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maritime heritage

A rich maritime past lingers long into the present

An historic Royal Dockyard, imposing coastal defensive and sinful smugglers' tales are all waiting to be discovered across maritime Kent.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham spans more than 400 years, making it the most complete British dockyard from the age of sail. It's also where Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, was built. A visit today takes in dry docks packed with historic warships, sail lofts steeped in Nelson-links and an immense Victorian ropery whose past is brought to life by costumed guides.

The closest corner of England to France, Kent has always been top of the list of places to defend. It's thought as early as 1050 the coastal towns of Dover, Hastings, Hythe, Romney and Sandwich, had formed the Confederation of the Cinque Ports; pledging ships and men to King Edward the Confessor in return for favours.

Defences sprung up all along Kent's shores: Roman Reculver Fort; mighty, 12th century Dover Castle; Henry VIII's Walmer Castle and Deal Castle and Elizabeth I's Upnor Castle.

Faversham's explosive past is revealed at gunpowder factories Gravesend's vital, strategic role as Port of London entry-point emerges on boat trips (while Dover Castle's Secret Wartime Tunnels speak of 200 years of defending the realm.

Discover more by driving, walking, cycling or even sailing the Maritime Heritage Trail Stretching from Gravesend to Dungeness, its themed sections explore a wealth of stories; from Roman legionaries and Viking invaders to Napoleonic-era engineers.

The eerie expanses of Romney Marsh tell another maritime tale. From the bands of brigands sneaking sheep fleece out in the 13th century, to the 18th century Marsh Men spiriting brandy, lace and tea in. Their names linger: Doctor Syn, in legend the Vicar of Dymchurch, and the infamous Hawkhurst Gang. Churches, like St Dunstan's at Snargate, were even said to be used to hide the contraband.

And in Kent you can also see how seafaring all began - at Dover Museum the remarkably well-preserved Bronze Age Boat is the world's oldest known seagoing vessel.