This was a paid partnership with Kent Downs AONB but all views are my own.
How much do you know about your local area?
I’ll be honest, we’ve lived here for over 10 years and I’ve not ventured too far afield. Since becoming more of a trail adventurer, I’ve craved knowledge of running routes and outside fun opportunities for not just my running, but also for our little family.
When Kent Downs AONB contacted me and asked if I’d like to join their Experience Project I jumped at the chance of finding out more about my local area. Ready to be ambassador for Canterbury district, I grabbed my jam packed itinerary, and drove into the city. The idea of the project was to promote sustainable tourism, and encourage people to sample all that Kent has to offer, between October and March. There is also a real focus on inputting in to local business after a difficult couple of years due to the pandemic.
We want visitors to respect, protect and enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Kent. So we are working with local businesses and organisations to create inspiring itineraries that are not only fun but benefit the environment we protect.The EXPERIENCE project, Kent Downs AONB
I was scheduled to have three experiences with three local businesses, all independent, all offering a teste of the real Kent.
EXPERIENCE number ONE.
First up was a running tour through the city with Andy from Canterbury Running Tours.
We met up underneath the towering Canterbury Cathedral, at least, somewhere underneath the scaffolding they’ve had on it for years was the Cathedral. We chatted about how much history I knew about the area (minimal) and I found out around 5,456,786 facts just saying hello to Andy, most of them involving blood and death…
We began our run and it was an absolute belter of a day, we were very lucky with the weather, and only a minute or two into it, we had already found something to look at and talk about. First up was the Thomas Beckett pub (one of the unlucky to be grouped into the ‘death’ category I mentioned) and we talked about the strange metal contraption buried into the wall. I was pretty good at guessing to what it was, a contraption for boots and horseshoes.
We ran on and wound our way down streets lined with cobbles and views of the (unscaffolded) sides of the cathedral. Handily, a lot of the historical streets’ names, lend themselves to hazarding a good guess of what used to go on there way back when. We ran down Butchery and Mill Lanes, Pound Lane and Castle Street, where I realised Canterbury has a castle, although somewhat delapidated, there are plans for it to be hopefully filled with life again.
We ran through the Westgate Towers, the looming gate to the West entrance of the city, where I was informed, traitors would be hung on the bridge connecting the Jail (on Pound lane) and the Tower, and there are holes in the floor above the gate where they would drop hot oil on their enemies heads. I’d imagine it less of a ‘tanning in Ibiza’ oil experience and more of a ‘fell in a chip fryer’ kind.
Over the course of the run tour, we ran past all the remaining gates or sites of gates of the City, and made our way along what there is left of the walls surrounding Canterbury (over 2000 years old!). There were 8 entrances into the city. Four main gates, and four pedestrian entrances. The ‘Cheapgate’ was where the farmers and labourers would come in! Westgate, where the towers are, is the only remaining in-tact medieval gateway in the UK. We ran up a hill with a monument in Dane John gardens (another famous dead dude) and atop, Andy tells me there’s tonnes of dead people buried under our feet. Lovely.
We ran over the river and probably my favourite part was meeting the tree who swallowed a bench. Apparently there was a circular bench around it at one point, but it got hungry and ate the bench and all the people on it!*
*no people were actually eaten by the tree.
Once we were back into the centre, we checked out the house that is leaning (which is now a bookshop inside) that was a muse for old Charles Dickens and then made our way to meet my next contact for experience no.2.
I had the BEST time with Andy – and please don’t take my half remembered history lesson as gospel, but go straight and book yourself a tour with the man himself. He offers different lengths, routes and options, and is up for a friendly chat to accommodate your needs.
You can book with Canterbury Running Tours HERE.
Experience number 2
Andy delivered me to meet the wonderfully talented Alexandra Le Rossignol, under the shadow of St. Martin’s Church, which in AD597 was St Augustine’s first base for his Christian ministry. He went on to establish the Abbey, and the Cathedral, and be came the first Archbishop of Canterbury. St Martin’s is over 1400 years old, and is the oldest church in the English speaking world.
