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An Introduction To Kent

Dover Castle

It's that you each, to shorten the long journey, Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury, And, coming homeward, another two, Stories of things that happened long ago...

Geoffrey Chaucer The Canterbury Tales

When Julius Caesar landed in Britain almost 2,000 years ago, he'd have found a land of lush green countryside, wooded hillsides and pretty rivers, all interspersed with scattered villages and farms. He'd have gazed in awe at towering white cliffs, before coming ashore a few miles north of present day Dover in what we now call the county of Kent.

Today, all those things still exist in 'The Garden of England', to which Kent is fondly referred. The welcome, however, will be much friendlier than it was for the invading Roman Army.

Kent stretches from London to the coast, in the extreme South-East of England and has the longest coastline of any English county. It includes the famous White Cliffs of Dover, with its towering Norman Castle commanding views over the English Channel.

Sit for a while on a clear day and watch the endless confusion of the ferrys interweaving with the ships plying the Channel, as they cross to the French coast a mere 22 miles away on the horizon.

Reculver

Dover Castle itself is amongst the most impressive in Britain. Its huge grey walls have stood for 900 years, glaring down at anyone foolish enough to contemplate attacking them. Climb to the top of the towers for a stunning panoramic view, and then descend to the cold, eerie dungeons, where ghosts are said to roam. In recent years secret wartime tunnels hae been opened to the public. Miles of passageways cut deep into the chalk cliffs, some dating back to Napoleonic times, housing an underground hospital and secret command centre during World War Two, where Operation Dynamo the rescue of the British Army from Dunkirk was masterminded. Guided tours will take you on a journey following the story of an injured airman, as he progresses through the labyrinth of underground corridors, whilst sheltering from 'Bomb Alley'.

Canterbury

If you follow the Roman road from Dover towards London, it leads you directly to the gates of Canterbury. The majestic tower of the Cathedral can be seen long before you approach the historic City Walls. It is the Cathedral that still draws locals, tourists and pilgrims in their thousands, to stand on the spot where Archbishop Becket was murdered, to visit the Tomb of The Black Prince, or simply marvel at the breath taking architecture of England's mother church.

But don't let the rest of Canterbury's city centre pass you by. A stroll through the medieval Buttermarket, or along the Tudor buildings and quaint shops of Palace Street, is well worth the effort.

In the High Street try a traditional English Cream Tea in the delightful 15th century Old Weavers House and look out on the Ducking Stool used to determine the guilt of witches in days of old. The accused were said to be strapped to the chair and then held under the water for some minutes. If they didn't drown, it must be because they used witchcraft...so they were hauled off to be burnt at the stake!

As the 'gateway' to England and the closest link to Europe, Kent has seen more than it's fair share of conflict over the centuries. From Iron Age hillforts to 20th century defences, this front line county has around 150 castles listed, spanning 4 millenia.

A Kentish Man is one born West of the River Medway, whilst A Man of Kent is one born East of the river.

Folklore

Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, is quoted as being 'The Loveliest Castle In The World'. Of course that's a matter of personal taste, but it's certainly an idyllic location - set on two islands surrounded by a substantial mote and surrounded by beautiful park land. In springtime thousands of daffodils fill the park and the woodland walks boast a carpet of bluebells. Check out the spectacular Open Air Concert season, when the castle is used as a stunning backdrop to the firework finale.

More understated, but no less beautiful, is Hever Castle, near Tonbridge. This is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I. It was Henry's desire to marry Anne that caused the rift with Rome, which led to the formation of the Church of England. You can still tour the inside of the castle, see Anne's bedroom, and follow the story of her marriage and subsequent execution. Visit on a nice day and enjoy the beautiful Italian gardens, the maze and (for the very healthy) an eleven mile walk around the lake.

Hever Castle

If you're travelling under your own steam, Kent is a county that demands exploring. The more well know tourist spots are well worth it but so are the wealth of small villages and rolling countryside which makes this area so special.

Take a drive through the 'Weald' - the high hilly area to the South West of the county. Everywhere you will find thatched cottages, half-timbered houses and the traditional white 'ship-lapped' cottages common in this region. Look out for the trademark round oast houses, with their conical tile roofs and white cowl tops, used for drying hops. Wander round villages such as Goudhurst, with fabulous views from the church tower and Yalding with it's medieval bridge (when not under water!).

Tenterden is a popular stop, with Victorian parades of shops taking you back in time - even if the bustle of traffic doesn't. Just off the High Street is the railway station, where steam trains will take you on a half hour trip to Bodiam Castle. Grab a First Class seat - it doesn't cost any more!

And that really could be the motto for Kent as a whole. It's a first class place to visit. Here you have 4,000 years of history, superb scenery, beautiful beaches and amazing architecture. Take a look through the pages of this site, and even if you have lived in the county your entire life, there's bound to be something that takes you by surprise, or that you didn't previously know about. Oh, and for those little presents to take home there's Bluewater, the largest shopping centre in Europe. All within an hour of London.

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