In the absence of international holidays and city breaks, I have taken the opportunity to make the most out of my National Trust membership in 2020. Since the sites reopened in the early summer months the majority of my staycations have been centred around my National Trust “bucket list.”
I have had a membership for over 18 months now, but have only made use of the sites that are in the vicinity of home and using the car parks when heading out for walks nearby.
Lately I have been particularly drawn to the “Garden of England,” Kent. Not only does it have an amazing coastline, with challenging hiking paths, but it is also rolling hills, countryside and an abundance of National Trust sites and houses to explore.
I have by no means finished my adventures into Kent, in fact I think another cancelled weekend break will lead me there again soon, however I wanted to share some of my favourites to date to provide some inspiration for your own staycation or even a day trip.
The White Cliffs of Dover
Needing no introduction, the cliffs are perhaps one of the most famous landmarks on our coastline, symbolising home and integral to our war time defence.
I have visited a number of times this summer and I can say without a doubt the cliffs provide one of the most tranquil and rewarding hikes. Even if you are not up for a long walk, you can venture the short distance to South Foreland Lighthouse and back – soaking in the views.
This 14th century moated castle was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight of Edward III, in order to protect the area from French invasion during the 100 year war.
Here, you can explore the interior ruins of the castle, along with the surrounding grounds and area of Bodiam itself – a peaceful spot for a summers day out or an Autumnal walk.
The English country house, with formal gardens, woodland walks and another 14th century moated castle, is a real gem and one of my top National Trust locations to date.
The moated castle itself is like something out of a fairy tale or Disney film – such beauty and charm in one spot. I only spent a couple of hours here, but you could easy spend the whole day exploring the estate. It is one I will most definitely be returning to when I have the chance.
This picturesque 14th century medieval moat house is something quite special. Surrounded by typical English country gardens, woodland walks and lakes, offering reflecting views back over to the moat house, the picture perfect 700 year old Grade I listed building is well worth a visit.
Take time to speak to the National Trust staff who eagerly share their knowledge of the building and its surroundings.
This grand country house, and former archbishop’s palace, is situated in the 1,000 acre Knole park to the south-east of Sevenoaks. The house itself ranks in the top five of England’s largest houses, totalling four acres. Doors to the house have recently re-opened so visitors can explore the rooms inside, with a one way system in place to comply with social distancing measures.
Knole is another location that could provide a jolly day out. After you have finished taking in the grandeur of the house, you have the whole park to explore, with long walks and an abundance of wildlife – in particular the Deer! On my visit, in mid autumn, it was bang in the middle of rutting season. The sound of the bucks on arrival was incredible. By the end of September these magnificent creatures are all fired up, their antlers are fully grown and they are desperately holding onto their harem of doe. Fighting happens when bucks attempt to steal doe’s from another harem, which can be impressive to watch.
As with all wild animals this can also be rather dangerous, so it advised to keep your distance and watch respectively at a distance. National Trust staff are nearby, who are extremely knowledgeable, so its worth taking time to talk to them and learn all about these beautiful creatures.
The former home of Sir Winston Churchill has long been on my list of places to visit. As with Knole, at the time of my visit they had recently reopened the house. However, my time was limited this time round so I simply enjoyed an autumnal walk through the grounds, including the walled garden, lake, rose garden, apple orchards and even the family pet graves.
When you arrive at the house, it is clear to see why Churchill loved the location so much. With 20 acres of grounds surrounding the house and a further 57 acres of parkland it is an oasis of calm in the English countryside.
With plenty to explore for all the family, it is a great day out within each reach of London and the surrounding areas. If in season, it’s worth popping into the shop to pick up a bag of apples grown in Chartwell’s own orchards.
These are just a handful of National Trust gems that are certain to provide a wonderful day trip or form part of a longer staycation to the Garden of England. Some locations are within a short drive from another, so if you plan the day right you can easily combine a number of locations in a single day trip**.
I will certainly be arranging further trips in coming months to see what else beautiful Kent has to offer.
**Regardless if you are a National Trust member or not, all visits must be pre booked, so ensure you do so in advance to avoid a wasted and disappointing journey.**