Travelling deeper from our own doorstep
The travel restrictions in 2021 have given us further opportunities to explore in more depth the fascinating history and picturesque countryside in our corner of the UK.
You can sometimes get complacent and think you know the county you live in inside out. However, we’ve found that the more we unearth, the more there is to be discovered. Kent’s stunning and diverse coastline peering over to France, to the extraordinary and often unforgiving landscape of Romney Marsh.
Although I must admit enrolling in an annual National Trust membership really has opened my eyes to the magnificent manor houses and fairy-tale castles that are so often hidden from plain sight.
Having a little more time at home has also given us the opportunity to revamp the website, spring clean some old posts and allow us to catch up on our YouTube video content.
Exploring the southeast UKA little taster of Kent and Sussex
We love heading to the Kent coast any time of the year; you’ll always experience something different with the ever-changing seasons, and Folkestone is a perfect example.
For 2021 we visited Creative Folkestone’s fifth triennial contemporary urban art exhibition, which is the largest in the UK. Some of the installations are removed once the exhibition ends; however, many remain and can be seen 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.
So, I highly recommend visiting Folkestone if not only for a little bit of a culture, but you can also explore the vibrant streets and harbour and bag yourself some fish and chips by the seaside.
A small historic market town which is on our doorstep in Kent is West Malling. We’ve visited it many times for its day-to-day amenities; however, we never really dug deeper into the fascinating history of this picturesque town.
West Malling has some beautiful timber-framed architecture, connections with the famous artist J.M.W. Turner and a community of Benedictine nuns. That’s before we even touch on its numerous blue plaques and the historical past of RAF West Malling, where once a WWII air force ground stood and courageous fighter pilots would head off on aerial battles.
If you have heard of one historic English battle, it is probably The Battle of Hastings, fought in 1066. Although your immediate thought may have been that it took place in Hastings, East Sussex. However, the skirmish actually happened in Battle seven miles inland.
Battle is a very charming town, full of independent stores, historical architecture, friendly cafés. Of course, it has the ancient imposing Abbey Gatehouse overlooking Abbey Green.
Battle town is a perfect place to explore for a day out, and a visit to the battlegrounds is a must; it is so educational and poignant.
Returning back to the county of Kent and we visit Aylesford Priory. This beautiful little oasis in the historic village of Aylesford is free to visit all year round. It’s a delightful place to explore for some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It’s hard to believe that Aylesford Priory is only a hop, skip and a jump away from the M20.
Carmelite Friars first arrived in Aylesford in 1242. They made the Priory their home, which is located on the banks of the River Medway. Due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, the friars left the medieval priory. They didn’t return until 1949, some 400 years later.
Map, guides and more
Whether you’re planning a road trip, plotting a hiking route or cycling one of UK’s scenic trails, there’s nothing quite like using a tactile paper map.
The Ordnance Survey folk are here to help, with maps, guides, gadgets and more. Take a browse through their vast array of maps and grab your ideal companion for your adventure.
National Trust Days OutCastles, Manors, and motes
In 2021 we decided to invest in a National Trust annual membership. Within a few visits of exploring their striking manor houses, immaculately kept gardens and ancient castles, we’d already felt we had got our money’s worth.
Our first visit was to Ightham Mote in Kent, an elegant, moated manor house. The historic timber-framed home was built around 1320 and passed between an intriguing mix of proprietors. From Thomas Cawne, who is believed to have fought in the 100 Years War, to its last beloved owner, an American businessman Mr. Charles Henry Robinson.
Since joining the National Trust, we’ve also discovered the fairy-tale Bodiam Castle, Knole House with its ancient deer park including a herd of around 350 deer, and Bateman’s in East Sussex, which was once Rudyard Kipling’s family home.
Although one of my favourite places to visit was Sissinghurst Castle Garden. The site of Sissinghurst has been occupied since the Middle Ages. During the Tudor period, it grew into a delightful, moated manor house, and the central tower was built.
It was in the 1930s that Sissinghurst was purchased by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. They renovated the Tower, the south cottage and transformed the gardens into the tranquil oasis today.
It truly is a charismatic place to visit, and the Greek Delos inspired garden is extraordinary.
Our Kent road trip adventuresExploring Romney Marsh, Medway & Darent Valley
In April, we navigated a little deeper into Kent’s nautical past along the Medway Valley. Starting at the historic village of Aylesford, we then weaved our way across the North Downs, meandering through charming ancient villages and tales of Dickens.
Snaking our way to the shores of the River Medway and exploring the tiny lanes of Upnor and the 16th-century Upnor Castle. Crossing the Medway, we visit the Historic Dockyard Chatham and the Dickensian town of Rochester and unearth Rochester Castle and Rochester Cathedral.
In July, we then ventured off to one of my favourite regions of Kent, ‘Romney Marsh’. Romney Marsh is so diverse and unlike other parts of Kent. It stretches inland from Dungeness and the pebbly seaside towns along the English Channel.
Centuries ago, this area of Kent looked so different, bustling harbours were filled with ships, and local towns and villages thrived off the industry. In 1287 a devastating flood hit the South of England, and the landscape and coastline changed forever.
Our Romney Marsh road trip started at Hythe followed the shoreline through Dymchurch, Romney, Dungeness and headed inland to Lydd, Appledore. We weaved our way back, passing remote churches and open marshland.
With summer still hanging on, we explored the Darent Valley region of Kent. This Darent Valley road trip brought back wonderful childhood memories for me, as we used to see my grandad at Farningham.
Even though this circular route is only 16 miles and it’s just a short hop from the M25/M20, it’s incredible how many picturesque places there are to see.
