Detling lies between the A249, an express train link, and the M20. You may not immediately think of it as the epicenter for eternal youth.

For starters, it is tiny — with a population of barely 800, fewer than 400 houses (albeit many of them attractively beamed) and a gentle roar of traffic in the distance.

Strung out on a hillside near Maidstone in Kent and sliced in half by a busy dual carriageway, there isn’t much to it.

The Cock Horse pub, St Martin Church, the village hall, community shop, a smart red telephone box (home to an emergency defibrillator), a glut of lovingly tended gardens and, well, that’s about it.

The small village of Detling in Kent has the highest life expectancy in the whole country. In order, residents Gill, 82 (L),David Humphrey, 87 , Tikki Gulland, 71, and John Clayton , 78, (R) stand outside The Cock Horse pub

The small village of Detling in Kent has the highest life expectancy in the whole country. Residents Gill, 82 (L), David Humphrey (87), Tikki Gulland (71), and John Clayton (78) stand outside The Cock Horse pub.

According to Public Health England, the average lifespan for women in Detling is 95, which is a full 12 years above the national average

Public Health England reports that the average life expectancy for Detling women is 95. This is 12 years more than the national average.

The small village is nestled between the A249, a high-speed train link and the M20, near Maidstone, Kent

The small village lies between the A249, a high speed train link, and the M20, just outside Maidstone, Kent.

There is a magic to the place. And that’s perhaps because Detling has the highest life expectancy in the whole country.

Public Health England says that the average life expectancy for women in England is a remarkable 95. Ninety five! That’s a full 12 years above the national average and more than two decades longer than the less fortunate women of north-east England’s Stockton-on-Tees, who average just 72.

Detling residents seem to know their luck. I see octogenarians striding up the hill with their glowing cheeks and tail-wagging canines, barely taking a single breath.

Their amazing community shop-cum–post office is filled with awards and buzzing full of laughter and conversation. There is even a booze licence, in case you fancy a cheeky glass of sherry in the sun, and a playground next door for children — or, more likely, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Nearly everyone I meet looks 15 years younger than their actual age. Strong, straight legs, clear skin and enviable joint mobility, impressively full heads of hair, sharp eyes, and a keen sense of humour.

And, of course, they all love gin and tonics, chilled rosé, strong tea and recklessly late-in-the-day fully caffeinated coffees.

John Clayton, 79, who co-founded the village’s award-winning shop, is a silver-haired powerhouse who used to run a steelworks and looks as if he could easily build his own house — after chopping down the necessary trees, that is. His handshake alone will get you giddy.

Community store and post office founders, Richard Finn, 71, (L) and John Clayton, 78, (R)

Richard Finn (71), and John Clayton (78), were the founders of a community store and post office. (L)

Finn and Clayton founded the village¿s award-winning shop, which has a booze licence, in case you fancy a cheeky glass of sherry in the sun, and a playground next door for children

Finn and Clayton founded the village’s award-winning shop, which has a booze licence, in case you fancy a cheeky glass of sherry in the sun, and a playground next door for children

Tikki Gulland is a relative youngster, aged 71. Her skin is as smooth as butter and looks impossibly young. Gill Humfrey (82), is the most elegantly presented octogenarian that I have ever seen.

Then there’s Irene Nobbs, a brilliantly beady lady with neatly set hair, who is counting down to her 103rd birthday. (Her 102nd was a pirate-themed bash — with blasting opera, naturally.) She is a former teacher and hairdresser, and lives in Barty House Nursing Home nearby.

Sadly, she has even outlived her daughter — who died of Covid earlier this year — and puts her longevity down to being cheerful.

It’s because she’s one of life’s ‘joiner-inners’, she says. ‘Oh, and a nice glass of rosé at lunch and dinner!’

Mary Maskell, 98, is just as chirpy and tells me she still swims regularly: ‘I’ve had a very happy life, but mostly I’m just GOOD at having fun.’

Gill, 82 (L) and David Humphrey, 87, pose outside a converted telephone box, which is now the village's defibrillator

Gill (L), 82 (L), and David Humphrey (87) pose outside a former telephone box that is now the village’s defibrillator.

Detling resident Mary Maskell, 98, says the secret to their longevity is having 'fun'

Mary Maskell, a Detling resident, explains that having fun is the key to their longevity.

So what’s their secret? Some people put it down to the hill that extends up into the Pilgrims’ Way, an ancient route between Winchester and Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury.

