SWC Walk 78 : Cowden to Hever
A contrast between a remote part of the Weald and three attractive and popular Kent villages
Main Walk: 16½ km (10.3 miles). Four hours 5 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 8 hours 30 minutes.
Circular Walk: 19½ km (12.1 miles). Four hours 55 minutes walking time.
Explorer 147. Cowden station, map reference TQ476417, is in Kent, 6 km SE of Edenbridge.
4 out of 10 (5 for the Circular Walk).
This walk starts from a lonely station and wends its way through remote valleys, woods and tiny settlements in the undulating landscape of the High Weald. It descends into the Eden Valley for refreshment stops in the beautiful villages of Penshurst and Chiddingstone, before ending in Hever.
Each of these three villages has an interesting church which is worth visiting, as well as a popular historic house open to the public. Directions are given to all of them, but check their websites first for up-to-date information on opening times and admission prices. Hever Castle is particularly suitable as it can be visited towards the end of the Main Walk.
Penshurst Place is a large, well-preserved medieval manor house with an attractive formal garden, the home of the Sidney family since the 16thC; it is open weekends from mid-February to March, and daily from April to October.
Chiddingstone Castle is a castellated manor house with an unusual collection of art and curiosities left behind by its recent owner, Denys Eyre Bower; it is normally open Sun–Wed from Easter to the end of September.
Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, was restored in the early 20thC by William Waldorf Astor and features some spectacular gardens; it is open daily from April to October and on some dates in November and December.
The second half of the Main Walk will be familiar to anyone who knows Book 1 Walk 19 (Hever to Leigh), but the recommended lunch and tea stops are in different villages and the only significant overlap is the section from Chiddingstone to Hever (done here in the reverse direction).
The Wealden soil does not drain well and parts of the walk can be muddy even after moderate amounts of rain.
A longer variation lets you complete a Circular Walk back to Cowden station. This includes some nice views as you descend from Markbeech, but the narrow footpath leading to this village can be both muddy and overgrown.
Two short cuts are described which bypass Penshurst and Chiddingstone, saving 3½ and 1¾ km respectively. Missing out either of these attractive villages is not recommended but they have been included to allow more time to visit one of the historic houses.
An earlier version of this walk included directions from Penshurst and Chiddingstone to their nearest stations (on the Redhill–Tonbridge line); these link sections can now be found in Extra Walk 92 (Penshurst to Leigh).
Hever and Cowden are adjacent stations on the Oxted–Uckfield line, which has an hourly service. A direct train from London Bridge to Cowden takes 45 minutes. On Sundays you need to change at East Croydon and/or Oxted, with a longer journey time. For all the walk options, buy a day return to Cowden.
If you want to finish the walk in Penshurst village, Metrobus 231, 233 & 237 combine to give a regular bus service (Mon–Sat) to Edenbridge in one direction and Tunbridge Wells in the other.
If driving, Cowden and Hever stations both have small free car parks, but they are likely to be full on weekdays.
Take the train nearest to 10:00 from London Bridge to Cowden.
The suggested lunch place is the refurbished Leicester Arms Hotel (01892-871617) in Penshurst, after about 7 km. This up-market establishment reopened at Christmas 2013 after being closed for almost a year; it serves excellent home-made food until around 2.30pm (4pm Sun).
As an alternative you could detour to the Porcupine Pantry (01892-870307), just outside the main entrance to Penshurst Place and open daily to non-visitors; it has indoor and outdoor seating and serves light lunches and afternoon teas, but might struggle to cope with a large group. There is also a tearoom in the village, but the Fir Tree House (01892-870382) does not open until 2.30pm.
If you start late or want an earlier lunch stop, a small detour will take you to the attractive Rock Inn (01892-870296) in the hamlet of Hoath Corner. If you bypass Penshurst or are willing to stop later, the up-market Castle Inn (01892-870247) in Chiddingstone serves lunch up to 4pm at weekends.
