What to see in Kent in autumn
As the Garden of England’s vineyards and orchards prepare for harvest, tours and tastings become top temptations. Surprising sights in the woods, castle walls set afire by nature,
dazzling fireworks and ghostly goings-on – who said autumn was mellow? In Kent it’s never been more exciting.
Hops, Harvests and ‘Grape Days Out’ (September – October)
As summer drifts into early autumn, Kent’s orchards and vineyards are ripe with luscious fruit: a time to indulge in the tastiest traditions.
Begin in September at Kent Life, Sandling near Maidstone, with a rich slice of rural life. In Victorian times London folk came ‘dahn opping’ in the country for an annual holiday and fresh air, and at Kent
Life you can tour Britain’s last hand-picked hop garden. Sort your Fuggles from your Goldings – both traditional Kentish varieties of hops from the late 19th century – and savour the aromas as they dry in
the country’s last working coal-fired oast house. If you come for the annual Hops ’n’ Harvest Festival you can have a go hop picking yourself. Then the beer tent beckons with up to 60 varieties of beer,
including Kent Life’s very own Cobtree Ale. Return for apple harvest and celebrations in October.
Kent’s gentle climate and fertile soils mean fruit growing has always thrived here and at Brogdale,Faversham, you can be in apple heaven in September and October. The National Fruit Collection
boasts an incredible 2,000-plus varieties of apple: sample a few, as well as pears in season, after a walking tour of the orchards. During October’s annual apple festival you can get apples identified and advice from experts.
Then raise a toast at grape harvesting, for example at Biddenden Vineyards. Harvesting usually
begins in late September with Ortega, the grape variety for which the vineyard is best known, and
continues through to early November. As well as touring the vineyards, come for apple pressing and
bottling in October. It’s not too soon to be thinking of delicious gifts for Christmas – buy now, or return in
November and December when tipples like Biddenden Monk’s Delight cider spiced with honey and
cinnamon are perfect for mulling on a chilly winter’s night.
Chapel Down at Tenterden is another ‘grape day out’, touring then tasting award-winning wines, as
well as learning about picking and pressing. Bet you’ll find more than a few fabulous stocking fillers
Autumn Colour and Cheer (September – November)
Autumn colours that warm the heart, crispy leaves underfoot, finger-tingling fresh air: just a few of the
reasons to explore Kent’s exhilarating woodlands and gardens.
Have you ever been surprised on a warm autumn afternoon’s wander by the sudden smell of
candyfloss or caramel? Coming upon a beautiful Katsura Tree casting its spell is one of many delights
at Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest, Edenbridge. The 300-acre pinetum contains over 12,000
trees and shrubs from across five continents, many of them rare and endangered, and, while the
majority remain evergreen, some deciduous species leap with colour. Ramble or cycle as leaves begin
to drop, and keep a look out for vivid yellow larches or show-stopping Dawn Redwood and Swamp
Cypress, their red, chestnut, ochre and copper hues catching fire in the early morning sunlight.
Also make the most of autumn’s charms at Goodnestone Park Gardens, Ashford. The gardens,
created by generations of the FitzWalter family, feature hydrangeas in the woodland garden, attractive
autumn foliage and flowering trees, Michaelmas daisies and perennial grasses.
Meanwhile at Emmetts Garden, Ide Hill, red, gold and russet shades are complimented by spectacular
views. Hunt for mushrooms and spot colourful toadstools in the gardens and woodland, and when
you’ve had a good stomp sit down to a steaming bowl of soup in the stable tearoom.
And who would have thought that the gardens at Walmer Castle, Deal, frequently blasted by salty
winds from the English Channel, would be such a picture? The Kitchen Garden is at its height with a
wide range of fruit, vegetables and cut flowers; apples and pears splash colour across the orchard.
Glimpse cyclamen peeping from beneath trees in the Paddock and Woodland followed by autumn
crocus, and catch Japanese anemones in their starring role in the Queen Mother’s Garden. Even the
walls of Henry VIII’s castle get in on the act, turned to flame by the leaves of Virginia creepers and
crimson glory vines.
Hallowe’en and Hauntings (October)
Hallowe’en hauntings and half-term horrors are waiting to leap from the shadows!
Discover Canterbury’s dark side on a knee-trembling Canterbury Ghost Tour. They take place on
Friday and Saturday evenings through the year, but you may feel an extra frisson around Hallowe’en.
