September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
Now in its 27th year, the Business Travel Awards
Flying to the continent for a long weekend has in some ways become too easy. It is just a question of finding a cheap flight, perhaps making a hotel booking at the other end and driving to the airport. Then the struggle begins. It”s called security and luggage and the effort to actually get on the aircraft. What happens at the other end is not an airline matter.
ABTN decided that one way around all these difficulties was to take a weekend in Kent. Editor in chief Malcolm Ginsberg drove to ”The Garden of England.”
Fortunately the traffic on the notorious M25 east from South Mimms was light but the heavens opened up during the course of the stay (during the Spring Bank Holiday), which in fact did not detract from a delightful three days.
My choice for a two night stay was the most agreeable 4-star Imperial Hotel at Hythe, originally built in 1880 as a railway hotel. The elegantly furnished 120-room property is now part of the QHotels Group. While very much concentrating on conferences the hotel is also particularly popular with family groups. The spa swimming pool complex is as fine as any and there is even a full size snooker table.
The setting of the Imperial, overlooking the blustery Channel coastline, allows for suntrap gardens, the winds mercifully passing over. For those who have never played on a links golf course the adjoining 13 holes are probably ideal; 13 holes but 18 fairways, a very clever layout.
The Imperial in Hythe (pictured left) is one hour from the QEII Bridge. A two-night weekend package, including excellent dinning, starts at around ”300 for a couple. Most of Kent”s numerous attractions are within a 30-minute drive of Hythe.
Hythe Sitting on the edge of Romney Marsh Hythe is one of the five original Cinque Ports, defenders of England against the dastardly French. Those struggles were in the 12th century.
Things had not improved 500 years later, Napoleon was the problem, the Grand Military Canal built as part of the defences should he try and cross The Channel. It”s now a pretty waterway bordered by parks and splits the small town into two.
Hythe spreads up the hillside in a pleasing jumble of little streets, containing many interesting historic buildings. At the foot of the hill is the old and narrow High Street! The town is a five-minute walk from The Imperial.
RAF HawkingeRAF Hawkinge, on the A260 just outside Folkestone, is one of the lesser known former military airfields, of which there were 19 in Kent during the Second World War, literally the front line.
In 1940 south east England took a real battering from the air, the nearest part of the United Kingdom to Nazi France. Unlike Duxford, part of the Imperial War Museum, Hawkinge exists as an independent trust dependent on the time and enthusiasm of the mostly volunteer staff.
It has without doubt the greatest amount of memorabilia from those momentous days anywhere in the world and is the home of eight dummy aircraft used in the epic 1968 film ”Battle of Britain”, including Spitfire, Hurricane and Messerschmitt 109 replicas. Now very much surrounded by a housing estate, the display is contained in five buildings including the operations block, from which all flights were controlled at Hawkinge during the war. There is a collection of 1940s uniform flying kit and insignia worn on either side of the conflict, as well as personal items donated by pilots, both British and German, who fought in the battle.
There is also a display from the First World War covering items relating to trench warfare and the Zeppelin, plus the Gotha raids into the UK.
ChartwellChartwell is only just in Kent but close to Biggin Hill airfield. It is not the easiest place to find, south of the A25 and Westerham, and five miles from the junction of the M25 and M26 link road to the M20. The home of Sir Winston Churchill from 1922 until his death in 1965, Chartwell is owned by the National Trust, purchased by a group of Churchill”s friends in 1946 for the nation when the by then former prime minister, never one to be over financially secure, was finding the cost of the 80-acre estate somewhat daunting.
Chartwell is not so much a mansion as a family residence. Not only is the house itself open to the public but also Churchill”s art studio, Lady Churchill”s rose garden, a large kitchen garden, the (not now used) swimming pool and lake and some magnificent views of the Weald of Kent.
The first floor dining room is simply glorious with a vista of the lake and countryside. The house incorporates a museum on the first floor and an exhibition on the ground floor. In the gardens the studio displays some 130 of Sir Winston”s paintings and talks are given on most days.
It must be pointed out that Chartwell is extremely popular. An early arrival is suggested, with entry to the actual house often by timed tickets. The caf”/restaurant, which is completely separate from the main building, serves very reasonably priced meals and the adjacent shop has just about every kind of Churchill memorabilia that is available.
The Romney Hythe and Dymchurch RailwayThe Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway opened in July 1927, is without doubt ”one of the great railways of the world”, 13” miles of mainline in miniature. Its founder Captain Howey and designer and builder Henry Greenly have given us something that remains the most enjoyable way to see Romney Marsh. At its far end Dungeness must be one of the bleakest places in the UK on a cold, wet and blustery day.
Halfway between Hythe and Dungeness is New Romney, headquarters of the railway complete with offices, workshops and sheds needed to run this busy enterprise. There is a well stocked gift shop, children”s playground and a huge model railway exhibition. Plan a half day for the visit and have a look at the website for ”specials”, which occur most Sundays during the holiday season. The railway runs all year round.
Port Lypme Wild Animal Park Just outside Hythe is the Port Lypme Wild Animal Park and Gardens and together with Howletts, near Canterbury, the living memorial to John Aspinal, gambler and wild animal lover. Set in 90 hilly acres it includes the largest group of western lowland gorillas in captivity in the world and the biggest herd of African elephants in the UK. There are tigers, monkeys, cats of all varieties (including some very big ones) and wolves.
Right in the centre is The Mansion, the gardens laid out by Philip Tilden, Churchill”s architect at Chartwell. This is an extraordinary building in its own right which was previously one of the homes of Sir Philip Sassoon.
Make sure you take the 90-minute off road safari, while not quite the same as the Masai Mara in Kenya, the rolling Kent countryside adds to the fascination of zebras, giraffes and ostrich, roaming just a few feet from your high vehicle vantage point.
RyeWhile not technically in Kent, it is just over the border into Sussex, but still only 30 minutes from Hythe, the tiny hilltop town of Rye invokes the feel of an island that it once was, surrounded by the rivers Rother, Brede and Tillingham. It is an enthralling place to visit with picturesque, steep, medieval streets, and as is the norm today restaurants and shops galore.
The Rye Castle museum tells the story of the town”s fascinating history and nearby is the parish church of St. Mary”s, just like the castle dating from the 12th century. At the Rye Heritage Centre you can hire a personal audio and wander around the cobbled streets at your own pace.
The Rye railway station sits very close to the main part of the town with travel time just over two hours from London - Victoria, changing at Brighton.