Monday, 6 April 2009

High Weald Landscape Trail Day 5 Pembury - Cranbrook

Which Way?
Now that Spring is well and truly underway, I felt it was high time that I returned to a half-finished walk from last year, the High Weald Landscape Trail. I left it on a hot sticky day in August last year, not wanting to return until the blossom would be out on the orchards that look as if they dominate the next section.

Wood Anemones
Unfortunately I misjudged a bit, probably by about two weeks. Hey ho, I shall just have to do the next section with apple trees resplendent! This section is most definitely Kent, there’s no mistaking the countryside for Sussex any longer. Almost from the off the path passes through orchards and other soft fruit crops, scenes I remember well from my brief time living in Kent about ten years ago and last seen when I completed the Greensand Way.

Not Overly Helpful
Anyhow, I started the walk in Pembury electing to leave my car there rather than Cranbrook. Principally this was because of the frequency of the buses between the two – they are only two-hourly and I hadn’t got up early enough to get a useful bus in the morning. I had made a mental note of the last bus though, which was at 1740 and this would leave me plenty of time to complete the walk and have a nose around en route. I started just after 11am and the first thing I encountered after leaving the houses behind was the local fly-tip! Luckily this was an isolated case and I didn’t see any more for the rest of the day. Actually the area around Pembury was notable for some very large houses and after wandering around a few lanes, the path then went down a private road where most of the houses had very large fences and gates to keep oiks like me at a safe distance. As I walked along this road, I played cat and mouse with the postman, who was jumping in and out of his van and driving between the postboxes!
Matfield House

I was quite pleased to finally leave the houses behind and enter Snipe Wood. This was a very pleasant walk through coppiced woodland and some very large Scots Pines. However, any notion that I might enjoy the birdsong or scrabbling around of squirrels was soon squashed when the local farmer decided to start his machinery up. As it happens I never did see what it was, but it sounded suspiciously like an industrial sized shredder and made quite a din! Soon after this I got the sinking feeling that my careful timing for this walk was a bit out as I passed the first orchard of the day, with the dwarf trees all showing sprouts but no blossom yet!

Matfield Pond
After passing through a couple more orchards it was back to natural woodland and I was in for a special treat as they were carpeted in wood anemones, the pre-curser to bluebells. It is rare to see them in such abundance for they soon get crowded out by the bluebells, which were still a couple of weeks away from blooming.

In truth the countryside, while pleasant, wasn’t the star today. The highlights of the walk were all human settlements and I soon came to the first of the villages I would be passing though today. Matfield was dominated by a huge village green and presided over by Matfield House, a huge Queen Anne style house overlooking a small and rather muddy looking pond in one corner. I came upon the post office and after a little chuckle about the parochial headline on the local paper (‘Goose on the loose’ Latest) I took the opportunity of popping inside and grabbing a drink. Unfortunately it was obvious that the business was being wound down, possibly on account of the owner retiring (the lady who served me looked about the right age). There was hardly any stock left and the interior looked like it needed a bit of TLC. I had noticed the For Sale board outside and wondered whether they had had any interest during these dark times.

The path continued down the side of the building and was almost impossible to make out from the sign across the road. I passed between the houses and came out into a field of some kind of currants, although what colour they finally turn out to be is anybody’s guess. The rest of the way to the next village of Brenchley was across various other crops and orchards although I did also pass a very fortified looking hammer pond. I say that because it was being used as a private fishing lake and the members obviously want to keep people out by planting lots of hawthorn bushes all the way around. By now the oast houses were coming thick and fast, signalling that I was in prime hop growing country, although as yet I could see little evidence of the crop itself.

