Five family-friendly summer walks in Kent and Sussex

Summer holiday time is here! The sun is out (maybe a little too out!) and the schools are closed. So now it’s time to find six whole weeks of activities to amuse the whole family. Luckily Kent and Sussex offer plenty of fun-filled family activities, and who doesn’t like a wander through our idyllic countryside – especially if there is the promise of a pub lunch at the end, right?

 

1. Bateman’s Kipling Countryside Walk 

A two-and-a-half-mile meander through the grounds of poet and writer Rudyard Kipling’s former residence. This easy walk is perfect for kids. Make sure to stop by the mill pond, home to various species of dragonfly. Afterwards, head into the small village of Burwash, which is home to a couple of traditional inns.

 

2. The Playden Pub Walk 

Set amongst the rolling hills of the High Weald, this relatively gentle ramble offers lots of opportunities for oast house spotting as it weaves its way through the picturesque Tillingham Valley. And for those who need a little more motivation that comes midway through the walk, where a small detour brings you to the Playden Oasts. This charming inn features three oast houses topped with traditional cowls and is a great option for a family pub lunch.

 

3. Emmetts Garden Fairy Kingdom Trail 

Much-loved character Puck is preparing to throw the best summer party for everyone in the Fairy Kingdom. Help him with his party planning as you explore the gardens and take part in all sorts of fun activities along the way.  Perfect to visit from 22nd July to 2nd September. 

 

Devil's dyke walk sign
Photo by Robert Cook on Unsplash

4. Devils Dyke 

Just a stone’s throw from busy Brighton, Devil’s Dyke is a jaw-dropping slice of Sussex countryside. A 100 metres deep and 1 km wide, this valley is the perfect playground for all ages. When you have finished exploring, we’d recommend heading to the Devil’s Dyke Pub for refreshments. With a bus stop just metres from the site, this is a great option if you are looking to ditch the car.

 

Wye circular walk
Image by Andrea Don from Pixabay

5. Wye Circular Walk 

A great choice for families, this walk starts and ends in the picturesque village of Wye. From here you head through the valley of the River Stour and up onto the ridge of the North Downs. The walk offers a range of panoramic views and spectacular scenery.  At the end head to the family-friendly Tickled Trout for a delicious pub lunch. You deserved it!


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Five festive things to do in Kent over Christmas

The tree is up, the shopping is done and the mulled wine is on the stove – And for many of us, it is finally time for a well-earned break! But whether you have the whole time off, you are working over the ‘in-between-mass’, or even on the big day itself, there are lots of uniquely Kentish ways to embrace the Christmas spirit this year.

 

Enjoy a pint of Christmas Kentish Ale (or two!) 

Now we are not saying that last-minute Christmas madness has driven you to drink – but is there any better excuse than the festive season to have a tipple or two? (is three too many?) So this year, vanquish the vino, put aside the prosecco and opt for a taste of our local Kentish ale instead. 

Our favourite warming winter beers include (but are definitely not limited to) a Larkins Porter – of course, we love them, they still use a traditional oast house to dry their hops – and Shepherd Neame’s Christmas Ale

 

Embrace some Heritage and History at Leeds Castle’s Christmas at the Castle

Until the 2nd of January the ‘Loveliest Castle’ in the world is well and truly wrapped in Christmas spirit. The theme this year is the ‘12 days of Christmas’ and to celebrate this 12 unique artworks have been placed in prime locations across the estate. Inside, the castle itself will be dressed with beautiful Christmas decor. Christmas at the Castle runs until the 2nd of January.

 

Step out for a wonderful wintery walk 

Unsurprisingly the ‘garden of England’ has no shortage of idyllic hikes and stunning scenery. And we all know that the cracking Kent countryside is made even more perfect if you can spot some of our county’s iconic oasts along the way. The best area for oast spotting is probably the High Weald, and luckily this area is also a great option for a wintery wander – and perhaps more importantly there are lots of options for a pint at the end. It is Christmas after all!

Don’t be discouraged by the wintery weather, these stunning views are only made better by a crunchy covering of frost. As Billy Connolly says ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.’