‘All that walking up and down all day, does you the world of good,’ says Women’s Institute stalwart Eunice Hardman, 79.

Others, like Margaret Cooke (89) and Richard Finn (73), who co-founded the village shop together with John, credit the water.

‘It’s straight off the chalk — there’s a reservoir up the road,’ says Richard. ‘It’s pretty hard, so we all have softeners but it’s very nice.’

But David Humfrey, 87, a retired history teacher, isn’t so sure: ‘The water? I’d maybe put some gin in it!’ While Gill, his wife of 60 years, puts it down to all the community activities on offer.

And certainly, Detlingers love to be busy — and I mean really busy.

This is not a Sudoku- and daytime TV show. No.

Life here is awash with activity — everything from garden safari societies, village picnics and the WI to the famed cricket club, Detling Players, and the much-anticipated Villager Of The Year Competition (each year a resident is commemorated for their special community contribution on a wooden plaque in the village hall).

‘You have to join in, even if sometimes you don’t want to,’ says Mr Clayton, who as well as running the shop, being a key member of the very active parish council and recent winner of the ‘most stunning bowler’ award, likes to clean the church in his spare time.

In 2013, Mr Humfrey, six friends, and all of Detling hosted a joint 80th birthday party in the village hall. ‘Oh it was lovely!’ says wife Gill. ‘We put on a huge ploughman’s lunch.’ And they even organised a personal fly-by from a World War II Spitfire — ‘We had a friend who flies in the Battle Of Britain memorial show’.

Halloween is frowned on a bit for ‘being too American’ but Christmas is HUGE — until recently marked yearly with a procession called ‘Search for the Christ Child’, starting in the pub and ending in a barn where you’ll find oxen, donkeys, pigs, sheep and — lying in the manger — a baby.

Yes, it is a real baby. It sounds so happy. As Gill told me: ‘Every day we pinch ourselves after all these years. We would never leave.’

However, Detling is not always so blessed.

The village was struck by tragedy in December 2000 when Jade Hobbs, 8 years old, and Margaret Kuwertz, 79, were hit by a car on their usual route down into the village. They were going to do some Christmas shopping.

Both of them died on the spot. They are now buried in the churchyard. It shaken the tightly knit village to its core. The community refused to be intimidated and fought for a new footbridge.

‘We ended up doing a sit-in on the road until the highways people agreed,’ says Richard Finn. And a year and a half later, the footbridge — named Jade’s Crossing and decorated in her memory with a silhouette of a dancing girl — opened, providing a safe connection between the two halves of the village for the first time.

The shop was closed down soon after the first school closed. Even the pub was forced to shut down for a time.

This would have been the end of many villages. The move to satellite commuter belt status. The death or disappearance of the local community.

Detling was not the one who made this decision. Sadly, there was nothing that could be done about the school — as is often the case in rural villages, there simply weren’t enough children to keep it going — but today, a planning application has been lodged for a sympathetic conversion.

The shop could still be saved with a bit of land, a few containers, landscaping, and at least 40 volunteers.

So last January, just before lockdown and to great fanfare, it opened, seven days a week — and immediately became the new village hub and subsequently a life-support system during Covid.

‘They say it added about £2,000 to the value of houses here,’ laughs Richard Finn. ‘Imagine what this latest news [about life expectancy] will do!’

Not that houses come up very often — although if you do happen to have a spare £1,750,000, Tikki Gulland is (reluctantly) downsizing and her house, the Croft, complete with a magical four-acre garden and a lot of lovely neighbours, is a total gem and available via Strutt & Parker.

The parish council also raised money to revamp the cricket pavilion and buy two areas of ancient woodland: ‘It is essential that people have somewhere lovely to walk,’ insists Mr Clayton.

Everything is done out love. ‘You couldn’t hide away here. There is a lot of caring going on. Which is nice for all,’ says Gill Humfrey. Or, as Tikki puts it: ‘We put our arms around each other here.’

But I think Mr Clayton sums it up best: ‘This is a little bit of yesteryear — where people used to look after each other.

‘We lost it as a country, but when you come to Detling you can see it again. We are a shining beacon of yesteryear.’

So if you love gin and tonic, a glass of rosé, community events, rolling countryside, endless activities and, like David Humfrey, you are so deaf you can’t hear the traffic — ‘It’s very handy,’ he beams — then this could be the place for you.

You never know what you might find, based on the stats.