Royal Tunbridge Wells to Cranbrook
Stunning views, superb castles, Georgian towns – this route has it all
Follow the route - Royal Tunbridge Wells to Cranbrook
> Leave Royal Tunbridge Wells on the A264, then take the B2188 north to Penshurst.
Penshurst is a small village with stone houses and a magnificent church, but the main attraction is 14th-century Penshurst Place, one of the outstanding stately homes of Britain, set in superb Tudor gardens. The famous chestnut-beamed Great Hall dominates the manor with its medieval splendour, and its scale and grandeur are almost beyond belief. It also houses a fascinating toy museum. The Elizabethan poet, Sir Philip Sidney, was born here in 1554, and the Sidney family still lives in the manor. The family became Earls of Leicester, and the village has the original Leicester Square – named after a favourite of Elizabeth I. The Church of St Michael the Archangel dates from the 13th century and contains impressive memorials to the Sidney family.
Places to stay in Penshurst
> Take the road past the church and follow the B2176, B2027 and unclassified roads for 6 miles (10km) to Hever.
Hever is best known for its associations with Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. The village inn is called King Henry VIII, and the fine church has a memorial to Sir Thomas Bullen, Anne’s father, who is buried here. Hever Castle was the family home, and it was here that Henry VIII courted her. This fine, moated manor house was acquired by William Waldorf Astor in 1903, who did much work restoring it. He created the modern lake and superb Tudor-style gardens, including a spectacular Italian Garden, and built a mock-Tudor village behind the house. The house itself contains a superb collection of furniture and paintings, and the Tudor Long Gallery features a fascinating exhibition of scenes from the life and times of Anne Boleyn.
Places to stay in Hever
> Continue west on unclassified roads and from Haxted Mill take unclassified roads north to Limpsfield.
This village nestles at the foot of the North Downs in wooded countryside. The composer Frederick Delius is buried among the yews in the churchyard here.
A little further is the village of Westerham. General Wolfe, who beat the French in Quebec in 1759, was born here. His boyhood home, 17th-century Quebec House, is near the green. Nearby is Squerryes Court, a William and Mary manor house built in 1681 and owned by the Warde family for over 250 years. Wolfe received his commission here, and a room is set aside for Wolfe memorabilia. The house also contains fine paintings, tapestries and furniture, and the magnificent garden has lakes, flowers and shrubs. There is a statue of Wolfe in the High Street, and on the tiny green one of Sir Winston Churchill, who lived at Chartwell, just south of town, from 1924 until his death. The house is filled with reminders of the great statesman, from his hats and uniforms to gifts presented by Stalin and Roosevelt. There are paintings of Churchill and also many works by Churchill himself. An exhibition gives visitors an insight into his life during his years at Chartwell, and his studio is arranged with easel at the ready.
Places to eat near Limpsfield
> Follow the A25 and then A224 to Sevenoaks.
The traditional seven fine oaks which gave the town its name were reduced to only one in the great storm of October 1987, but new trees have been planted. Sevenoaks is notable for Knole, which dates from 1456 and is the largest private house in England. Thomas Sackville, the 1st Earl of Dorset, was granted the house by Elizabeth I. Set in a wide rolling deer park, it contains an important collection of 17th-century furniture, fine staircases and fireplaces, two state beds of James II and galleries hung with original tapestries. Beer has been brewed in the area for centuries, and you can also sample one of the wines from an increasing number of local vineyards.
Places to stay near Sevenoaks
> Leave Sevenoaks on the A225, and rejoin the A25 to Ightham.
Visiting Ightham is like stepping back in time. Ightham Mote is an unspoiled, medieval, moated manor house surrounded by beautiful Wealden scenery. Undisturbed by time, the great hall, chapel and crypt have survived in fine condition. There are many fine old half-timbered medieval buildings in the village, including an oast house and the Old Coaching Inn. The Church of St Peter is mainly 14th- and 15th-century and contains some splendid stained glass and several brasses and sculptures.
Places to stay in Ightham
> Continue east on the A25, which joins and becomes the A20. Turn south on to the B2016 to the turning east for Mereworth.
This is the heart of the ‘Garden of England’. The unusual church was rebuilt in 18th-century neo-classical style, like nearby Mereworth Castle, and has a remarkable large steeple. The castle, built in the early 18th century as a copy of the Villa La Rotunda near Vicenza, in Italy, has the appearance of an ancient temple. The present village was built by Lord Westmoreland, who destroyed the original in order to use the site for the extravagant and exotic castle.
On the road to Lamberhurst you will pass The Hop Farm at the Kentish Oast Village at Paddock Wood. Set in 400 acres (162 hectares) of unspoiled Kent countryside, this once-working hop farm is one of Kent’s most popular tourist attractions. The farm has the finest collection of Victorian oast houses in the world, now turned into craftsmen’s workshops, and a hop museum that recaptures the life of hop farmers in the past. Among other attractions are shire horses and animal farm, magic castle, outdoor adventure play area and children’s rides, children’s driving school, giant jumping pillows and a programme of special events running throughout the year.
Places to stay near Mereworth
> From Mereworth return to the B2016, turn left and continue south on the A228, B2160 and A21 for 14 miles (23km) to Lamberhurst.
This village was the centre of the Wealden iron industry and at one time produced railings for St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Bayham Abbey, 2 miles (3km) west of the village, is said to be the most impressive group of monastic remains in Kent, with church, monastery and a former gatehouse all well preserved. Set in the wooded Teise Valley, the ruins date back to the 13th century.
The beautiful gardens at Scotney were carefully planned in the 19th century around the remains of the old, moated Scotney Castle. There is something to see at every time of year, with spring flowers followed by gorgeous rhododendrons, azaleas and a mass of roses, and then superb autumn colours. Open-air performances are given in mid-July.
Places to stay near Lamberhust
> Continue southeast on the A21, taking the unclassified road on the left after 1.5 miles (2km), through Kilndown to the A262 and Goudhurst. About 1 1⁄2 miles (2km) after Goudhurst, turn right on to the B2085, then left to Cranbrook on meeting the A229.
Cranbrook is a pleasant town with many 18th-century buildings. In the centre is Union Mill, the finest working smock windmill in England. Often called the ‘Capital of the Weald’, Cranbrook was built from the profits of the wool trade in the 15th century. The fine medieval church, ‘the Cathedral of the Weald’, has a porch built in 1291, and the local museum recaptures much of the history of the area.
Three miles (5km) from the town is Sissinghurst Castle. The popular and colourful gardens were created in the 1930s by Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Sir Harold Nicolson. Derelict buildings and wild vegetation were transformed into this beautiful series of gardens with orchards, herbs and the famous ‘white garden’ where only white or grey flowers grow. Visitors can look at the quaint tower room where Vita wrote her novels.