The popularity of Hever, Chiddingstone and Penshurst ensures a good choice of tea places on this walk. In Chiddingstone you can choose between two popular tearooms: the Tulip Tree (01892-871504) in Burghesh Court, behind the Chiddingstone Stores; and on days when Chiddingstone Castle is open, its Victorian Tearoom (01892-870347).
There are no refreshment places near either of the stations, so if you visit one of the following pubs en route, time your departure carefully to catch one of the hourly trains. In Hever village, the King Henry VIII (01732-862457) is open all day. On the Circular Walk route, the Greyhound (01732-862221) is usually closed in mid-afternoon but the Kentish Horse (01342-850493) in Markbeech is open all day.
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Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
Start: TN8 7DS at 4pm
Finish: TN8 7ER at 10am
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- Main Walk (16½ km)
Click on any section heading to switch between detailed directions and an outline, or the heading above to switch all sections.
- Cowden Station to Chiddingstone Hoath (3 km)
- Chiddingstone Hoath to Salmans Manor (2 km)
- Direct route
- Route via Hoath Corner (+350m)
- Salmans Manor to Wellers Town Road direct (1¼ km)
- Salmans Manor to Penshurst (1¾ km)
- Penshurst to Wellers Town Road (3 km)
- Detour to Penshurst Place (+1 km)
- Wellers Town Road to Hill Hoath direct (1 km)
- Wellers Town Road to Chiddingstone (1½ km)
- Detour to the Chiding Stone (+250m)
- Chiddingstone to Hill Hoath (1¼ km)
- Route along public roads
- Route via castle grounds
- Hill Hoath to Hever (2½ km)
- Detour to Hever Castle (+1 km)
- Hever to Hever Station (1½ km)
- Hever to Markbeech (3 km)
- Direct route
- Route through village (+150m)
- Markbeech to Cowden Station (1½ km)
From the station, take the minor road up Blowers Hill and turn right to go past Rickwoods Farm. Take a footpath on the left and then veer right at a path crossing to go through a long valley to Birchcope Shaw. Turn left and head north to reach a minor road just outside Chiddingstone Hoath.
From the platform1 go out through the entrance hall, turn right and take the left-hand of two ways out to a minor road. Go uphill on this road for 100m, then turn right into Wickens Lane, signposted as a public footpath. Continue along this lane for 400m, passing the entrances to Rickwoods House and Rickwoods Farm.
Shortly after the lane has gone downhill and curved to the left, turn left at a footpath sign to go up a track leading to an isolated house. As you reach its front garden, cross a stile on the right and continue across a field to the right of the house, aiming for a gap in the hedge ahead. Go over a stile here into a large field and turn half-right, heading ESE.
There is no path on the ground but as you climb gently you should see a footpath marker post on the brow of the hill. Go past it into the top of a long curving valley and head for a stile in the trees on the right-hand side, about 100m away. Go over this and follow a woodland path alongside the valley. This ends at another stile and you rejoin the valley for a further 500m, now heading E.
The next turning is easy to miss. About 100m before the valley noticeably narrows, look for an inconspicuous stile with a footpath marker on the left-hand side of the valley, near an isolated oak tree. Go over this and follow a woodland path down a slope and across a stream on wooden planks. On the other side turn left, ignoring a path off to the right. In 40m fork right at a path junction to climb through the trees, heading N. Keep ahead where the path levels out and a wider path joins from the right.
The woodland path ends at a gate leading into a field and you continue in much the same direction near its right-hand edge. Near the top right-hand corner of the field (where it can be very muddy), go through a metal kissing gate a little way to the left of a fieldgate and continue on a narrow path through some trees. This soon comes out into a field where you head N along its right-hand edge. In the corner go through another kissing gate onto a minor road just outside Chiddingstone Hoath.
Continue towards Hoath Corner, optionally detouring into the hamlet to visit the Rock Inn. Skirt round the edge of Puckden Wood to Oakenden Farm and continue past Harden Vineyard to reach Salmans Manor.
