In thriving West Malling, a vibrant contemporary town teams up with a rich past - expect eye-catching architecture and tempting shops. It also has an impressive collection of Blue Plaques to celebrate its notable citizens of the past, find out more.
West Malling boasts plenty of restaurants, pubs, cafés and tea-rooms, while its range of individual stores and monthly Farmers' Market draw the crowds. A community of Benedictine nuns was founded here in the 11th century, and the town features a wealth of appealing, ancient buildings. Highlights include the striking, Tudor, Abbey Gatehouse, an unusual, Georgian waterfall called The Cascades, and the magnificent, Queen Anne Went House.
Dating back to the 1550s, the Mill Yard Craft Centre now houses specialist shops and a charming tea-room. You can also explore the remains of St Leonard’s Tower, a tall, Norman tower-keep run by English Heritage, and the Church of St Mary the Virgin. This Norman structure sports a fine spire, huge tower, rare James II coat arms and 15th century brasses.
Also keep an eye-out for the bronze sculpture Hope, and its panels depicting the town's past. One shows the first ever recorded cricket match in 1705. It may even have inspired Charles Dickens - he visited the area while writing Pickwick Papers, with its famous match between All Muggleton and Dingley Dell.
Manor Park Country Park is just a short walk from the town centre. Full of native trees, squirrels, ducks, and swans, you might spot woodpeckers and nuthatches too. The rare shrubs and exotic perennials at Great Comp Garden surround a 17th century manor house, while at Leybourne Lakes Country Park you can head out on ranger-led activities, or dive, windsurf, sail and canoe.
The area is ripe for Time Team-themed explorations. English Heritage runs the Kits Coty sites, where a megalithic tomb features three uprights crowned by a huge capstone. The National Trust looks after Coldrum Long Barrow, an evocative, well-preserved, 3000 year-old burial chamber. Meanwhile, Addington Long Barrow is a Neolithic burial mound with around 25 surviving stones.
At Aylesford Priory, the Friars offers a fascinating insight into life within the centuries-old order of the Carmelites. And there's another local, Christian-based community: the Pilsdon at Malling helps people rebuild their lives after crisis.