Kent in spring!
Vibrant new colours in our gardens, fresh events and exhibitions, Easter family fun and lively May revels: Kent in spring is the place to stir your curiosity and capture those priceless ‘good to be alive’ moments.
Spring into the Gardens of England (April – May)
Kent’s gardens are bursting with bright surprises as spring re-paints the landscape literally from day to day. One visit is never enough when there’s such a changing canvas of scenes!
Savour quintessential spring views at Chiddingstone Castle, near Edenbridge, where swathes of March daffodils bow out to bluebells in April, and there’s an evocative new cherry blossom walk to enjoy between the castle and lake. So tranquil, so unspoilt, the castle reigns over rose garden and woodland in 35 acres of grounds.
The intimate Italian Garden is a favourite at Godinton House & Gardens, Ashford, when the Japanese wisteria tumbles in a waterfall of lavender-coloured flowers in May. The month also sees a celebration of the fantastic bearded irises in the walled garden, while the delphiniums and classically romantic rose garden will tempt you back in summer to explore more of this 12-acre haven.
If salvias are your soft spot, then Great Comp, near Sevenoaks, is your place; the unusual, long-flowering plants feature from May to October, including the seductively named red Salvia microphylla ‘Hotlips’. This seven-acre plantsman’s paradise around the 17th-century manor house flourishes with magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons too.
And for a unique treat, put Brogdale, Faversham, on your spring itinerary. The home of the world’s largest collection of fruit trees and plants makes a delicious family day out, and this April/May hosts its first ever Hanami: a traditional Japanese festival to celebrate cherry blossom in all its glory. Tour the orchards and sample Japanese fare, and get a flavour of what’s to come – apples, pears, plums, cobnuts, strawberries and quinces all grow here, so time your return to taste your favourite fruit and join in special strawberry, cherry, plum and cider festivals.
Easter Excitement (March – April)
Chocolate, bunnies, treasure trails and laughter – the ingredients for a magical day out. Venues all around Kent go a bit madcap and mysterious around Easter Weekend (29 March–1 April).
At Kent Life, Sandling, near Maidstone, for example, you can make an Easter bonnet, take part in the parade and see if you win a prize. It’s also the ideal place to keep eyes peeled for the Easter Bunny, as you meet the baby animals on the farm at this time of year – lambs, calves, piglets, chicks and goats. You can even help the farmer with bottle feeds.
Meanwhile, things take a historical turn at Penshurst Place and Gardens, as visitors make medieval bonnets and transform into knights and noblewomen, hunt for dragon eggs and discover the strange story of how Simnel cake was invented.
Track clues, claim chocolate egg prizes, and share a memorable Easter at Hever Castle, Powell-Cotton Museum, Quex House and Gardens, Belmont House & Gardens – and many more.
Kids Love Canterbury, Learning and Fun (April)
There’s always a great mash-up of fun and learning at Canterbury’s attractions – now’s a perfect time to catch a few and find out what lies ahead in the months to come such as the Canterbury Tales which brings Chaucer’s stories to life with costumed guides along some of your tour (from Easter). So bring the kids on an adventure with the merry pilgrims through the sights, sounds and smells of a carefully researched 14th-century world: from London’s Tabard Inn to St Thomas Becket’s Shrine in Canterbury. Tales of chivalry, rivalry, trickery and romance make for enthralling fun, with lots to get inquisitive young minds hooked on medieval history.
And where else but Canterbury Heritage Museum will you find such a fantastic mix as Anglo-Saxon treasures, the Tudors, a Blitz gallery, Rupert Bear and the real Bagpuss? Hop from one to the other and back again, write your name in Viking runes, sniff medieval poo and try on Elizabethan costume. Check out dates for this season’s Mini Museum Explorers for under-fives, guaranteed to entertain through songs, stories and amazing objects.
Kent is steeped in Roman history and at Canterbury Roman Museum you can descend 100 years with each step (or by lift) to the street level of Durovernum Cantiacorum. What will the kids still be talking about later – the marketplace, the recreated Roman rooms, authentic mosaic floors, jewellery or the roof tiles with Roman dog-paw prints? Look out for special events like
Meet the Romans
Alternatively, make your visit the launch pad for a roam through Roman Kent, to inspirational places like Lullingstone Roman Villa with its superb insights into the lifestyle of the wealthy, and Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre which witnessed both the beginning and end of Roman rule in Britain.
Where to welcome spring in time-honoured fashion? Where to take the family over Early May and Spring Bank Holiday weekends when the kids are bouncing with energy? The whole of May is a mirthful month around Kent.
Shake a leg and throw some traditional shapes dancing around the Maypole, for instance alongside costumed revellers at Anne Boleyn’s romantic home, Hever Castle, Edenbridge. Pick up traditional folk and Tudor steps, and watch Morris men performing dances that date back to the 14th century. Away from the ribbons, bells and swords, enjoy a quiet stroll in the gardens, now displaying blossom on pear, apple and cherry trees, while tulips, rhododendrons, azaleas and wisteria are blooming.
May also means heaps of half-term fun, like an outing to the Plant Hunter’s Play Trail at Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest, near Goudhurst. There are miles of smiles to be bagged and treasured, walking, cycling and riding amid the world’s finest conifer collection. If you’ve a head for heights and thrills, Go Ape! on zip wires and Tarzan swings high above the forest floor – the tree top adventures are all the rage at Leeds Castle too.
Or say hello to the animals at The Rare Breeds Centre, near Ashford. Ponies, horses, birds of prey, cattle, ducks, goats and pigs (including curly-haired Mangalitza pigs) are all cared for in 100 acres of countryside. See pigs put through their paces at afternoon races during spring and summer – they enjoy the exercise and, after a shower, tuck into some well-earned grub. You, too, can indulge in tasty treats, at the well-priced Granary Restaurant –Pudding Days on the first Sunday of every month are sure to tempt!
Have a Vine Time (May – June)
English Wine Week will throw the spotlight on homegrown tipples, but any time is a good time to wet your whistle in Kent with a visit to award-winning vineyards.
Biddenden Vineyard is the county’s oldest commercial vineyard, established by the Barnes family in 1969. Eleven varieties of grapes are grown to make white, red, rosé and quality sparkling wines, and traditional Kentish ciders are also produced. Join free, guided tours and tastings on selected dates throughout the year to learn more about this 23-acre vineyard, and see the presses and bottling line. A visit to the shop is also a must!
The winery at Chapel Down, Tenterden, can now accommodate a crush of more than 600 tonnes and produces fine red, rosé, white and sparkling wines. Tours and tastings led by an expert guide (free during English Wine Week) take in the vineyards and winery to explain the winemaking process.
You could also turn your wine experience into Kentish water by visiting The Chalybeate Spring, Royal Tunbridge Wells. It was the discovery of the spring in 1606 that launched the town as a fashionable spa and today in summer you can still sample the cool, iron-rich water served in the traditional manner by a costumed ‘dipper’.