The garden of England and home to the Darling Buds of May, Kent has some beautiful countryside, wonderful coastline – and a lot more to offer the visitor – in fact it’s just “perfick”!

The café area at Turner Contemporary in Margate

The café area at Turner
Contemporary in Margate

Kent enjoys miles of beaches and opportunities for watersports such as kite surfing, jet skiing, surfing, and sailing. If being in the water doesn’t appeal, there are boat trips to seal colonies, a wind farm, sea forts, beaches and bays. For those on two wheels, there’s the Viking Coastal Trail circular cycle route to explore, as well as seafront and clifftop restaurants, cafés, bars and ice cream parlours.

THE ISLE OF THANET Not an island at all, Thanet encompasses the three seaside towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. Margate is home to Dreamland – a theme park that takes you back in time with retro rides, puppet shows, swing boats, dodgems, and for this year the Enterprise – something that looks like a big wheel but is far more thrilling! The seaside amusement park celebrates its first anniversary this summer – visitors can enjoy a roller disco, swing boats and the Scenic Railway – the UK’s oldest rollercoaster. www.dreamland.co.uk On a very different tack, Margate is also the location of the Turner Contemporary international art gallery, a world-class gallery showcasing both historical and contemporary art.

Celebrating its fifth birthday this year, the gallery offers free entry and also has a café with stunning views overlooking Margate bay and an outdoor terrace, offering modern seasonal cuisines using ingredients from the local area. It also offers evening dining on Fridays and Saturdays. Groups can benefit from both tours and creative sessions, as well as talks and catering. Call 01843 233000 or email visit@turnercontemporary.org for more details. Coaches can drop off outside the gallery and park at the nearby coach park. www.turnercontemporary.org Margate Museum and Tudor House meanwhile, offers up sea bathing machines, paddle steamers, shipwrecks and day-tripper
s in the Old Police Station in Margate Old town. You can also see a Victorian police cell and stand before the bench in the Magistrates’ Court. The museum will open especially for groups, and guided tours are available.

The village of St Peters. The St Peters Village tour at Nuckell's Alm's-House.

The village of St Peters. The St Peters Village tour at Nuckell’s Alm’s-House.

Find out more by calling 01843 231 213 or email friendsofmargatemuseum@gmail.com, margatemuseum.wordpress.com The Tudor House is thought to be one of the oldest buildings in Kent; it was built around 1525 and was believed to be the home of a wealthy yeoman farmer. Group visits are arranged through the museum. Less is known about Margate’s Shell Grotto. No one knows how these 70ft long winding underground passages, decorated with strange symbols mosaicked in millions of shells, came about. It was discovered in the 19th century but its origins have never been uncovered. Group visits must be booked in advance and may not be available during busy periods. Adults £3.60, concessions £3.15, children £1.35. Email info@shellgrotto.co.uk www.shellgrotto.co.uk Another quirky attraction in Margate is the Tom Thumb Theatre, a converted Victorian Coach House, and one of the smallest theatres in the world. Look forward to seeing flock wallpaper, 50 velvet seats and a ramshackle cocktail bar upstairs.

Expect spoken-word nights, comedy story-telling and burlesque, indie films and live bands. www.tomthumbtheatre.co.uk WHAT THE DICKENS? Broadstairs is famous for its connection to Charles Dickens. Be sure to visit the Dickens House Museum housed in the cottage that inspired the home of Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. The parlour will be familiar to fans of the classic novel. And there’s the chance to see items that once belonged to Charles Dickens himself, including letters, his writing box and mahogany sideboard, as well as Dickens memorabilia and various pieces of Victoriana. Group rates are £3 for adults; under 16s £2, and guided tours are available. www.visitthanet.co.uk/attractions/dickenshouse- museum/8522

WHAT THE DICKENS? Broadstairs is famous for its connection to Charles Dickens. Be sure to visit the Dickens House Museum housed in the cottage that inspired the home of Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield. The parlour will be familiar to fans of the classic novel. And there’s the chance to see items that once belonged to Charles Dickens himself, including letters, his writing box and mahogany sideboard, as well as Dickens memorabilia and various pieces of Victoriana. Group rates are £3 for adults; under 16s £2, and guided tours are available. www.visitthanet.co.uk/attractions/dickenshouse- museum/8522 Visit Broadstairs in the third week of June for the annual Dickens Festival – an event conceived back in 1937. www.broadstairsdickensfestival.co.uk Bleak House – the four-storey, grade II listed former home of Dickens, where he wrote David Copperfield – sits above the harbour at Broadstairs and offers both luxury guest accommodation and a chance to see the writer’s study and explore the smuggling museum.

