The joy of a road trip is that the journey is the destination. In 'normal' times, there’s nothing quite like the sense of freedom and excitement that comes from jumping in the car and following street signs, wherever they may take you.
Amongst other things, COVID-19 has robbed humanity of a completely spontaneous road trip - at least for now. With social distancing and increased hygiene protocols, fewer rooms are being rented, tables are being served and tours being conducted, making reservations a requirement for accommodations, eateries and attractions.
But don't let the amplified need for structure deter you from a DIY, impulsive self-drive tour, particularly in a time when international travel is so uncertain. All it takes is a little imagination and a bit more planning than normal to restore that 2020 lost spirit of adventure.
My journey around Kent (AKA the Garden of England), with my friend, a few weekends ago, started off in Folkestone, only about a hour and a half drive from London.
Compared to other Kentish towns, Folkestone is considered to be a bit more scrappy and gritty, but I personally really enjoyed its charm, cute town center, picturesque promenade overlooking the sea, seafront pubs and adorable harbor. It would have been amazing to be able to taste the culinary magic of Rocksalt that I'd read about, but that wasn't possible without an advanced booking, which we did not have. If you stay the night, I recommend The View on the Leas.
A 20-min drive from Folkestone was Samphire Hoe. It cost a mere £2 to park (coins needed). This nature reserve was created using 4.9 million cubic metres of chalk marl from the Channel Tunnel excavations. Here, we did an easy and slow 2km circuit walk.
From Samphire Hoe, it was another 20-odd-minute drive to get to Saint Margaret's at Cliffe for some hiking above the infamous White Cliffs of Dover.
After the trek, we fancied a bit of sunbathing, so we drove 35-mins to Broadstairs to visit its sweeping sandy beaches which felt borrowed from France, across the channel. However, when we arrived, it was heaving. There was a lot of traffic, parking was unattainable and the beach was absolutely rammed, so we decided to continue up the peninsula to see what else we could find.
About 10-mins down the road we stumbled upon Botany Bay. We were starving by this point so we decided to get some munch at the Botany Bay Hotel. Although Botany Bay was beautiful, after our very late lunch (around 5pm), we didn't feel as up for the beach anymore, so we hopped back in the car and drove about 40-mins to our accomodation (for the next two nights).
We checked into the lovely Yorke Lodge Bed and Breakfast, showered and relaxed for a bit before heading to the High Street. Since we had such a late lunch, we weren't too bothered about dinner, which worked out nicely because all the restaurants were booked up that evening and, naturally, we did not have a reservation. Instead, we walked along the canals, at sunset, in search of a suitable venue to consumer adult beverages.
Canterbury was adorable at every turn.
Our wander landed us in the garden at The Falstaff Hotel.
I highly recommend exploring the waterways with Canterbury Historic River Tours for views and a comical history lesson.
The next morning, we got up, filled our bellies at the B&B and then drove about 15-mins to Tankerton Beach in Whitstable. Because we arrived so early, we got a great spot in a public parking lot and the beaches were well empty. Whitstable, known for its candy-colored beach huts and oysters, was not the prettiest beach in all of the land, but it was great to catch some rays without feeling like we were on top of other people.
For lunch, we booked Crab & Winkle (we had wisened up to the need for reservations by this point) and enjoyed a plethora of yummy seafood dishes. Before heading back to Canterbury for the night, we popped into La Cocina for delicious boozey frozen slushies and some banter with Matthew, the owner.
On the way back to London, we decided to take a slight detour through the quintesseintially British countryside that was Tenterden, a town in the borough of Ashford. We stopped for an authentic lunch at Montalbano Italian before returning the car, officially marking the end of the road trip.
2020 may have changed the typical car journey trip, but it's still worth doing! And Kent is really lovely if you're looking for an easy option from London.