Saturday, 2 May 2009

High Weald Landscape Trail Day 6 Cranbrook - Tenterden

Cranbrook Church
Following the disappointment of not seeing too much in the way of blossom last time I headed up into Kent, I felt more confident this time. Driving to this part of Kent is rather difficult to gauge how long it will take and since the intended bus today was on a two hour frequency I decided to pitch up at Cranbrook and take my chances at the other end. As it happens I didn’t have any worries about how long it would take for this would be my last day of complete freedom before the return of the rest of my family.

Overlooking Cranbrook Mill
The whole day and night before today’s expedition had been monsoon conditions although the weather promised to be really good today. The start of the day’s walk in Cranbrook though was still a bit grey and murky as the rain clouds were still on their way out. I parked in the free car park in town and headed out through the churchyard and after a couple of wrong turns (the signage was a little sparse) I soon found myself in the countryside. The path ahead was familiar as many years ago, when living in Kent, we had come this way on a short circular walk. The path ran alongside what looked like a large country estate although the house it belonged to was out of sight.

How Do I Cross That?
Along the fence line a little way I turned right and continued across a field where I once again had a great view of the windmill that dominates the Cranbrook skyline. As I wandered down through the field I realised how much rain there had been as my KSB boots were completely soaked within minutes. After crossing a couple of fields the sight of oast houses greeted me once more, reminding me that I was firmly in Kent. These would dominate many of the views for the day. I am not especially a fan of these structures, although I enjoy their distinctiveness and in particular I like looking at the additions to the weather vanes that are an integral part of the design. Although many are plain, others are decorated with motifs of various animals including Invicta, the rampant horse symbol that represents Kent, and other Englishisms (is that a word?) such as cricketers.

Benenden Cottage
As I crossed the first road of the day, I was greeted by the bus that I had originally intended to take from Tenterden and was relieved that I hadn’t done so, for I would most certainly have missed it. What lied ahead though was rather a nasty surprise. The field that the path had crossed was completely ploughed over and the path was a complete quagmire after 24 hours of rain. To say I wasn’t pleased is probably the biggest understatement of the year!

Benenden School
After cursing all the way across I was relieved when I came to a wood on the other side. I was soon disappointed though when I found that the wood had been spoiled by being used as a local tipping ground. What was odd though was that we were some distance from a track or road, so tipping here must have been quite difficult to achieve. I felt on a bit of a downer and was barely two miles into the day’s walking. Maybe I should have headed west again!

Benenden Oasts
Things soon got better luckily and I soon passed Benenden School, a large girls public boarding school with famous alumni such as Princess Anne and Oscar winning actress Rachel Weisz. All was quiet today though as I assume all the girls were still away enjoying their Easter holidays. The path kept away from the front of the school so I didn’t get much of a view of the facilities (although for the very nosey there is a path that runs right along the front of the main building). Upon leaving the school grounds the path did its best to stay away from the village centre of Benenden. Actually I kind of understand why, since the alternative would be a fairly unappealing stretch of road walking. Instead I descended down into a valley and turned left by some ubiquitous oast houses, heading back up the hill that I had just come down. At the top I passed through a field of donkeys and caught a glimpse of jade coloured feathers that flashed before me. The bird they were attached to was travelling to fast for me to follow but it was fairly obvious that I had just seen a green woodpecker, the first I had seen for many years.

Benenden Village Hall
I emerged by Benenden Church and the enormous green that dominates its frontage. I decided to head into the village to stock up on provisions and was quite glad to find a well stocked village shop. Business looked as though it was quite good for the place had a fairly luxurious air about it. I would recommend a stop if you are ever this way. Feeling fortified I retraced my steps to the church and had a look around the churchyard. The church itself was built in a similar style to many of the others I had passed in this part of Kent, with a castellated tower rather than the spires that are more common in Sussex.