Some of our favorites include this circular walk from Goudhurst and this walk which takes you through the Bedgebury Forest. This is a great option for younger (or young at heart) members of the family as it passes by a Gruffalo trail!

 

Enjoy an Edwardian Christmas at Scotney Castle

Leave 2021 behind (I am sure we all want to do that right now!) and travel back in time to the 1900s to enjoy an Edwardian Christmas. Inside the castle, everything is exactly as the Hussey family (the original residents) would have experienced.

Meanwhile, outside the castle, Percy the Park Keeper and his friends are encouraging visitors to join them on a winter activity trail around the castle grounds (perfect if you have kids!). Christmas at Scotney Castle runs until the 3rd of January.

 

Visit Santa and his Reindeer at the Reindeer Centre

You need to be quick for this one! Until Christmas Eve Santa and his reindeer have taken up residence at the Reindeer Centre. Children get to meet Santa in his Christmas cabin before taking a walk through his magical grotto. There are then lots of opportunities to feed the reindeer – along with a host of other animals. For obvious reasons – Christmas Eve is a pretty big night for the main man – this only runs until the afternoon of the 24th.

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6 Beers to try this International Beer Day

The first Friday of August is a special one in the world of beer – it is International Beer Day! This day is all about celebrating the wonder that is beer and enjoying brilliant brewing from all over the world. As it is international, it is of course obligatory to sample some exotic offerings. But leave some room to try something from a little closer to home. After all, the land of oast houses and hops is also home to some amazing ales.

Here are six great local beers to add to your must-try list:

Cellar Head: Session Pale Ale

Cellar Head is an award-winning, independent Kent brewer. Their session pale ale is a refreshing combination of gooseberry, green grapes, and honey sweetness. This delicious and uplifting ale is perfect for summer. But you don’t need to take our word for it, this tipple was also the top choice for the folk at the Taste of Kent Awards who named this their beer of the year 2021.  

Gunn Brewery

Gun Brewery: Pale Ale

The inventive Gun Brewery is nestled in the rolling hills of the Sussex Weald on an organic farm. All the water used for brewing their award-winning beers comes from a spring deep below the picturesque farm.

Gun’s pale ale is brewed using very pale malts and American hops. This is definitely one for the hop lovers. And as a bonus, it is suitable for vegans and for those who are gluten free.

Kent Brewery beers

Kent Brewery: Session Pale Ale

This Session ale crafted in the heart of Kent is packed with the taste of summer.  The ale is light and hoppy with notes of citrus and elderflower.  

Larkins Brewery: Larkins Traditional

Larkins still dry and press their locally grown hops in their own oast house. But that is just one of the many reasons we are a fan of their characterful ales.

Their best seller is the Larkins Traditional, a perfect balance of hops and malt resulting in a smooth Kentish style tawny session bitter. 

Dark Star: Hophead

Born in Brighton but now calling West Sussex home, these craft brewers excel at hoppy ales. And a must-try for anyone who likes their beers full of hops and full of flavour is their Hophead. This beer has a distinct floral aroma and is packed with cascade hops which add a mighty hit of elderflower.

 

Tonbridge Brewery: Blonde Ambition

Tonbridge Brewery is an independent brewery based in the heart of hop growing country. Their distinctive beers are crafted using predominately Kentish hops. Their Blonde Ambition beer is a refreshing blonde ale full of flavour. The marriage of Kentish Challenger and First Gold hops results in a crisp, spicy and citrus-tasting beer with a clean finish. 

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Enjoy an oast house holiday this summer

With international travel still up in the air (or well and truly grounded), there has never been a better time for a staycation. And perhaps the one benefit of lockdown has been discovering the unique gems that are right on our doorstep. You don’t have to travel far to experience some truly unique holidays and if you are looking for a trip with a difference then a stay in an oast house might be just what you are looking for.

There are oast houses aplenty in Kent and Sussex and no shortage of holiday accommodation, but we have picked three potential properties to kick off your holiday home hunt.

Good for couples: Oasthouse Loft, Northium 

Set on farmland amidst rolling countryside this one-bedroom holiday home provides the perfect romantic getaway. Northium is located near the Kent/Sussex border in the High Weald. This medieval landscape is famous for its rolling hills, forests, and, of course, its oast houses. No matter where you walk in this area, it probably won’t be too long before you see an oast cowl rising up from the landscape.

