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A James Bond driving tour of England's Kent

Special to The Times

James Bond would choke on his dry martini at today's gas prices -- 1.20 pounds a liter in his British homeland, or about $8 a gallon.

Powering along Britain's open roads in supercharged machines for fictional adventures, 007 would soon feel the pinch at the pump.

His Bentley ripped through the heart of 1950s Kent in Ian Fleming's "Moonraker" -- the secret agent's third outing. And in "Goldfinger" (Fleming's seventh Bond novel), an Aston Martin DB III was the weapon of choice. He was in Kent to dig dirt on Auric Goldfinger: villain, gold smuggler and assassination agency treasurer.

Today, the routes through the county of Kent in southeastern England are peppered with speed cameras dishing out fines that not even Bond's persuasive tongue could help him dodge. But the journey still holds the charm that lured 007 and makes for a worthy one-day driving trip.

It certainly worked for Bond novelist Fleming. The writer, born 100 years ago this year, adored Kent, known as the "garden of England," and owned a beach home there.

He littered literary connections to 007 around Kent and earned it the additional title "James Bond country."

Things quintessentially Bond -- drinking, adventure, ruggedness, a passion for sporting endeavors such as cricket and golf -- can be found along two driving routes.

The Goldfinger adventure begins on the A2, a main highway out of London.

Bond motored through Rochester and Chatham (where Pierce Brosnan would later film a boat-chase scene for "The World Is Not Enough" at the dockyard).

Vehicle dealerships, luxury apartments, traffic cones and the menace of speed cameras line the route exiting Chatham. But coursing through the expanding foliage of the countryside toward Sittingbourne, Bond country reveals itself with a little more seduction.

A cricket match is underway at the Grove to tease our protagonist off course, but onward he travels through Faversham and onto the coastal route of the A299.

Bond would probably hope to visit Goldfinger territory, otherwise known as the village of Reculver, where the villain ran a factory in which he transformed gold into doors for his Rolls Royce.

The secret agent would slow near Reculver but stay on course, assuming clever Goldfinger would use Ramsgate as a smuggling spot instead of the open coastline of Reculver.

Had he navigated the narrow lanes, Bond would have spotted the imposing towers of the church ruins. Much of the site has crumbled into the sea, and today the ruins preside over a caravan holiday park.

Onward to Ramsgate, then the A258 coastal road. But before reaching Sandwich: golf.

Fleming was a regular on the lavish greens of Royal St. George's Golf Club, and in Goldfinger the course masquerades as Royal St. Mark's, where Bond and the baddie wage war over a high-stakes round.

The game can be followed stroke by stroke, page by page, although the golf course is private. Fleming was club captain in the '60s. On Aug. 11, 1964, he attended a fateful meeting where he suffered a heart attack. He died the next day in Canterbury.

Windmills, houses and pubs put shadows on the landscape between the seaside town of Deal and St. Margaret's at Cliffe, where Bond ends his "Goldfinger" route and begins "Moonraker."

Fleming owned a red-roofed house at St. Margaret's that provides a crucial chapter in the Bond story. Nine windows trained on the sea allowed Fleming to gaze and dream of adventures, and the home stands firm on the pebbly beach.

Climbing the cliffs on a steep, winding road, the route turns to Dover. Our hero swings past the castle, which stands proudly on the hill overlooking the port.

South of Canterbury, following signs to Bridge, is the otherwise insignificant but charmingly named village of Pett Bottom.

Bond spent his formative years here with an aunt after the death of his parents -- a fact revealed in a newspaper obituary after he was "killed off" in "You Only Live Twice."

Fleming lapped up drinks at the Duck Inn, one of his favorite pubs, where horses canter in a field and the quacking of ducks carries on the wind. A plaque claims Fleming wrote "You Only Live Twice" here in 1964. It was the last Bond book published during the writer's lifetime.

The rest of the drive, past Leeds Castle and Maidstone along the A20, provided the setting for a car duel between 007 and Sir Hugo Drax, the ill-fated "Moonraker" missile backer. The missile would blow him out of the sea rather than destroy London as intended.

Bond's Kent trail ends at the M25. It's easily done in a day. Mr. Bond would have the job done in just a few short hours, but it's worth easing off the accelerator and drinking in England's garden.

Goldfinger defeated, a missile thrown off course, Bond country conquered and not a speeding fine in sight. All in all, a good day's work for secret agent 007.

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