Being a tourist in your local area: Ashford

23 September 2022

Located in south Kent, sandwiched between Maidstone to the north-west and Folkestone to the south-east, Ashford’s status as a transport hub means that it has a growing reputation as a place to live. Although Eurostar trains are not stopping at the town’s International station until at least the end of 2022 due to the impact of Covid-19, commuters can still get to central London in 35 minutes on the high-speed train. And with the pandemic having changed workers’ views on flexible hours and increasing their desire to work from home for at least part of the week, that makes it a good option for people to relocate to.

But what to do when you’ve got some leisure time? Well, Ashford has undergone seismic changes lately – not all good. But the positive news is that Ashford’s cultural and leisure sector has certainly improved in the past few years, particularly in the southern part of the town centre, with the addition of the Curious Brewery and Picturehouse in recent years.

With that in mind, here are some of the lifestyle and leisure highlights for residents who wish to discover Ashford like a tourist – though maybe plan ahead to make sure you don’t get into a lorry-induced traffic jam.

Godinton House & Gardens

A Jacobean mansion located a mile to the north-west of Ashford, Godinton House and Gardens allows visitors to explore 600 years’ worth of history in one place. Tours of the country house are available, while hikers can trek around the 12 acres of garden surrounding it, including terraced lawns and Victorian and Edwardian architect Reginald Blomfield’s 1898 landscape design. Flower festivals, topiary workshops and live music are among the events held at the venue. Entry to the house and gardens is £14.

Victoria Park

A 17-acre site near the centre of town, Ashford’s largest public park features riverside walks, a new cycle track, and the Grade II*-listed, 33ft-high Hubert Fountain, commissioned for the 1862 Great Exhibition and which eventually found its home in Ashford in 1912. Craft workshops and the town’s 5,000m parkrun are among regular events held here. And if you fancy a nice sit down after all that walking around, the six-screen Picturehouse Cinema, in Elwick Road, is only a short walk away. As is, for the hungry, the cinema’s near-neighbour, the rather good pizza-and-pasta place Unita 4.

The Curious Brewery

Home to the 2019 UK Brewer of the Year award winners, the Curious Brewery is a relatively new addition to Ashford’s town centre, having opened in 2019. As well as the good booze, there’s a taproom to explore and a 120-seat restaurant, where you’ll find culinary delights such as chicken Caesar burgers (£16.50) and crab linguine (£15.50). The brew snack menu, featuring pork-and-black-pudding scotch eggs (£7) and tempura mussels (£5.50) is also worth dipping into.

Want to move on after the brewery and explore other pubs in town? Check out the small, but perfectly formed, quirky Made Inn craft pub, sports bar Matches, which features its very own shuffleboard and electronic dartboard), and the Ashford Taproom.

Willesborough Windmill

Built in 1869 and restored in the 1990s, this Grade II*-listed building is open for tours during the spring and summer months. Sure, it’s a bit of a squeeze to navigate up and around the mill’s various machines and ladders to get to its summit, but adventurous kids and adults will enjoy the climb up. Indeed, the former even get a chance to make their own flour on quern-stones and take some home with them.

The mill is open from April to October on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holiday Mondays from 2pm to 5pm. Tours last between 45 minutes and an hour.

Conningbrook Lakes Country Park

A combination of lakes, ponds, woodland and grasslands, this reserve, located by Ashford’s Julie Rose Stadium, is a great place to spot wildlife around a network of trails. As well as a walk on the wild side, the park also provides a chance to take part in sports on the lake, such as sailing, powerboating and stand-up paddleboarding via the Cinque Ports Club.

Entry is free and Conningbrook Lakes Country Park is open all year, but it’s worth noting that the paths can be very muddy or flooded during the winter months.

Eastwell Manor

Champneys’ luxury spa hotel, set in the countryside on the outskirts of Ashford, provides indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a whirlpool, sauna, as well as a 3,000 sq ft gym. If that’s not enough, the sporty types can also try out the venue’s tennis court and courts, and the croquet lawn. Its restaurant, Brasserie at the Manor, includes an aged Wagyu manor burger (£18) and Atlantic lobster tagliatelle (£36) on its sophisticated menu. Those staying the night can book into the Manor Suite, with its king-size bed, lounge area and garden views.

Also on-site is The Hawking Centre, allowing visitors to try their hand at falconry in the surrounds of the manor house’s gardens and nearby woodland. Sessions are available from £70.


A converted church recorded in The Domesday Book is now home to Ashford’s gig venue in the heart of its town centre. An atmospheric and intimate space, St Mary’s Church has been hosting the arts since 2011. Musicians Eddi Reader and Turin Brakes are among the musicians scheduled to perform at Revelation in 2022.

Pressure Point Escape Rooms

Locked in a jungle-themed room with friends and family might not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but others will relish the chance to engage in a collaborative battle of wits with their nearest and dearest to solve puzzles and escape their self-imposed capture. The rooms are suitable for parties ranging from two to six people, priced between £17 and £21 a person.

Explore Wye’s countryside and pubs

Found a ten-minute drive away to Ashford’s north-east, Wye’s beautiful hilly surroundings and excellent pubs and dining make it a great spot for an afternoon out. Head up to Wye Downs’ summits to see the Wye Crown – carved into the chalk in the valley high above the village – in closer detail, before taking a well-earned rest and meal at Church Street’s The Kings Head, New Flying Horse, or The Wife of Bath  with its seven-course tasting menu.