Article by Ruth Bloomfield
From the fairy tale beauty of Leeds Castle to the wonky, timber-framed buildings that litter its town centre, historic Maidstone, county town of Kent, has the kerb appeal – and the modern-day amenities – to tempt home buyers.
Little wonder that during the pandemic it became a bona fide property hotspot with average prices increasing by more than nine per cent in the past year to just under £320,000, according to the UK House Price Index.
Buyers have been flooding out of London to set up home in Maidstone, 32 miles away, since Covid-19 reared its head. A recent study by solicitors Bird and Co found that more Londoners had moved to the town than to anywhere else in Kent.
The reasons for this exodus are obvious if you stroll along the River Medway, explore the old town’s cobbled alleys, and check out the standards of its schools.
Not all of the town centre is picture-postcard pretty of course – post-war additions haven’t stood the test of time, and the ring road and roundabout system takes some getting used to. But Maidstone Borough Council has just spent £3 million on upgrading key shopping streets and Maidstone East station is also being given a facelift.
What the town centre does have is plenty to do: there are a couple of shopping centres, The Mall Maidstone, and Fremlin Walk, and plenty more shopping opportunities on and around the High Street. For entertainment there is an Odeon Luxe Cinema and the Hazlitt Theatre. Or you could learn about the town at the Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery, or get fit at the local leisure centre.
For eating and drinking there is a real range of options – gastropubs like The Yew Tree Inn, contemporary bars including Market House, or traditional pubs such as The Brenchley, with its lovely beer garden, plus lots of local restaurants to get to know including Italian gem La Villetta, La Taberna (Spanish), and Artemis (Greek).
In October a fun new street food market opened at the Lockmeadow centre, home of the Odeon and a bowling alley, featuring stalls selling jerk chicken, Thai delicacies, home-made cakes, cocktails, posh burgers and pork belly.
If you want to get into the great outdoors, Maidstone has plenty of top-notch greenery within easy reach. Mote Park is a huge, 450-plus acre green oasis, with a boating lake and its own miniature railway, which regularly hosts music festivals and open-air theatre performances. Teston Bridge Country Park is set beside the River Medway and is another lovely spot. And of course the glories of the Kent Downs are also on the doorstep.
Back in town each summer the River Medway takes centre stage at the annual Maidstone River Festival, with its cavalcade of decorated boats, raft races, and evening fireworks.
NEED TO KNOW
Transport: Maidstone has three train stations, and services to London St Pancras International or London Blackfriars all take just over an hour. The Government has long promised to introduce a new fast service from Maidstone to London Bridge, which should take around 52 minutes.
By car you can be on the coast in Whitstable in around 45 minutes, or on the M25 in less than half an hour.
Schools: Families flock to Kent for its grammar schools and Invicta Grammar School and Maidstone Grammar School for Girls are both rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. Maidstone Grammar School gets a “good” report from the schools watchdog, as do all of the town’s other secondary schools. For younger pupils, almost every primary school in town holds a “good” or “outstanding” report.