Spotlight on: West Malling & Kings Hill
- Credit: Archant
West Malling and nearby Kings Hill may be at different ends of the age spectrum but both are thriving and together make a fascinating area to visit
It’s obvious to see that West Malling is thriving. It’s come a long way since the community of Benedictine nuns founded Malling Abbey, which they still occupy to this day, in Swan Street some 900 years ago.
The market town is proud of its history, with the Tudor Abbey Gatehouse, a Georgian waterfall called the Cascades and St Leonard’s Tower, the ruins of a Norman keep, among its landmarks.
More than ever, West Malling is attracting visitors because of its sheer number of quality restaurants, pubs, cafés and tea rooms, as well as its independent shops and popular monthly Farmers’ Market.
With established favourites in the heart of the town recently being joined by new upmarket neighbours, and with one of the local pubs, The Joiners Arms, branching out to offer boutique-style bedrooms as part of its offer, West Malling is quickly becoming a trendy place to be.
- 1 WIN a holiday to the Isles of Scilly worth £1000
- 2 Win a 2 night beach stay at The Beachcroft Hotel in Sussex
- 3 20 of the best places to eat out in St Ives
- 4 23 cottages that will make you want to move to Surrey
- 5 WIN £500 worth of preloved designer clothes
- 6 6 waterfall walks in Derbyshire and the Peak District
- 7 20 of the best restaurants in Hertfordshire
- 8 8 charming market towns you need to visit in Somerset
- 9 9 lovely beaches in Cornwall that allow dogs all-year-round
- 10 10 of the best restaurants in Hastings
Once part of the 18th-century estate created by Thomas Douce, Manor Park is now an attractive location with an impressive variety of habitats and landscapes to explore. Together with a café and a brilliant play area for children, this park is close to the town and perfect for a walk after a tasty lunch.
Popular with dog walkers and families enjoying picnics, Manor Park’s 52 acres are divided into four distinct sections.
Douce’s Meadow is an area of open grassland where the excellent adventure playground is situated, along with picnic tables and plenty of space for ball games, while the Abbey Field and Chestnut Paddocks are grazed fields with plenty of wildflowers in summer.
The Ice House field, on the far side of the lake, takes its name from the structure used to store ice taken from the lake over winter for use in the manor house’s kitchen. The park’s lake is a haven for wildlife and is famous for its family of swans.
There are plenty of hints around Kings Hill as to its past. A statue of a running airman, a pub called The Spitfire, and was that a glimpse of an airport control tower?
The land, originally used as a landing area for aircraft during the First World War, was once Maidstone Airport, where pioneer aviators Alcock and Brown completed their transatlantic flight in the 1930s.
Then, during the Second World War, it was home to RAF West Malling, where pilot heroes Guy Gibson and ‘Cat’s Eyes’ Cunningham earned their proverbial wings. It remained in use after the war and was home to some of the RAF’s first jet squadrons.
Closed in 1969 but still used for major air displays and as a film set during the 1970s and 1980s, it has since been re-imagined as the new community of mixed residential, commercial and civic amenities we know today.
Its ties with its aviation heritage are still evident. Even though the listed art deco airport control has been converted to house a branch of Costa Coffee, it retains its character and has been given new lease of life.
Last summer new art installations were unveiled near the tower. Entitled ‘A Place Of Landings’, it’s a series of roundels set into the paving using the words of local writers. One of them shows some of the slang terms that would have been used by the RAF pilots based there and others commemorate some of the aircraft that would have flown from the airfield. One marks the time when The Beatles filmed part of their Magical Mystery Tour on site.
The next phase for Kings Hill
With thousands of new homes already occupied, as well as hundreds of business settled into the commercial units, plans for the next stage of Kings Hill’s development have been approved. This will see another 635 homes, a third primary school, an extension to the community centre, extra allotments and sports pitches for Kings Hill Sports Park and more commercial development.
Phase three, a partnership between KCC and Liberty Property Trust, will include the creation of a linear park, a green space running centrally along the length of the new residential neighbourhood.
