SPRING is on the horizon and we can all look forward to a break at Easter after a long, grey winter.
It's great to get out and about after being cooped up indoors and, Kent, England's oldest county, offers a wealth of possibilities for outings that will suit all tastes.
Whether you are a history buff, a fresh-air fiend, an art lover, an incurable shopper or a lover of fine food and wine, you will find somewhere calling to you this spring.
Kent is ripe for exploration on foot, by bike, on public transport or in a car. The county has some stunning landscapes, from the White Cliffs of Dover to the mysterious and haunting atmosphere of Dungeness and the Romney Marshes.
Lovers of heritage can travel back through the centuries, retracing the steps of Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims, some colourful Tudor royals or famous Dickens characters, as well as seeing how the coastal county was shaped from the Roman invasion to the Second World War.
Culture lovers won't want to miss the Turner Contemporary Gallery, which opened in Margate in 2011 in celebration of the coastline that inspired England's best-known artist.
A spokesman for Visit Kent said: "You don’t have to travel far to find beauty, fun and relaxation. Kent is a truly diverse county; you’ll find classic rural landscapes and traditional seaside entertainment along with ancient history and spectacular gardens – and all within easy reach of London and Continental Europe.
"From sandy beaches and shingle shoreline to towering cliffs and haunting marshes, the variety of Kent's coast is extensive. The coast is filled with diversity, with action-packed water sports alongside stunning scenery. Miles of unspoilt countryside dotted with wildlife make Kent’s seaside a place not to miss.
"With international rail links, thriving market towns and buzzing cities, world-class attractions, breath-taking coast and lush landscapes, there is plenty to entertain even the most discerning visitor."
Here are ten ideas for things to do in Kent this Easter.
Going for Gold Leed's Castle - Kent has many historical treasures and one of the jewels in the county's heritage crown is setting the standard for family entertainment at Easter.
Leeds Castle's treasure trail through the grounds gives participants the chance to win a collectable British Gold Sovereign. Children can answer questions and be rewarded with a chocolate coin. More challenging questions offer exciting experiences as prizes. Those that complete the final and toughest section of the quiz will be entered in a draw for the coin. Spring arts and craft activities are also on offer. The trail, on each of the four days of the Easter weekend, costs an additional charge of £2.50 per child on top of the entrance fee. It is open all year round. From April, opening hours are 10.30am to 6pm.
Leeds Castle, Maidstone, Kent ME17 1PL T: 01622 765400
Join the top brass - Hever Castle the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, is tuning up for a fun-packed Easter to mark the start of its main visitor season. Traditional brass bands will be playing throughout the Easter weekend at the castle and gardens. Families will be able to look for clues with the help of Henrietta the Hen and friends to claim a chocolate egg. They can also learn about rare breeds of hens and their chicks and find out how to set up a chicken coop at home.
From April 2 to 7, children can explore their creative side at a drop-in brass rubbing workshop. All visitors can enjoy the gardens, which will be covered in a carpet of daffodils and crocuses. The gardens are open from 10.30am daily and the castle from noon.
Hever Castle, Hever, Nr Edenbridge, Kent, TN8 7NG T: 01732 865224
On the right track - Train fans are in for a treat with both the East Kent Railway and the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway offering seasonal activities. The East Kent Railway has four days of Spring Kids events over the Easter weekend. Children can hunt for Easter eggs at Kemsley Down on Easter Sunday. Trains will be running from 11am to 4pm.
East Kent Railway Station Road, Shepherdswell, Dover, Kent, CT15 7PD T: 01304 832042
Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway, Sittingbourne, Kent ME10 2DZ T: 01795 424899
Down on the farm - Spring is the time to see young animals and where better than the Rare Breeds Centre and Country Farm Park near Ashford? There is plenty to discover at the 100-acre site, which is open all year round. From April to November it is open every day 10.30am-5.30pm. In winter it is closed on Mondays. On April 2 and April 5, groups of lucky young animal lovers will have the chance to sample life as young farmers on special activity days. They will feed the stock, groom the goats, muck out and ride on a tractor trailer. They are also invited to organise a pig race, meet the birds of prey and try pond dipping. Tickets for these days cost £45 per child.
Rare Breeds Centre, Woodchurch, Ashford, Kent, TN26 3RJ Tel: 01233 861493
Eggs ahoy! Kent's 350 miles of coastline offer a host of treats for visitors and explorers of all ages. An egg hunt is planned at 11am at the 40-acre Bartons Point Country Park on Easter Sunday while at the National Trust's South Foreland Lighthouse in Dover daily from March 31 to April 12, 11am to 3pm, young visitors can join the quest for pirate's gold,. Quiz sheets cost £3. .
At Samphire Hoe at 2pm, youngsters can take part in an Easter challenge that includes an egg assault course and egg rolling competition. You'll need to take along your own hard-boiled egg and spoon and donations of £2 each are suggested.
