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KENT - INTRODUCTION
Kent is a county in the South-East of England, regularly referred to as the "Garden of England" due to its propensity for growing fruit and vegetables, particularly in West and East Malling. This article will give a brief insight into the best means of travelling around this part of the UK.
RAIL TRAVEL - From London
One of the easiest modes of Transport is by Rail. Kent has one of the most dense rail networks of any county in the UK, particularly due to its close proximity to London, as well as needing to provide good rail links to locations such as Dover for cross-channel traffic and the Eurostar terminals.
SPECIAL NOTE - RAILWAY BETWEEN DOVER AND FOLKESTONE CLOSED UNTIL DECEMBER 2015
A severe storm with huge waves badly damaged a waterside stretch of the main line between Dover and Folkestone. It is having to rebuilt completely and will not be open again until December 2016. Normal train services between Dover Priory and Folkestone (for Ashford adn London Charing Cross or St Pancras) are replaced by buses. Passengers with heavy luggage, bicycles etc heading for London are advised to use the alternative route ie that from Dover Priory via Canterbury East to London. All the changed travel arrangements can be see on the varfious websites mentioned below.
Train operating companies
Most Train Services in Kent are operated by SouthEastern Trains. See their site for more up to date information on schedules and engineering works. The exceptions are the local trains between Tonbridge and Redhill via Edenbridge and the local trains between Ashford and Hastings (Sussex) via Appledore, which are operated by Southern.
Timetables and Fares
National Rail Enquiries
provide a simple route planner and ticketing system. Seat
reservations are not available on South Eastern or Southern trains,
except for large groups. Advance ticket purchase can sometimes save you money for longer journeys, but note that cheap fares are generally not available before 9am on weekdays. A ticket called 'PlusBus' available to many towns in Kent. This ticket will add rides on local buses at your destination. There are terms and conditions, so check before you buy.
All trains in Kent are modern air-conditioned electric multiple-units and are fully disability compliant, with wheelchair bays and suitable toilets. Look for the 'wheelchair' symbol on the train doors. First class travel is available on the main lines, but is not worth the extra cost as all you get is different colour seat! On board refreshment service is limited to a portable 'bar' that passes through the train and very few trains have this servcie now. It is very expensive, so if you think you might need a drink or snack, buy something from a shop near the station of departure. The cafes and shops on the stations are almost as expensive as the on-board service.
All stations in the county are open seven days a week, with a train at least once an hour at even the smallest. Larger towns and cities will have up to six trains to/from London every hour, ten or twelve in peak weekday rush hours. There are however no trains after about 9pm on December 24th (Christmas Eve, none at all on December 25th (Christmas Day) and virtually none on December 26th (Boxing Day) therefore if planning to travel around those times you may have to think again!
Some very small stations are unstaffed at all times and many of the ticket offices at 'medium sized' smaller stations have limited opening hours. If boarding at these places, you can pay your fare on board, without penalty, in cash or with a credit card. Many stations also have ticket machines which also accept cash and credit cards. However if you board elswhere without a valid ticket, make sure you have a good excuse ready. Most of the larger stations are now gated, so you need to keep your ticket to exit the system.
Weekend track maintenance work
Train services at weekends are sometimes affected by track maintenance and repair work, with some services diverted and buses used to cover some sections of route. You can get details of upcoming work at the South Eastern railway website.
Getting into Kent and getting around
There are a number of ways to get around by train, and many visitors will start out at London.
From London the main terminals that serve Kent are London St Pancras (High Speed Trains), London Victoria and London Charing Cross (of which this article will focus on). You can also use London Bridge, London Waterloo East, London Cannon Street, and London Blackfriars.
London St Pancras is the terminal for the High Speed Train (HST 125mph) service towards the Medway Towns, Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. This station is adjacent to London King's Cross and a short distance from London Euston, two other important London terminii. High Speed trains into Kent also stop at Stratford, very convenient for travel to and from Essex and East Anglia. Do bear in mind that for certain journeys the time gained using the HST route may be negated by the need to cross London to get to or from St Pancras.
Victoria is one of the Kent terminals, and serves the whole county (as well as neighbouring Sussex and Surrey, and the London suburbs). This is the place to start journeys to the Kent Coast (in particular the Isle of Thanet and Dover). There are also services to Ashford (for some international Eurostar Services) and Maidstone, as well as Canterbury.
