10 reasons you should visit West Malling
- Credit: Archant
This pretty market town has a lot to offer – from relaxing walks in its parks to historic landmarks, great places to eat and even a connection with The Beatles. Join us as we take a tour of West Malling
1. Perfect park
Manor Park Country Park is just a short walk from the town centre and was once the grounds of Douces Manor. The grand house, now converted into flats, still overlooks the park from the opposite side of the St Leonard’s Street. With 52 acres to explore, there’s more than enough to keep serious walkers busy, while those hoping for a gentle stroll can take a circular route using the newly laid paths and admire the pretty lake with its ducks and swans. Families will enjoy the picnic field, and there’s a great play area for kids and The Green Café for refreshments.
2. Eating out
The little town is spoilt for choice when it comes to great places to eat and drink. Try the Michelin-listed The Swan, or The Farm House, with its pizza shack to the rear, Frank’s restaurant and mussel bar, The Hungry Guest, Pad Thai or Swan Street Café. Pubs include The Joiners Arms, The Five Pointed Star, The Scared Crow and The Bull Inn.
There’s also a superb Farmers’ Market which takes place in the centre of town on the fourth Sunday of every month and won last year’s Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Farmers’ Market of the Year award.
3. Ancient abbey
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There’s little of the original building left, but behind the walls that surround Malling Abbey is a church founded in around 1090. Having suffered during the dissolution and fallen into ruins for many years, its current carers are a group of Anglican Benedictine nuns who run religious retreats there. For a peek into this peaceful place, visitors are usually welcomed during Heritage Open Days. Behind the abbey and easily viewed from Swan Street is the Malling Abbey Cascade.
4. Sporting spots
The Old County Cricket Ground, next to the local primary school, is home to Town Malling Cricket Club and was once the county cricket ground. It’s reputed to be the site of the first recorded cricket match in Kent, with ‘West of Kent’ playing Chatham in 1705. It was even said to be the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ All Muggleton v. Dingley Dell cricket match in The Pickwick Papers.
The town also boasts West Malling Golf Club just outside town off the A20. Nearby Kings Hill also has a cricket club, based at the Kings Hill Oval and Pavilion, as well as the popular 18-hole Kings Hill Golf Club.
5. Enigmatic tower
It’s hard to miss the ruins of St Leonard’s Tower just before Douces Manor on St Leonard’s Street. What’s strange is that nobody knows for sure what this ancient structure is – although there are a couple of good theories. The most popular is that it’s actually part of a castle built by Gundulf, then Bishop of Rochester, who founded the nearby abbey. Another suggestion is that it was built by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror.
6. Wartime cellar bar
The Twitch Heritage Centre in the cellar of Douces Manor has been maintained in memory of the pilots who were stationed at the house during the Second World War. Officers from nearby RAF West Malling (now Kings Hill) used the Georgian wine cellar as a bar, known as the ‘Twitch Inn’ in reference to the nervous twitch many of them displayed.
Although the manor has been converted into private homes, the Malling Society cares for the bar, which features original graffiti drawn by the airmen, artefacts and a photographic exhibition. Visit www.themallingsociety.org.uk for details of this year’s open days.
7. Norman church
Parts of the Church of St Mary the Virgin date back nearly 1,000 years. Grade II* listed and first referenced in the Domesday Book, only the tower and chancel survive of the original Norman structure. Inside the church is an interesting coat of arms for King James II, labelled ‘Fear God, Honour the King’. The royal monogram J R II can be seen on the bottom corners.
8. Lakes and wildlife
A short drive from West Malling is Leybourne Lakes Country Park. Formed from several sand and chalk quarries, the park opened in 2004 and boasts 230 acres of woodland, grassland, marshes and lakes. A Green Flag award winner and a designated Local Wildlife site, it’s a haven for wildlife and, thanks to its clear waters, is also centre for water sports. Scuba diving, open water swimming, windsurfing and kayaking are all available.
9. Blue plaques
Thanks to an initiative to boost tourism and commemorate West Malling’s rich heritage, there are several blue plaques around the town. Outside Douces Manor you’ll find a plaque in memory of two of the most famous pilots who were stationed there. And while many others bear the names of important local people, including cookery writer Eliza Acton, painter John Downman and George Orwell (who once stayed in the town’s workhouse), by far the most famous of the plaques sits on the wall of an unassuming kebab shop. It commemorates the day The Beatles filmed the beginning of their Magical Mystery Tour in the town in 1967.
10. Oldest monument
The area’s oldest tourist attraction is Coldrum Long Barrow, just outside West Malling on the edge of Trottiscliffe. Cared for by the National Trust, the Neolithic monument thought to be one of the oldest in the UK predates Stonehenge by almost 1,000 years. Its large monoliths are arranged around a central burial mound, where the remains of 22 people were uncovered during excavations in 1910. Park in Pinesfield Lane and a pleasant 10-minute walk through fields leads to the ancient site.