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Spotlight on: the Weald of Kent

PUBLISHED: 15:33 31 October 2014 | UPDATED: 15:33 31 October 2014

Sissinghurst Castle Garden, near Cranbrook

Sissinghurst Castle Garden, near Cranbrook

©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley

Rich in history and picturesque countryside, the glorious Weald of Kent is a perfect destination for visitors wanting to experience the real English countryside

Ask a Kent resident about the area known as the Weald and they’re likely to have a rough idea as to where you mean. But narrowing it down to exactly which towns and villages are included can be a bit tricky.

A good rule of thumb is to look at a map of Kent, identify the two biggest Wealden towns, Cranbrook and Tenterden, and consider anywhere east of Tunbridge Wells and south of Maidstone in that undulating Kentish heartland to be the Weald of Kent.

It’s not an exact science but it’s a good place to start. Some of the idyllic rural villages on the patch include Kilndown, Goudhurst, Hawkhurst, Benenden, Biddenden, Rolvenden, Smarden, Sissinghurst, Headcorn, Staplehurst, Bethersden, High Halden and Sandhurst.

Often featuring the suffix ‘hurst’ or a ‘den’, old English for hill or valley, these villages have changed little in the past centuries and still boast historic buildings, rural charm and a slower pace of life.

The Weald in fact spans several counties. The word ‘weald’ is Old English in origin and means woodland, but today the name refers to an area rich in history and picturesque countryside. Although the area includes East and West Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey, it’s the Weald of Kent we know and love as a perfect destination for visitors wanting to experience English countryside.

It might only be around an hour from London by train but when you’re exploring the many quaint villages and historic towns of the Weald, you feel totally immersed in the past. And with so much countryside, ancient forest and great walking locations, you can truly get away from it all.

For centuries this area was rife with hop gardens. Hundreds of oast houses—kilns for drying hops—leave tell-tale evidence of the Weald’s past, although most of the commercial hop growing has migrated elsewhere. Apple orchards, market garden fields and grazing land still abound.

Staying in any of the many villages in the Weald, visitors will also be rewarded with their excellent accommodation, country pubs, great walks, beautiful churches and historical places of interest.

A car is recommended to really get the best out of exploring the many villages in the area, but if you like cycling you’ll love the footpaths and in particular the cycling routes in the Bedgebury Forest.

Shopping and eating

The larger towns of the Weald of Kent, Cranbrook and Tenterden, are the main centres for shopping and offer everything from local butchers and bakers to clothing, jewellery and antiques shops.

Great places to eat include the Michelin-starred Apicius in Cranbrook (01580 714666) and The Nutmeg café and delicatessen in Tenterden (01580 764125).

But it’s the Wealden villages that we’re focusing on and Hawkhurst has some lovely independent shops, including trendy gift shop Winifred’s Daughter (01580 755714) and eclectic clothing 
shop Cordelia James (01580 752118).

An area well-known for its country pubs, some of our favourite pub restaurants in the Weald are The Goudhurst Inn (01580 212605) and The Star & Eagle in Goudhurst (01580 211512), which has the most incredible view from the rear, as well 
as The Globe & Rainbow in Kilndown (01892 890803), The Bull at Benenden (01580 240054) and The Bell And 
Jorrocks in Frittenden (01580 852415).

Enjoy a traditional afternoon tea at 
one of the area’s many quaint tearooms. Try Kent Life finalist in the Teashop of the Year category of our Food & Drink Awards, Sandhurst Tea Rooms (01580 850181), 
or The Mocking Bird Vintage Tea Rooms 
in Staplehurst (01580 892648).

Sissinghurst Castle’s restaurant The Granary (01580 710700) is lovely for lunch, and The Vine restaurant in Goudhurst (01580 211753) is always popular.

Places to go

Finchcocks Musical Museum: a stunning Georgian manor house near Goudhurst which houses a collection of more than 
100 historic pianos, organs and harpsichords (01580 211702, TN17 1HH)

Hole Park Gardens: a privately owned 15-acre garden in Rolvenden open to visitors on certain days during the autumn (01580 241344 , TN17 4JB)

Wildlife Heritage Foundation’s Big Cat Centre: a low-key breeding centre for some of the world’s most endangered big cats based in Smarden, open for special big cat encounter days, photographic workshops and for a handful of public open days over the summer (01233 771915, TN27 8PJ)

Bedgebury Forest and Pinetum: an entire forest to explore by foot or by bike, situated near Goudhurst, which also boasts a great outdoor play area for children, a lakeside cafe and a Go Ape! tree climbing adventure centre (01580 879820, TN17 2SL)

Property market

Expect to pay £230,000-£375,000 for a three-bedroom property. You can get a 
deal by moving to a more rural spot and sacrificing the good transport connections. Peter Buswell in Hawkhurst (01580 755565) and Lloyd Martin in Cranbrook (01580 712500) are just two of many estate agents who specialise in this popular area. n

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