Services to all of these destinations are very regular from Victoria running about every half hour/every hour. Tickets should generally be bought in advance if travelling from London, and Victoria does have ticket barriers in operation most of the time.
London Charing Cross is a smaller Kent terminus that offers services to all of the above destinations, as well as other routes, including to Folkestone and Deal on the coast, Tunbridge Wells,Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Staplehurst in the Weald of Kent, and also Chartham and Wye for the spectacular views of the North Downs. Trains from Charing Cross also call at Waterloo (East), some call at London Bridge while during peak weekday rush hours many trains run to or from London Cannon Street station, in the heart of the 'City'.
The trains from London's several terminals criss-cross the county serving a variety of routes and destinations. Screens and announcements on the platforms and in the trains are used to reel off the stopping points and destinations. Some trains divide en route, so do make sure you are in the correct section of the train if you hear such an announcement. Don't be afraid to ask people if you are not sure. Many of those on the train will be regular travellers and can help if there are no staff around.
New High Speed trains between London and Kent.
The new Ebbsfleet International station provides full high speed services to and from London St Pancras station within 20 mins.These new high speed trains also serve Ashford, Dover, Ramsgate, Margate, Canterbury and other stations in the east of the county. A higher fare is payable for journeys on the HST (High Speed Train) between Ashford, Ebbsfleet and London, but normal fares apply where these new trains share routes and tracks with the standard service.
St Pancras station is a couple of miles to the north of the City and West End of London.This is very useful if connecting for trains arriving at or leaving from St Pancras, King's Cross and Euston. However, travellers to or from certain areas of London (ie the West End and City) will still find it more convenient (and cheaper) to use Victoria or Charing Cross and the 'classic' lines.
Intending travellers can get full details from the South Eastern railway website at www.woutheasternrailway.co.uk
HST - via High Speed Route to St Pancras. Other times are via 'classic' routes to london Victoria/Charing Cross or Cannon Street. Times are the average. Faster trains run on many lines during peak commuter hours.
Isle of Thanet (Mar/Ram/Broad): Ihr 25 minutes HST, ~2hours
Canterbury: 56 minutes HST, ~1.5hrs
Ashford Intl: 38 minutes HST, ~1.25hrs
Tonbridge: ~40mins (no HST)
Tunbridge Wells ~50/60 minutes (no HST)
Dover: 1 hr 8 minutes HST, ~1hr 50 minutes otherwise
Medway Towns: 40 mins HST, 1 hour otherwise.
Maidstone: 1 hour (no HST except a couple of trains each way at weekday peak times)
Rail Travel Towards London From Country and Coast
If you are visiting London for the day, you can buy a 'Travelcard' ticket, which will combine the train journey to and from London and the ability to use London's local buses and trains to get around once there.
Dover- If you are arriving at the port of Dover, then Priory station is a short bus ride away. From here there are regular trains to London as well as to Ramsgate (for Broadstairs and Margate) and Canterbury.
Gatwick- The airport is actually not in Kent, but will be included here. There is the Gatwick Express train that runs from London Victoria direct to Gatwick, with journey times taking about 30mins. If travelling from/towards other parts of Kent, use trains to/from Tonbridge (which always now include a change at Redhill).
Canterbury and Thanet- Trains run towards London Victoria very regularly from Canterbury East via Faversham. From Ramsgate and Thanet via Canterbury West there are trains to Charing Cross roughly every half hour. There are also occasional trains from C.West to Victoria (see National Rail Enquiries for more details).
From Thanet there are services to London Victoria via Herne Bay, Faversham and the North Kent coast. This is the quickest route into London (~1hr45mins).
There are also services from Ramsgate regularly to London Charing Cross via Dover and Folkestone.
Ashford International and Maidstone- If arriving into Ashford by Eurostar, the domestic station is in the immediate vicinity. Trains from Ashford to London via Tonbridge run about every 30mins and via Maidstone East roughly every hour. Other local services connect Ashford with Folkestone, Dover and Canterbury at least once evey hour.
Trains towards London and other major cities and towns in Kent are very busy on weekdays with commuters from start of service around 5am until 9am. In the reverse direction, trains will be full leaving London between about 4pm and 7pm. If leaving from a London terminal, try to arrive 10 - 15 minutes before your train leaves and you will have a reasonable chance of getting a seat.
