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Spotlight on the wonderful Weald of Kent

PUBLISHED: 10:53 13 November 2017

Scotney Castle is an English country house with formal gardens south-east of Lamberhurst in the valley of the River Bewl

Scotney Castle is an English country house with formal gardens south-east of Lamberhurst in the valley of the River Bewl

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Explore the pristine countryside, the historic villages and the superb attractions that make up one of our county's most recognisable landscapes. Welcome to the wonderful Weald of Kent

An artist’s impression of the ‘earth lodges’ to be built into slopes around the estate at Bewl WaterAn artist’s impression of the ‘earth lodges’ to be built into slopes around the estate at Bewl Water

The Weald was once a huge expanse of woodland that covered parts of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey.

The scenic area of our county still known as the Weald of Kent is rich in history and dotted with small, picturesque villages that haven’t changed much in centuries. Popular with walkers keen to take in some proper Kentish countryside – and maybe sample the excellent country pubs the area is famous for – the Weald is a green and pleasant place; a landscape proudly protected by its residents.

The area’s towns like Tunbridge Wells, Tenterden and Cranbrook, and even the large village of Hawkhurst, are its hubs. But do venture off to explore villages including Brenchley, Matfield, Horsmonden, Speldhurst, Goudhurst, Lamberhurst, Biddenden, Benenden, Sandhurst, Newenden, Rolvenden, Smarden and Bethersden, and your efforts will be well rewarded.

Historic village greens, old-fashioned post offices, cricket pitches, tea rooms, bed and breakfasts, ancient churches and pretty pubs are plentiful and, thanks to all the great walks across forests and footpaths, many places are dog-friendly too.

Several of Kent’s top visitor attractions are also scattered across the Weald, so be sure to plan visits to Biddenden Vineyard, Bewl Water, Bedgebury Pinetum, Scotney Castle, Hush Heath Winery, Sissinghurst Castle and many more.

For a special treat, dine at Graham Garrett’'s Michelin-starred restaurant The West House in BiddendenFor a special treat, dine at Graham Garrett’'s Michelin-starred restaurant The West House in Biddenden

Bewl Water

Taken over by new owners Markerstudy Leisure a couple of years ago, 800-acre Bewl Water Country Park has been updating its facilities to now include water sports, cycling routes, a new café and bistro, activities for children, a passenger boat offering cruises on the lake and even better fishing opportunities.

New for this year, its Boat House Bistro has also become a wedding venue with spectacular views over the lake. Next up is a plan to create self-catering accommodation at Bewl Water.

Plans have been submitted to Wealden Council for 58 ‘earth lodges’ to be built into slopes around the estate, each covered with a bank of earth and sheltered beneath a wild meadow roof. The lodges will be powered by renewable technologies and will offer views of the lake and woodland.

Meanwhile, work is ongoing on improving the surface of the 12.5 mile round Bewl Water track. The route provides spectacular views across the water, with only a short section taking in public roads, and bike hire will be available through the winter.

For anglers, the lake has been extensively restocked with trout, with an additional 17,500 fish being added this autumn to keep stocks at high levels. The reservoir’s fleet of fishing boats has also been completely updated with new models.

Enjoying Forest School at Bedgebury PinetumEnjoying Forest School at Bedgebury Pinetum

Visit www.bewlwater.co.uk

Eating and shopping

The Wealden towns and larger villages, including Tunbridge Wells, Tenterden, Cranbrook and Hawkhurst, are the main centres for shopping and eating, but the villages spread across the region have plenty to offer too.

An area well-known for its country pubs, some of our favourites are The Goudhurst Inn and The Vine in Goudhurst, as well as The Bull at Benenden, The Milk House in Sissinghurst, The Poet at Matfield, The Peacock at Iden Green, The Three Chimneys in Biddenden, The Halfway House at Brenchley, The Vineyard in Lamberhurst; the list goes on and on.

Sandhurst Tea Rooms, The Tiny Teapot in Biddenden or Benenden’s Community Shop and Café are a great choice for a cuppa, or have a light lunch at Lime Wharf Café set by the River Rother in Newenden, at Hamerton+Jones in Goudhurst (see our Postcard from The Weald) or at one of the National Trust cafés at Scotney Castle in Lamberhurst or Sissinghurst Castle.

Hamerton+JonesHamerton+Jones

For something really special try the Michelin-starred West House in Biddenden. Explore the villages to find little gems like clothing store Village Life in Goudhurst, Cranbrook Iron Hawkhurst and Claris’s gift shop in Biddenden.

