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UK Staycations

Summer is well and truly here and while we aren’t out of the woods yet regarding Covid-19, people are starting to head out and enjoy a little bit of what summer has to offer. If you’re anything like me then you may be beginning to think about UK Staycations – be it somewhere new or somewhere familiar and close to home.

As a Kent girl born and bred, I would recommend my county as a great place for a staycation because it has a little bit of everything – countryside, coast, great pubs and attractions… plus it is under an hour away from the bright lights of London!

Given that the weather is warm and many indoor attractions are still closed due to government guidelines, I can recommend many wonderful outdoor places to go. I recently wrote about a few beautiful countryside gardens which are open for business and have introduced one-way systems to ensure safety for staff and visitors. Some elements may be closed (such as castles and country houses) but there are still lots of walks to enjoy, flowers to admire and ice cream to eat! Kent has an abundance of lovely gardens, which isn’t surprising given its nickname as ‘The Garden of England’.

Hole Park Gardens in Rolvenden

If you’re more of a beach babe than a plant lover, then you can head down to the coast. Of course the likes of Folkestone, Margate and Broadstairs are ever popular but one of my favourite coastal walks is from Seasalter into Whitstable. Seasalter is the quieter, more tranquil cousin of Whitstable so is the ideal place to park up and then take a stroll along the pebble beach and reward yourself with a yummy fish and chip lunch once you reach bustling Whitstable.

Enjoy a stroll from Seasalter to Whitstable

Kent also has an excellent selection of zoos and animal parks for a great family day out. One of my personal favourites (because I used to volunteer there) is Howletts Wild Animal Park where they put in tremendous efforts towards the conservation of endangered species. It is also on the doorstep to Canterbury which is a tourist haven in itself with the cathedral, theatre, shops, cafes and river punting.

Capybaras in the sun at Howletts

I could go on forever about what Kent has to offer for UK Staycations but we don’t have all day so I would say go check it out for yourself. Just be sure to follow government social distancing guidelines and check each attraction’s website for up to date information.

Disclaimer: In collaboration with Hotels.com, but all views are my own.

Where to go in Kent during lockdown

Where to go in Kent during lockdown

Hands up who’s got cabin fever! Me!

If you’re like me and still on furlough but not quite sure where you can visit now some places are open and some aren’t, fear not! I have compiled a little list here of where to go in Kent during lockdown to give you some sunny summer inspiration.

Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle is a 14th century castle surrounded by beautiful gardens situated in Lamberhurst near Tunbridge Wells. The National Trust have organised the site so it’s a one-way route around the moat so you can view the scenic castle from different angles – perfect for that insta snapshot! At present you must pre-book before you visit (tickets are released every Friday) and you cannot go inside the castle, you can only walk the grounds. There is a little kiosk on site selling drinks and ice cream, plus Bewl Water is a 6 minute drive away if you want to make more of a day of it.

Hush Heath Estate

Hush Heath Estate

Hush Heath Estate is a winery in Staplehurst. Under normal circumstances they would be offering vineyard tours, wine tasting and lovely food, which we wish we could have enjoyed. However, at time of writing, they have opened their doors for FREE self-guided tours of their estate. This basically means you can pop along and wander the grounds (following the designated social distancing route), pre-booking is not essential and you can buy a bottle of wine after your walk if you wish to. Our walk lasted around 45 minutes, we didn’t buy anything but we’d love to come back for some wine tasting once things return to normal.

Mount Ephraim Gardens

Mount Ephraim Gardens

Mount Ephraim Gardens is a lovely estate near Faversham consisting of a country house and gardens. Due to Covid-19 the house is closed at present but the gardens are open to visitors Wednesdays to Sundays. Pre-booking is not required but do check their website (as with all of these places) for the most up-to-date information. We enjoyed a couple of hours here and took a picnic with us too.

Riverhill Himalayan Gardens

Riverhill Himalayan Gardens

Named after some of the plants from the Himalayas, Riverhill Himalayan Gardens is a pretty, historic estate in Sevenoaks. Dogs are welcome and entry is via pre-booked timed tickets available via their website. The social distancing one-way system is a little haphazard in my opinion as we did end up crossing paths with people but as the gardens are fairly large, we weren’t too concerned. There are plants and garden ornaments available to purchase at the entrance, so we bought a peach blossom (which looks like candyfloss!). There’s also a cafe selling a few takeaway items but I wouldn’t bother as they charged me £5 for a Calippo and a Fab. £5 for a bit of what is essentially flavoured ice seems quite steep to me, so pack a picnic instead.