Kent has a good network of roads and motorways, however these are often jammed and queues are quite likely at any point of the day. In particular the M20, M2, M26 and M25 can get very busy, especially between 7:30am-10am and 4pm-6:30pm (rush hours).
Have a look at this Kent Roadmap to plan your journey accordingly.
National Express run regular services to most major towns in Kent from London Victoria Bus Terminal on Buckingham Palace Road, London. The majority of services will end up terminating at either Ramsgate or Dover, but will have lots of stops on the way depending on your route. See their website for more information on Kent schedules, services and prices.
Local buses in Kent
Local buses around the county are operated by a large number of companies, ranging from the large organisations of Arriva, Metrobus and Stagecoach down to one man and his bus. There is a comprehensive travel website for the region at http://www.travelinesoutheast.org.uk/ within which you can discover all the routes and timetables.The major companies also have their own websites.
Most of the county is reasonably well served by bus on weekdays and Saturdays until early evening, However buses after about 7pm and all day on Sundays and holidays are often very limited, so travel on those times/days will need to be carefully planned. There are NO local buses operated on December 25th (Christmas Day) and very few on December 26th (Boxing Day) and New Year's Day, January 1st..
The larger companies may issue 'rover' tickets, which generally allow unlimited travel after 9am weekdays, all day Saturday, Sunday and Holidays. However these can usually only be used on that company's own routes. Enquire at the local bus station or bus office or through the company website.
The county wide public tansport map can be viewed and downloaded at http://www.kent.gov.uk/__data/assets/...
There are bus maps by district also at the Kent County Council website at http://www.kent.gov.uk/roads-and-trav... - these show all bus routes with all bus companies.
A few visitors may arrive into Kent on a cruise, or have come from one of the ports in France, Belgium or beyond. P&O ferries operate cross-channel services between Calais and Dover, usually costing around £20-£30. P&O are the only ferry operator to carry foot passengers, but only on daytime sailings. At the time of writing no other ferries operate between Dover and Calais except with DFDS Seways, who do not carry foot passengers - website here.
The Port of Dover is very well run, and staff will be able to assist with onward travel into Kent, and directions to the station if required.
There are also ferry services to Oostende in Belgium from Ramsgate operated by Transeuropa.
By EUROSTAR/CHANNEL TUNNEL
A very few Eurostar services still currently call at Ashford International en-route to London St. Pancras, but are not as frequent as they used to be. From Ashford, passengers can easily and smoothly connect with the domestic rail services to the rest of Kent. Ebbsfleet Station in North Kent is now also open and accepting Eurostar passengers to/from the Continent. Car parking is available at Ebbsfleet station. To reach Ebbsfleet by rail , change at Dartford, Greenhithe, Swanscombe or Gravesend for a FastTrack bus service to Ebbsfleet. Staff at these stations will be able to direct you to the correct buses. Rather annoyingly, Ebbsfleet station is within half a mile of Northfleet station on the Gravesend - London rail route but there is no walking route between the two
Most Eurostar trains no longer stop at Ashford. Therefore those travelling from or to Ashford, Dover, Folkestone, Canterbury, Margate, Ramsgate etc now have to travel using the High Speed trains some 40 - 50 miles in the wrong direction to reach the Eurostar terminal at Ebbsfleet.
EuroTunnel (The Channel Tunnel) operates from just outside Folkestone, and is clearly marked by road from both the M20/M2 and the main routes from Dover to Folkestone. You can board the Channel Tunnel train with your car the journey takes about 35 minutes and runs from Folkestone to Calais, France . It is difficult to reach Eurotunnel from the Rail stations at Folkestone (and Sandling), but is do-able by taxi from either Dover or Folkestone station. (A bus service may operate from the Folkestone stations). The Channel Tunnel and The Channel Tunnel Rail Link are however not the same, which is why it has now been called High-speed 1.
Gatwick Airport is the nearest airport to Kent. Roads and rail links are outlined above. There is also Kent International Airport at Manston on the Isle of Thanet which operates some passenger flights during the summer. The nearest rail station is Ramsgate about 3 miles away. Please see the airport website or look at the Broadstairs Travel page for further information.