Cross the road carefully and continue on the footpath opposite, with a wooden fence and a driveway on your right. After climbing gently for 100m, fork left to come out of the trees onto a large field on a plateau. Head N on a grassy track across the middle of the field for 300m. At a track junction on the far side turn right to reach a road.
If you want to stop for an early lunch at the Rock Inn, follow the directions in §2b.
Turn right briefly onto the road. In 60m turn left onto a broad grassy track (if the metal fieldgate is locked there is a stile on its right). There is a steep drop beyond the trees on your left and in fact you are walking along the top of a large sandstone outcrop. After slowly descending you emerge from the trees and continue along the right-hand edge of a field. Go over a stile at the end and turn right.
Turn left onto the road. Follow it downhill into a dark cutting between rocks and tree roots, taking care as there is no pavement. As you emerge into the hamlet of Hoath Corner there is an impressive sandstone outcrop in a depression on the left. Follow the road round to the right at a junction to find the Rock Inn on the right-hand side.
From the pub, return to the road junction and keep left. Bear left at a public footpath sign onto the driveway in front of some houses and continue on a broad grassy path going downhill between fences, veering left at the bottom into Puckden Wood. Keep right to stay near the edge of the wood at first. After the path bends left fork right to climb gently through the trees and go over a stile at the top to leave the wood. Go across a field on a faint grassy path to the far right-hand corner, over another stile and turn right.
Go along the field edge; soon you might be able to glimpse Penshurst Place 3 km away to your left. Leave the field via a stile in the corner, go down an earth bank and turn left onto a track. In 100m take the path to the right of a fieldgate leading to “Skipreed”. This soon comes to a stile leading into the top of an attractive large field.
Follow the enclosed tree-lined path down the left-hand edge of this field. At the bottom cross a stile and continue through a wood. In 100m follow the path briefly round to the right, but almost immediately turn left by a low wooden marker post onto a narrow path through some trees to a stile.
Go over the stile and keep ahead along the edge of Harden Vineyard. After passing this continue through a metal kissing gate into a small fenced-off field and leave it through a similar gate in the far corner. Bear left on the other side to go across a small enclosure and through a wooden kissing gate into a field. Turn right and go along its right-hand edge, with another view of Penshurst Place ahead, now 2 km away.
Near the bottom corner, go through a kissing gate and down a small flight of steps. Turn right onto a tree-lined track, which in 100m comes to a fieldgate. Go through it (or a wooden side gate) onto a tarmac lane at a bend by the buildings of Salmans Manor.
If you are doing the full walk, via Penshurst, go to §4.
Take the lane heading north and then north-west to Wat Stock.
For the short cut omitting Penshurst, turn left onto the lane to head N, soon passing a large mill pond opposite a particularly attractive oast-house conversion. At the top of a slope keep left, avoiding the entrance to Abbotsmerry Barn. The lane (now unsurfaced) continues between hedges, then into a wood. After passing a large pond it veers right and left and goes past some cottages. At a junction by the derelict farm buildings at Wat Stock, follow it round to the left.
Continue along the lane as it passes a pond and bends right. 150m after this bend bear right onto a track and go through a gate to the right of a metal fieldgate. Head diagonally across a field on a grassy path and leave it through another gate to emerge on a minor road.
To continue the walk, go to §7.
Take the path heading east which goes across the River Eden to The Warren. Continue on a track towards Penshurst, then on the B2188 into the village.
A short detour up the lane to the left would give you a fine view of a large mill pond opposite a particularly attractive oast-house conversion.
To continue the walk directly, turn right onto the lane and follow it briefly as it curves left. Where there is a “Private Road” sign ahead, turn right onto a wide track with a bridleway marker, heading SE. In 100m this comes to a tall hedge, where you turn left through a metal kissing gate onto a narrow fenced path. Follow this around two edges of a large field and eventually through another kissing gate in the opposite corner. Follow the enclosed path to a footbridge taking you over the River Eden2.