The adventure begins in the little village of Farningham. A mile along the road is the picture-postcard village of Eynsford, where you can take a paddle in the ford. From Eynsford, it’s onto Otford, Shoreham, and Lullingstone Castle.
If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".
You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.
Our YouTube VideosCreated for near and far
A mini-break in BristolBrunel to Banksy
Our road trip ItinerariesPerfect sojourns through France and Portugal
The first two road trip itineraries that I created are based on our 2018 two-weeks touring Portugal from north to south and back again. In part one of the Portuguese road trip, we head south from the Douro Valley, venturing past golden beaches, onto Nazaré, Cascais south to Lagos in the Algarve.
In part two of our Portuguese road trip itinerary, you join us departing from the Algarve touring through the picturesque Alentejo countryside to Évora. Then we hop west to the hilltop town of Óbidos, onto the historic city of Tomar and venturing to the welcoming city of Porto in the north
Where to stay in Évora & Guimarães
Our accommodation for the two nights in Évora was at the Évora Olive Hotel.
We enjoyed our stay at Évora Olive Hotel. The staff were friendly and helpful. The underground parking was excellent even for a larger car, and the hotel’s location was extremely central.
Our accommodation for the two nights in Guimarães was at the Casa Dos Pombais.
Casa Dos Pombais was a great find, hidden in its own little oasis behind trees and gates, and yes, it really has swans.
You really feel like you are staying in a manor house, the owner was friendly, and our large room was very comfortable. The ample free parking was suitable for even the larger car.
Our next stop was to the charming city of Caen, where we ventured off to retrace the steps of the Normandy Landings and visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Le Mont-Saint-Michel. A little further south, we explored Alençon and the surrounding La Suisse Normande route.
On our journey back to the UK, our final overnight destination was Honfleur.
Where to stay in Normandy
Our accommodation for the four nights in Caen was at the Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré.
The Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré in Caen is reasonably central and just a short stroll across to the charming Place Saint-Sauveur.
If you are driving, this hotel has free onsite parking, although the spaces are limited.
Our accommodation for the three nights in Rouen was at the Mercure Rouen Centre Champ de Mars.
The hotel’s location is about a 10 to 15-minute walk to the heart of the old town, an ideal place for discovering Rouen as its surrounding towns & villages.
If you are driving, this hotel has a chargeable underground car park with direct access to the hotel.
The last road trip I created was from our visit to Alsace in the east of France a couple of years ago. Our Alsace road trip starts from Colmar near the south of the Alsace wine route. It winds its way north through the beautiful Alsace countryside and picture-perfect timber-framed villages.
Along the way, we visit the colourful wine villages of Niedermorschwihr, Kaysersberg and Riquewihr, then onto Obernai, Molsheim, the stunning city Strasbourg and our final stop at Wissembourg in the north.
Where to stay in Alsace
Our accommodation, while we were in Strasbourg, was at the Mercure Strasbourg Centre.
The hotel was very centrally located, and onsite parking was available at a charge.
Our accommodation for the few nights in Colmar was at the Le Colombier. This stylish hotel was perfectly located in the Little Venice district of Colmar. Just a couple of minutes’ walk into the historical old town.
Chargeable onsite parking is available at the hotel. However, there are parking options on the street in front of the hotel.
Germany at ChristmasA festive visit to Aachen and Münster
Over the last couple of years, we’ve really missed our annual visit to Germany for the Christmas markets. So, knowing we had a window of opportunity in 2021, we squeezed in a road trip to Aachen, Münster and our old favourite Cologne.
Aachen’s magnificent ancient Cathedral and its stunning Rathaus play centre stage to their magical WeihnachtsMarkt at Yuletide. The twinkling market weaves its way around the cobbled streets, offering unique handcrafted gifts and delicious local sweet treats.
A visit to Aachen would not be complete without purchasing a bag of Aachener Printen. Aachener Printen is like gingerbread in flavour; however, Aachen’s is made with a little twist; it is sweetened using a syrup made from sugar beets, mmmm.
It was then off to Münster for more festivities.
Münster has six Christmas markets in total, dotted around the historic city. They are all within walking distance of each other, and a circular route covers around 1.2 miles. The joyous markets have delightful treats for everyone.
As the evening draws in and the enchanting markets come alive with festive cheer, the illuminated backdrops of the Rathaus, St Lamberti Church and Überwasserkirche look stunning.
If it’s the traditional carousel, artisan delicacies or the heart-warming glühwein that you are most looking forward to, you’ll love visiting all six. We had a fantastic time, and there’s nothing quite like hearing the laughter and Christmas merriment of the locals to win over our hearts.
The last stop on our German Christmas market adventure was to Cologne, which gets better and better each year we visit. The Harbour market on the banks of the Rhine now has a Ferris Wheel to hop upon, great fun.
I love it around the Dom market, with its live band, the magnificent towering cathedral, and its selection of sweet and savoury treats. The Angels’ Market always brings a cheery smile to our faces, especially when we’re indulging in a mug of hot chocolate with a dash of Bailey’s.
However, our favourite Christmas market in Cologne is ‘Heinzel’s Winter Fairytale’ or the ‘Gnome Market‘ as we like to call it. It truly is magical, with festive wooden cabins adorned with joyful elves partaking in activities on and off-piste and stalls overflowing with sparkling gifts. Although the crème de la crème is the ice rink that snakes around the market with people of all ages and abilities taking to the ice and just having fun.
There’s nothing quite like visiting a Christmas market in Germany.
Where to stay in Aachen, Münster & Cologne
Our accommodation, while we were in Aachen, was at the Novotel Aachen City.
The hotel was just a 10-minute stroll to the Old Town, and onsite parking was available at a charge.
I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books. I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our Germany road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.
So that's it for 2021And say hello to 2022
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