Wonders of The Weald
PUBLISHED: 14:01 25 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:56 20 February 2013
Accounting for much of the southern half of the county as far as the Sussex <br/><br/>border, the beautiful Weald is characterised by narrow winding lanes, <br/><br/>abundant woodland and ancient houses, castles and oast houses
Since 1983 much of the High Weald has been designated an AONB, an area of 570 square miles (including parts of Sussex) characterised by hills, thickly wooded areas, small fields surrounded by hedgerows interspersed with small villages with oast houses and white weather-boarded cottages.
The Kent Downs AONB runs along the Kent section of the North Downs, covering 343 square miles. On the tops of The Downs are stretches of open lowland turf, with orchids, whereas the downward-facing chalk scarps have ancient bluebell woods.
History and farming
Thousands of years ago the Wealden woods were Englands biggest centre of pannage the custom of driving pigs into woodland to eat acorns and the swine-herding Neolithic farmers cleared areas for settlements, which became villages.
Until the late Middle Ages the Wealden forests were a traditional hiding place for outlaws, and even long after that time smuggling has been associated with the area, due to its proximity to the sea. From Roman times Wealdens sandstone was used to make iron, with the forests timber providing the necessary charcoal.
The iron industry expanded from 1490, as did weaving and tanning, making the Kentish Weald one of wealthiest areas of England. By the 19th century these industries had died out, but farming was perennially successful and remains very important.
The sandy soils of the High Weald were suitable for mixed farms, with grazing and the cultivation of cereals, fruit and hops. In the Low Weald pasturelands predominated, helped by the heavy soil, and hop picking thrived. The area to the west of Maidstone was known as the Garden of England, and was until recently home to half of Englands apple orchards. Wealden clay was used for tiles, bricks and other earthenware items, and in the Middle Ages the area was famous for producing iron, timber and pottery.
Known as the Capital of the Weald, magnificent St Dunstans church is referred to as The Cathedral of the Weald.
Called Jewel of the Weald, its port (before it silted up) was the origin of Tenterdens prosperity, especially when it became a member of the Cinque Ports.
A relatively young town, which began in the 17th century as a result of its Chalybeate Springs beneficial qualities. Toad Rock and High Rocks are typical Wealden iron-rich sandstone, as are the towns four steep hills.
Once the centre of Whitbreads huge hop farm and now adjacent to The Hop Farm leisure centre.
Known for its steep High Street, fine church and duck-filled pond, Goudhurst is also the home of Finchcocks, home to 100 historical keyboard instruments. The museum re-opens on 2 April.
Biddas woodland pasture was renowned for cloth making and is today home to Michelin-starred Chapter One restaurant
Boasts many white weather-boarded houses and was home to the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers.
Historic buildings, rolling grasslands, abundant woodlands, sunken lanes and lovely villages give a snapshot image of a typical Wealden landscape, but it bears no resemblance to how the Weald might have looked in medieval days.
This huge chunk of southern England was then covered in impenetrable forests, hence the name, derived from the Anglo-Saxon Wald, meaning woodland. Villages and towns grew from pig-grazing clearings in the forest, giving rise to the common suffix den for many Wealden place names, meaning grazing land.
What is the Weald?
Millions of years ago the area south east of the Thames was a dome of land topped by chalk. The central, upthrusting part was stripped of the white mineral, leaving a rim of chalk rocks at the top and bottom, now called the North and South Downs.
This stripped area is what we call the Weald, and covers large tracts of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. The lands evisceration process left east-to-west directional ridges and the rivers in this area (originating from the previous domed capping) flow either south or north, depending which side of the High Weald watershed they rise.
The Weald splits into The High Weald in the centre, the Low Weald around the edges and the Greensand Ridge, running along north and west.
The Weald of Kent accounts for much of the southern half of the county as far as the Sussex border. Its northern edge follows a line just below Sevenoaks, Maidstone, Ashford and Folkestone, while it terminates slightly before Westerham at the west and several miles inland from the coast at the east.
Most of Kents Wealdland is in the High Weald, apart from a sizeable band of land at its northern part, including Tonbridge, Paddock Wood and Staplehurst, thats in the Low Weald.
At the edges, overlooking this Wealdland, are borderline places such as Sevenoaks Weald, Sundridge Upland Weald and Boughton Malherbe Weald, which are sometimes regarded as Wealdland.
The High Weald is made up of hard sandstones that formed hills, whereas the Low Weald is typified by softer sandstones and clays, giving a more gentle rolling landscape; the Low Weald is in fact the eroded edges of the High Weald and has sandstone outcrops within underlying clay.
Deep weathering of sandstone along vertical joints give strange shaped rocks on hillsides, notably in Tunbridge Wells and nearby High Rocks. The High Wealds soil tends to be thin infertile sands, whereas the Low Wealds earth is usually wet sticky clay. Typical Low Weald features are low-lying clay vales and small woodlands and fields, with a lot of surface water in the form of ponds and streams. Small fields and scattered farmsteads abound in these areas.