Coun­try life

Kent Life - - Westerham - WORDS: Caro­line Read PIC­TURES:

With its pris­tine coun­try­side and pic­ture-per­fect vil­lages, the beau­ti­ful Weald of Kent is a walker’s de­light and so spe­cial that it’s des­ig­nated an AONB

Na­tional Trust and Manu Palomeque

I n terms of maps and bound­aries, the Weald of Kent is roughly the coun­try­side from Tun­bridge Wells to Lympne.

Once form­ing part of a huge an­cient for­est that crossed Kent, Sus­sex and

Sur­rey, the area has the his­toric coun­try towns of Cran­brook and Ten­ter­den at its heart, sur­rounded by cho­co­late box vil­lages in­clud­ing Goud­hurst, Hawkhurst, Wit­ter­sham, Wood­church, Head­corn, Smar­den, Siss­inghurst, Pluckley and Bethers­den. Best known for its pris­tine coun­try­side and boun­ti­ful fruit pro­duc­tion, it was also the home of the an­cient iron in­dus­try and had a thriv­ing woollen in­dus­try cen­tred around Cran­brook.

These days the Weald is pro­tected as an Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty and is en­joyed by tourists, walk­ers, cy­clists and na­ture lovers. With a slower pace of life and a deep con­nec­tion to its agri­cul­tural roots, the Weald of Kent is quin­tes­sen­tial Dar­ling Buds of May coun­try.

It’s an area rich in vis­i­tor at­trac­tions too, with walk­ers par­tic­u­larly well catered for. Take a stroll through the for­est or ride bikes at Bedge­bury, walk around Bewl Wa­ter’s reser­voir or com­bine a walk with his­tory at the Na­tional Trust’s lo­cal prop­er­ties.

Siss­inghurst Cas­tle was fa­mously the home of writer and gar­dener Vita Sackville-West and still boasts one of the best gar­dens in the coun­try, while Small­hythe Place near Ten­ter­den was the home of Vic­to­rian ac­tress Ellen Terry and houses her won­der­ful col­lec­tion.

And stun­ning Scot­ney Cas­tle in Lam­ber­hurst is a real treat, with two his­toric homes to ex­plore among im­pres­sive gar­dens and grounds.

Se­ri­ous walk­ers can take on the en­tire High Weald Land­scape Trail but at

145km, most will go for a shorter sec­tion. The 19-mile ‘red sec­tion’ leads the trail be­tween Mat­field and Rol­ven­den, tak­ing in many of our pretty Wealden vil­lages. Most have re­mained al­most un­changed for hun­dreds of years and are best ex­plored on foot.

Goud­hurst is one of the pret­ti­est and most de­sir­able vil­lages in the Weald and St Mary’s Church is a land­mark that can be seen from miles around, sit­ting as it does at the high­est point. Its tower is open to the pub­lic most week­end af­ter­noons be­tween Easter and mid-July and of­fers one of

Gar­den vol­un­teers at Scot­ney Cas­tle

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