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|Jutting out of the British Isles in the south east, Kent is a county of mysterious marshes and breathtaking countryside alongside medieval towns and idyllic seaside resorts.
Hard to believe that it is just a stone's throw from London. The Romans built elaborate villas and centrally-heated public baths here, leaving the county with fascinating ruins as well as one of its most famous arrow-straight roads, Watling Street, which is still in use.
Kent has seen much great naval activity and you can discover over 400 years of maritime history at the Historic Dockyard at Chatham which was established by Henry VIII. Both Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Sir John Hawkins lived and worked in Chatham while a certain young man named Nelson began his illustrious naval career here.
The coastline is dotted with defensive structures, from castles to early 19th century Martello towers (circular gun forts designed to thwart Napoleon) and in the south are the Cinque Ports, set up in the 11th century to provide the bulk of the English navy's ships in exchange for trading privileges.
One of the Home Counties, Kent is a chief fruit-growing area, though vineyards flourished here long before the famous hop gardens and orchards earned the county the title ‘Garden of England'. The Pilgrim's Way footpath follows the long ridge of the North Downs which cross the north of the county.
In the south, sheltered by the Downs, lies the Weald, famous for pretty little towns and villages, hop gardens, oasthouses, cosily-welcoming pubs and the stark, cattle-grazing areas of Romney Marsh.
Kent is a ‘first class' cricket county and has the distinction of having played (against Surrey) in the earliest county cricket match on record – in 1709. It is also the location of one of motor racing's best-loved circuits, Brand's Hatch, near Lamberhurst, while Bewl Water is a nationally important water sports and angling centre. Touring this county takes the tourist over a landscape encompassing both the ancient and the modern. The historic spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells, for example, was one of the most fashionable places to stay in the 18th century.
Meanwhile, the National Trust runs properties as diverse as Chartwell, former home of Sir Winston Churchill, and Tenterden known as the "Jewel of the Weald". In the County Town of Maidstone you will find the Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery containing the remains of the town's oldest resident, a skeletal iguanodon.
Castles include Tonbridge Castle, Hever Castle, the world-famous Leeds Castle – which rises from two small islands in a lake surrounded by parkland – and the ruins of the moated Scotney Castle, which has one of Britain's most romantic gardens.
IMAGES: Kent Tourism Alliance
White Cliffs Walk