As well as enjoying scenic hikes along the ancient route ways, there is also the option of exploring nearby Great Dixter House and Gardens and Bodium Castle.

Good for pets: Stone Green Oast 

Going on holiday needn’t mean leaving behind those furrier family members. With a garden onsite and plenty of countryside and beaches nearby, this is a great option for holidaying hounds – and their owners.

The house is within easy reach of the Cinque Port market town of Tenterden and picturesque Rye.

After all that exploring, you will need a drink. But luckily the property is also a short hop from the Chapel Down vineyard.

Good for luxury: Roserai

If lockdown has left you with the urge to splurge on some much-needed R&R, then this might the oast for you. Sat on the edge of the High Weald and within easy reach of the coast, this is in a great location. Not that you would want to go anywhere. Because this really is the oast with the most.

This grade II listed roundel house has been immaculately restored, both inside and out and its grounds include a heated swimming pool and a boating lake.

Would you like to know more about oast houses? Here are some useful articles to get you started!

What is an oast cowl?

Oast cowls are the distinctive chimneys you can see crowning traditional (and modern) oast houses. Back in the day, they provided a source of ventilation (as part of the brewing process while hops dried) and protected the kiln from the temperamental British weather.

As fourth-generation oast cowl specialists, we hand-made and repair oast cowls to support the conservation of these iconic architectural features of British heritage.

oast cowl and oast houses dude and arnette

If you are interested in what is an oast house used for, our blog is packed with oast curiosities and maintenance recommendations.

 

Oast cowl designs

Oast cowls are as unique as their owners. You’ll find there are a number of different oast cowl styles across the UK and that in most cases, cowls are also decorated with a motif. To find out more about the meaning behind oast cowl motifs, please read our Oast Cowl Motifs: More Than Just Decorations blog post.

 

Wooden cowls and fibreglass cowls

As professional oast cowl refurbishers, the word fibreglass (or GRP) often gives us the chills. They rot easily, they develop fungi, and well, they are just not as durable as traditional timber cowls. We can help you refurbish them if you already have one, but we don’t recommend installing them new. Wooden cowls, on the other hand, offer a better long-term investment and with our perfected craft skills, you’ll always be in safe hands.

dude and arnette repairing oast cowls.  oast cowl motif

About Dude & Arnette

Since we started in 1937, Dude and Arnette have restored hundreds of cowls around the UK, including the famous Hop Farm Family Park in Kent, the world’s largest collection of Victorian oast houses. Today, the majority of our happy clientele are homeowners, and we know how much people love living in converted oast buildings. They remain a wonderful part of our British heritage – and we’re committed to making sure that they are here for generations to come.

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Six of Kent’s Best Beer Gardens

Fancy a pint? That’s a question you probably haven’t heard for some time, but come the 12th of April pubs across England will be opening up their beer gardens and offering their customers much-needed drink. And after the year we have just had, most of us could do with one!

Unsurprisingly, the county famous for its hops has no shortage of fantastic pubs, but if you are struggling to choose, here are six great options for a pint in the spring sun.

(If the last year has proved anything, it is that even the best-laid plans can go a little awry, so pro-tip: double-check the pub’s website or social media before travelling to avoid disappointment).

The Bull Inn, Linton

This traditional Kentish Inn – very traditional, it has been here since 1674 – serves a range of cask and keg ales from local brewer Shepherd Neame. The pub features a large beer garden and patio, which is due to open from the 12th of April. The pub isn’t taking bookings so just turn up and take a seat.
More info: http://www.thebullatlinton.co.uk/

 

The Halfway House, Brenchley

The Halfway pub is famous for their great quality ales straight from the barrel and their lively, festival-like beer garden. They offer a selection of 10 different beers available every day as well as delicious, traditional pub food. To celebrate the end of Lockdown they will be offering 2 Halfway House new beers that they have spent the last few months developing and perfecting with 2 local breweries. You will only be able to get these there!
More info: https://www.halfwayhousebrenchley.co.uk/ 

 