Property prices

The Weald is a large area and prices vary from village to village. Historic cottages and large detached country residences are the most likely properties to be on the market and you can expect to pay somewhere from £160,000 for a one-bedroom flat, from £240,000 for a two-bed terraced cottage and from £315,000 for a three-bed semi. Large properties are available, especially in rural areas, for anything up to around £1.5million.

Forest School

With so much of the Weald of Kent made up of ancient woodland, it makes sense that people should want to use and enjoy it.

Set up as a not-for-profit organisation in 1991, the Kent High Weald Partnership (KHWP) is based at Bedgebury Pinetum and aims to encourage and promote conservation, landscape enhancement and informal recreation within the borough of Tunbridge Wells. KHWP’s countryside education officer, Saul Fajerman, tells us about the Forest School project he’s running there to encourage children to get away from computer screens and mess about in the great outdoors.

“Forest School is an approach to education that focuses on child-led learning in a woodland environment,” says Saul. “Activities include fire lighting, making items out of woodland materials, games, free play tool use and cooking. Children are enabled, helped, assisted and encouraged but not led or made to participate.

“My personal mantra with Forest School is: there is no right or wrong, there is only safe and unsafe.”

Saul has been involved in environmental education and outdoor learning for more than 10 years and qualified as a Forest School Practitioner in 2012. In 2015 he also got a teaching qualification to enable him to provide Forest School training to adults.

“I have always had an interest in bushcraft, ancient technologies and green woodworking,” he says. “Forest School seemed a fantastic opportunity to combine my interests with my teaching practice.”

As for the children, some of the benefits of Forest School include boosting confidence, improving social skills, and help with motivation and concentration.

“Forest Schools are increasingly popular,” says Saul. “Firstly because there is solid academic research than demonstrates these benefits, and also because Ofsted recommends that children should spend at least some of the school day outdoors.

“There is also growing awareness among parents and teachers that children no longer play outside like they did in the past. New technology, increased screen time and fear of stranger danger are barriers to normal childhood development. Forest School provides high risk experiential activities in a controlled environment.

“Children get to do what their parents remember doing as children.”

Saul runs a permanent Forest School from the site at Bedgebury, which is used by local schools, groups and pre-schools during the year, as well as for summer activities camps open to children aged between 7 and 12. They are also able to run sessions from other suitable green spaces, with permission from the land owner.

Schools interested in getting involved in Forest School can contact KWHP for details. Visit www.khwp.org.uk

Getting there

There is plenty of convenient parking in the Wealden towns and villages, much of which is free, and many useful bus links, although train connections are not so good. Cranbrook is referred to as ‘capital of the Weald’ and lies on the A229 between Maidstone and Hastings. The surrounding villages are spread out with train stations including Staplehurst, Headcorn, Marden and Etchingham.

Postcard from the Weald

My name is Kali Hamerton-Stove and I am half owner of Hamerton+Jones, a café and shop located in the beautiful village of Goudhurst. I became friends with Sarah, my business partner, through our daughters, who are the best of friends. I’ve lived in Goudhurst for seven years and we’ve always said Goudhurst needed a daytime place where people could gather for a good coffee and chat. I left my marketing job in London a few years ago and was sourcing ethical homeware for COOK when Sarah, who owns a restaurant in Tonbridge (Graze), asked me if I’d be willing to start something in Goudhurst.

Together, Sarah and I share a love of simple, fresh and flavoursome food. Most dishes we serve don’t have more than five ingredients, but those are carefully chosen and sourced locally where possible. Quality and seasonality is paramount. Our most popular item seems to be the smashed avocado on Lighthouse sourdough with a poached egg. And I have to mention our fabulous selection of cakes, cookies and treats - all homemade and irresistible!

But it’s not just food. Our shop brings together a wildly random menagerie of items, old and new, highly practical or quirky and beautiful, that will live long in your home, work hard for you and bring you joy always. We also have a fabulous selection of cards.

My favourite thing about the village is the setting - the hill-top settlement with the winding high street up to the stunning church, it just couldn’t be prettier. And it’s such a friendly village. And I really like our pubs too - the Goudhurst Inn is beautiful and great for dinner and The Vine has a very cool atmosphere and is so friendly. We even have a beautiful clothing shop, Village Life. I feel so lucky to live near Bedgebury and their amazing trails and kids’ spaces and I like to visit Hush Heath and Chapel Down to tour and taste wine - reminds of my San Francisco roots.

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