There is an England I have become uncomfortably familiar over the last few years, one which my profession has opened my eyes to that is struggling to battle the challenges of underaged drinking, increased cost of living, rising house prices and a stretched health service.This is not the England of fairytales. When I speak to my friends abroad, they fantasise about an altogether different England and theirs is the capture I wish to remember, to uncover even. Theirs is the welcome escape that reminds me of the British beauty concealed in narrow lanes and undulating hills throughout the nation.
They lust after rolling, green dales, thatched cottages and village tea rooms where the English breakfast blend pours elegantly from its floral-adorned, bone-china abode and crystalline sugar cubes nestle together harmoniously in oval homes.They ask me to suggest cosy, intimate pubs, where the smells of a Sunday roast warm the mauve digits of local villagers, where the flame catches the coal langurously on the fireplace and home-brewed ales flow plentifully. This is the England of Jane Austen and William Shakespeare but I learn that this is an England that lives on.
But not in London.
Having previously discovered English jewels such as the North Norfolk Coast and the pretty seaside town of Southwold, Pumpkin and I could think of no better way to commemorate a phenomenal year in travel, than by taking one final trip on the afternoon of New Years Eve.
Exploring Chiddingstone in Kent
One of the benefits of England being such a small country is that you don’t necessarily need to travel far to find idyllic countryside and for us, on a Wednesday morning, it took us little over half an hour from London to Chiddingstone in Kent, otherwise known as the Garden of England.Often referred to as one of the most picturesque villages in both Kent and England itself, the drive to Chiddingstone led us through sloping and meandering country lanes enveloped in breathtaking valley views (I’d have paused to take photos but rather conditioned by my urban environment, I felt apprehensive to stop on these little lanes and road safety trumps blogging after all).
There can’t have been more than a dozen people out on the street on this crisp winter morning, many with their dogs trudging through the soggy ground. Chiddingstone is a bitesized place, easy for a quick wander and with plenty of walking paths and postcard-esque landscapes surrounding it if you enjoy longer hikes. Just come with sensible walking boots or wellies – I felt rather silly looking like the city slicker who had turned up in her Ugg boots! (For plenty more tips for a countryside break in the UK, click here.)The church and castle at Chiddingstone provide the focal monuments in this little village. The Castle grounds can be reached by walking across a small footbridge and the frozen lake reminded us how the temperatures had turned in the preceding week. The beautiful castle is often used as a wedding venue and for a quintessential British wedding, this would make for a dream location.
The Oldest Shop in England
But perhaps its most famous attribute is the village post-office and shop. Nothing to write home about you may think, except that this charming building is reported to be the oldest shop in England dating back to the 1400-1500s. Our eyes couldn’t help but flit around the trinkets, books, retro sweets and curds and jams on sale.If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I love a British cream tea and the scones with clotted cream and jam with homemade cream cakes served at The Tulip Tree Tea rooms are supposedly worth every calorie. Unfortunately, the Gods were obviously trying to send me a message about cutting down on post-Christmas indulgence when we saw a sign saying the tea rooms were shut on a Wednesday.So instead we made ourselves feel at home at the Castle Inn pub where I tucked myself into a warm corner, kept my hat and scarf on for layered warmth and gazed through the panelled windows, peering through the barren branches of winter whilst my cheese and red onion toastie was being prepared.
Oh England. How you do always win me back.
Have you visited any quaint English villages? I’d love to hear your recommendations on where to go next.