West Malling and Kings Hill in the spotlight

West Malling's medieval and Georgian high street is in sharp contrast to the neighbouring 21st-century village of Kings Hill, but both repay a closer inspection. Here are 10 good reasons to visit both

West Malling and Kings Hill in the spotlight

West Malling’s medieval and Georgian high street is in sharp contrast to the neighbouring 21st-century village of Kings Hill, but both repay a closer inspection. Here are 10 good reasons to visit both

Swans, squirrels and moorhens

Once the landscaped estate grounds of Douces Manor, scenic Manor Park is a site of Nature Conservation Interest, and covers 52 acres. It has native trees, squirrels, woodpeckers, nuthatches, blue tits and robins. There’s also a lake with swans, coots, moorhens, mallards and dabchicks. A welcome recent addition is a fantastic children’s play area, with a new playscape to test youngsters’ climbing skills and balance. There are circular walks, and the welcoming Green caf� to offer welcome refreshment.

Cartoons in candle soot

Across the road from Manor Park grand 18th-century Douces Manor dominates the skyline. Since the house has been converted to apartments the grounds are private, but on certain days of the year, The Twitch Heritage Centre, originally the cellar of the house and once used as a bar by RAF personnel during World War Two, is open for exhibitions. One room is devoted to RAF exhibits (including Guy Gibson’s uniform and preserved signatures and cartoons by the pilots in candle soot on the ceiling and walls), plus general displays. Easter Saturday and Sunday are such open days, call chairman of the Malling Society, Bernard Tyson (01732 844488) for details of others.

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Spitfire and caf� culture

Liberty Square is a lovely square at the heart of the King’s Hill development, the 21st-century equivalent of a village community ‘centre’ complete with caf� culture appeal. There are restaurants and shops and community facilities in a relaxed friendly setting, arranged around mature trees with pedestrian green routes and cycle ways. It’s also home to the historic Spitfire public house, dedicated to the brave Second World War airforce pilots who were based at what was then RAF West Malling. The development is based on Kentish vernacular styles and village locations.

Arcadian delights

Abbey Arcade is a particularly attractive congregation of specialist shops in a charismatic setting, hidden just off the High Street and only accessible by a narrow alleyway. It combines the drama of a street market with the kind of friendly cosiness associated with the best craft and farm shops. Specialist shops include Cloud 9 (sweets, chocolates and gifts), cosmic collectibles (DVDs, games and consoles) and KC Books and gifts (local heritage books and gifts), Blooms florists and Caf� Indigo as well as Bijoux Marianne, who offers necklaces, bracelets and earrings made to order, as well as classes in jewellery making.

Cascading beauty

The Cascade is a romantic water feature (painted by JMW Turner), a decorative fountain of water flowing beneath a decorative stone arch. It is part of the exterior wall of ancient St Mary’s Abbey, founded in 1090, which since 1916 has been home to a Benedictine order of nuns. While the abbey is closed to the public, you can see part of the original building from the road and the beautiful gardens are open once a year. In the grounds of the abbey, based in the former Ewell monastery, is The Pilsdon Community, an organisation comprised of volunteers and staff who keep livestock and grow fruit and vegetables within a supportive Christian environment.

A different ball game

Kings Hill is an upmarket estate constructed according to a brilliant masterplan on the airfield that was once RAF West Malling during the Second World. The 2004 Wealth of the Nation report listed Kings Hill as having the highest proportion of households earning greater than �100,000 per year. In 1994 Liberty Property Trust UK and Kent County Council allied with leading developers to build homes and apartments, plus everything else needed for a community: shops, church, medical centre, golf course, cricket pitch, leisure centre plus a commercial park. There are also several spectacular sculptures on site, including ‘A different ball game’ featuring a silver ball supported by six life-size bronze figures.

The Malling Stoop

The parish Church of St Mary the Virgin has a very tall, tapering tower that dominates the town. There is a Georgian font, as well as the arms of James II and Elizabethan brasses. It dates from the 11th century but was altered in Georgian times and there is a memorial to Sir Robert Brett and a brass dedicated to Elizabeth Pierpoynt (1548). In 1903 the valuable ‘Malling Stoop’ (a flagon) was found within the church and its auction financed major repairs.

Fine food and ancient buildings

West Malling has more than 30 medieval buildings and many Georgian properties, some of which are now used as excellent restaurants. In ancient King Street (thought to be an ancient drove road) you’ll find Prior’s House, a medieval hall house that was once a residence for lepers; the majority of buildings on the west side have medieval timber framing concealed behind 17th and 18th-century brick facades. Went House (1720) exemplifies some of the finest brickwork in Kent, and don’t miss 600-year-old Ford House. Excellent restaurants in what were once Georgian coaching inns are: The Swan (01732 521910), a Michelin-listed brasserie, and The Farm House (01732 843257). Caf� Belge (01732 843247) used to be an Elizabethan dwelling called The Bakery, and here you can see a marvellous inglenook fireplace.

Elizabethan Arts and Crafts

Millyard is a sunny and attractive yard off Swan Street, surrounded by a charismatic collection of shops in what were mostly 16th-century buildings, although one is considered to be an important Norman house. The largest building, a converted barn and carriage house, is now a welcoming craft centre, housing two major businesses: The Gallery (01732 840263) with an art gallery, and offering framing, tapestry and art supplies as well as Martin Wilde, a gifted jeweller (01732 870665). Both craftsmen work on site. The Old Mill tea rooms (01732 844311) offer refreshments in the most refreshing of environments.

Cricket and a �10 note

The old cricket pitch is home to West Malling cricket club, which in 2005 celebrated the 300th anniversary of its hosting of the first recorded game of cricket in Kent. The ground is featured on the back of the old �10 note alongside Dickens, because it is thought that the pitch was immortalised in The Pickwick Papers. Beside the cricket ground is Macey’s meadow – part woodland and orchards and part hay meadow and picnic area. Previously a derelict eyesore of brambles and wire netting, this meadow was recently rescued by local people, and is named after one-time owner Percy Macey, a much-loved local character.

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