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Sophie Hewitt
18th September 2023

The Kentish Weald is one of Kent’s most magnificent and green gems. Set in Tunbridge Wells, in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, our tour takes us through some of the area’s most picturesque villages, cosy pubs, beautiful countryside, and past some of the most jaw-dropping manor houses around. With all this and more on offer, it’s simply in Tunbridge Wells’ nature to take the scenic route and soak up the views. Ready to plan your winter break? Read on. 

Village views and country pubs

Tunbridge Wells has some of the most beautifully quaint villages around, so any scenic tour of the area needs to include a visit to one or two. But don’t let their beauty fool you, even some of these pretty spots have a dark past! Hawkhurst Village may be surrounded by hop gardens and rolling countryside, but it’s the area’s past that is truly exciting. Once the home of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang, a band of early smugglers from the 1700s, this darker side of the village can still be experienced through the Smugglers Trail which runs from nearby Goudhurst.

Speaking of which, Goudhurst is another spot worthy of a visit. One of the highest villages in the Weald of Kent, it has some of the most striking views too. Wander past higgledy-piggledy cottages and drink in far-reaching views across the frosted landscape and be sure to get some photos! For local food and Kentish wine, we recommend the Goudhurst Inn. Part of the nearby Balfour Winery, needless to say, the wine menu is a must, while the food menu offers the chance to dine on seafood, sharing platters and pizza.

Not strictly a village, we know, but Cranbrook, the Capital of the Weald, had to be on our Wealden adventure. The Union Windmill in the heart of the town is one of the tallest smock mills in the country, while the many boutique shops are wonderful for whiling away a few hours. In the heart of the village, the grand George Hotel is perfect for cosying up with a locally brewed pint by the fire.

But there are so many more cosy pubs to be discovered in Tunbridge Wells’ villages, each offering a warm welcome and even some local produce. Take the 16th century The Poet in the village of Matfield, here you can expect deliciously simple dining packed with local produce. With cocktails, fine wines and over 70 gins on offer, not to mention an intriguing link to World War I poet, Siegfried Sassoon, this is exactly the kind of pub you want to visit one winter's afternoon in the Kent countryside.

Just a couple of miles down the road, The Halfway House in Brenchley is the kind of pub where you can expect perfectly kept real ales, rolling countryside, seasonal produce and, for the ultimate escape from the rat race, very limited mobile phone reception! Trust us, this is the spot for a relaxed lunch, and a little digital detox.

We’re taking things up a notch with our next pub, a two AA Rosette winning, Bib Gourmand-awarded gem in the village of Bidborough. The Kentish Hare menu leads with locally-sourced ingredients, a warm welcome and an excellent reputation. We could take you through the menu, but in all honesty it changes daily, but we can confirm that you can expect plethora of delicious, boldly flavoured dishes whatever day you pull up a chair.

Historic and green gems

Oh yes, Tunbridge Wells Weald has historic sights to be seen on a tour through the area, so naturally there are more than a few stories to be shared. English Heritage Bayham Abbey in Little Bayham is the remains of a an impressive 13th – 15th century church, chapter house and 14th century gatehouse made from the local sandstone of the area. The Abbey itself is an interesting look into how the Premonstratensian canons of the time lived, while the surrounding gardens are a thing of beauty, designed by Humphry Repton, the designer of the grounds of Kenwood House in London.

Gardens, you say? You’d better make a stop at National Trust Sissinghurst Castle, the former home of Vita Sackville-West, poet, writer and green-thumbed extraordinaire. Vita lived here in Sissinghurst Catle estate with her husband, Harold Nicolson, and the gardens and impressive tower where Vita once wrote, still reflect her passions and designs of the 1930s. This former home and working farm has hosted literati, diplomats and fascinating figures  through the years, so we can’t think of a better spot in the Weald to get lost in the stories of the past. Scotney Castle is another favourite National Trust gem around here, with a Victorian country mansion at its heart, and a medieval fairytale castle set within beautiful gardens. 780 acres of woodland, gardens and even traditional hop gardens can be found here, making it a must-visit on any tour of the Kent countryside.

As we’re on a tour of some of the finest Wealden gardens around, we’d better stop at Pashley Manor Gardens, 11 acres of traditional English country garden, complete with herbaceous borders, vistas, rose walks, a walled garden, with a Grade I listed house as the backdrop. Whatever the season, spot an array of wildlife, from black swans and moor hens to bees, butterflies and birds, soaking up the abundantly filled gardens.

The great outdoors

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this area of Tunbridge Wells is a haven of green landscapes and rural idylls, so let’s lace up the walking boots and explore two of the most iconic spots for a day in the great outdoors. Bewl Water is the largest reservoir in the South East, 800 acres of parkland with miles of pathways to walk, cyle, run or ride, making a it a wonderful spot to take some time in nature, wildlife spot and see some of the hundreds of protected species that call Bewl Water home.

Just up the road, another area of immense beauty is waiting to be discovered, Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, home to the world-leading collection of conifers, and offering the chance to see trees of international conservation importance in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, now that’s impressive. Come autumn the woods are a riot of colour reflecting into the lake, while in winter the frosted pathways make for beautifully festive walks.

Stay the night

You may have noticed there is far too much to see and do in the Weald to visit for the day, so we recommend settling in for a stay. Base yourself in one of Royal Tunbridge Wells’ charming hotels to top off a relaxed break. The Beacon offers glorious views from a manor house that has a long and glamorous history of hosting. The Beacon is famous for its food, so we recommend dining here before turning in in one of their six elegantly designed bedrooms, which have been designed to reflect the rest of the house’s Arts and Crafts interior.

Another favourite, the Spa Hotel in Royal Tunbridge Wells links back to the town’s spa town roots, with a long established reputation for fine dining and relaxation. Dine in the award-winning restaurant, dive into the indoor swimming pool and make the most of the luxurious spa. For ultimate indulgence, we recommend afternoon tea in the Orangery Restaurant.