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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When they were little, among my children’s cherished books was Judith Kerr’s Mog picture book series. Mog the Forgetful Cat remains a favourite in our library of children’s books at Barnfield House – inscribed by my late mother for my daughter in the late 80s. Little did she know that her Christmas gift would be bringing pleasure to a new generation decades later, visiting grannies chose the same book to read to their own young grand-children during family holidays at our Kent holiday rental.
A children’s favourite comes to Bateman’s
Judith Kerr is probably best known for another children’s classic, ‘A Tiger Came To Tea’. which is currently touring National Trust properties nationwide in a 50th Anniversary Exhibition created by Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books. When I heard that the National Trust’s roving exhibition had rolled into Bateman’s a 15-minute drive away, curiosity got the better of me and I just had to visit.
We’re lucky enough to have a very fine selection of National Trust historic houses, castles and gardens in the High Weald, offering wonderful days out to entertain all the family. Bateman’s, Rudyard Kipling’s family home in Burwash, East Sussex is a favourite. The character of the place has been so skilfully preserved, as though the author of the Just So stories had just stepped out for a bracing country walk.
It seems fitting that this much loved tiger’s tale is being honoured in the home of the author of Jungle Book, the 125 year old children’s classic that features the fictional Bengal tiger Sher Khan. And happily, my visit coincided with the school half term so the 17th Century house and gardens echoed with the sound of young children – there no doubt because their parents felt the same pull as myself.
“I first told this story to my small daughter long ago”, Judith says of the much loved story that has sold well over five million copies since its publication in 1968, and has been translated into 11 languages. “She was rather critical of my other stories but used to say, ‘Talk the tiger!’”
Tigers roam the home of the Jungle Book author
A trail of small stuffed tigers lurking in practically every room leads to Sophie’s 1960s-style room from the story, recreated in Kipling’s son John’s bedroom. Here is an opportunity to get up close and personal to Judith’s beautiful illustrations for The Tiger Who Came to Tea displayed on the walls, while toddlers curl up on their mothers’ laps on the ironwork bed and listen to a recording of the book.
From there, the back stairs leads to the kitchen where I encountered an enchanting scene: a few little ones serving afternoon tea to a huge tiger sat at a table. Resting on easels by the Aga are more facsimiles and sketches – including, to my delight, one of Mog. Kids are sure to be well entertained here; in addition to the interactive play kitchen itself, there’s also dressing up box overflowing with striped tiger onesie, and a craft table with crayons and activities.
Next, I slipped into the dining room where, surrounded by gleaming 18th Century silver leaf English leather wall hangings depicting birds and foliage, I watched a documentary outlining Judith’s extraordinary life and her experiences of escaping Nazi Germany, being a refugee in France and Switzerland, and then settling into English life and becoming an artist and storyteller. (Judith passed away in May 2019 at the age of 95, only a week after she won the prestigious Illustrator of the Year title at the British Book Awards 2019.)
The tiger theme continues throughout Batemans – in the trail of clues through the grounds, in the Mulberry Tearoom where stripy vegetables grown on the estate are served in honour of the tiger, and in the gift shop where tigers decorate everything from tote bags to jigsaws.
So all you parents captivated by this famous tale – or with children to entertain over the half term and weekends – do catch this exhibition while you have the chance. It’s on at Bateman’s until Sunday 3rd November. And if you do miss it, there’s another chance to see it at Knole in Sevenoaks where the exhibition opens on the 9th November.
East Sussex TN19 7DS
Open every day, 10am-5pm
Admission: £5.75 for children, £11.50 for adults, £28.75 for a family of 4.
Under 5s and National Trust members are free
‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ trail £2.50 per trail with a prize at the end