I pride myself on knowing Kent quite well - and I find myself often having to defend this much-maligned county against the naysayers. Until you have spent a fair bit of time exploring the many very different parts of Kent, it's impossible to get a full flavour of everything it has to offer.
So I was very pleased to discover yet another part of the county that I didn't know, on a recent break with my folks in a little village east of Canterbury. As well as getting chance to explore the area south of the Stour, I was able to take my parents to visit some of my favourite towns on the coastal fringes.
We stayed in a small village called Preston, just a few miles out of Canterbury, and deep in the heart of apple country. I was quite surprised to find huge orchards with apples groaning under the weight of fruit - cherries yes, hops yes, but apples? Not really! But it seems that a lot of this fruit goes to make Copella apple juice - judging by the number of lorries we met on the country lanes that were bearing the branding - and it was peak apple time when we were there.
The area is dotted with quiet villages, which are mostly off the beaten track; many have beautiful churches of a very typical Kentish style, covered in flint and generally quite simple inside - a lot are on pilgrimage routes to Canterbury so it's also more common to find them open than you would expect in such small villages.
I love wandering around the graveyards and checking out the headstones - here's a particular favourite that I happened upon in Fordwich.
The river at Fordwich is also particularly stunning - slow moving, crystal clear water streaked with weed and with the village houses built almost into it. I would happily have waded in - in the nip, perhaps! - and lain right back in water, felt its cool touch and maybe run my fingers through the green ribbons of weed. There was something deeply inviting about it, something reminiscent of Ophelia.
Others clearly found the water just as hypnotic; this man stood on the beach at Deal for so long that I started to wonder if he was an art installation. His shirt and smart trousers made him look all the more incongruous, we wondered if he was considering doing a Reggie Perrin. In the end he turned round, walked back up the beach and disappeared into the roads of suburban Deal.
I visited a few old favourites too, including Walmer Castle where I had a short break a few years ago. Fond memories of having the castle grounds to myself when all the visitors had gone home.
We ate well during our stay - including a fabulous lunch at the Black Douglas cafe on Deal seafront - well worth seeking out for fresh, seasonal food, although at this time of year you might be out of luck if you don't like beetroot. We also had lunch at the very shiny new Wyatt & Jones in Broadstairs - it had the feeling of not having been open very long, and certainly represents a step up in terms of the food offering in the Thanet towns. Hopefully it will survive and flourish, it has a lovely location and the three old shop units that form the restaurant have been nicely converted.
It wouldn't be a British holiday without paddling and beach huts, and we found both of those at Broadstairs, one of the few sandy beaches in Kent.
The beach huts are much more utilitarian than the chi-chi offerings at places like Whitstable, and I must confess I rather prefer their brash colours and pebble-dash finish. I don't think I'll ever be able to do chi-chi successfully, but I can certainly do brash and utilitarian.
And finally, the oddest moment of the holiday was coming across this steam-engine graveyard behind the church in Preston. My mum and I stumbled on it just as dusk was falling - there were probably a dozen or so of these huge rusting engines all lines up, along with various enormous boilers and other assorted machines that we could not identify. Someone obviously Has Plans for them, perhaps a life's work of restoration, but in the darkening gloom and silence of a field in eastern Kent, it was nothing short of spooky.