The Kentish countryside enveloping the intriguing Lullingstone Roman Villa and two castles-one in ruins and another in better repair - is not vast; in fact, it barely qualifies as "the country" as it is bordered by the small town of Eynsford But this does not stop it from being relentlessly rural, sleepy and lush.

From the railway station, a leisurely ten-minute stroll up the main street of Eynsford will bring you to a ford with an old Norman bridge so small and charming you'd swear it was specially commissioned by the post-card industry. Legend has it that John Wesley used the bridge as an open air pulpit.

Across from the town church the bridge slopes up and over a very narrow part of the River Darent; conditions permitting, you should be able to walk or drive across the stream because it is usually under a foot deep. On the other side The Plough pub awaits.

Here you can sit in front of the old fireplace, under rafters crammed with old rusty farming implements and ponder the romantic medieval past of this slice of Kent. With whisky in hand, let your eyes roam over the walls rife with old or faux-old wooden signs pointing out such facts as the name of the first recorded vicar of the parish church of St Martin's. The walls proclaim it to be Robert de Farnen, appointed in 1286, just so you know for your next cocktail party. You will also learn that by the time the Domesday survey was made in 1086, Eynsford was a "thriving manor."

Along the road, following the graceful swell over the (surprisingly) still-green fields. You will pass several private residences and the Home Farm with a few cattle grazing in the pastures. Shortly you will see the graceful old viaduct serving double duty now as railroad track. Pass under that and you will come up to a rather ugly plastic edifice sheltering one of the best-preserved Roman villa ruins in England, Lullingstone.

Among the highlights of the villa are sublime mosaic pavements, fine enough to set the heart of any classical enthusiast aflutter, and a floorplan of the home that whispers a picture of life in Roman Britain from AD 75 to AD 420. The crumbled ledges of the walls that separated luxurious bathing chambers are especially intriguing. Bathing was a very important part of Roman life, and the villa had several rooms set aside for this luxuriant ritual: a fuel store, a furnace, hot room, hot dry room, hot-water bath, tepid room, cold room, water tank, recreation room and large cold plunge bath. The occupants, thought to be well-off farmers, could have sweated, bathed and be rubbed with oils by their slaves for hours on end every day in these rooms.

Archaeologists speculate that the site has been home to several wealthy families through the centuries and even housed one of the earliest Christian shrines in Britain. It has been a trove of finds, including two marble busts (now in the British Museum), more than 400 coins, pottery and fragments of Christian wall paintings.

Further along the path, after more lovely fields dappled with cattle, a castle complex, including a church, gatehouse and yard, spreads out on your left.

Lullingstone Castle is unfortunately not open in the winter, but just inside the imposing 15th-century gate tower, tiny St Botolph's church is open. The chapel holds hour-long services every Sunday at 11:00. The medieval church - which holds the tombs of the Hart-Dyke family - is an architectural contrast to the castle itself which was originally of Tudor design and remodelled in the Queen Anne period. The yard, which looks out onto a tranquil private lake, came to be used as a tilt-yard especially to showcase the prowess of Henry VII's champion jouster, Sir John Peche. The atmosphere of the place was conducive to games - the rules of lawn tennis were first concocted here in 1873.

A footpath continues past the castle gateway, with the River Darent on the left, on to the Lullingstone visitor's centre. From there, Lullingstone park can be discovered.

The ruins of Eynsford Castle are worth coming back into Eynsford for. Open at all times, the old walls look out over more green fields and hold the dramatic story of William de Eynesford, courtier to King Henry II and one of the catalysts for the famous quarrel between the king and Thomas a Becket.

Nowadays, the locals use the castle as the backdrop for an impressive firework display around Guy Fawkes season. The fireworks are viewed from around a large bonfire in a farmer's field adjoining the castle, separated from the ruins by the river.

Reserve time on the trek up the main road of Eynsford to the station for a stop in the Malt Shovel, another fine Eynsford pub, specialising in seafood. It is spoken of highly by the locals and well worth making time for.

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