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Canterbury/Kent, England

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Did you know … ?

  • Julius Caesar uttered his line, “I came, I saw, I conquered,” upon landing in Kent in 56 B.C.
  • Canterbury’s St Martin’s Church is England’s oldest still used as a parish church, dating from 597.
  • Pocahontas is buried in Kent at St. George’s Church, Gravesend.
  • Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” was the first book printed in England (1476).
  • After sailing the globe, Darwin nevertheless gathered much evidence for his ideas around his Kent home.

From St. Augustine to James Bond

Reading the story of Kent, England’s oldest county, would be a good way to learn much of the whole country’s history. Indeed, visitors seek out historical points of interest including the likes of the 13th century Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn (Queen Elizabeth I’s mother); Charles Dickens’ home in Rochester, a short walk from Rochester Cathedral and the Norman-built Rochester Castle; and Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill’s family home.

However, the best-known historical attraction is Canterbury Cathedral in the small walled city of the same name. St. Augustine came here to reintroduce Christianity to England. For centuries, Canterbury has welcomed visitors, usually pilgrims who came to pray in the cathedral where the sainted Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170. Modern visitors seek out such sites, as well as Canterbury’s very old pubs, cozy restaurants and enticing shops.

Canterbury can be a day trip by train from London, but there are many reasons to stick round Kent longer.  Some head to Kent in England’s southeast because of an interest in well-known personalities. Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Sir Winston Churchill had residences in Kent.

Other interests include the Secret Wartime Tunnels at Dover Castle (where the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II was masterminded) — and James Bond. Bond creator Ian Fleming had a Kent home, and that translates into sites associated with Bond movies that visitors can chase down.

But Kent solidifies its claims on individuals of all personality types because of its beauty. It claims more castles and historic houses than any other county.

It also is called the Garden of England because of its orchards, lavender fields, hops gardens and even vineyards. Country drives are distinguished by the hop-drying buildings called oasts with cone-shaped chimneys.

Kent’s terrain is ideal for walking the English countryside or for cycling and horseback riding. Tourism promoters count some 80 country parks, picnic sites and nature reserves across the county. The iconic White Cliffs of Dover are in Kent, too.

Finally, sampling the rural life in this part of England can mean overnighting in an oast house, a fisherman’s cottage or a luxurious country house hotel.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Sample the rural life in this part of England. Overnight in an oast house or a fisherman’s cottage.
  • Rent a car for a self-drive tour — on the left side of the road, don’t forget — of the county of Kent.
  • Get acquainted with the Kent countryside on a bicycle tour or on horseback.
  • Walk on the White Cliffs of Dover.
  • At Herne Bay, sign on for a seal watching cruise that also lets you swim with the seals.
  • Sail on the Kent coast, taking advantage of the waters between Margate and Whitstable, also at the Isle of Sheppey.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Lay in a supply of bread, cheese and fruit at one of the county’s farmers’ markets, then picnic in one of the county’s 80 parks.
  • Follow Charles Dickens or his characters around the county. The Charles Dickens Centre is in Rochester, the city that was Pip’s home town in “Great Expectations.” On some days, you can tour Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, Dickens’ home in later life. Have a drink at a Dickens favorite, the Leather Bottle in Cobham, and visit Broadstairs, a Kent resort on the Isle of Thanet, favored by Dickens as a holiday spot. He completed many books at the resort.
  • Put castles on your itinerary. Kent has plenty. Two top tourist choices are the 13th century Hever Castle where Anne Boleyn lived as a child, and Leeds Castle, once home to medieval queens and set on 500 acres of parkland.
  • Attend an English Heritage reenactment event at Dover Castle.
  • Crawl through the nooks and crannies of Rochester Castle, described as one of the best surviving examples of Norman building in England.
  • Go bird watching on the beaches around Dymchurch, or at the RSPB Nature Reserve at Dungeness to see spring and fall migratory birds.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Visit Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill’s country retreat. The terraced gardens command sweeping views over the Weald of Kent. Many of Churchill’s paintings can be seen here.
  • See Canterbury Cathedral, and see the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey, then visit the goofy Canterbury Tales attraction.
  • See a play at Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury or a show at the Tom Thumb Theatre in Margate.
  • Stay in a luxurious country house hotel.
  • View the world’s oldest seagoing vessel, the Bronze Age Boat, at Dover Museum. Also, get a look at the Secret Wartime Tunnels at Dover Castle.
  • Find out why Kent is called the Garden of England, by visiting one or several gardens. One example is the formal garden at Penshurst Place near Tonbridge, which illustrates Elizabethan design.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit Kent at www.visitkent.co.uk