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Garden of England, Kent

Garden of England, Kent

by Mike Bartlett

The Weald of Kent Scenic Driving Tour

Take a scenic tour from Royal Tunbridge Wells through the Garden of England amid orchards and hop fields, beautiful countryside, picturesque towns and villages.

This driving tour meanders around the softly undulating landscape of the Weald and takes in historic houses, stunning gardens and smugglers haunts.

The map below shows the start and end points with some of the main features along the way.  Click on the More Options link and Google maps will open in another window to provide more details.

 

After fuelling yourselves up at your cosy accommodation or in a local café, depart Royal Tunbridge Wells on A267 / Frant Road alongside the Parish Church of King Charles the Martyr.

Leaving the magnificent Georgian town houses behind you, you will reach the Bull pub on the left. Turn left onto B2169 Bayham Road.

This densely wooded route is famous in these parts for wild deer.  Keep an eye out for these nimble creatures jumping out on to the road!

A Slow Winding Journey through the Country

Slow right down on the bends and as you enter the village of Bells Yew Green.  You might want to take a peek at Lamb’s Larder – a very different convenience store-cum-farm shop. It is full of local produce and takeaway tea and coffee!

Otherwise, carry on past the pretty little green and crossroads keeping the Brecknock Arms on the right towards Lamberhurst.

The first obligatory stop is the historic ruins of Bayham Abbey. Don’t drive too fast or else you’ll miss it!

A spectral sight owned by English Heritage and a low key attraction.  If you come early enough it is incredibly atmospheric with the hanging mist!

Open during Spring and Summer with the bare minimum of facilities it is a peaceful place to spend an hour.

Continue in the direction of Lamberhurst. You will see The Elephants Head and The Vineyard pubs on the way – both serve food if you need some sustenance.

When you reach the crossroads at Lamberhurst Quarter village green, go straight over past The Brown Trout pub.  At the T-junction  ahead of you is the entrance to Scotney Castle and Gardens.

A National Trust property, Scotney Castle is the second obligatory sight on this tour and it is open all year round.  Particularly known for its gardens whether it’s Autumn or Summer, a stroll here is a veritable highlight amongst the paths of azaleas, roses and Japanese maples.

Naturally, you will come across the tea room where you can take the weight off and savour the homemade country food and sample the Scone of the Month!

After spending a couple or 3 hours here, exit the Castle and its exuberant gardens and join the A21 heading south towards Hastings.

Picturesque Pit Stops Aplenty

One third of a mile along is the entrance to Bewl Water Reservoir.  There is masses of parking, two large restaurants and a huge playground of grassy slopes and footpaths round the lake to be absorbed. 

Fishing and sailing are just two of the activities you can sample whilst here. 

After having your fill at Bewl Water, rejoin the A21 in a southerly direction again and you’ll find the road to Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest signed with the brown tourist signs.

Bedgebury, as the name suggests, is full of trees, however it is nationally important for its work with conifers.  There are quite a few different trails for all walking abilities including the Gruffalo Trail, and also for off-road cycling.

The relatively new café is an eco-friendly build with decking overlooking the pond near the entrance.  You can spend a good few hours here in these woods particularly if you turn ‘Tarzan’ with Go-Ape!

Back on the A21 heading south, you will reach the traffic lights at the crossroads with the A268.

For a detour to a sumptuous garden off the beaten track then turn right at the lights and go through Ticehurst to Pashley Manor Gardens.

An absolute delight, this garden will not fail to make you smile.  Best known for its tulip festival and crowds of dahlias later in the year, so do take your camera, and wallet for a lovely cuppa!

Vagabonds Abound: Stand and deliver!

Returning to the main tour, from the A21 traffic lights turn left onto A268 and drive to Hawkhurst.

Associated with the infamous Hawkhurst Gang of Smugglers, why not follow the Smugglers Trail? Or browse around the shops and have a meal at one of the many good pubs there.

Leave Hawkhurst on the A229 and continue to the medieval picturesque town of Cranbrook, the ‘Capital of the Weald’. The Union Windmill, one of the tallest smock mills in the country, is a superb example of a working sail mill.

There are some select boutiques in Cranbrook and first-rate tea rooms too, one run by an Italian, and one by an English lady with Fifties style décor among others.  The grand George Hotel is in the centre of the village.

From Cranbrook it is possible to take a short detour to Sissinghurst Castle. Undoubtedly one of the most famous gardens in the world, the National Trust has continued to uphold the singular landscape designs of the previous owners.

Keep an eye out for events here such as farmers’ and craft markets as well as open air plays.

To continue to the attractive village of Goudhurst, go back through Sissinghurst and straight over the roundabout to the A262

Goudhurst is one of the highest villages in the Weald of Kent thus presenting striking views and a colourful history too. It was here that the Hawkhurst Gang of Smugglers was finally overpowered.

Parking is down the road past the duck pond. Park up, have a nose round the hill village and browse in the little shops and the squat church on the top of the hill.

Tour the back lanes of the Wealden Villages

Leave Goudhurst on A262 and only metres before rejoining the A21 is the brown tourist sign for Marle Place Gardens and Horsmonden.

Marle Place Gardens is a well-hidden privately owned estate that is open by appointment only. One of the few places one can meditate in peace and beauty away from the crowds and among great artistic works too.

Take the B2162 to go into Horsmonden, a former leading centre of the British gun industry! You will see the village green at the crossroads, turn left.

Continue on the windy inclines past the Halfway House real ale pub to a T-junction. Turn right and continue to the village of Brenchley.

Take a slow journey through Brenchley to take in the varying old architectural eras of the buildings and spot the commemorative 1911 coronation feature!

On reaching the crossroads at Matfield with the Poet pub on your right, you could pop in here or carry on straight over on the twisting back roads.

Join the A228 briefly for a mere hundred yards, by turning left on to it then off to the right towards Capel.

Spot the Dovecote Inn, another possible rest stop for your party then go on to Tudeley.

All Saints Church, Tudeley, is a favourite of many.  An emotional history is tied to it expressed through the exquisite stain glass windows by Chagall. This is an experience for the heart.

Drama at Big Attractions

Gather your thoughts, then follow signs to join A26 to Tunbridge Wells. At Bidborough Corner turn right onto B2176 Bidborough Ridge to Penshurst.

A tree-lined route to enjoy, drive slowly as you soak up the vista over the Garden of England.  Maybe you’d like to stop at The Kentish Hare pub for more good food? 

When you reach the end of the Bidborough Ridge at the intriguingly named Rogues Hill, do allow a few hours to visit the stunning Penshurst Place and Gardens.

From Penshurst it is a short detour to the National Trust village of Chiddingstone and Hever Castle.

To return to Royal Tunbridge Wells from Penshurst, exit by turning right onto the B2188 to go through the Tudor village.

After nearly 4  miles, join A264 into Tunbridge Wells and continue on to the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells although you will pass a few great sights like Toad Rock, The Beacon Hotel (and its views) and the Spa Hotel.

If you want more sights, just after joining the A264 turn right onto B2110 and continue down the hill to Groombridge Place and the Enchanted Gardens.

Groombridge is an old manor house with links to Sherlock Holmes, formal gardens and a wilderness wood including hidden play areas and a mini boat trip.

You can undertake the Scenic Driving Tour as swiftly or as slowly as you like.  To find out where to stay on the Weald of Kent, see our Accommodation page full of a variety of options.

Let us know how you get on and share your photos on Twitter @TWellsTourism.

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