The Vineyard, Tunbridge Wells

We often talk about the role the beer brewers have had in shaping Kentish heritage – after all it was the beer industry that gave us oast houses. But Kent is becoming increasingly famous for its wine. This aptly named pub has an extensive terrace, which overlooks the Lamberhurst vineyards. If you fancy swapping grain for grape they, as you would expect, have a great range of English wines on the menu. Their outdoor space is set to reopen on the 12th of April.
More info: https://elitepubs.com/the-vineyard/ 

 

The Three Chimneys, Biddenden

Enjoy a drive through idyllic Kent country lanes to arrive at The Three Chimneys pub where mouth-watering food and local ales will be waiting for you. The Three Chimneys is an award-winning, 15th Century traditional Kentish pub serving exceptional foods and beers locally sourced reflecting the seasons. Apart from a relaxing location and seasonal menu, you can also spend some quiet time there, enjoying their charming accommodation.

Historical Curiosity: Their name, The Three Chimneys, comes from the Seven Years’ War in the 18th Century where French prisoners were kept at nearby Sissinghurst Castle. When the prisoners were placed on parole, they were allowed out as far as the pub building. At the time, locals referred to this as the ‘Three Wents’ (or three ways) but the prisoners called it Les Trois Chemins (the three chimneys). The unique name of the pub derives from the French term for the junction of three roads.

Their garden and terrace will be opening on Monday 12th April 12-6pm (weather dependant). 
More info: http://thethreechimneys.co.uk/

 

The Griffin Inn, Fletching

In a privileged location with incredible views, The Griffin is popular amongst locals for its Serengeti Garden – a 2 acre garden with views of the South Downs and the famous National Trust Gardens of Sheffield Park. However, that’s not the only charming thing about this award-winning 16th-century country inn. The Griffin also accommodates guests with 13 individually-designed bedrooms overlooking the Ouse Valley, as well as providing locally sourced produce.
More info: https://thegriffininn.co.uk/ 

 

The Belle Vue Tavern, Ramsgate

After a year of no fancy foreign holidays, a day at the beach is long overdue. With a huge patio that offers some truly spectacular views over The Channel, a drink on the Belle Vue’s Balcony of Kent terrace will soon help you rediscover that holiday feeling.

The pub’s outdoor area is set to open from the 12th of April (weather permitting) and they do not take bookings.
More info: https://www.thebellevuetavern.co.uk/ 

 

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Best warming winter beers from Kent

The clocks have gone back, the mercury has plummeted and those long summer evenings are nothing more than a memory – in other words, it’s beginning to look a lot like winter! This year, give the mulled wine a miss and say hello to the festive season with our county’s traditional tipple.

As you would expect from the land of oast houses and hops, we have no shortage of great local breweries right on our doorstep. But with so much choice, deciding what to try first can be tricky. So, here are five great winter beers to get you started.

 

Snow Top

photo of old dairy beer and crops
Image Source: Old Dairy Instagram

Brewery: Old Dairy
Location: Tenterden – Kent
Alcohol by volume: 6%

Old Dairy have brewed the perfect ‘winter warmer’ – if they do say so themselves – with their award-winning Snow Top beer. This rich, dark delight is packed with the taste of Christmas; it is full of fruitcake and marmalade flavours and topped off with some spicy notes.

 

Godswallop Winter Ale

Brewery: Westerham
Location: Westerham – Kent
Alcohol by volume: 4%

Making full use of the local crop are Westerham with their Godswallop Winter Ale. Six Kent hops combine with pale ale, dark crystal and chocolate malts to create a traditional ale style beer that is both complex and comforting. This slightly sweet, smooth caramel, gentle hoppy traditional old winter ale will keep your mood up as the temperature drops. Oh! and making the most of the season, Westerham have also launched an awesome 2020 Beer Advent Calendar featuring a mixed case of 12 different beers – because a beer a day keeps…. your problems away?

 

Porter

Brewery: Larkins
Location: Chiddingstone – Kent
Alcohol by volume: 5.2%

Is there anything more quintessentially Kentish than oast houses and crop fields? Local brewery Larkins still produce their real Kentish ales in a traditional oast house, which we love – obviously! Included in Roger Protz’s acclaimed guide, ‘300 Beers to Try Before You Die’, the award-winning Larkins’ Porter is the perfect choice for those long dark evenings, with a deep, rich and warming taste.  