Penshurst Place and Gardens

Penshurst Place

Just a 15 minute drive away from Riverhill Himalayan Gardens is Penshurst Place. Under normal circumstances there’s a few different things to see such as the house and toy museum but thanks to Coronavirus it’s just the gardens you can visit at present. Bookings are separated into morning and afternoon slots and must be booked online. We booked an afternoon slot and visited the same day as we went to Riverhill. Despite furloughing most of the gardening team, the gardens were still well kept. We packed a picnic and enjoyed it in the shade overlooking the lovely gardens.

Where to go in Kent during lockdown

Note: due to current circumstances I would advise checking each garden’s website before visiting for the most up-to-date information. Also note that I was NOT given any freebies or anything, so all opinions are fair and my own.

Stay safe x


If you liked this you may enjoy some of my other posts about South East England.

Truly Wild Experiences Down Under

As someone with a keen interest in conservation and zoology, seeing the native wildlife of a place is something that usually features highly on my destination wishlist when I travel. This year hasn’t been easy for me on a personal level but it always lifts my spirits when I think of the amazing things I have seen and done already.

One of my most cherished memories is when I went backpacking Down Under with my husband. Australia and New Zealand are two of my best-loved countries – friendly locals, stunning scenery and most importantly, amazing wildlife. So I would like to share my favourite wildlife experience from each.

Adorable quokka - a native to Rottnest Island in Western Australia

Discovering quokkas on Rottnest Island, Australia

Rottnest Island is a beautiful island off the coast of Western Australia, home to an adorably smiley-looking marsupial known as the quokka. In fact, Rottnest Island was named after the quokka when a Dutch explorer arrived at the island and mistook the quokkas for rats, naming it ‘Rat’s Nest’.

Wild Experiences Down Under

Being almost completely wiped out on the mainland of Australia, Rottnest Island is one of only a few places where you can see quokkas in their natural habitat and due to the lack of predators on the island, coupled with an abundance of food, their numbers are thriving.

Beautiful Rottnest Island - catch the ferry from Fremantle and enjoy a day with the quokkas!

As the island has a strong focus on the environment and sustainability, the best way to explore is by bicycle. So when we arrived by boat we picked up some hired bikes from the dock and went on our merry way.

Rottnest Island is easily one of the most beautiful places I have been fortunate enough to visit, with its white sand beaches and turquoise seas it looks like something from a movie set. Of course, my favourite part was observing the quokkas and I managed to even get a #quokkaselfie too! All flora and fauna on the island is protected by law so visitors must remember not to touch or feed the animals as it could harm them.

The best way to get around Rottnest Island! Hire a bike and explore this beautiful part of Western Australia.

Quokka selfie on Rottnest Island, Australia

One of my favourite things about Australia happens to be its native creatures – I’m completely in awe of it – so to be able to see the happy little quokkas in the wild and not in a zoo was something unforgettable.

Spotting wild seals in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Kaikoura is a small town on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island and is famed for its marine life. Due to the weather cancelling any whale watching trips out to sea, we made a spontaneous decision to take a drive to Ohau Point where we could see some wild New Zealand fur seals.

Adorable seal pup at Ohau Point, New Zealand

After a short walk into the woodland, we were greeted by one of the most magical sights I have seen – numerous young seals swimming and frolicking at the bottom of a waterfall! I wasn’t sure what to expect on this spur of the moment adventure but it by far exceeded any expectations I could have had. The seals looked so happy and there were very few tourists at this spot making it feel all the more special. Of course, we kept our distance but a couple of the seals were playing on the path together just a mere metre away from where we stood!

Ohau waterfall - a beautiful place to see seal pups swimming

The seal pups are born in November and December and start making their way to the waterfall in April, where they are then able to develop their swimming and social skills together. They stay in the stream for several days at a time before returning to the coast to feed from their mothers. Once weaned, they then remain on the coast where they can hunt for food at sea.

See New Zealand fur seals - free things to do in Kaikoura

Seal swimming in Ohau stream, Kaikoura

We waited and watched the playful pups for a little while longer but even on the walk back to the car we were able spot a few of them swimming in the shallow waters alongside us. Amazing! Sometimes the best adventures are unplanned.

Note: My visit to Ohau Point happened prior to the devastating 2016 earthquake and although parts of this area are still destroyed, visitors are still able to see seal colonies elsewhere in Kaikoura. Hopefully they will return to the waterfall very soon.

As far as future wildlife adventures go, a safari in Kenya would be at the top spot on my travel bucket list and as a proud recipient of a charity rhino adoption, I would love nothing more than to see them in the wild.

Win a safari adventure in Kenya!

Win an African safari with Audley Travel by sharing your best wildlife photograph or video on your social media channels. To enter write #AudleySafari and @AudleyTravel on your Instagram or Twitter post or share directly on the Audley Travel Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/audleytravel/. To find out more or enter via the website, visit www.audleytravel.com/social.  Entries must be posted between 20th August – 23rd September.