Alex and I took some time to walk through the grounds of the church, where she explained a little about the ‘Creative Pilgrims’. A group of women artists, taking time to find spirituality, inspiration and peace in the journey of pilgrimage. They are currently following the route of the Augustine Camino, slowly making their way by exploring and taking in their surroundings, and journaling, writing and drawing what they see, feel and hear en route. It was altogether a humbling experience, all about taking TIME to slow down. To appreciate, to listen.
She walked me down just a little while away from the church to St Augustine’s Abbey where we then spent a good hour just being, making, recording patterns in sketchbooks, using chalk and charcoal she had made from local willow and the white cliffs themselves.
Everything was considered, and resourceful and wonderful.
I took my new sketchbook and a few colouring pencils and started to record plants that I could see, the shape and pattern of old stone walls and finally, a beautiful lilac-pink door and archway in the Abbey grounds.
Alex told me to look up and we watched the swifts dance through the air. I felt so calm and connected to my surroundings.
Before long, we’d reached our time limit together, and she walked me over to my last experience, telling me about the next steps that Creative Pilgrims had planned, and the options available to people wishing to join them on their experiences. You can get in touch with them HERE if you’d like to join them on their experiences.
They’re also exhibiting this year if you’re local;
25 September – 30 October 2021 – Saturdays only 10.30am to 5.30pm. A Creative Pilgrimage – Are We Nearly There Yet? an exhibition of the pilgrims journey from Lockdown to the final leg of their journey – pandemic permitting. Chartham Vineyard Gallery, Chartham Vineyard, Burnt House Farm, Station Road, Chartham, Canterbury CT4 7HU.
My last experience was involving food and good gin so I was all for it.
I met Jon at The Foundry, a local run, local sourced, ethically minded brewery, tucked around the back of the city centre.
Jon and his wife are the co owners of the Foundry, a building which has been around since Victorian times and has a regality about it. As you walk into the building you’re surrounded by huge oak barrels and gorgeous old wood beams and iron casting. It feels as though you’re about to step into an experience, not just a regular pub.
First thing was to find out about what they do, how they do it and what they do it with. Now I must just stress, I have zero idea about beer. I have to facetime my husband when he says ‘ get me a lager from the shop’ because frankly, there’s so many and I have not a clue what the difference is.
Enter Jon and his brewery talk, and now I have marginally more knowledge than I did before about the process!
- I had no idea alcohol was a separate process to the actual drink it’s contained in. At the Foundry they distill their own alcohol (ethanol), whereas many breweries will buy it in and then add their flavours etc to make whatever type of alcohol end product they want.
- Because they make it on site, there is so much less waste and transportation costs – and they try and keep things as local as possible, with their hops, barley and wheat all coming from Kent mainly. Only the molasses are from further afield.
- The barley/grain end product that is reduced in the vats (waste product) is reused too so nothing is wasted. The alcohol content in this is so small, but it’s highly nutritious. Almost like a porridge, it used to be fed to children – and now, Jon sends it back off to the farmer who feeds this to his cows (and they love it. Happy Hour anyone?)
There’s also a very helpful chalkboard up on the wall, in case, like me, your brain is a sieve and can’t quite remember the process…
After we finished and Jon had answered my billion questions, I went to sit in the restaurant and was treated to some food and to try one of their beautiful gins. I went for the blackberry and honey gin and it did not disappoint.
The burger I had was delicious, and I realised it was the first time eating out since we came out of lockdown number one million. It was a wonderful experience.
I’ve only scratched the surface here – but you’d need to book a tour for yourself, your work, a party – and experience it first hand. I truly recommend it. It’s definitely a submersive afternoon, especially if you’re tasting as you go along!
Over 16 Ales, Lagers & Ciders are available all handcrafted in front of you on site. Once the traditional beer casks are filled they are moved to the vaulted 18th Century cellar below your feet to condition in the perfect environment before being served unfiltered & unpasteurised for you to enjoy.
You can also watch the 9 spirits being distilled on site. As with our beers, the spirits are handcrafted from English Barley making us very rare in that we don’t buy in our alcohol, it is all made from scratch on site. This means we can guarantee to you that our spirits are made with natural ingredients of the highest quality handpicked by Brewer, Distiller and co-owner Jon Mills.
My experiences complete, I made my way back home feeling so spoilt I’d got to do all these things in one day. There’s so much more to discover in Kent, and I am here for it.
Many thanks to Kent Downs AONB for asking me along.