Castles, Cathedrals, Antiques and Collectibles in South East England | Travel Research Online


Castles, Cathedrals, Antiques and Collectibles in South East England

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tourism South East recently staged an excellent virtual version of their hugely popular Excursions trade show. Being a great believer in hub and spoke tours, two destinations have caught my eye; one in the English countryside and the other at the seaside. The first is the Kent town of Maidstone, which is home to a collection of internationally renowned hotel brands that provide the highest quality accommodation. The second is the seaside city of Brighton, where the 5-star Grand Hotel and many seafront 4-star properties tick all the right boxes for the high-end traveller. Let’s take a closer look at why they make a very good base for a pre-London, or pre-cruise, 3-4 night stay.


Great Castles and Gardens of Kent

For green fingered clients who have not been to the UK for many months, offering them a September garden tour makes very good sense. The town of Maidstone makes a very good base for visits to the famous gardens at Sissinghurst Castle and Great Dixter, the Dahlia Days Festival at the award-winning Pashley Manor (mid-August to mid-September) and the Leeds Castle Festival of Flowers (possibly 11th-15th September but still tbc). There are also two RHS Flower Shows, at their flagship gardens at Wisley (7th-11th September) and in London where the Chelsea Flower Show, normally in May, has been rescheduled for 21st-26th September.

Pocahontas and Charles Dickens

To the north of Maidstone, another fascinating day will reveal the remarkable story of Princess Pocahontas, who was buried in Gravesend and where a monument to her short but dramatic life stands today. With lunch at the memorabilia-filled Leather Bottle, allegedly Charles Dickens favourite Ale House, head into Rochester and discover the Swiss Chalet where he worked on some of his best-known novels, take a stroll along the Blue Plaque Trail on Rochester’s High Street, visit Rochester Cathedral (a place of worship since AD 604), and be entertained at The Making of Mr Dickens, an exciting new permanent exhibition which will open later this year.

Discover Canterbury Cathedral

The great heritage city of Canterbury is 40 minutes to the east of Maidstone and, in addition to a guided walking tour of the city, you will enjoy discovering its hidden secrets with a leisurely boat trip on the River Stour. For an authentic pub lunch, try the 14th century Parrot Inn before spending the afternoon discovering the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion and one of the country’s finest examples of ecclesiastical architecture. Include visits to St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martins Church which, with the Cathedral, comprise the World Heritage Site and stay on for Choral Evensong at 5.30pm.

Relive History at Dover Castle

Not far away is the imposing Dover Castle, where you can stand on top of the iconic White Cliffs and see the Roman Lighthouse, the Anglo-Saxon Church, and King Henry II’s mighty medieval Great Tower—before experiencing the sounds, smells, and atmosphere of the WWII underground dressing station as a wounded pilot fights for his life as he is rushed through to the operating theatre. Time permitting, we should try to add the menacingly squat and austere fort built by King Henry VIII at Deal Castle, or the Tudor fort that was transformed into an elegant stately home with very attractive gardens at Walmer Castle.

Shopping, Antiques and Collectibles

Brighton is great place for shopping. The pedestrianized labyrinthine Lanes is a maze of twisting alleyways and twittens (narrow passages) offering an extraordinary mix of antiques and jewelry shops, nestling alongside specialist contemporary and designer boutiques. Oozing retro chic, the Brighton North Laine area is a bohemian bustle of criss-cross streets in the heart of the cultural quarter of the city with over 300 unique shops. Time the visit to coincide with one of the frequent International Antiques and Collectors Fairs at Ardingly, 40 minutes north of the city. Operating on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, future dates include 27th-28th July, 7th-8th September, and 2nd-3rd November.

1000 Years of History in a Day

Dating from the 11th century, ten centuries of turbulent history awaits you at the treasure-filled Arundel Castle, the stately home of the Dukes of Norfolk and Earls of Arundel. Not to be missed is the Earl Collectors Garden based on early 17th century classical designs, their annual Tulip Festival in April and their jousting tournaments in the summer. Returning to Brighton, I recommend a visit to the enchanting, medieval timber-framed private house at St Marys in Bramber. After a stroll in the previously ‘Lost Gardens’, now imaginatively restored, round off the day with one of their Sussex Cream Teas. Delicious!

The Royal Pavilion, a Pub and Parham House

With a leisurely morning visit to the exotically beautiful Royal Pavilion, both inside and out, and lunch in a country pub, spend the afternoon at Parham, one of the country’s finest Elizabethan Houses. It’s home to a particularly important collection of needlework, paintings, and furniture; and, at the top of the house, an amazing 160 feet long Long Gallery, the third longest in England. A former winner of the prestigious Historic Houses/Christies Garden of the Year Award, you’ll have plenty of time to discover the 4-acre walled garden with its stunning herbaceous borders, glass house, orchard, potager, herbiary, and the 1920s Children’s Playhouse.

Paull Tickner, owner of U.K-based Custom GB, is known for his expertise in creating and operating imaginative, value-added tours of Great Britain and Ireland. Visit his website at or email him at

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