Ashford and its villages

Surrounded by lovely villages and countryside, Ashford is rated as one of fastest growing towns between London and the continent

The trailblazer

Surrounded by lovely villages and countryside, Ashford is rated as one of fastest growing towns between London and the continent

Quality of life in Ashford is rated as the best in Kent, council tax and crime are among the lowest, and there are more listed buildings and conservation areas than anywhere else in the country.

Right now this trailblazing town is midway through the most exciting regeneration programme that Kent has seen. ‘Ashford - best placed in Britain’ is the regeneration brand for Ashford’s Future, the partnership of organisations who are coordinating a massive programme of regeneration in the town. This began in 2003, when Ashford was designated as one of four growth areas of the south east.

The plan is to build 31,000 new homes and create 28,000 new jobs by 2031. Integral to the success is Ashford International Station, with its high-speed rail links to London and the continent.

But Ashford still retains a strong historic centre, and St Mary the Virgin church is right at its heart, surrounded by a quadrangle of brick-paved footpaths flanked by lovely cottages and ancient buildings.

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This and other key central parts of town (the long High Street, North Street with its fine period architecture and Castle Street) are pedestrianised and there are ample parking facilities.

Key landmarks include the Town Gaol, with its decorative white plastered facade, the First World War tank in Castle Street, the ‘Friendship Stone’ at the bottom of the High Street, and Memorial Gardens.

Look out too for Ashford Borough Museum, a 17th-century Grade II listed historic building with exhibitions on two floors, 01233 631511 and Middle Row, group of narrow streets in the centre of the medieval town, once called Butchers’ Shambles

What’s new in Ashford

• Ashford Gateway Plus centre opened last summer, incorporating tourist information centre, magnificent library, caf�, community services and civil ceremonies venue, 01233 330316.

• 13th-century St Mary the Virgin church has been transformed into a modern, flexible central arts and entertainment venue, Arts at St Mary’s, while still maintaining its fine historic fabric and functioning as a place of worship

• Victoria Way is a new tree-lined road, giving better access to heart of town and station, incorporating John Wallis Square, with seating and public art displays. This is part of a new improved road system, replacing the awkward 1970s ‘concrete collar’ of roads that used to constrict access

• ‘Breaking Boundaries’ is the concept behind the new ‘Shared Space’ area at the bottom of lower High Street, where cars, bicycles and pedestrians have equal access, with less distinct divisions between pavement and road, less street furniture and more trees and greenery to instigate an amicable culture of street caf�s and shops

• M20 footbridge/cycleway opened: this crosses the motorway and links Warren Retail Park to the Eureka Leisure Park

• Ashford Learning campus opened.

• Eureka Business park built, and most of the space rented out to companies.

Coming soon

• Improvements to junction 9 of the M20

• John Lewis At Home store due to open in autumn 2012

• New Commercial Quarter plans approved: an office and retail park development in Dover Place car park, projected opening date 2013

• More home and school building

• Development at Elwick Place, on the south side of the Shared Space scheme and opposite the station, with retail, leisure, residential and business space

Leisure and pleasure

• Eureka Leisure park: Kent’s largest combined leisure complex with 12-screen cineworld cinema, 0871 200 2000

• Julie Rose Stadium: world-class athletic and sporting facilities, 01233 613131

• The Stour Centre: with health club and spa, sauna, steam room and swimming pools, 01233 639966

• AMF Bowling: 18-lane bowling complex, 0870 1183010

• Great Chart: golf course, pith and putt, archery and paintball, 01233 645858.

• Ashford Indoor Bowls centre, 01233 650760

Where to shop

The shop-packed High Street has two vast shopping malls: County Square (recently expanded and updated) with 65 shops, including the major High Street names, and Park Mall, with 30 large stores; and there’s a thrice-weekly market in the High Street. Ashford Designer Outlet Centre, just outside town, has more than 70 high street and designer brands at discount prices and is a mecca for bargain hunters.

Where to eat and drink

The Black Horse (01303 812182) in nearby Monks Horton, serves modern English dishes, and The Wife of Bath in Wye (01233 812232), is winner of Top Table Gold Award, and has menus created from the finest local and seasonal produce. Great pubs that also serve fine food include the George Hotel (01233 625512) and the Flying Horse (01233 620914), at Boughton Aluph.

Considering a move?

One- and two-bedroom flats are approx. �155,000 and �192,000 respectively, a three-bedroom semi around �289,000 and a four-bedroom detached property upwards of �371,000.

Getting there

Ashford is close to junctions 9 and 10 of the M20 and 44 miles from London. Ashford International Station, near the town centre, has twice-hourly high-speed trains to St Pancras, London (37 minutes) as well as Eurostar to the continent (Paris in two hours).

Satnav postcode: TN23 1YB

VILLAGE WATCH

Wye

Historic village at the foot of the Downs with many historic buildings, several restaurants and pubs. A centre for walking, you can see marvellous views across countryside to the coast from Devil’s Kneading Trough, a deep coombe nearby.

Hamstreet

Known as the ‘Gateway to the marsh’, where clay hills meet the flatlands of Romney Marsh. Note the many weatherboarded buildings, 11th-century parish Church of the Good Shepherd and Hamstreet Woods. In the early 1990s maps of the village appeared on UK postage stamps.

Pluckley

Most famous for the TV series The Darling Buds of May, which was filmed in the area, and for being the most haunted village in Britain, with 12 ghosts. There’s a post office and general stores, Farm Shop (see my town), ancient St Nicholas’ church and two pubs, The Dering Arms and the Black Horse.

Boughton Aluph and Eastwell

Eastwell is famous for the beautiful ruined St Mary the Virgin church, which is in fine peaceful landscaped surroundings with a scenic churchyard and a lake. There are two churches, All Saints and St Christopher’s, a village green, shops and The Flying Horse inn. Eastwell Manor is a delightful place to stay or have a wedding.

MY TOWN

Helen Baird, runs Pluckley Farm Shop (01233 840400)

What do you like most about your work?

The face-to-face experience with customers and that there’s always a lot of laughter in the shop, which must speak for itself. Sometimes when my mum and sister and I are all working together it can feel like an episode of Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques!

What can we find on sale?

Home-made ready meals, snacks, cakes and desserts. All our food is home cooked and a nearby farm supplies our terrific sausages, fruit, veg and eggs.

Any Valentine’s Day suggestions?

Biddenden Vineyard’s Gribble Bridge sparkling wines are always available, and we’re doing a ‘meal deal’ similar to Marks & Spencer.

Any Ashford connections?

I was a member of Ashford Athletics club for 10 years.

Your favourite local restaurant?

Elvey Farm Hotel (01233 840442), who share our ethos of supporting everything Kentish, and also The Dering Arms (01233 840371).

What do you like about Ashford?

The town changes all the time and the new facilities make it a place unrecognisable to the one I grew up in. There’s a great cinema, good sport facilities, affordable houses and new schools.