Invicta – "unconquered": that's the motto of Kent. This green and glorious county is a defiant one, its location at England’s southeastern edge, facing Europe and abutting London, placing it at the heart of this island’s history, from Roman times to the aerial dogfights of the Battle of Britain.
Its landscape is dotted with tudor castles, including Henry VIII-built sea-facing ramparts. Some are just pure fairy tale, such as legendshrouded Leeds Castle, known as the “loveliest castle in the world”.
Famous figures have long been associated with Kent. The murder of then-archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 turned Canterbury Cathedral into one of the world’s most important pilgrimage sites. Nelson’s Battle of Trafalgar flagship, HMS Victory, was built at The Historic Dockyard Chatham. Charles Dickens briefly lived, holidayed and died in Kent; Sir Winston Churchill, lived in the county too – at his beloved family home, Chartwell.
Kent has almost 30 castles – one of the highest per-county concentrations in the country – and each has a fascinating tale to tell. Dover Castle’s story stretches back 2,000 years, when an Iron Age hill fort lorded over the White Cliffs. The impressive bastion that stands here today dates partly from the 1180s, when Henry II was keen to prove his power in stone. Hever Castle, once home to Anne Boleyn, dates back to the 13th century, and it’s what every child wants a castle to be: crenelated, moated, haunted and with lots of armour and grisly torture devices, plus an amazing maze!
Dover Castle (01304 211067; englishheritage.org.uk/dover; adult/child/family £17.50/£10.50/£45.50; open daily; closed Mon-Fri, Nov- end March excld February half-term) Hever Castle (01732 865224; hevercastle.co.uk; adult/child/family £15.50/£8.70/£39.70; open daily; closed Mon-Tue, Nov-Mar excluding bank/school holidays)
Immerse yourself in maritime heritage
From imposing 16th-century ships to Cold War submarines, The Historic Dockyard Chatham provided the Royal Navy with more than 400 ships during its 370 years of operation. Now, young first-mates can get lost in centuries of maritime heritage at this 80-acre estate. Squeeze through the hatches of HMS Ocelot submarine, stand on the bridge of the Second World War destroyer, find out what life was like aboard a Victorian sloop, follow a master shipwright through a new digital theatre experience to see if you could have been a sailor, or try soft play in the locomotive workshop.
The Historic Dockyard Chatham (01634 823807; thedockyard.co.uk; adult/child/family £18.50/£11.50/£49.50; tickets valid for 12 months open daily; closed Dec-mid Feb)
Garden of England
Given that Kent’s moniker is the Garden of England – thanks to its profusion of orchards and hop fields – it is fitting to spend time down on a farm. Kent Life, 28-acres of family-friendly farm fun, not only offers tractors to ride, creatures to cuddle and ghosts to hunt but looks back at 150 years of working this land – visit the Vintage Village to see how blacksmiths and hoppers once worked, and how housewives survived in the 1940s.
Kent Life (01622 763936; kentlife.org.uk; adult/child £9.25/£7.25; open daily)
It takes 37 minutes to get to Kent’s centre by high-speed train from St Pancras. The M25 offers good access: if drivingfrom the north or east, cross the Dartford Bridge and follow the M2 or M20; from the south and west, take the M26 to the M20.
At Port Lympne Wild Animal Park’s Elephant Lodge (0844 8550274; bit.ly/Elephant-Lodge) you can stay in luxury tents. Three night breaks from £510. Knights Glamping at Leeds Castle (01622 767823; bit.ly/Knights-Glamping) has medieval- style tents. £135 per night. Sleeps four. Hever Castle (01732 861800; hevercastle.co.uk) offers luxury. Eastwell Manor (eastwellmanor.co.uk). Mulberry Cottages (mulberrycottages.com) is good for self-catering.
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