John’s love of English history and a chance encounter with an inspired tour guide in South East Asia was the catalyst for his move into private tour guiding. With a focus on Kent, and South East England more widely, John England Tours offers a wide range of trips to fascinating historical and cultural sites. Today he joins us on UK Travel Planning to share some of his favourite historical treasures of South East England.
5 Historical Treasures of South East England
Chartwell: The Former Home of Sir Winston Churchill
I should begin by saying that I have far too many favourite historical sites in South East England to draw up a definitive list, but this first choice is simply a must.
WW2 history is a huge area of interest worldwide, and it’s particularly the case with my guests. Britain has no shortage of amazing WW2-related sites, but Churchill’s former home at Chartwell is extra special.
Sir Winston Churchill is one of Britain’s all-time towering political figures and my guests from around the world are always impressed by Chartwell. Getting so close to where this exceptional man lived with his family, painted, and wrote many of his masterful books, tends to leave guests inspired.
I’ve never claimed to be a WW2 expert, but the vast knowledge that some of my guests have of Churchill and the wartime period is incredible.
Chartwell overlooks a part of the Weald of Kent, where medieval Kings used to hunt for deer. Churchill certainly had an eye for beauty – which included his wife, Clementine, with whom he knew he was blessed to spend most of his life.
“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.” – Sir Winston Churchill.
Hampton Court Palace
It’s another chapter of English history that just seems to captivate more and more people with every passing year – the reign of King Henry VIII. There’s been so many terrific books, films, and TV series on Henry VIII, people can’t help but be drawn to him. And his divisiveness fuels that interest.
From the classic Oscar-winning film with Robert Shaw, A Man for All Seasons, to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall novels, and the popular BBC TV drama The Tudors, the life of Henry VIII, and the tragic executions of two of his wives, has been told so many times that even someone with only a passing interest in history has a familiarity with the subject. There’s nowhere quite like Hampton Court Palace for conjuring the feel of that Tudor period.
But Hampton Court boasts so much that goes beyond the Tudors (though it is the period that carries the most glamour for most of my guests). The architecture is extraordinary, the mix of 16th-century Gothic elements with the later Baroque additions of King William III and Queen Mary II. There’s an amazing selection of items from the Queen’s Royal Collection on display.
And, finally, I have to say that Historic Royal Palaces do an excellent job of keeping the site interesting and accessible for guests of all ages. You will come away from Hampton Court Palace enthralled!
Dover Castle and the White Cliffs
As a driver-guide, I collect my guests from the London suburbs and we head out into the countryside of Kent or further afield to explore historical sites. Dover is one of the more distant destinations we visit, but it’s just so iconic. Seeing the White Cliffs of Dover up close is a once-in-a-lifetime thing to do for many visitors to England, as it’s usually a bucket-list attraction.
When you have the weather on-side, there are few places in England that can rival the White Cliffs for their inherent cinematic qualities – it’s picture-perfect.
However, it’s not the only treasure in Dover. I offer a selection of custom tours that are tailored for individual guests and these options normally involve taking in two historic sites during one tour. With Dover, we cover the cliffs and Dover Castle.
An area of importance since Roman times, Dover Castle has been developed and put to use in the defence of the realm during many of England’s key conflicts. That mix of Roman history (the Roman lighthouse unbelievably still standing!), the Napoleonic era, and the castle’s connections to WW2 make Dover desirable for anyone curious about British history.
Leeds Castle: The Loveliest Castle in the World
Located in the South East England county of Kent, known as ‘The Garden of England’, I had to pick Leeds Castle because it’s undoubtedly one the country’s most enchanting historical locations. For many visitors from overseas, this is what they imagine when they think of a traditional British castle – it’s old, it’s grand, and its 900-year history is utterly captivating.
I love fielding questions as a guide and sharing my local knowledge. But when you visit a place as visually magnificent as Leeds Castle, half your job is done for you – it’s a holiday highlight for as soon as you set eyes on the place. I visit a range of English castles with my private day tours, but the size and grandeur of Leeds Castle means it has to make the list. The bonus? – It has a moat like no other castle, in my view!
Learn More About John and His Tours
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of John’s favourite destinations in South East England that he covers on his tours. To find out more about John’s work and to browse his full selection of day tours, walking tours, and tailor-made tour options, head on over to his website.
Hear more from John in our UK Travel Planning Podcast Episode 6 – Discover historic South East England with John England Tours
Read more about visiting South East England