A curiosity about The Larkins Oast House – it was built in 1935 but bombed by a V2 rocket in 1945 and then rebuilt in 1948. It has a kiln, a drying room, cooling and pressing machinery for the traditional processing of hops from drying, preserving to storing. Using traditional tools and methods they ensure their characteristic Larkins quality and flavour!

 

Christmas Jumper Ale

Brewery: Mad Cat
Location: Faversham
Alcohol by volume: 4.4%

Based at Brogdale Farm in Faversham and set up by father and son in 2012, the Mad Cat Brewery is a micro-brewery providing fresh and quality craft ales. They have very quick turnarounds – they can pick and have the hops brewed in under 12 hours for its beers – but when it comes to seasonal beers, they only release a small number of batches, so you have to keep an eye not to miss them! Every year they release a Christmas-themed ale featuring their famous creative cat designs and for this year they’ve launched the delicious Christmas Jumper Ale which promises to be rich, nutty and decidedly festive!

Christmas Ale

Brewery: Shepherd Neame
Location: Faversham – Kent
Alcohol by volume: 7%

A winter beer often means a stronger beer. Of course, it’s not hard to see why cold weather would make a stronger drink more appealing – nothing seems to heat you up more than shot of the hard stuff. But there is another reason these beers are a pinch more potent than their counterparts. Traditionally, winter beers were usually brewed during the harvest and the season of plenty probably encouraged brewers to be a little more bountiful with the malts, meaning a higher alcohol content. When it comes to alcohol proof, Shepherd Neame’s Christmas Ale beer packs a punch.

Shepherd Neame’s Christmas Ale beer is brewed using mineral water from their own well. This Christmassy concoction combines notes of fruits and spices and is packed full of some great local crops. The beer itself is delightfully packed with a Dickensian style label and a traditional pump lid.

Enjoyed our roundup of Christmas beers? Why not following us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to keep up with all Dude & Arnette’s updates

Make an oast house your home

In an age where homes are built using the same templates as their neighbours, and roads are filled with rows of identical houses, it can be difficult to truly stamp your own individuality on a property.

As you look further afield, leaving the purpose-built communities, take a look at the could-be’s and what-ifs. The buildings that have been abandoned, the structures filled with potential. This is what we see each time we visit an old oast house: the potential for repairing and rebuilding a family home, returning it to its former glory.

Building or converting your own home can be a daunting project, but oast house conversions can create a truly personal space. Each oast house is unique, and therefore each project requires an individual assessment and detailed preparation, including planning permission, assessment of whether your oast house needs a replacement oast cowl or whether it just needs cleaning and painting.

At Dude & Arnette our family have been repairing and restoring oast cowls since 1937, helping hundreds of people realise their dreams and working with them to truly create personal place to call their own. To organise a free consultation and quotation, call Dude & Arnette on 01622 725 898 or visit our Contact page, fill out our contact form, and we’ll be in touch as soon as possible.

oast house conversion

Oast cowl types: The story behind the styles

Oast houses have played a huge roll in shaping the history of Kent and Sussex and they have become a symbol of the counties they inhabit. These much-loved buildings are a familiar sight throughout the countryside, their iconic bright white sails rising up across the landscape.

But these beguiling buildings are more than just a pretty façade. For centuries, Kent’s famous beer industry depended on oast houses (read our article on how oast houses used to work) and as many great things in life, their cowls came in different size and shapes!

So… Are there different types of oast cowls?

While there was certainly no standard blueprint for an oast design, they mostly fall into two categories – the circle kiln and the square kiln. Even within these two basic oast cowl designs, there was a huge degree of artistic license used by builders – meaning that each oast house has its own truly unique design. Some oasts, like Great Dixter in East Sussex, ditched the rulebook entirely, combining both square and circle designs.

Square Kilns

The very first oasts were simply barns with a kiln added to them. Unsurprisingly these rudimentary attempts at an oast house were far from safe and the substantial fire risk of these soon led to the introduction of a purpose-built, external kiln.

