Kent (review published (2013)

After a tiring day running around after my two-year-old bundle of energy I felt justified in kicking back with a couple of beers.
Not only were the drinks justified, they were highly appropriate because our Kent holiday home for the week was a converted oast house.
A 19th century invention, oasts were designed for drying hops as part of the brewing process and were particularly prevalent in Kent, the so-called Garden of England.
Freshly picked hops would be spread out over two or three floors and dried by a kiln on the ground floor of these typically round buildings.
The hot air passed through the thin and perforated wooden floors then rose to the conical roof where it escaped through a cowl which turned in the wind.
Once dry, the hops were bagged up and sent to the brewery. And there ends today’s history lesson!
Our house, called Little Boy Court Oast, was especially delightful because of its very rural setting – down a winding country lane, surrounded by fields and woodlands.
The well-equipped, oak-floored kitchen/diner was in the original roundel, as was the master bedroom, with its high ceiling up towards the cowl.
A sympathetic extension housed the second bedroom, bathroom and sitting room with its wall of windows looking onto the large garden and fields beyond that were home to dozens of sheep.
Sounds quite lovely, doesn’t it? Wish you were here? Wish you were BEER, more like!
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Little Boy Court Oast, Kent
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We were two miles from the small town of Headcorn and well placed to enjoy some of Kent’s many tourist attractions.
Chief among them was Leeds Castle, the scene of my energy-sapping day with our daughter.
She loved the toddlers’ play area but her eyes almost popped out of her head when she spotted the impressive adventure playground – a scale model of the castle, built of wood.
It’s designed for five to 15-year-olds but no one else was around on the overcast October day we visited so we were able to take young Cerys on the thrilling aerial slides and challenging aerial rope walkways.
All in a strictly supervisory role, of course.
Just as much fun was the spiralling maze of 2,400 yew trees, which is unusual because once you’ve reached the centre, you don’t retrace your steps to find the way out.
Instead, you escape through an underworld grotto complete with a giant ogre and mythical beasts, created from shells and minerals, that would perhaps frighten some children, though not Cerys.
There’s also Britain’s only museum of dog collars. The collection contains examples worn by hunting hounds spanning five centuries and the canine couture of 21st century pooches.
The stunning, moated castle is mostly 19th century but dates back to Norman times and was the private property of six English queens, including Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
In the early 20th century it was a retreat for the influential and famous and the castle is still full of antique furnishings, paintings and tapestries.
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LeedsCastle.jpg
Leeds Castle, Kent 
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Admission to Leeds Castle is not cheap (adults £21, concessions £18.50, children 4-15 £13.50) but one ticket lasts all year and so we spent a second day exploring more of the beautiful parkland and gardens.
We enjoyed another afternoon at the National Trust’s Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens, a 20th century creation set in the remains of a large Elizabethan house and tower amidst unspoilt Weald countryside.
Lunch was taken en route at the atmospheric Three Chimneys in Biddenden, a timbered Elizabethan inn with roaring open fire that was named Best Dining Pub in Kent in 2010.
The only thing it seemed to lack was a third chimney.
Its name originates from the Seven Years War (1756-1763) when French seamen imprisoned at Sissinghurst Castle were allowed out on parole as far as the pub building.
At the time, locals referred to the pub as the ‘Three Wents’ (or three ways) and in the prisoners’ native tongue this became ‘Les Trois Chemins’, which stuck, ‘chemins’ morphing over time to ‘chimneys’.
We were also less than an hour from the wide beach and wind-sheltering dunes of Camber Sands, close to Rye, one of the best preserved medieval towns in England, home to the enticing, cobbled Mermaid Street.
Too soon it was time to leave Kent but the South-east still had one more magical experience up its sleeve for our Cerys.
Venturing into the neighbouring county of Sussex on our way back home to the Midlands, we stopped off at the inspiration for Hundred Acre Wood, home to Pooh Bear, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore and friends.
Ashdown Forest was the real-life setting for AA Milne’s famous tales. The writer, who had a country retreat nearby, would often explore the woods with his young son Christopher Robin.
There’s even Pooh Sticks Bridge but be warned that if you want to play (the rules are nailed to the side) you’ll have to take your own twigs.
The game is so popular nearby trees are constantly stripped of their branches – and that’s a lot of ‘‘bother’’, as Pooh might say.
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Travel file
Adrian Caffery stayed at the four-star VisitEngland graded Little Boy Court Oast courtesy of Freedom Holiday Homes. A week’s stay costs from £399 in winter to £599 in peak summer. Short breaks are available from £299. For more information contact Freedom Holiday Homes on 01580 720770 or click on www.freedomholidayhomes.co.uk. Established 26 years ago, the agency offers more than 200 Visit England-graded properties across Kent and East Sussex, from sweet studio cottages to a seven-bedroomed 16th-century house for groups of up to 19 people.
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