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.