Travel: Garden of England deserves its name

Great Dixter.
Great Dixter.
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When it comes to holidaying in October we Brits usually head abroad for some winter sun.

But always one to go against the grain, I thought it would be fun to have a caravan holiday in my namesake county of Kent.

My husband Mark agreed so off we went for two weeks in our diminutive pop-top Rapido caravan.

Going ‘down south’ had never really appealed to me but after our visit I must say I was sorry I’d left it so long.

We decided to visit as many places along the Kent coast as possible. Rightly known as ‘the garden of England’ and renowned for its ales, Kent also boasts some atmospheric old sea ports such as Rye, Folkestone, Dover, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Margate and Whitstable.

Our first port of call was a small and secluded campsite called Little Switzerland in Folkestone. Nestling below Kent’s famous white cliffs in an area called The Warren, it was a real haven for wildlife with foxes, birds of prey, rare butterflies and seabirds making a home there.

Folkestone was a pretty rough and ready place. None too pretty but the town’s ‘Cultural Quarter’ where all sorts of artists displayed their creations was buzzing with life every night. From there we travelled to the shingle wasteland of Dungeness.

This remote, windswept and beautiful place was once home to the late, great film-maker Derek Jarman. His sculpture garden at ‘Prospect Cottage’ has been an inspiration to garden designers, artists and aesthetes for many years.

Dungeness was mesmerising and I’d highly recommend a visit. On the way back we explored the sedate and historic settlement of Rye.

After a look around its many vintage shops we took the air at wind-swept Rye Harbour. Whilst staying at Folkestone we also hopped across the border into East Sussex and visited the gardens of Great Dixter.

Created by renowned garden designer Christopher Lloyd who was famed for his extravagant use of colour and exotics, Great Dixter proved to be the highlight of the holiday.

We both fell in love with the place (I’ll write more about this garden in a future edition of The Visitor). From Folkestone we took the caravan to the charming port of Whitstable.

Famous for its oysters, its historic alleyways (used by smugglers in the 1700s), its beach huts, its bustling harbour and for being the former home of actor Peter Cushing, Whitstable was a great base for a holiday.

We stayed on a campsite near Herne Bay and every day we walked the couple of miles along the seafront to Whitstable. We travelled to run-down Margate (where Morrissey would have a field day), Broadstairs (where Dickens wrote some of his novels) and rough and ready Ramsgate.

One day we explored breath-taking Canterbury with its stupendous cathedral, ancient buildings and quaint pubs. We also drove back into East Sussex to explore the exquisite gardens created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson at Sissinghurst Castle in the ‘30s (more on this in a future Visitor).

Our final day was spent sampling oysters and Kentish lager from The Forge shack at Whitstable Harbour. We sat on deckchairs as the last of the sun’s rays warmed us. The end to the perfect British holiday.

Recommended pubs/restaurants:

The Pullman public house, Church Street, Folkestone. Relaxed atmosphere and train-themed design.

The Forge oyster shack, Whitstable Harbour. Sample native oysters, lobster and local ales on deckchairs by sea.

The Old Neptune pub, Marina, Whitstable harbour. One of the few pubs in Britain to be located on a beach.

The Old Bell, Rye. History aplenty and tasty, reasonably-priced food.

The Three Tuns, Canterbury. Atmospheric pub with views of cathedral.

Ingrid Kent