What tragedy befell a mother and child in what is now Tiny Tim’s Tea Rooms? What do the security
guards of the cathedral regularly encounter on their late night checks of the precincts? History, humour
and hauntings unfold as you step the streets for 90 minutes with your ghost hunter guide.
While in Canterbury you might also brave The Terrible Tales live horror performance at The
Canterbury Tales. Or venture to any number of venues around the county that dig up dark deeds and
ghosts at this time of year (with the odd pumpkin and treat thrown in). Hear the story of the ‘White lady’
at the Powell-Cotton Museum, House and Gardens; follow the Bat Trail at The Historic Dockyard
Chatham; do some pumpkin carving and enjoy a treasure hunt and games at Godinton House &
Or how about exploring miles of mystery and history beneath your feet at Chislehurst Caves? The
maze of passageways, hewn by hand for chalk to use in lime burning and brick making, covers more
than six hectares, 30 metres beneath the woodlands. On an atmospheric lamp-lit tour your guide will
reveal tales of druids, Romans and Saxons, and you’ll come across tunnels used as air-raid shelters in
the Second World War, as well as the Caves Church, Druid Altar – and Haunted Pool.
Fantastic Fireworks (November)
Remember, remember Kent in November!
Experience the dazzle and whoosh of fireworks in settings large and small, including the fairytale
backdrop of Leeds Castle, Maidstone. Through 900 years of history, the captivating castle has been a
Norman stronghold, the private property of six medieval queens, a palace of Henry VIII, a Georgian
mansion and elegant country retreat. With glittering drama to match such an eventful past, the
Fireworks Spectacular lights the night sky in multi-coloured splendour.
Magnificent Museums and Art Galleries
Whatever the weather, we’ve attractions to suit, and when you want somewhere warm and dry our
varied museums and galleries will entertain you for hours.
The landmark new gallery of Turner Contemporary at Margate has been grabbing the headlines since
opening in April 2011, and there are always curiosity-stirring exhibitions going on. But don’t forget many
other excellent offerings:
Combine two museums and a fine town house for a day out in Medway, beginning in Rochester with
the Guildhall Museum. Displays include a full-size reconstruction of a Medway prison hulk, paintings
and prints of the area, and the must-see Dickens Discovery Room explaining the author’s links with
Medway. Dickens featured Rochester in his work more than any other town apart from London – The
Guildhall was where Pip was indentured as an apprentice in Great Expectations.
Nearby you’ll also find Restoration House (open to 27 September 2013), which doubled as Miss
Havisham’s home, Satis House, in Dickens’ novel. It takes its real-life name from a visit by King Charles
II on the eve of the Restoration – discover details of the hasty ‘makeover’ it underwent to receive the
Head on to Gillingham for the Royal Engineers Museum, Library & Archive, which holds over one
million objects covering the distinguished history of the Corps: World War One diaries, personal
photograph albums of Sappers posted around the world, over 6,500 medals and 25 Victoria Crosses,
and nearly 40 vehicles ranging from Bridge Laying Tanks to a rare V2 Rocket from World War Two
(some are showcased at 3 Slip at Chatham). Not to mention rather bizarre artefacts, like teeth
recovered from the Battle of Waterloo – to be used for making sets of false teeth.
On the coast Dover Museum is one of Kent’s oldest museums, dating back to 1836. Artefacts and
scale models give fascinating insights into the development of this historic port town, which has been
on the frontline of Britain’s defence for centuries. Dover Bronze Age Boat, the world’s oldest known
seagoing boat, is a unique highlight.
Back inland, it’s easier to say what you won’t find at Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery, which
houses over 660,000 artefacts and specimens of outstanding diversity and quality. Immerse yourself in
collections covering ancient Egyptians (including a 2,700 year old mummy), archaeology, costume,
ethnography, biology, fine and decorative art, geology, Japanese decorative arts & prints, and local
history. The art collections, ranging from 574 oil paintings and 40 Old Master drawings to bronzes by
Jacob Epstein and Henry Moore, are truly superb.
Finally (for now!) there’s plenty to interest every generation at Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art
Gallery, whether dolls, toys and games dating back over 200 years, or more than 28,000 natural
history specimens including a dinosaur footprint. Admire the decorative marquetry of the world’s largest
collection of Tunbridge Ware, made in Tunbridge Wells from the late 1600s to the 1920s. Over 7,500
items of clothing and accessories from the 1700s to the present also intrigue – marking fashions in
wedding dresses, babies’ clothes, hairpieces and corsets.