These square kilns were the all-original oast design. The first ones measured about 15 feet across, but as oast houses grew in popularity, they also increased in size.

Square oast houses by Dude and Arnette

While roundel oasts eventually found favour in Sussex and Kent, the square design would remain a firm favourite of hop growers in Hampshire, Herefordshire and Worcester.

In the mid-20th century onwards, the square design shot to popularity again as a surge of innovations in oast designs took hold (likely encouraged by the 1850s abolition of brick tax). Farmers realised it was easier to install a roller in the square kilns, which meant that the delicate hops could be removed to the cooling room without workers trampling on them. The popular mod-con of motorised fans were also better suited to the square design.

Nowadays, square kilns provide the perfect shell for conversions – no round furniture required in these ones. In terms of construction, the square kiln oasts consist of four sides with ridges or hips going to each corner of the kiln. The straight edge design of these means that only square tiles are needed, not tapered ones, potentially making any oast cowl repairs a bit more straightforward.

Circle Kilns

The iconic round kiln is probably the most recognisable oast cowl type in Kent, and in fact, the majority of the oasts still in existence today are the circle kilns. It was originally thought that the round kilns would be more efficient at heat distribution and more cost-effective.

Round oast houses by Dude and Arnette

When it comes to restoration, the circle kilns pose some different challenges to that of the square kiln. The circular shape means that tapered tiles are needed to swing the square tiles around the structure and a lathe is used to hang the tiles on.

Whether you have a square kiln or a circular one, we can assist with all types of oast cowl repairs and maintenance. Have a look at all the ways in which we can help you.

What is an oast house?

A question we get asked from time to time is, what actually is an oast house?

For us, there couldn’t be a better symbol of Kent than an oast house. Their striking shape dots the countryside skyline, providing some Instagram worthy shots – but what exactly are they?

In a nutshell, an oast house or hop kiln is a building created to dry hops as part of the brewing process.

Oast houses or hop kilns have played a huge part in the agricultural history of both the county and the country. And, at the heart of their fascinating origins is one of the nation’s favourite tipples – beer!

Starting from the top, what are hops? Hops are the flowering clusters of a plant called Humulus Lupulus and they give beer its distinctive flavour and aroma. Like grapes in wine, hops come in different varieties, each with its own characteristic. For centuries, the garden of England produced hops on an industrial scale, bringing life and prosperity to the countryside – and building on mass the oast houses seen all over Kent.

Side note: If you want to know a bit more about Kent’s oast houses, please have a read at our previous blog post.

Ok, but what do hops have to do with oast houses?

After enjoying a long summer basking in the English sunshine (in theory), hops are harvested around September. But, before they can be popped into any brews, they need to be dried. That is where the oast houses come in.

When hops are picked, they have a moisture content of 80% – which is no good for brewing. However, after an oast house has worked its magic, the amount of moisture in them goes down to a tiny 6%.

oast house history

How did a traditional oast house work?

Sitting on the ground floor of the roundel was a furnace, halfway up the tower was a slatted ceiling covered by a horsehair cloth, then above that a cone-shaped roof, and at the very top a cowl.

First, the hops were placed across the slatted ceiling. The furnace was then lit, and as the heat rose through the slatted ceiling, moisture was removed from the plants. The excess steam rose through the conical roof and out through the cowl. Not only did the cowl act as a very effective vent it was also rotated by a wind vane, ensuring that air was always circulating throughout the roundel and that the hot air had a clear path out of the oast.

Henden Manor Oast Cowl image

After the hops were deemed to be dry, they were shovelled out and placed onto the barn floor to cool. Once ready to be packed, they were pressed into large jute bags and sent to market. Just like today, brewers would not just throw any old hop into their beer so, by law, each batch was labelled with the grower’s details. This ensured that the much-loved Kentish beer would never be compromised.

As the hop growing industry in Kent declined and imported hops fell into favour, the use of oast houses declined too. Now, many of these wonderfully clever contraptions have a new lease of life as beloved homes!

Dude & Arnette are the UK’s market leader for oast cowl manufacturing, restoration and repairs. We have been the go-to family business for oast house owners since 1937.

Sue & Les Hart - Cowl