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Secret UK: Kent and Canterbury

A view of the river near the Westgate, a medieval gatehouse in Canterbury, Kent

With thanks to the University of Kent
22 July 2014

The county of Kent is right on London’s doorstep, but it can feel like a different world – it’s affectionately named the 'Garden of England’, with over 1,000 miles of countryside and 200 miles of coastline!

Located in the southeast corner of England, this is also the perfect base to explore mainland Europe – take a ferry from the famous ‘white cliffs of Dover’, and you’ll reach France in just 30 minutes. From Kent, you can be in Paris or Brussels in just under two hours.

But Kent has a unique charm of its own, which attracts millions of visitors every year. Steeped in history, there are more castles and stately homes in Kent than in any other English county. It also has a rich literary heritage – Kent’s landscape is often conjured in the novels of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Henry James and Ian Fleming.

Scroll down to find out what students from Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea and Brazil saw when they took a tour of Kent!

Kent: Key facts

Location: Southeast England
Population: 1,493,500 (2013 census)
Famous for: Countryside and castles; the White Cliffs of Dover; Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales; the homes of Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin; being the birthplace of writers Christopher Marlowe and H.G. Wells, musicians Mick Jagger and Joss Stone, actors Orlando Bloom, Gemma Arterton and Naomi Watts – and possibly the fictional spy James Bond!
Nearest airports: London Heathrow, London Gatwick
Train to London (from Canterbury): Approx. 1 hour
Train to Edinburgh (from Canterbury): Approx. 6 hours 30 minutes

Canterbury, one of the most-visited cities in the UK, with Canterbury Cathedral on the right ©University of Kent

Spotlight on Canterbury

The jewel in Kent’s crown is Canterbury, a vibrant student city. Virginia Woolf once wrote ‘there is no lovelier place in the world than Canterbury’. Nowadays, as you’d expect from a city with over 30,000 students, there’s a lively social scene – Canterbury has many pubs, bars and restaurants, as well as cinemas and sports venues. At the same time, it is consistently rated as one of the UK’s safest cities for students.

Our top 5 things to do in Canterbury:

  • Take in a show at Marlowe Theatre, which attracts many of the UK’s biggest and best touring performances
  • Punt along the River Stour, through beautiful Westgate Gardens
  • Relax with a cup of tea or coffee at a pavement café
  • Explore the city’s many historic buildings – from Canterbury Cathedral, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and the location of many graduation ceremonies!), to the Greyfriars Chapel and ‘secret garden’ in the centre of the city
  • Head out and visit seaside towns such as Whitstable, Herne Bay, Broadstairs and Margate, which offer seafood eateries, boutiques and cultural festivals. In Margate, visit the elegant new Turner Contemporary gallery – southeast England’s largest exhibition space outside London.
Walking through the cloisters of Canterbury Cathedral ©University of Kent

Student story: Exploring Kent

Anh Tran, from Hanoi in Vietnam, is studying Economics at the University of Kent. During the third year of her BSc degree, Anh visited some of Kent’s sights with friends from the UK, Thailand, South Korea and Brazil.

‘Canterbury is not just one of the most beautiful cities in the UK – it is also surrounded by exceptional countryside that’s rich in literary and cultural history. In April, the woods around Canterbury become a sea of bluebells – something that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime!  

Anh, far left, with friends in the woods outside Canterbury © University of Kent

‘Our first stop was Chilham and Godmersham, where Jane Austen’s brother lived, and where Jane often visited. After seeing the classic country house and pastoral grounds of Godmersham (pure Mansfield Park, for those who know Jane Austen’s novels!), we set off to see the bluebells in the woods nearby. These woodlands have been looked after since before Roman times – the trees are cut (coppiced) every 20 years, to let light reach the bluebells. An unforgettable experience – blue as far as the eye could see!  

Godmersham Church (left) is where Jane Austen worshipped. It is one of the oldest Norman churches in the UK – it was built in 1070, on top of a much older Anglo-Saxon church. You can still see evidence of these two styles in the different windows and arches.

‘From Godmersham we drove to the Devil’s Kneading Trough at Wye (pictured below), only 9 miles from Canterbury. This is a natural feature, carved into the steep hillside 9,000 years ago, which offers stunning views of rural Kent stretching out below.

‘Next we drove to Crundale for views of the valley and hills, and on to Pett Bottom to see James Bond’s ‘birthplace’.

'Writer Ian Fleming lived in Kent, and wrote You Only Live Twice at the Duck Inn. No one knows James Bond’s birthplace because the story changed a few times, but Fleming once said Bond was born in one of the farmhouses near here. He also wrote that after Bond’s parents died, he lived with his aunt at the ‘quaintly-named hamlet of Pett Bottom… in a small cottage hard by the attractive Duck Inn’. In this photo, you can see the nearby farmhouse. Was this where Bond lived?!

‘Next we went to the beautiful village of Patrixbourne, where the great writer, Joseph Conrad, lived. Originally Polish, Conrad moved to England and wrote Heart of Darkness in 1899 (the story which inspired Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now, nearly 100 years later!).

Anh, second from left, with friends © University of Kent

‘I’m looking forward to exploring even more – I will be staying in Kent again next year, to do a master’s degree. I was very lucky to receive a full scholarship from the Department of Economics, so I am really excited for next year!’

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