Nicknamed ‘The Garden of England’, Kent is undoubtedly a wonderfully wild stretch of the country, with over a quarter of it made up of the incredible North Downs and The High Weald AONB. Under Roman occupation, Caesar once called the people of Kent ‘by far the most civilised inhabitants of Britain’ and 2000 or so years later, with all the phenomenal eateries, vineyards and distilleries, we’d have to agree. If you’re looking for a place where soaring white cliffs and rugged coastline, ancient bluebell woods and miles of grassland sit side by side with the best of man-made pleasures, Kent is where you should be heading. Join us as we venture down narrow lanes and winding single-track paths to delicious destinations on a tour of Kent.
Where: The Isle of Sheppey
How long: A half day
Best for: Little ones and families
Far too often, when you go to a nature reserve, you can see one side of it from the other. That’s not the case with Elmley Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey. It’s roughly the same size, if not bigger, than the local town. At a whopping 3,300 acres, it’s a massive area to explore, and an incredibly unique one, with rich biodiversity. Privately managed, the entrance fee is £8 for an adult, which allows for two children under 16 to go in for free. The organisation behind it is a not-for-profit, with all fees going to the conservation work. If you’re a fan of birds, it’s a must see, as you’ll spot raptors, owls and hares, as well as many other creatures like rare bees, dragonflies and, of course, beautiful plant life.
There’s plenty to explore on the Island of Sheppey, so how much you do is up to you, but if you’re in need of a pit stop, don’t hesitate to pop into Bosun’s Tearoom in Queenborough.
How long: A whole day
Best for: Couples
You’d be hard pressed to do a tour of any coastal county without hitting up a seaside town for the great British traditions there. Whitstable is a great example. With West Beach, Whitstable Beach Front and Tankerton Beach to choose from, a beach walk is easy to pick off in the morning, and a wander round the Harbour Market (open every Tuesday and Wednesday) too if you’ve got the time. If you still need to clear your head, look no further than the caffeine healing at Blueprint Coffee & Books for your fix (and perhaps a little holiday reading).
With all that fresh sea air whetting your appetite, there’s no chance you could leave without sampling the produce. Head to The Forge for a no frills, just seashells experience – sampling local oysters of every variety and washing them down with local craft beer. If you’re vegetarian, bringing a veggie with you, or you’re just still around at dinner time, head to Jojo’s for seasonal, local food, and fish always from sustainable stocks.
How long: Half a day/whole day
Best for: Wild adventurers
How much of this you get done will be up to your energy levels! After a day in Whitstable, head south to Canterbury but, before you get there, turn into Blean Woods National Nature Reserve. A SSSI filled with ancient woodland, it has walks of varying lengths to choose from, including a massive 25-mile circular walk called The Big Blean Walk. Spot damselflies, dragonflies and butterflies, and get your forest bathing in.
Once thoroughly walked out, you can head a little further south, and have a quick pit stop in Canterbury before heading on. For some truly incredible coffee, try out Garage Coffee Roasters – either at their flagship store or their new bakery if you want some supplies (it’s hard to miss, trust us).
Here’s where your options divulge (and if you manage both, get your neck measured, we’re buying you a medal). If you’re brimming with energy and enthusiasm for the wild, head out to Canoe Wild for canoe, kayak and SUP hire or a guided tour! If you’re feeling a little more like a laid-back afternoon, then carry on past Canoe Wild on the same road and go all the way to Margate. There, you can take a quick tour of the Turner Contemporary Gallery, soak up a little culture, and after, head to the free Haeckels Community Sauna on the beach to steam away your stresses.
Where: Kent Downs AONB
How long: A half day
Best for: Foodies and families
If you’re in the mood for a view, then you’re in luck. Around the midpoint of The Kent Downs AONB, you’ll find The Devil’s Kneading Trough flanked by two small stretches of woodland. With easy parking just at the bottom, you can rock up and take on the steep-sided valley to get to the top. From which, you’ll have an incredible view as far as Romney Marsh and the English Channel beyond. If you’re headed here in the summer, keep an eye out for the orchids and butterflies that appear in the warmer months.
From The Devil’s Kneading Trough, it’s just a 3-minute drive to The Rebel Farmer – the site where rebel farmer himself, Ed Kyrke-Smith ethically grows his local, seasonal food. It’s important to note, you’ll want to book in advance to come visit or for any of the workshops, retreats and talks. You can also hire a space at the venue for meetings, parties or events, or you can come to volunteer on Tuesdays and Thursdays from April to October and learn a new skillset!
How long: As long as the remains of your holiday energy lasts
Best for: Watersport enthusiasts and wild folk
By now, you’ve seen wild, you’ve lived wild, and you may well have partied a little wild too. But Kent is not over, no, not at all. We’ve barely scratched the surface, and these next suggestions are the simply can’t miss-ers. From Rebel Farmer, you’ll head south, to the coast, where Dungeness lies waiting.
Your adventure starts on the edge of the town, where 3 miles out, you’ll find Action Watersports. There’s basically every kind of water-based activity you can imagine. There’s an inflatable ‘Aqua Park’ to clamber across in a reality-show-style obstacle course, there’s the classic banana boats to ride like an aquatic bucking bronco. There’s paddleboarding, wakeboarding, waterskiing, flyboarding, hydrofoiling and open water swimming. There’s even SUP for dogs.
If you miraculously still have energy, or fancy something a little less adrenaline filled, then keep heading south, and take a tour of Dungeness National Nature Reserve. With 600 varieties of plants, it has roughly one third of all the plants found in the UK, making it incredibly diverse. You’ll also spot a wealth of creatures making the habitat their home (including the medicinal leech, so keep your toes out of the ponds). Ther are plenty of guided walks on site, so take some time to amble around and watch the electric blue dragonflies’ whiz by.
You will likely be intensely hungry by this point, and as luck would have it, there’s something you can’t miss nearby. The eponymous ‘Dungeness Crab’. If you’re gonna do seafood there are some key elements you want to hit. Fresh, local, sustainable, informal and best of all, on the water. If you can, make it to The Snack Shack overlooking the beach. Caught by their own boats, cooked fresh daily, it’s well worth the journey for a lobster or crab roll and chips (if they caught any that day) – and a hearty sigh as you look out on the sea. Dinner and a show.