by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:21st December 2021

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.

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Exploring the southeast UK

A 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.

Brightly coloured beach huts on Folkestone's coastal path as part of an art installation
No. 1054 Arpeggio’ by Rana Begum

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.

A Tudor period timber-framed home in King Street, West Malling, Kent
The Priors, King Street

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.

17th-century buildings on Battle High Street in front of the Abbey Gatehouse
A group of 17th-century buildings

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.

Historic buildings line the Great Courtyard in Aylesford Priory
The Great Courtyard in Aylesford Priory

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 Out

Castles, 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.

A view from the corner of moat of the medieval stone manor house of Ightham Mote
Ightham Mote

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.

The green lawn in front of the Sissinghurst Castle’s turreted tower at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Sissinghurst Castle Tower

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Our Kent road trip adventures

Exploring 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.

The timber-framed Leather Bottle pub on the High Street in Cobham, as seen from the churchyard.
The Leather Bottle Pub, Cobham

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.

The isolated St Thomas Becket Church at Fairfield in the heart of the Romney Marshes in Kent
Thomas Becket church

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.

A mothers & children wading in the ford, next to the old stone bridge, at Eynsford in Kent
Enjoying Eynsford ford

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 Videos

Created for near and far
2020 allowed Gary the opportunity to wade through our video content that we had been accumulating over the last few years, and early 2021 was no different. We’ve created YouTube videos for southern France, Iceland, Italy, Zimbabwe and more up to date, Kent and Bristol.
Grab yourself a cup of coffee and follow along on our adventures.

A mini-break in Bristol

Brunel to Banksy
In October, we headed to the vibrant city of Bristol in southwest England. Bristol is full of some fascinating history, especially from the world-famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Not only can you explore the decks of the magnificent ocean-going ship SS Great Britain, but you can also stroll the width of the Avon Gorge across the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Looking back at the bow of the SS Great Britain in its dry dock in Bristol Harbour
SS Great Britain
Bristol’s harbourside and waterways are delightful to stroll around; you can enjoy the true essence of the city. Another popular and colourful side to Bristol is its storytelling through street art. You’re probably already aware of its elusive son Banksy; however, there are so many other talented artists expressing themselves throughout the walls of Bristol.
The Banksy street art graffiti piece 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' painted on a wall in the back of the Bristol Marina
The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum by Banksy

If you're intrigued to visit the historic cities of Bath and Bristol, then why not check out Lonely Planet's pocket travel guide. Full of helpful advice, interesting facts and time-saving tips.

You can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.

Our road trip Itineraries

Perfect sojourns through France and Portugal
Gary and I do love our road trips; any opportunity that we get, we’ll head off into the distance on a journey of discovery. Although with the evolving times that we now live in, we are looking into our options of an electric car and how we can minimise our tyre footprint.
A view over Portugal's UNESCO recognised Douro Valley with the river taking centre stage.
The Douro Valley in 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

Powerboats off the coast of Ponta da Piedade, just outside Lagos on Portugal's Algarve coast.
The magnificent coastline of the Algarve, Portugal

Where to stay in Évora & Guimarães

Évora Olive Hotel

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.

Casa Dos Pombais

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.

The following two road trips are from one of my favourite countries, France. The first is through the poignant and remarkable region of Normandy in 2017. Our 10-day Normandy road trip took us to the city of historic Rouen. From here, we toured the timbered-framed villages along the Route-du-Cidre and visited Giverny to see Monet’s family home and the famous lily pond.
A street scene from the little Normandy village of Lyons-la-Forêt. People are sitting at tables and chairs outside the cafes in this quaint slide of French life.
Lyons-la-Forêt, Normandy, France

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.

A close-up shot of Mont-Saint-Michel from the causeway.
Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, France

Where to stay in Normandy

 Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré.

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.

Mercure Rouen Centre Champ de Mars.

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.

Water flowing across a stone weir between traditional brightly coloured Alsace half-timbered buildings in Kaysersberg, France
Water flowing through Kaysersberg

Where to stay in Alsace

Mercure Strasbourg Centre

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.

Le Colombier

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 Christmas

A 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.

We’d visited Aachen and Münster as a mini-break in autumn 2019 and couldn’t wait to return to see how the festive cheer enlightened the two historic cities even further. And we weren’t disappointed.

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.

The Christmas tree in front of the Rathaus of Aachen at dusk
Aachen's Rathaus at night

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 Giebelhüüskesmarkt Christmas Markets in front of the Überwasserkirche church at dusk
Entrance to Giebelhüüskesmarkt

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.

One of the circular ends to the ice rink in Cologne, lit at night, overlooked by a carousel and the two-storey drinks cabin.
The ice rink in Cologne at Christmas

Where to stay in Aachen, Münster & Cologne

Novotel Aachen City

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.

Factory Hotel
Our accommodation for the two nights in Münster was at the Factory Hotel. This quirky hotel has a rustic modern twist within the heritage-listed walls of a former Germania Brewery. It is located around 1.5 miles (2.5km) from Münster Old Town. Onsite parking is available at a charge.

Eden Hotel Früh am Dom

Our accommodation, while we were in Cologne, was at the Eden Hotel Früh am Dom.
The hotel is very centrally located for the Christmas markets and overlooks the cathedral. There’s an underground public car park opposite the hotel.

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 2021

And say hello to 2022
It has been a bit of a mixed year, with our travel mainly within the UK, although I must say I’ve really enjoyed it. Who knows what 2022 will bring for us all, but let’s all stay safe and have fun?

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