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The north Kent borough of Swale, where the countryside meets the sea, offers a chance to discover why Kent is dubbed the Garden of England with blossoming orchards and manor houses in acres of landscaped grounds. It has history in abundance with Kent’s oldest market town at Faversham, a heritage railway in Sittingbourne and reminders of the dockyard heritage of the Isle of Sheppey. Swale is not without its wild side either and there are ample opportunities to explore the great outdoors with walks in the Kent Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, nature reserves on the marshlands of the Swale estuary and Blue Flag beaches on its coast.

Day 1 

Brogdale Collections
Take a stroll through a beautiful Kentish orchard at Brogdale. This 150-acre fruit farm is home to the National Fruit Collection, one of the most important fruit collections in the world aiming to protect genetic plant diversity. There are more than 4,000 varieties of fruit at the orchard including apples, pears, plums and cherries. Events throughout the year celebrate the crops from a festival of the cherry blossom in spring to a cider festival in late summer. Guided tours give visitors the chance to learn more about this important collection and to try the fruit.

Doddington Place Gardens 
Discover the 10-acres of formal gardens at Doddington Place. The gardens are beautifully located in the heart of Kent’s fruit-growing area within the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The gabled brick mansion in the centre of the gardens was built in 1860 and the gardens have been added to and adapted by the residents of the house over the years to include immaculate lawns, an Edwardian rock garden, a woodland garden, herbaceous borders and impressive and unusual yew hedges.

Macknade, Faversham
Situated alongside Macknade, the leading food hall in the south east, The Café at Macknade showcases what can be done with the ingredients found on sale there with dishes reflecting the seasons.

Mount Ephraim 
Continue your exploration of this region of the Garden of England with a visit to Mount Ephraim, which has been owned by the Dawes family for 300 years. An 800-acre estate with a Victorian manor house sitting at its highest point, Mount Ephraim has 10-acres of stunning terraced Edwardian gardens open to visitors. There’s a Japanese rock garden, romantic and peaceful water garden, a lake and an arboretum as well as elaborate and unusual yew topiary. Refreshments are available in The West Wing Kitchen, a tea room in the late Victorian manor house.

Belmont House 
More glorious greenery is yours to discover this afternoon at Belmont House and Gardens. The oldest estate you’ll visit during your exploration of Swale, Belmont was designed by the architect Samuel Wyatt and built in neo-classical style in 1769. The gardens are open year-round and feature a pinetum, an extensive kitchen garden, a walled garden and a Victorian greenhouse. The house, open for guided tours between April and September, features an impressive collection of artefacts collected by six generations of the Harris family including one of the largest collections of clocks in Europe.

The Plough Inn, Stalisfield
A family-run country pub with local beers, ciders and wines to complement the changing menu of homemade meals which include pub classics and dishes with a special twist.

Day 2 

© Julian Searle

Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway
Step aboard one of the original historic trains of the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway which was built in 1905 to serve the then-flourishing paper industry. Once the railway transported the raw materials and workers for the largest paper mill in Europe, but now it is operated by volunteers as a tourist attraction. Your journey will take you from urban Sittingbourne across a mile-long viaduct and the marshes of a country park to see the still-working paper mill, museum and gardens at Kemsley Down.

Bourne Place

Once you've hopped off the train, we recommend heading over to Bourne Place where you'll find enough to keep the whole family entertained. Take to the lanes with bowling or settle in for the latest blockbuster at The Light Sittingbourne, before feasting at the Sentado Lounge, complete with menus to suit a variety of dietary requirements, the little ones and even your four-legged friend! 

Elmley Nature Reserve 
Cross the bridge to the Isle of Sheppey and discover the vast wilderness of Elmley National Nature Reserve. This area of marshland is a privately-owned family farm and nature reserve which is home to an impressive array of wildlife – particularly birds. A two-mile drive from the entrance to the car park makes for a great safari but there are more traditional hides once you’ve parked your car and started to explore on foot. You can see wading birds and wildfowl on the Swale Estuary and in the shallow pools of the reserve.

The Ferry House, Harty
Enjoy fine views of the Swale Estuary as you dine at this 16th-century country pub on the Isle of Sheppey. The a la carte menu is created with an emphasis on Kent produce.

Sheppey Tour
Spend the afternoon on a tour of this varied island. Perhaps visit the traditional seaside resort of Leysdown en route to Minster Abbey. Standing at the highest point of the island, the abbey has been a place of worship for more than 1,400 years. Neighbouring the abbey is Minster Gatehouse, a grade I listed building, and museum. Discover a timeline of Sheppey history as you climb to the top for stunning views and don’t miss the Blue Town Heritage Centre at Sheerness where you’ll find out about the fascinating history of the dockyard which dominated the area for almost 300 years.

The Sun Inn, Faversham
A beautiful old town-centre inn in Faversham’s conservation area brimming with intriguing original features including inglenook fireplaces, oak beams and a beautiful courtyard garden.