Cranbrook to Royal Tunbridge Wells
Discover the Garden of England with this tour across the Weald
Follow the route - Cranbrook to Royal Tunbridge Wells
> From Cranbrook continue briefly on the A229 and then east on the A262 and A28 south to Tenterden.
Described as the ‘Jewel of the Weald’, the centre of this Wealden market town is dominated by the marble tower of St Mildred’s Church. It is worth the climb up the tower because of the fine views across the Weald and, on a clear day, as far as France. The high street has shops and houses, many with original Georgian fronts. William Caxton, the father of English printing, is believed to have been born in Tenterden, and at the western edge of the town is the William Caxton Inn. Pub signs are often quite revealing about the past, and near the church is the Woolpack Inn, a reminder that much of the town’s wealth came from sheep during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Woollen cloth was traded overseas, using Small Hythe as a port. It is difficult to visualise this countryside location, now far removed from the sea, as a thriving port and shipbuilding centre.
Dame Ellen Terry lived in Smallhythe Place, an early 16th-century timbered harbour master’s house, from 1899 until she died in 1928, and the house is open to visitors during the summer months. Chapel Down Winery, at Small Hythe, has 20 acres (8 hectares) of vineyards you can walk through, as well as an amazing herb garden containing over 500 varieties, possibly the largest collection in the UK.
Places to stay in Tenterden
> Follow the A28 for 8 miles (13km) to Northiam.
The gnarled old oak tree on the village green achieved fame when Elizabeth I dined beneath it in 1573, while on her way to Rye. She is said to have taken her shoes off during the occasion and left them to the villagers when she continued her journey.
Great Dixter, half a mile (1km) away, is a large manor house dating back to the 15th century with a half-timbered and plastered front. The house was enlarged and restored by Sir Edward Lutyens in 1910. Its gardens are specially noted for their clematis.
Places to stay in Northiam
> Return towards the main road, taking the narrow road, first on the right, and follow country lanes to Bodiam.
Bodiam Castle is a magnificent moated fortress, built in the 1380s to stop French raiders coming up the Rother Valley. The castle survived the French, who did not attack, but it could not survive Cromwell’s armies, who destroyed it. The outside walls are still intact, but it is now an empty shell. Life in a medieval castle is shown on a video, and there are ‘Activity Days’, when school children can dress up in medieval costumes for living history lessons.
Five miles (8km) southwest of Bodiam is Robertsbridge. Its half-timbered and weather-boarded cottages, a feature of the area, line the High Street, and it is the home of Gray-Nicolls, makers of cricket bats since 1875.
A mile (1.6km) east, a no-through-road leads to the ruins of a Cistercian abbey, which was founded in 1176.
Places to stay in Bodiam
> From Robertsbridge follow the unclassified road past the station to Etchingham, then the A265 west to Burwash.
Burwash is an outstandingly attractive village of 16th- and 17th-century houses. Inside St Bartholomew’s Church is a cast-iron grave slab which is thought to be the oldest in the country.
Seventeenth-century Bateman’s, half-a-mile (1km) away, was the home of Rudyard Kipling from 1902 until 1936, providing the inspiration for much of his work. His study has been kept as it was during his lifetime, and the enormous 10-foot (3m) long desk has a few untidy pieces left standing on it. Much of the neighbourhood is featured in his novel Puck of Pook’s Hill.
Upstream there is a watermill which has been restored to working order, and nearby is the water-driven turbine Kipling had installed in 1902 to provide his house with electricity.
Places to stay near Burwash
> Continue on the A265, turning right on to the A267 after passing Heathfield. Turn left on to unclassified roads shortly after Five Ashes and follow signs to Rotherfield.
On the edge of the Ashdown Forest, Rotherfield sits in the heart of beautiful countryside. It is a delightful place to stop off and walk about. There is a fine church dedicated to St Denys, which contains 13th-century wall-paintings including Doom, and St Michael weighing souls, and in the east window is some splendid stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.
Places to stay near Rotherfield
> Continue north on unclassified roads back to the A26. Turn right and return to Royal Tunbridge Wells.
Visiting Royal Tunbridge Wells
The cheerful and attractive town of Royal Tunbridge Wells flourished as a spa amid the Wealden forests after a medicinal spring (containing mild chalybeate waters) was discovered by Lord North, a courtier to James I, at the site in 1606. Before the discovery of the water’s, the iron content of which was believed to have healing properties, the settlement was little more than a hamlet consisting of a few scattered cottages and farmhouses, with the result that there is nothing of the Tudor period here.