'Some superb insights into old England await at Tonbridge and Malling. Idyllic manor houses and a postcard-pretty castle sit in an ancient landscape where woods and fields undulate towards villages and hop farms. Tonbridge also prides itself with some intriguing Jane Austen links to the town.
At the centre of this fascinating portion of Kentish life sits Tonbridge, a market town since the Middle Ages that still buzzes today. Here, tucked in beside the River Medway, is 11th century Tonbridge Castle. This is Kent's best example of a motte-and-bailey gatehouse, where audio tours and interactive exhibits bring history to life.
From the castle, take the cycle route 5 miles west through tranquil woodland and countryside to Penshurst Place, a fortified manor house that’s rich with medieval and Tudor charm. The gardens overflow with fragrance and blooms, while neighbouring Penshurst village is quintessential, historic Kent.
Just 6 miles north of Tonbridge, you'll find one of Kent's most charismatic buildings, the moated manor house, Ightham Mote. Built-in the 14th century, its half-timbered façade rises from the waters; a wood-panelled Great Hall, cosy book-packed library and stunning courtyard lie within.
At Aylesford Priory, the Friars offers a fascinating insight into life within the centuries-old order of the Carmelites, while there's a profusion of scent at Downderry Nursery where you can stroll among swathes of vivid, fragrance-rich lavender and rosemary.
In thriving West Malling, a vibrant contemporary town teams up with a rich past - expect eye-catching architecture and tempting shops. It also has an impressive collection of Blue Plaques to celebrate its notable citizens of the past, find out more.
West Malling boasts plenty of restaurants, pubs, cafés and tea-rooms, while its range of individual stores and monthly Farmers' Market draws the crowds. A community of Benedictine nuns was founded here in the 11th century, and the town features a wealth of appealing, ancient buildings. Highlights include the striking, Tudor, Abbey Gatehouse, an unusual, Georgian waterfall called The Cascades, and the magnificent, Queen Anne Went House.
Manor Park Country Park is just a short walk from the town centre of West Malling . Full of native trees, squirrels, ducks, and swans, you might spot woodpeckers and nuthatches too. The rare shrubs and exotic perennials at Great Comp Garden surround a 17th-century manor house, while at Leybourne Lakes Country Park you can head out on ranger-led activities, or dive, windsurf, sail and canoe.
The area is ripe for Time Team-themed explorations. English Heritage runs the Kits Coty sites, where a megalithic tomb features three uprights crowned by a huge capstone. The National Trust looks after Coldrum Long Barrow, an evocative, well-preserved, 3000-year-old burial chamber. Meanwhile, Addington Long Barrow is a Neolithic burial mound with around 25 surviving stones.
For a fun-filled family outing, head to the Hop Farm and experience a range of fascinating features and wonders including taking a Dray ride with the Shire horses, finding out about llamas, reindeer, goats and pigs in the recently expanded Animal Village or learning hop-picking heritage in the interactive Hop Story Museum.
The recently restored Hadlow Tower is well worth a visit too. Situated in the beautiful Medway valley, Hadlow retains its original core, including a medieval church, but it is the Castle Tower which makes it unique.
For inspiration of ways to spend a break in Tonbridge and Malling, click here...
Discover more at www.tmbc.gov.uk