Shopping and eating
There are plenty of interesting shops and great places to eat in West Malling. The Swan restaurant is a particular favourite (01732 521910, ME19 6JU), and The Farm House (01732 843257, ME19 6NA) and Pad Thai (01732 870000, ME19 6QH) are very popular. The Fancy Goat (01732 871222, ME19 6QR) is a quirky new wine and cocktail bar with a restaurant.
Pubs include The Joiners Arms (01732 840723, ME19 6LU) which is also a boutique hotel now and The Bull Inn (01732 842753, ME19 6QH). Kings Hill has The Spitfire (01732 220754, E19 4AU).
There are all kinds of shops in West Malling, some favourites being the gift shop Down Swan Street (ME19 6LU), clothing boutique Fragolina (ME19 6LD) and shoe shop Soles With Heart (ME19 6UE). A new beauty clinic called Lumiere Aesthetics (01732 667230, ME19 6JU) has just opened.
In Kings Hill there is a village centre with shops including Waitrose and Asda, as well as restaurants and takeaways.
Nina Woledge, teacher and mum
What attracted you to West Malling ?
I’ve always liked West Malling. I used to come here and ‘hang out’ as a teenager, as some of my friends lived here. It was quite different then, as the Kings Hill development didn’t exist and the town was fairly quiet.
It has changed so much over the last 20 years or so. I love the contemporary atmosphere of the High Street and Swan Street with its cafés, restaurants and bars and appreciate the town’s beautiful mix of historic buildings.
Where do you take your children?
We love Manor Park, which has a lovely wooden playground and places to picnic. We also often go to a local baby and toddler group that is run by Ryarsh Church on a Friday. When I’m not working, I take my children to nearby Larkfield Leisure Centre for swimming lessons and soft play.
What are your favourite shops?
I really love pottering around the gift shop, Down Swan Street, and there is a lovely dress shop called Fragolina, that sells unique dresses in quirky prints. I’m also a lover of the charity shops, and The Sewing Room (ME19 6NA) is a great Aladdin’s cave of fabrics, which I sometimes use for my sewing projects.
I mustn’t forget to mention my kids’ favourite shop in the town, which is The Chocolate Umbrella (ME19 6QR) for old-fashioned nostalgic sweets in jars, lollipops and special chocolates.
Your favourite places to eat?
I do love my food and so far have eaten at The Swan, The Farm House and The Fancy Goat, as well as the Pad Thai restaurant. All of these were amazing experiences.
My favourite pub is my local, The Scared Crow (ME19 6RB), with its friendly crowd. As for cafés, I like the Swan Street Café (ME19 9JU) and The Little Barn Shop (ME19 6NA).
24 May: Farmer’s Market
The old market town comes to life with stalls selling organic fruit and vegetables, baked good, local meats, cheeses and gifts. It’s on the fourth Sunday of each month. Visit www.westmallingfarmersmarket.co.uk
31 May: West Malling Early Summer Gardens
Five private gardens will open their gates for visitors as part of the National Garden Scheme. Visit Little Went, Went House, Brome House, 2 New Barns Oast or Town Hill Cottage – or why not all five. For more information visit www.ngs.org.uk
Five-bedroom detached properties in the area are priced between £400,000 and £1million, with three-bedroom semis available for between £220,000 and £380,000. Two-bedroom terraces can be picked up at around £240,000 and one-bed flats for £190,000. Hicks (01732 842345) and Ibbett Mosely (01732 842668) have offices in West Malling.
There are currently three new developments with newly built homes for sale in Kings Hill. Signature is a development of two-bedroom apartment and two, three, four and five bedroom homes by Bellway (priced between £243,000 and £549,000). Woodland Place, from Crest Nicholson, comprises traditional style two and three-bedroom cottages and four and five bedroom houses (priced between £275,000 and £495,000). Finally, Hillreed has built two, three, four and five-bedroom homes (priced between £265,000 and £540,000).
How to get there
West Malling is only about a mile from Junction 4 of the M20 and is 20 minutes from Maidstone. There is a station with a regular service to London Victoria and down to Maidstone and Ashford, but it is located out of town. Kings Hill is around two and half miles away.
Sat nav West Malling: ME19 6NA and for Kings Hill: ME19 4AU.