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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.

The Chagall Windows of Tudeley

Marc Chagall signature on stained glass window

For day 22 of our #KentAdventCalendar we take a look at the magnificent Marc Chagall stained glass windows of Tudeley. All Saints’ is the only church in the entire world to have all of its windows created by Chagall. (There is only one other Chagall window in the UK, in Chichester Cathedral.) I had no idea such an extraordinary artistic treasure existed in Kent… and less than half an hour away from Barnfield House.

An immersion in blue

Stepping inside this diminutive rural church is a surreal and profoundly spiritual experience – an immersion into a world of intense marine blues. I was so lucky to visit in brilliant December sunshine. The breath-taking windows blazed in the light, casting shimmering patterns of blue and gold on the bare walls and flagstone floor. I had the church to myself, and was able to contemplate the windows close up –  no museum barriers, no crowds, no sea of mobile phones. Unusually, the windows are at eye level … you are so close, you can trace the marks Chagall made on the glass, his painted signature. An amazing experience!

The interior of All Saints Tudeley showing Chagall's stained glass window

The story

How did this great Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall come to bestow his art on an Anglican church in the Kent countryside? The story is one of love and loss. The daughter of a local landowner drowned off the East Sussex coast in a dreadful boating accident in 1963, aged 21. Her parents persuaded Chagall to accept a commission for a memorial window for her. When the artist visited in 1967 to oversee the installation of the east window, and saw the church for the first time, he reportedly declared “It’s magnificent. I will do them all.” He did…and they were finished in 1985, the year of his death aged 98. All Saints’ informative website tells the story here.

Even in a county blessed with so many things to do and places to see, the Chagall windows at All Saints’ Tudeley are exceptional. A donation of £3 towards the upkeep of the church is appreciated, and you may also be able to book a local guide in advance (for a £25 fee) to show you around.

Chagall stained glass windows

Ooh How Lovely – hand-crafted gifts

hand crafted gifts in Hawkhurst

Our choice for day 21 of our #KentAdventCalendar is Ooh How Lovely, a 10-minute stroll from our English holiday rental and our go-to for fabulous last-minute Christmas gifts.

With its distinctive lime green façade, Ooh How Lovely adds a dash of colour to Hawkhurst’s historic white weather-boarded buildings. Owner Lisa Edwards, who opened the shop in March 2019, loves playing with colour… the more vibrant the better. Take, for instance, her approach to designing the show-home for a local development. Spurning the usual neutral tones, she covered the walls with Koi carp in a blaze of orange and turquoise. No surprise then that her corner shop is a kaleidoscopic explosion of colour, pattern and texture.

Showcasing local artists

Lisa, who has a degree in decorative arts & crafts, loves supporting local artists. She values their talent and makes a point of paying them appropriately. Often she gives them the confidence to show and sell their creations for the first time. Showing me around her treasure trove, she pointed out some thoroughly individual teddy bears made by an artist friend, hand-sewn felted toys “made by a lady in Eastbourne”, and the cutest toddlers dresses in vintage fabrics “hand-made by a lady in Hastings”. The shop is an Aladdin’s cave of hand-crafted objects and curios. Everywhere you look, there is something unique – a bouquet of hand-dyed and felted flowers, lampshades in a patchwork of different fabrics, paper cut buntings, signed limited edition prints.

Lisa and her Ooh How Lovely gift shop in Kent
Lisa Edwards has curated a whimsical collection of hand-crafted gifts in her Hawkhurst shop Ooh How Lovely

Last minute Christmas gifts

Still need last minute Christmas gifts or stocking fillers? How about  hand-knitted socks and bunnies, hand-sewn mushrooms, soy candles, ceramic angels, Moroccan leather slippers, mirror-mosaic flying ducks, a multi-coloured wingback chair? Or what about an old fire surround bookcase up-cycled for the BBC programme Money for Nothing – watch out for the programme in early 2020.

Lisa’s passion for all things hand-crafted is infectious. “Ooh how lovely,” she often enthuses. Hence the name.  Nothing beats a unique hand-crafted gift! Check out her website here.

The interior of Ooh How Lovely gift shop

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

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 11 – Hawkhurst Now

Victorian shopping arcade

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 9 – Hawkhurst then

Hawkhurst vilage 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

woodpecker at the bird feeder

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 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 4 – Dungeness

Dungeness lighthouse

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.