The museum is located in the cellars and includes a number of objects rescued by divers fro
m an 18th century wreck in Viking Bay in the early 1970s. Afternoon teas are served in the Great Expectations Dining Room, including a glass of bubbly. Call 01843 865 338 for details. www.bleakhousebroadstairs.co.uk/tours. html Broadstairs is also the location of the popular October food festival (www.broadstairsfoodfestival.org.uk) which runs from Sept 30 – Oct 2, 2016, and the Broadstairs Blues Bash (www.broadstairsbluesbash.com) – a free Blues music festival being held from in Feb 17 – 19, 2017. Just a stone’s throw away, some rather unusual tours take place St Peter’s Village Tours are staffed by more than 120 local volunteers, and visitors will meet a number of costumed characters from the past as they make their way around the village.

Find out more about the flint-built church and its history, the workhouse, famous and infamous local residents and the towers used in the Napoleonic Wars. There are three tours – a general churchyard tour, along with First World War and Second World War graves tours. Each takes around two-and-a-half hours and are recommended for everyone aged 10 and over. The Red Lion offers light lunches and cream teas afterwards – call Kim on 01843 600895. The tours, which celebrate their 21st birthday this year, are free, with a suggested donation of £4.50 – call 01843 868646 for bookings. www.villagetour.co.uk/tours LOOKING BACK For more Victoriana, head to Powell-Cotton Museum, Quex House and Gardens, situated in the village of Birchington, near Margate, where the gardens will allow you to step back into the world of Victorian horticulture.

Take a guided tour of the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum

Take a guided tour of the Spitfire and Hurricane
Memorial Museum

The Powell-Cotton Museum contains an extraordinary collection of natural history, cultural objects from Africa and Asia, and fine and decorative arts. www.quexpark.co.uk/museum Particularly outstanding are the natural history dioramas. Visitors can also see Asian weaponry, ceramics, jade and ivory from Europe, China and Japan – all of which have been collected by six generations of the Powell-Cotton family. Whatever the ages and interest of your group, Quex Park is bound to have something to interest them in the Museum, Quex House and Gardens, Quex Barn Farmers Market and Quex Craft Village. Entry is Adults £8.50, children/seniors/ students £6, and tours are available for groups. Fans of wartime history will relish a visit to the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum which offers groups guided tours.

A Scalextric display at the Hornby Visitor Centre.

A Scalextric display at the Hornby Visitor Centre.

The museum allows you to see the iconic RAF fighter planes of the Second World War, the Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI and the Hawker Hurricane IIC, housed under one museum roof at the historic Battle of Britain airfield in Manston, Kent (about 12 miles from Ramsgate). Call 01843 821940 or email enquiries@spitfiremuseum.org.uk www.spitfiremuseum.org.uk Fans of big airplanes will like the model ones on show at the Hornby Visitor Centre, at Westwood, Margate. The centre offers the chance to see rare products from the Hornby, Scalextric, Airfix and Corgi archives. There are model railway and Scalextric layouts, plus of course the Hornby Retail Shop. Groups can take a tour. The museum is also home to the Airfix D-Day exhibition is now open at the Hornby Visitor Centre. This exhibition, featuring a huge multi-media diorama supported by displays tells some of the key stories from the ‘Day of Days’. Group entry is £3.50/£1.75. www.hornby.com/uk-en/hornby-visitorcentre Ramsgate is home to the Ramsgate Tunnels, a network of deep shelter tunnels linking to a former Railway Tunnel, which Ramsgate Council used to offer shelter for 60,000 people during World War II. They were opened by The Duke of Kent on June 1, 1939.

Find out about life in the tunnels – from the 1,000 people who became permanent residents to the urban explorers who dared to venture into them. The tunnels were opened once more to the public by The Duke of Kent in 2014, almost 75 years after his father did the same in 1939. For group bookings email reservations@ramsgatetunnels.org www.ramsgatetunnels.org If you need a breath of fresh air after that, Ramsgate Week (www.ramsgateweek. com) is held from July 24 to 29, and is a regatta with competitors from France, Belgium, Holland and the UK. The Royal Harbour, Ramsgate sees international sailors competing off the resort in a regatta to rival Cowes. It’s followed a few weeks later by the Ramsgate Festival (ramsgatearts.org), which brings film, drama and dance to town. Ramsgate was also home to 19th century architect Augustus Pugin, best known for the magnificent interiors, furnishings and fittings of the Houses of Parliament. His home, The Grange, is occasionally open to the public – and he designed and built St Augustine’s Church in Ramsgate. A Pugin Town Trail, self-guided walking trail is available at www.visitthanet.co.uk/ attractions/pugin-town-trail/8148

Spend time exploring the gardens at Quex House.

Spend time exploring the gardens at Quex House.