Kent Area Guide

Kent area guide | Bairstoweves

Kent is one of the Home Counties in England’s southeast corner. Because of its fruit-growing and hop gardens, the county is often called ‘The Garden of England’. Castle-pocked Kent has also inspired notable writers: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales helped develop the English language. Novelist Charles Dickens’ father worked here; the author wrote about Chatham, Rochester and the Cliffe marshes. Nobel Prize-winning novelist William Golding taught at Maidstone Grammar School.

Maidstone is the county town of Kent – which shares borders with Greater London, Surrey, East Sussex, and Essex (across the Thames Estuary). The county is topped and tailed by water: The River Thames and the North Sea to the north; and the Straits of Dover and the English Channel to the south. France is 21 miles away – and can be seen from Folkestone and the White Cliffs of Dover. Kent is one of Britain’s warmest areas – and the location of the UK’s hottest ever recorded temperature.

The area has been occupied since Palaeolithic times. There’s a sequence of Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman-era settlements. The name Kent is derived from the Brythonic word ‘cantus’ meaning ‘rim’ or ‘border’ (describing the county’s eastern coastal district). In modern history, England relied on Kent’s ports to provide vital warships.

Kent’s main waterway is the River Medway, followed by the River Stour. The North Downs hills and the Greensand Ridge span the county; their valleys host 26 castles. Canterbury Cathedral has been the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England, since England converted to Christianity.

Transport Links

Road: Kent has more miles of motorway than any other county. A Roman road network connects London to the Channel ports of Dover, Lympne and Richborough. These roads are now the A2, B2068, A257, and the A28. The A20, A21, M2, M20 are also easily accessed and part of the M25 runs through Kent. The Dartford Crossing has been augmented by the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge.

Rail: In 1830the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway became Britain’s earliest passenger-carrying railway. Most of Kent’s passenger services are now run by Southeastern. High Speed 1 (HS1) trains journey through The Channel Tunnel from the London St Pancras terminus. New station Ebbsfleet International opened between Dartford and Gravesend serving northern Kent. There are also several light, heritage, and industrial railways.

Air: Limited charter flights are provided by London Ashford Airport at Lydd. However, most people use the larger London Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports.

Water: Aside from Dover, which offers ferries and The Channel Tunnel to France, the Medway Estuary has been an important port and naval base for over 500 years. Kent's two canals are the Royal Military Canal and the Thames and Medway Canal.

Property Intelligence

In recent years, many of Kent’s homeowners have experienced a bigger rise in the value of their homes than increases in their salaries. Indeed, property prices have almost tripled over the past 20 years – whether residences are detached, semi-detached, flats or terraced. While this makes it harder to get on to the property ladder, owning a house in Kent amounts to a significant financial bonus (while housing values rise).

However, some of Kent’s property has dipped in value compared with a decade ago – according to the Office of National Statistics. If you’re looking to buy a flat in Ashford, Gravesham or Maidstone, prices can be significantly cheaper. Two future residential hotspots are Thanet, driven by improvements to its railway connections to London, and areas of North Kent with easy access to Ebbsfleet International Station.

ToughNickel.com – a site created by finance experts and enthusiasts – analysed the cheapest places in Kent to buy a three-bedroom house. Ashford town was seen as “ideally located, both for those who regularly use the Channel Tunnel, and for those who need to commute into London by train”. Broadstairs, once home to author Charles Dickens, was praised as a “charming seaside town”. Property prices in the “fine old town” of Chatham were, “incredibly reasonable… representing excellent value for the South-East of England”.

Shopping & Amenities

Hunt down designer bargains or find shabby-chic antiques – you can do it all in Kent. Designer bargains, big brands, boutique stores, and soothing spa breaks are all run of the mill around here. The Bluewater shopping centre is one of the largest shopping malls in the UK. It hosts 330 shops, a 13-screen cinema as well as 40 cafes, restaurants and bars. Ashford Designer Outlet offers huge daily discounts on numerous goods.

It's not all sleek malls and modern shopping centres, however. The historical lanes of Kent's towns and cities feature independent outlets stocking everything from the latest labels to burnished antiques. Discover Canterbury's medieval streets; Rochester's Victorian High Street; The Pantiles in Royal Tunbridge Wells, which is packed with antiques; and the host of unique shops in Broadstairs, Tenterden, Whitstable, Faversham and Hythe. 

Leisure & Entertainment

Sport: Kent's highest-ranked football team is Gillingham, playing at Priestfield Stadium. Other clubs include Dover Athletic, Ebbsfleet United, Maidstone and Margate. Kent County Cricket Club was a founder member of the County Championship in 1890. They’re based at Canterbury’s St Lawrence Ground (yet sometimes play in Royal Tunbridge Wells and Beckenham). Canterbury Hockey Club and Holcombe Hockey Club play in both the men's and women's top divisions. Canterbury RFC represent rugby union. The Brands Hatch motorsport circuit near Swanley has hosted international racing events – and numerous editions of the British Grand Prix.

Outdoors: People regularly visit famous towns like Canterbury and Rochester to explore the rolling hills, forested valleys and panoramic landscapes. You can choose to do so on foot, via bicycle or on horseback – and don’t forget to pack a picnic. Kent's coastline is beautiful year-round and Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs boast Blue Flag beaches.

Culture: Canterbury Cathedral is Britain’s metropolitan cathedral; founded in AD 598, it displays architecture from various periods. Rochester Cathedral is England's second-oldest cathedral. Kent’s many castles include Richborough, Dover, Rochester, Upnor, Great Lines, and Fort Amherst Castle. The 13th-century Hever Castle & Gardens were the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. The county's largest performing arts space is the prestigious Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.

Events: Canterbury Festival is Kent’s International Arts Festival: a fortnight of theatre, classical music and dance, world music, comedy, talks, visual arts, and walks. A Taste of Kent at the Event Centre near Maidstone is the region’s biggest annual showcase for the food and drink industry. Kent County Show in July – a showcase for rural life – has something for the whole family with displays, entertainment and local food. Kent’s music festivals include the Chilled in a Field Festival, Electric Gardens, Hop Farm Festival, In the Woods Festival, and Lounge On The Farm.

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