Yippee! School’s out and, if you’re looking for somewhere to make memories this summer, then how does the sound of exploring historic buildings and castles, breath-taking gardens, abundant woodlands and picturesque villages, grab you?
Last week, I was invited to Kent – often billed as the Garden of England – to sample some of the Seven Wonders of the Weald with a guest.
The Seven Wonders (currently celebrating their 10th anniversary) comprise, you guessed it, no less than seven unique attractions – all within an easy drive from one another. These are Groombridge Place, Scotney Castle, Biddenden Vineyards, Kent & East Sussex Railway, Chiddingstone Castle & Gardens, the elegant spa town of Tunbridge Wells and Hole Park Gardens in Rolvenden – the most recent addition to the group, and first port of call on our trip.
Naturally, I was itching to peak inside this impressive house, flanked by a wonderful Magnolia grandiflora. Edward Barham and his wife Clare live in this superb home with their three children. Unfortunately for this inquisitive interiors writer, the remodelled house, which has been owned by the Barham family for the past four generations, is a private home.
However, the enchanting gardens, with their far-reaching views over the hills, woods and fields of the picturesque Kentish Weald, are a different matter entirely.
During a guided tour, the genial and extremely knowledgeable head gardener, Quentin Stark, explained how the gardens are a mix of formal design and more natural planting, offering a riot of colour throughout the seasons. I can confirm that the herbaceous borders were looking suitably stunning, inspiring me to get to grips with my own garden when time allows.
Having sampled the delights of the homemade cake and Hole Park apple juice (both delicious!) in The Coach House Tea Room, it was onwards and upwards to Biddenden Vineyards.
Set in 23 acres, and just a short distance from the charming Wealden village of Biddenden, Kent’s oldest commercial vineyard is the perfect spot for wine buffs.
Ten varieties of grapes are grown here to produce white, red, rosé and quality sparkling wines, all of which are pressed and bottled on site.
After a light lunch, with the opportunity to taste the award- winning wines, ciders and juices, we enjoyed a tour of the vineyard before heading the to the buzzy winery, where it was all happening.
Next up on our Wonders trip was a step back in time, courtesy of the friendly gang at the Kent & East Sussex Railway, based in the tree-lined ‘Jewel of the Weald’ town of Tenterden.
As we boarded the steam train, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, as the sights, smells and sounds of this bygone era assaulted my senses.
As the train rolled gently through the beautiful Rother Valley, passing the magnificent Bodiam Castle, a tasty afternoon tea was such a treat and the perfect way to end a memorable day out. Indeed, the whole experience was a far cry from the somewhat stressful train journeys I’ve encountered recently en route to my interiors jobs.
In a short space of time, the stresses and strains of modern day living seemed to fade away as we were captivated by the Wealden countryside.
Unfortunately, with work beckoning, we couldn’t stay overnight this time but, if you’re visiting for longer than a day trip (and I wholeheartedly recommend it!) then Kent & Sussex Holiday Cottages, located in Cranbrook and Sandwich, are worth checking out.
With four more Wonders calling and many more happy memories to be made, I can’t wait to return.
* Visitors can currently celebrate the tenth anniversary with a Seven Wonders of the Weald annual pass. Valid for a year from purchase, the pass, costing £25, allows one free entry into many of the attractions.
The pass is available from www.sevenwonders.org.uk, or from Biddenden Vineyards, Chiddingstone Castle, the Tourist Information Centre in Tunbridge Wells or Maidstone, or at the Kent & Sussex Holiday Cottages shop, located in Cranbrook High Street.
* Huge thanks to Caroline Edmunds of Pennington PR for the invitation.