South Foreland Lighthouse, The Front, St Margarets Bay, Dover, Kent, CT15 6HP T: 01304 853281
Glorious gardens - As you might expect in the Garden of England, Kent has horticultural splendours galore. There are more than 180 to visit, offering an infinite variety of styles. The World Garden of Plants at Lullingstone Castle is laid out in the shape of the map of the world and contains plants collected from across the globe while Sissinghurst is one of the world's most celebrated gardens. The gardens at Mount Ephraim include a Japanese rock garden, an extensive collection of spring bulbs, trees and shrubs and a wildflower and grass maze. Mount Ephraim has been home to the Dawes Family for over 300 years. Its gardens are open from 11am on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as Bank Holidays from March 24 to September 30. Admission is £6 for adults and £4 for children. On Easter Sunday and Monday, an Easter egg trail will be laid out for children to follow at an additional cost of £2.50 each.
Mount Ephraim Gardens, Hernhill, Faversham, Kent, ME13 9TX Tel: 01227 751496
Spring in your step - If you are the type that enjoys striding out in the great outdoors, you are spoiled for choice in Kent. The county has more than 4,200 miles of footpaths, which take the walker across green hills, woodland and spectacular coastline. There are three long distance walking routes - the North Downs Way, The Saxon Shore Way and the Greensand Way – and hundreds of shorter walks, including circular and themed trails. More than 80 country parks, picnic sites and nature reserves enable the visitor to enjoy the natural beauty of the county.
Explore Kent, County Hall, 2nd Floor, Invicta House. Maidstone, Kent, ME14 1XX T: 08458 247 600 (open 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday)
A taste for adventure - Adrenaline junkies can find plenty of activities to satisfy them in Kent, from skiing and snowboarding on the dry slopes at Folkestone Sports Centre and Chatham Ski Slope to rock climbing at Leyswood. How about go-karting at Buckmore Park or swinging through the trees at Go Ape, a high-wire forest attraction set in the tree tops of Bedgebury Forest and Leeds Castle? Cyclopark is Kent's newest activity centre for cycling and other outdoor activities. It boasts 6km mountain bike trails, 340m first class BMX racetrack, 3km running track, a skate park and a track ideal for riding, skating and running. Beginner skate and scoot days are being held at Revolution Skate Park in Broadstairs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during both weeks of the Easter holidays from 11am to 1pm. Youngsters can learn how to use a scooter or skateboard correctly and safely. Lessons cost £9 each and must be booked in advance.
Revolution Skatepark & Climbing Centre, Oakwood Industrial Estate, Dane Valley Road, St Peter's, Broadstairs, Kent, CT10 3JJ Tel: 01843 866706
Cyclopark, The Tollgate, Wrotham Road, Gravesend, Kent, DA11 7NP T: 01474 567145
Shop until you drop - For many, a Bank Holiday weekend is an excuse to hit the shops – and Kent provides a wealth of opportunities for seeking out bargains. Of course, there is Bluewater near Dartford, which has more than 330 stores and 40 cafes, bars and restaurants plus a 13-screen cinema. Westwood Cross Shopping Centre brings all the great-name stores together in Thanet, alongside a multi-screen cinema complex. For discount hunters, try De Bradelei Wharf, Dover for fashion and homeware and Ashford Designer Outlet for designer labels. Maidstone's Fremlin Walk boats 50 outlets and there are 70-plus famous name stores in Canterbury's Whitefriars quarter.
Bluewater, Greenhithe, Kent DA9 9ST T: 0870 777 0252
Westwood Cross, 23 Margate Road, Broadstairs, CT10 2BF T: 01843 867273
De Bradelei Wharf, Cambridge Road, Dover, CT17 9BT T: 01304 226616
Ashford Designer Outlet, Kimberley Way, Ashford, TN24 0SD T: 01233 895900
Fremlin Walk, 62 Earl Street, Maidstone, ME14 1PS T: 01622 356584
Whitefriars, 14 Gravel Walk, Canterbury, CT1 2TF
The Easter story - Hundreds of people are expected to turn out in Gravesend on Good Friday for the Easter Pageant. Churches Together in Gravesham have been staging the event for many years and say it is a celebration of faith that attracts many people who are not regular churchgoers.
“We aim to capture not just the seriousness of Good Friday and the huge cost Jesus paid by dying on the cross in our place, but also the joy of Easter Sunday when we remember that death was beaten and Jesus came back to life in the tomb.
“Each year the event is designed to tell both the story of Jesus's death and resurrection, be a public act of witness that Christians are not a dying minority but are a healthy community and celebrate the core events of our faith together - whatever our varying traditions and styles.” the organisation says. The pageant is in the community square and starts at 10.30am.
Gravesham Community Square, Gravesend, Kent, DA11 0TB