Pocket Britain

The most south-easterly of England's counties and one of the country's warmest and prettiest places

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Kent, the most south-easterly of England's counties, is one of the country's warmest and prettiest places. It is also the closest part of the UK to France, a fact which has made the area extremely popular to visit. Today, these visitors are mainly tourists and travellers, but in the past they have included armies, merchants, smugglers, and royalty!
The county's most famous landmark is the long expanse of white cliffs surrounding the town of Dover. The rock here is mostly comprised of chalk, which gives them their distinctive, dazzling white colour. These cliffs are actually one of the most well-known natural phenomena within the entire country, and over the years, they have featured in countless songs, book, and poems. Part of the reason for their fame is that, for many travellers sailing to Britain, that white strip of rock is the first part of the country to appear on the horizon.

The white cliffs of Dover
Photo hans_s
This crossing, between Dover and the port of Calais, in France, has for years been one of the most well-used crossing points between England and mainland Europe. The distance between the two shores is only 34 kilometres at its shortest point. This has meant that, historically, Kent was always the most likely place for the arrival of invading forces!
In order to defend against these raiders, lots of strong, heavily fortified castles were built on the shore, and throughout the county. These include a large, hilltop structure at Dover, which has seen more than its fair share of action. Underneath the castle is a network of tunnels, which was originally used as an army barracks, before being converted to a military command centre in World War II. These are now open to the public.
The most well-known fortification in Kent is Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, which sits in an area of water more like a lake than a moat. It has stood for nearly 900 years, and was once a favourite destination of King Henry VIII's. Today, the castle has been transformed into a popular tourist destination, which includes an aviary, a golf course, a confusing yew tree maze, and, strangely, a dog collar museum.

Leeds Castle
Photo gailf548
The county's most impressive building, though, wasn't built for war and combat at all. This is Canterbury's jaw-dropping cathedral, which is one of the most important religious buildings in Britain. It is the official seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who leads the Church of England. There is also another cathedral in Rochester, which is known as being one of the best examples of Norman architecture that Britain has to offer.

Canterbury Cathedral
Photo HansMusil
Despite featuring these huge, towering castles and churches, Kent is actually a relatively undeveloped, rural county. Nearly a quarter of it is covered by the Kent Downs, an official Area of Outstanding National Beauty. This wide expanse of meadows, orchards, and woodland, which is broken up by small, charming villages, stretches all the way from the Surrey border, in the west, to Dover, in the east.

Part of the Kent Downs
Photo Chris Gunns
The county also features many well-kept, beautiful gardens, several of which are maintained by the National Trust. Foremost among these are the gardens at Sissinghurst, which are arguably the best in the whole country. It's no wonder that Kent is often known as the "Garden of England".
Visitor Information
Canterbury Cathedral is open weekdays from 9am to 5:30pm (reduced hours in winter) and Sundays 12:30pm to 4:30pm. Entry costs around £10. The Precincts, Canterbury, CT1 2EH. Tel: 01227 762 862

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