 12            Vine & Country Tours

Day 13            Kent Wine School

Day 14            Bayham Abbey

Day 15            Cranbrook Union Mill

Day 16            Smallhythe Place

Day 17            Country walks in Kent

Day 18            Taste the Best of Kent

Day 19            The Eight Bells – a traditional English pub

Day 20            Wild Spirits of Kent

Day 21            Ooh How Lovely

Day 22            The Chagall windows of Tudeley

Day 23            Luxury Holiday Let in Kent

Day 24            Merry Christmas!

Country walks in Kent

Horses sheltering under a tree

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.

Walks in the WEald of Kent

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.

brochures on Kent walksThere 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.

Kent Advent Calendar – day 13 – Kent Wine School

Glasses on a table ready for wine tasting

“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 in a vineyard

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 10 – Happy & Glorious

Goft 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 6 – Wing Walking

Wing walker on top of biplane wings

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 in Kent

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 1

Spring flowers at Sissinghurst

There is so much to experience in Kent that we decided to celebrate our corner of the world with a Kent Advent Calendar. Every day in the run-up to Christmas Day, we’ll be sharing with you photos of some of our favourite places, people and products in Kent and across the border in East Sussex — village pubs, woodland walks, ancient castles, famous gardens, indie boutiques and artisanal fare.

For the first day of our #KentAdventCalendar we’ve chosen world-famous Sissinghurst Castle Garden — the quintessential English garden  less than seven miles from Barnfield House. Wonder if poet and writer Vita Sackville-West could have imagined that her life’s exuberant creation would become arguably England’s most beautiful garden as well as the top attraction in the Weald of Kent?

A birdseye view of Sissinghurst Castle Garden

This year Sissinghurst Castle Garden, which lies less than seven miles from our family holiday rental, will open during winter for the first time. This gives visitors the chance to view the much-loved garden through a different lens, and appreciate the classic structure and layout created by Vita’s husband Harold Nicolson. What better way to experience the Garden of Kent’s colourful changing seasons than at this National Trust treasure!

The British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition at Bodiam Castle

award-winning photography exhibition

Bodiam Castle in East Sussex never fails to surprise. Monty Python fans might remember glimpsing this  perfectly moated medieval marvel in the film Monty Python & the Holy Grail, where it was the exterior of Swamp Castle. Moving from films to stills, this pint-size castle is currently hosting the 2019 British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition.

Bodiam Castle is of the first venues on the national tour of 2019 winners. The crenelated walls, soaring towers and surrounding moat provide a stunning backdrop to a spectacular series of photos that capture British wildlife and landscapes in all their power and  glory.

wildlife photos exhibited within the ancient walls of Bodiam Castle
Top photo, Paul Sawer’s category winner, ‘Seasonal Blue Tit shot in Suffolk

It was an overcast day when we visited, and the National Trust volunteers were getting up to speed with the diverse locations of the exhibition. This included the first floor of the West Tower which we understand was opened to the public for the first time especially for this exhibition. It was rather extraordinary climbing up the narrow, steeply spiralling stone stairs and stepping into a small circular tower room to see the most astonishing photographs of British wildlife.

Photos of a plover and a snake exhibited at Bodium castle
Top photo, Nicholas Court’s highly commended ‘Golden Plover Moor shot in Derbyshire. Jack Perk’s highly commended Grass Snake in Garden Pond, photographed in Nottinghamshire.

The work of both amateur and professional photographers is displayed in the north east, north west and west towers. Somehow these rather magnificent photos of Britain’s bucolic landscape and abundant wildlife sit well against a backdrop of the castle’s ancient blocks of stone – story-tellers themselves across the centuries.

Photo of a bluebell wood displayed within Bodiam castle
Pauline Godwin’s highly commended Carpet of Bluebells at Badbury Clump in Oxfordshire
A bee, barn owl and blenny - photos exhibited at Bodiam castle
(Left) Andy Rouse’s highly commended Barn Owlets Fledging from Nest, photographed in Lincolnshire. (Centre) Daniel Trim’s highly commended Sinister Cargo. (Right) Dan Bolt’s highly commended Dahlia Splash shot in the seas of South Devon, and Kirsty Andrews’ highly commended Golden Boy, a characterful Yarrell’s blenny shot in the Scottish Borders.

The details captured by the photographers were extraordinary. Daniel Trim’s Sinister Cargo shows a European Beewolf  – “tenacious little wasps” – carrying a paralysed honeybee to its burrow, where it will become the unwitting host for the wasp’s egg… and ultimately dinner for the newly hatched larva. And I just love the expression on Golden Boy, Kirsty Andrews’ fine portrait of a blenny.

Photo of a dipper eating a bug
Highly commended, Breakfast Bug by Peter Bartholomew – a dipper tucks into a juicy bug in the Cairngorms.

There’s food for thought too. For example Breakfast Bug,  Peter Bartholomew’s photo of a dipper perched on a plastic bottle draped in what looks like fishing net, shows how nature adapts to its changing surroundings. “Over several weeks I observed that the dipper had adopted various pieces of plastic waste as perching spots in preference to the usual stones and branches.”

We visited Bodiam Castle this time mainly for the exhibition. But of course Britain’s most photogenic castle provides multiple opportunities to shoot stunning photos, whether you use a camera or your phone. (The photos accompanying this article were all taken on a Huawei P20 Pro smartphone). So after visiting the exhibition rooms in the three towers, do climb further up the spiral stairs to the top of the towers to the reward of fantastic countryside views.

Bodiam Castle portcullis, tower stairs, and external view
Enjoy a leisurely tour of Bodiam Castle

This inspiring BWPA exhibition is a reminder of the riches that nature gives us right on our doorsteps. Indeed the castle grounds are home to a variety of wildlife within its wetlands, wooded areas, trees, and grasslands. It is also one of the most important bat roosts in the south east of England.

Bodiam Castle is just 5 miles from the five-bedroom holiday rental Barnfield House, which is the perfect base for families interested in exploring the attractions of Kent and East Sussex.

The exhibition is on until Sunday 5 January 2020 (closed 24 & 25 December).

More information here.