If you have had enough of the hustle and bustle of city life in London then you could make a day trip to Kent (south-east of England), which many claim to be the Garden of England. The principal attractions in Kent are to be found in the towns of Canterbury (for its Cathedral), Maidstone (for the Leeds Castle some 5 miles away), Tonbridge (for Tonbridge Castle and Penshurst Place 5 miles to the west) and Broadstairs (for its seaside resort at Viking Bay and the neighbouring Dickens House Museum). Besides these, other towns of interest in Kent are Faversham, Rochester, Ramsgate, Ashford, Sandwich, Dover and Folkestone, both of which have France on the other side of the Channel.
There is a high speed rail service from London St Pancras to Canterbury West station in just under an hour (the trains from London Charing Cross and Victoria take half an hour longer). And if you should stop at Ashford on the London-Paris Eurostar route, you will be able to take the frequent train services between Ashford and Canterbury West that take only 20 minutes.
Canterbury - where the famous cathedral is
Canterbury in Kent is rich in history. In fact in the 12th century millions of medieval pilgrims came from all over Europe to visit the cathedral here. Even today the cathedral is still one of the most-visited monuments in England. It is open to the public between 09h00 and 17h00 each day (but on Sundays it's only open between 12h30 and 14h30). Full details of the times of services each day are available from their official website here. But for all that, Canterbury is not a dead or strictly religious town. Every year in the last two weeks of October is held the Canterbury Festival, an international arts festival of comedy, cabaret, circus, music, theatre and dance. This year's event will be held from 19 October to 02 November 2013 at various venues throughout the city.
Another unique festival that Canterbury is famous for is what is known as the "Lounge on the Farm music festival" at Merton Farm which is held over three days in July each year (the last one was held from 26 to 28 July 2013). You can keep an eye on their website here for the next festival. Unlike other concerts, this one welcomes children aged 12 and below.
William the conqueror built Norman castles in Canterbury, Dover and Rochester after winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The one in Canterbury (pictured here) is in ruins.
Whitefriars Square brings a touch of modernity to Canterbury. Near here are all the big department stores (M&S, Tesco) as well as W.H. Smith and McDonald's.
Many people consider Leeds Castle to be the loveliest castle in the world. Imposing when seen from the outside (it is surrounded by a moat), it is even more so once you put your feet inside it and climb up its left-as-they-were steps cautiously (a warning sign tells you to be careful when climbing up). You will be awed if not flabbergasted by the marvellous items of historic interest (such as what you see in the Queen's bathroom and bedroom as well as the banquet room). For more information you can go to their official website here.
The Queen's bathroom at Leeds Castle. Also on display is the Queen's bedroom which was recreated as closely as possible to how it might have looked during the time the mediaeval Queens owned the castle.
One of the first sights to meet the visitor's eyes upon entering the castle are the rows of huge caskets or cellars on each side of the passage way. In those days the cellars were not only used to stock wine but also provisions such as salted meats, wax for candles and grain to be ground in the castle's fortified mill.
Broadstairs - seaside resort and Dickens House
After a visit to Canterbury you might want to make for east Kent to visit neighbouring Broadstairs, a popular seaside resort in the Thanet district just three-quarters of an hour away from Canterbury. Besides the Viking Bay beach, the other main attraction for visitors here is the Dickens House Museum, as Charles Dickens, considered to be the greatest novelist of the Victorian period, stayed regularly here. The museum is installed in a house previously inhabited by Miss Mary Pearson Strong, from whom Dickens based one of his principal characters (Miss Betsey Trotwood, the eccentric aunt of David Copperfield).
If you should come here in the third week of June (this year's festival was held from 15 to 21 June 2013) you will be able to attend the Broadstairs Dickens Festival which is held annually in honour of Charles Dickens. During that week there is a production of David Copperfield and the local population take on Victorian dress for the occasion. They have an official website here.
Viking Bay at low tide on a cloudy day in mid-September.
The parlour that was occupied by Dickens in Broadstairs.
A group of visitors braving the rain to visit Dickens House in Broadstairs. It was here that Dickens wrote most of David Copperfield. Just across Dickens House is Viking Bay, a beach crowded with swimmers in summer and one of the more popular seaside resorts in England.
The Penshurst Place and its gardens, manor of royalty and nobles for more than six centuries, are open to the public. Among the items on display are paintings, tapestries and furniture as well as arms and armour that have been collected over the centuries. Go to their website for more information.
Penshurst Place as seen from the garden grounds.
Another part of the garden.
The porcupine statue, the heraldic emblem of the Sidney family who owned Penshurst Place.
The art of topiary at its best - shrubs clipped into the form of a bear in the Penshurst Gardens.
Yet another part of the Penshurst Gardens.
Fields of lavender at the Penshurst Gardens
The Leas, Folkestone
One end of the promenade at The Leas in Folkestone
View of the main beach from the observation terrace.
Sunrise at The Leas, Folkestone (Photo courtesy of Andre Furcajg)