Brenchley was a beautiful village, all the more so for the blossom and flowers in people’s gardens. The church was a golden sandstone colour, reminiscent of the stone used in the Cotswolds. Someone connected with the church was also very keen on topiary, for the yew trees that lined the entrance to the church had been impeccably clipped and kept in check. I hung about in Brenchley for a short while and consumed an ice lolly from the post office. It wasn’t great to be honest, almost certainly last year’s stock given the amount of ice crystals on the outside. I was also served by a very sour-faced shopkeeper, who I forgave as soon as I saw she was closing the shop for her lunch. She probably had a growling tummy, poor dear. Before leaving I also used the village toilets, especially as I had seen lots of notices for a public meeting to discuss their future. Tunbridge Wells Council wants to shut them apparently for cost savings, and the locals are getting a say on whether they would rather save the toilets or 5p from their Council Tax bill (or some such trifling amount).

Looking Up At The Giants
I left Brenchley through yet more orchards, this time on a much bigger scale than earlier and actively being sprayed as I passed through them. I came to realise that these apples are fairly well pampered judging by the training poles, spraying activity and pruning. I assume it makes them more productive, which is going to be especially important in the face of increasing competition from abroad.

Hop Growing
Although pleasant to walk through I was pleased when I reached another lake to break the monotony of orchards. It’s funny to think that most of these lakes are the direct result of the iron industry and all the mess that brought to this part of the world 300 years ago. Now they have returned to nature, with few clues as to how they came about, they look like they have been there all the time. On the other side of the pond I passed two very large houses in quick succession, presumably built for the industrialists who made their money from iron. The first, Shirrenden, looked to still be in private hands but the latter, Sprivers is now owned by the National Trust and sits in the centre of some very fine grounds. Soon after I passed through my first hop field of the day, and as I passed through I marvelled at the amount of work required to string up the frame on which the hop plants (which naturally grow in hedgerows) could be supported. A little further on and I passed a third large house called Rectory Park and again the adjoining parkland was very different from the agricultural fields all around.
Horsmondon Oasts

As I reached the road outside Rectory Park, I decided not to cheat and cut off an obvious dogleg, but go and investigate the isolated church at the apex of the dogleg. It transpired that this is actually Horsmonden Church, which took me aback since the village of the same name is approximately two miles to the north of here. Apparently, when it was built in the fourteenth century the church served scattered farms in the area, but the village which carries the name of the church wasn’t built until the iron foundry was built in the 17th Century.
Goudhurst Church

A little further on I passed unnoticed the remains of the old Hawkhurst branch railway line, which served both Horsmonden and Goudhurst, my next destination. There was almost nothing remaining to suggest that a railway ever passed here, and for Goudhurst residents it couldn’t have been at all convenient since the station must have been over a mile from the village it was supposed to serve. No wonder it closed in 1961.

Army Store
I climbed up to Goudhurst, another enchanting village and with more life than those that had gone before. There were a number of businesses operating including a butcher, baker and several other shops and pubs and there were quite a few people milling about. The path took me to the main building of the village, the church and I took the opportunity to have a peek inside, something I don’t normally do. It was pleasant to sit and contemplate for a few minutes before heading on my way. Before leaving though I admired the tomb of the Culpeppers, who had once been iron barons around these parts. In fact I had to be sure of this, because the tomb was of a style more usually afforded to eminent soldiers or royalty.

Cranbrook Mill
The last leg of the journey from Goudhurst to Cranbrook had two distinct sections. The first was across farmland, much as it had been before Goudhurst, but eventually I reached some proper forest. It was a real pleasure to finish the days walking with this section as I had become a bit jaded by the endless tracts of farmland. This is pleasant, but I didn’t want what had been a memorable walk to peter out into nothingness as it crossed Kent. Eventually I got to Cranbrook with almost an hour to spare, which meant that I had plenty of time to check out the very tall windmill on the edge of town (the tallest in England apparently). I like windmills and had been looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with this one, but was slightly disappointed by its grubbiness. Goodness only knows how many pots of paint it would take to tart the old lady up though, and how exactly do you reach those parts at the very top? Cranbrook is overall a very pleasant place and I shall be visiting again very soon to make this the starting point of the next section of this walk, to Tenterden.

No comments:

Post a Comment