Benenden Church
After a quick snack I continued onwards through the cacophony of sheep that were now lambing. It’s funny how normally quiet sheep can change when the newborns are around. The path to Rolvenden, the next village en route, crossed a mixture of agricultural fields and short stretches of bluebell filled woods, which were just starting to come into bloom. It reminded me of the start of this walk, almost a year ago back in Horsham. Bluebells themselves have no smell, but as I passed through one wood in particular I got a whiff of a pungent but familiar smell and soon realised that at the edge of the wood was a large patch of wild garlic. Just before I got to Rolvenden I passed a very well preserved windmill standing guard over the countryside. In the next field was my next obstacle when I realised that the field of harvested maize that I had to cross through had no discernable path. The signage wasn’t helpful either, so I had to guess the way forward by heading for the next church.

Rolvenden Mill
Rolvenden Church was a similar style to Benenden, with a castellated tower, but with a short steeple added to the top for good measure. Although I got a good look at the church, the path kept away from the village itself and once through the churchyard I was back into the countryside once more. A couple of fields later and I entered a fabulous bluebell wood at Great Maythem. This wood was obviously well managed for the trees were less densely planted and all the underbrush had been removed, allowing the bluebells to grow unfettered. The path took a curious course here too, through a tightly fenced section. When I looked at the map it soon became obvious that I was crossing a country estate and the owners did not want me to leave the path. It was a bit unsubtle! I glimpsed the house through the trees and most impressive it was too. Allegedly this house was the setting for the children’s story, The Secret Garden and given my allowed passage through, I could well believe it. More details of the place can be found at . Although my views of the place were quite restricted, I did enjoy the variety that crossing the parkland gave and the perimeter of the estate was flush with flowers and blossom.

I soon came to the next village, Rolvenden Layne and passed along a street with some very picture postcard cottages with fabulously maintained gardens. Despite being a Saturday afternoon, there was very little activity and few people about and the atmosphere about the place was a bit strange as a result. I was actually quite pleased to be out in the open countryside once more. The farmer maintaining the fields that I would now have to cross was obviously very walker friendly (and quite smart too) since he had maintained the footpaths across his land by mowing some nice wide strips through them. I was now at the Rother Valley and could see almost to the end of the walk at Tenterden ahead. I soon was reminded of the amount of rain there had been last night though when I had to pick my way through a very boggy section at the lowest part of the valley.

Great Maytham Woods
Along the Rother Valley runs the Kent and East Sussex Railway ( and as I was crossing the track I saw the signal just to the north of my position change to indicate that a train was coming. I have to confess to being quite excited as it’s a rare opportunity to see a preserved train passing by without actually planning for it. As I waited I soon realised that timings on preserved railways are somewhat different to the main network, for it was almost 15 minutes before the train actually passed, and when it did it was rather disappointingly a diesel multiple unit rather than a steam train.

Kent and East Sussex Railway
Thinking I would be now late for the bus, I rushed the last mile or so into Tenterden and searched for the bus stop. When I reached it I quickly realised that I was actually in the hour between buses (2 hourly service remember), so I had plenty of time to look round the town. I made a beeline for the station just down the hill from the main station and got my wish when I watched the last train of the day belching out of the station on its way to Bodiam. One day again soon I shall bring the kids over here to look at the castle and ride on the train.

This was a pleasant if slightly unexciting stretch, marred by a few ploughed fields and flytipping. The villages are delightful however, and with all the woodland flowers and blossom, this could well be the best time of year to complete this stretch. My next foray on this walk expected in mid May will be my last for I now only have the few miles left to get to Rye.


  1. Well… just found your blog and love it! Such beautiful breathtaking pictures. LOVE these ones! All the best and thanks for such inspiration! Even, if I never get to visit these wonderful places, I have seen them through your pictures! I'll check other posts too! Thanks! Karol

    1. Many thanks for your kind comments Karol - I'm really glad you enjoyed it! This was a very enjoyable walk through a beautiful part of our country