This post is my entry into the Trips 100 & Audley Travel blogger challenge.

Gin Festival Maidstone

Gins a bit trendy isn’t it? I must admit I’m quite new to the pleasure of a nice cold G&T but with all these creative craft gins popping up all over the place, it’s sure to become my tipple of choice.

So when the lovely peeps at Gin Festival invited me along to one of their events, I thought that would be my perfect opportunity to discover some new favourites. Along with my gin loving hubby, we went to the Saturday afternoon event at the Kent Showground, Detling, Maidstone. Although the Gin Festival has been going since 2013, this year was the first year it came to Maidstone – and it completely sold out!

Gin Festival Maidstone

When you arrive you are given a guide to the festival as well as your very own copa gin glass which you can keep and take home. I thought this was particularly good and wins some eco-friendly points from me on that! There is a cashless system in place so you are also given a wrist band which you can load up with money before or during the event to ensure a smoother process at the bars rather than faffing about with money.

What to expect

There were four brands giving out free tasters, they were: PJ Gin from Belgium – available exclusively from ginfestival.com, Tinker Gin – based in Yorkshire and launched in 2017, Anno – a Kent based distillers whose delish cranberry gin tasted like Christmas and Brockmans – an English gin ‘like no other’.

Well, I quite liked them all with a bit of tonic (which was from the Schweppes 1783 premium range).

Anno Gins at Gin Festival Maidstone

Beyond these tasters there were five bars to get your drinks at, as well as a cocktail bar, snacks, food and live music. There were also masterclasses on. We attended the one held by Dan from Tinker Gins which was really quite funny (and full of swearing hehe!). It definitely adds something when you meet the people behind the drinks and learn about their passions.

Tinker Gin masterclass at Gin Festival Maidstone

Mr QLP loves a G&T and enjoyed a Brockmans Premium Gin followed by a Tinker Gin. I chose a Boe Violet Gin which was very light and sweet, followed by a Marula Gin which was garnished with peach. We also tried the Elephant Gin because 15% of proceeds go to support African elephant charities, which is enough to make me want it, but its also garnished with the winning combo of apple and ginger – yum!

The UK's biggest gin festival

The guide book given out tells you about all the gins on offer and what they taste like as well as what kind of garnish and mixer you should pair them with. There were so many gins to try it actually made it difficult to decide what to go for! I was certainly intrigued by the Hidden Curiosities gin with peppercorns and the Sweet Potato Plum gin liqueur but I’ll have to try those out next time. My only niggle was that I had really wanted to try the Zymurgorium Sweet Violet gin as its supposed to taste like parma violet sweets but it had sold out just an hour into the event. Disappointing.

Gin Life

We ended the day feeling rather tipsy but bought ourselves a bottle of Brockmans to take home! I would definitely recommend Gin Festival and I’ll be sure to keep my eyes peeled in future for some of the gins I didn’t get chance to try!

Disclaimer: I was given free tickets by Gin Festival but all thoughts are my own.

Update: Unfortunately Gin Festival have since gone into administration however if you’re looking for Gin Festivals then check out www.eatdrinkseek.co.uk/gin-festivals

Where to watch Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo

Where to watch Sumo wrestling in Tokyo

Sumo wrestling is a big part of Japanese culture and is actually Japan’s national sport. If you have a ‘Japan Bucket List’ of any description, then watching a bit of sumo is likely to be on there.

Of course, the ideal scenario would be to get tickets for a tournament. There are three main tournaments in Tokyo every year, held in January, May and September. But what if you happen to visit Japan outside of these three months?

My answer is – visit a sumo stable.

Where to watch sumo wrestling in Tokyo

Sumo stables are where the wrestlers live and train together, and you can go along and watch their morning practice. It’s not really touted as a tourist attraction as such but we went along to one and were able to watch the wrestlers through the window.

Sumo is the national sport of Japan

We went to the Arashio-beya which is around a minutes walk from the A2 exit of Hamacho Station on the Toei Subway Shinjuku Line. Practice takes place between 7.30am and 10am. Their website does have a Japanese script and a phone number to call so you can check in advance if the practice is on the next day, which I did but unfortunately I couldn’t understand the response despite following the script! I can’t remember if we asked our hotel to call on our behalf or just showed up but it all worked out ok.

You’re unlikely to stay and watch the full length of training as it can feel a little crowded by the window standing among the wrestler’s bicycles and other gawping tourists, but it’s definitely worth stopping by for the experience.

Watch the sumo wrestlers training in Tokyo

If you liked this you might like some of my other Japan posts or you might like might Japan in less than 60 seconds video.

Where to watch sumo wrestling in Tokyo