10 reasons to love West Malling
- Credit: Archant
For a small town, it has a lot to brag about. Packed with history, surrounded by pretty countryside and boasting excellent shops and restaurants, it’s time to explore West Malling
1. Blue plaques
This historic town has plenty to shout about so the local history society set up a number of blue plaques to bring West Malling’s past into the present. Look out for a plaque outside the kebab shop on the High Street, which commemorates the day in 1967 when The Beatles filmed part of their Magical Mystery Tour film there. Delving further back in time, seek out the plaque in Swan Street commemorating when JMW Turner sketched the cascade at Malling Abbey aged around 15; close by is the plaque to Gundulf, appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1077 and founder of Malling Abbey.
For a full list and map, visit www.visitkent.co.uk
2. Eating out
West Malling is packed with great places to eat. Whether it’s a cup of coffee and a snack, a cosy pub lunch or fine dining, there’s something for every occasion. A few to try include cafés Bean Rush and Toast, The Hungry Guest, Frank’s restaurant and mussel bar, The Farmhouse, The Scared Crow and The Swan. The town also has a thriving Farmers’ Market, held on the fourth Sunday of each month.
3. Norman tower
The origin of St Leonard’s Tower is shrouded in mystery. It’s thought to be the keep of a fortified residence built for Gundulf, who was Bishop of Rochester and an accomplished architect who founded the nearby abbey. That would date of the tower’s construction sometime between 1077 and 1108. In 1782 it was recorded as being in use for the storage of hops and in the 20th century, with concerns growing over its condition, it was taken into the care of the state. The Norman keep is one of the best examples of its kind and is now managed by English Heritage.
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4. Perfect park
With its main entrance across the road from St Leonards Tower, Manor Park is one of our county’s popular country parks. Formerly the grounds of Douces Manor, the 52 acres of parkland include a lake, stream and four fields –Douce’s Meadow, Ice House Field, Abbey Field and Chestnut Paddocks. Ice House Field takes its name from the sunken brick structure which once served as an ice store for the manor house. Green Flag accredited and a Site of Nature Conservation Interest, the park features a great variety of native trees, as well as a thriving lake with swans, coots, moorhens and ducks. There’s a great children’s play area and The Green Café.
5. Retail therapy
Just like its food and drink offerings, West Malling is spoilt when it comes to shopping. Visit some of its small independents like ladies fashion boutiques Fragolina and Eves of West Malling, Soles With Hearts children’s footwear, Monks menswear, Andrew Smith Jewellers – and The Chocolate Umbrella for sweet treats. And don’t miss Abbey Arcade, a little treasure trove of independent stalls.
6. Freshwater lakes
A short drive away, crossing over the top of the M20, is Leybourne and another of Kent’s impressive Green Flag country parks. Leybourne Lakes was created in 2004, formed from land previously used as sand and chalk quarries. With 93 hectares of woodland, grassland and marshland to explore, it’s a great place for a family walk and has lovely clear freshwater lakes. The water sports centre based there offers scuba diving, open water swimming, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking. There’s a mobile café at busy times, a children’s play area, cycle paths and all sorts of wildlife.
7. Former airfield
Fans of aviation history will find plenty to interest them in nearby Kings Hill. Formerly the site of RAF West Malling, this new community was built on land that was once home to the hangars and runways of the historic airfield. The officers were based at Douces Manor, and it was here that ace pilots John ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham, Peter Townsend and Guy Gibson lived. Visit Kings Hill now and you’ll see the original Art Deco control tower has been refurbished and turned into a community centre and café, and there are many outdoor art installations commemorating the area’s links with the sky.
8. Water feature
Probably West Malling’s most famous landmark, the cascade on Swan Street is another of the town’s mysterious structures. Little is known of the man-made waterfall’s history, other than that the date on it – 1810 – was clearly added later. It’s thought to have been constructed in the Georgian era from rubble from a medieval building in the abbey grounds. During the 1790s JMW Turner sketched the cascade but his watercolour remained unidentified at Tate Britain until 2005, when a visitor to the gallery recognised it as West Malling.
9. Airmen’s bar
It’s not every day that you get to visit the Twitch Inn at Douces Manor, but several times a year this very small and very special place is opened up by members of The Malling Society. A wine cellar belonging to the manor house, which has now been converted into a development of private homes and apartments, the Twitch Inn was given its name by the airmen who were stationed at the house during the war. Using the smoke from candles, the pilots left graffiti on the walls and ceiling of the bar, which survives to this day.
10. Prehistoric stones
Wiltshire is quite rightly famous for Stonehenge, but few Kent residents are perhaps aware that we have a much older stone monument here in the Garden of England. Coldrum Long Barrow in nearby Trottiscliffe is also known as the Coldrum Stones and the Adscombe Stones, and has been dated to the fourth millennium BC – making it more than 1,000 years older than Stonehenge. You need to put in some effort to see the isolated site, but it’s well worth the walk. The chambered barrow or mound was found to contain the remains of 22 people and the megaliths or sarsen stones above ground are arranged to border it on four sides. It’s cared for by the National Trust and free to visit.