On the other side turn half-right and go across a patch of grass. Go through a small metal gate (to the right of a fieldgate leading into another field) and up the left-hand edge of a large field. In 300m this leads onto a concrete lane by some houses. Now simply follow this lane for 600m until it comes out onto the B2188 by a school on the outskirts of Penshurst.
Turn left and follow the road into the village, passing some attractive old buildings3 and in 200m coming to a junction with the B2176. The Leicester Arms Hotel is just up ahead on the right.
Briefly head east along the B2176 and turn left through Leicester Square into the churchyard. Follow the Eden Valley Walk past the west front of Penshurst Place and diagonally across the grass to the B2176. Turn back towards the village for a short distance, then turn right and follow the old coach road to Wat Stock.
If you want to take a short cut out of the village, simply head north on the B2176 and turn left after 200m into the lane to Salmans Farm, resuming the directions at [•] below.
For a more interesting route out of Penshurst, turn right out of the Leicester Arms to briefly head E on the B2176. Just before the road turns right, a short flight of steps on the left leads up to the picturesque houses in Leicester Square4.
If you want to visit Penshurst Place or stop for lunch in its café, follow the instructions below.
Continue on the road past Leicester Square and keep ahead through a stone and brick archway onto the access road to Penshurst Place. Along the way, you get a glimpse of the gardens through a locked gate in the high brick wall on your left. At the end of the wall turn left to find the Porcupine Pantry 200m away, behind the large car park and next to the visitor entrance to the house and gardens. Afterwards, return the same way to the B2176 by Leicester Square.
Go up the steps into Leicester Square and under an archway5 into a churchyard. Take the path round the left-hand side of St John the Baptist's church6 (which is worth visiting). Leave the churchyard through a metal kissing gate and continue on a grassy path, soon with a fine view of Penshurst Place behind the hedge-topped stone wall on your right.
Where the path splits fork left, heading NW across the grass towards a metal kissing gate 200m away. Go through the gate and turn sharp left onto the B2176, briefly heading back towards Penshurst. In 125m, just after a 30mph road sign, turn right down the lane to Salmans Farm, signposted as a public bridleway.
[•] Continue along the lane (the old coach road), in 500m crossing the River Eden. Soon afterwards fork right up a track, with increasingly fine views over the Eden Valley on your right and later with a huge array of polytunnels in the fields on your left. Continue on the main track for 1½ km to the derelict farm buildings at Wat Stock and keep ahead where a lane (the short cut from Salmans Manor) joins from the left.
If you are doing the full walk, via Chiddingstone, go to §7.
Cross the minor road and take the footpath heading north through a wood. On the other side, keep left to reach the hamlet of Hill Hoath.
Cross the road and go over a stile just off to the right onto an attractive woodland path. In 400m leave the wood through a gate and continue on a grassy tree-lined path, coming to a fork in 50m.
For the short cut omitting Chiddingstone, keep ahead. In a further 200m, veer left towards farm buildings and pass to the right of them. Bear right in front of some stables onto a lane, going past a few cottages in the hamlet of Hill Hoath. At a junction with a lane coming up from Chiddingstone, turn left.
You will now be following the route of Book 1 Walk 19 (in reverse) to Hever. To continue the walk, go to §9.
Cross the minor road and take the footpath heading north through a wood. On the other side, fork right onto a footpath which leads over a small hill into Chiddingstone. Turn left and go along the village street to the Castle Inn.
To go through Chiddingstone, take the right fork, as indicated by a sign on a tree to your right. In 200m go over a stile in the hedge on your right and immediately turn left onto a broad path (not the one heading E across the field).
You will now be following the route of Book 1 Walk 19 (in reverse) through Chiddingstone to Hever.
Follow the path as it goes uphill and curves gently to the right. On the far side of the field continue on a path between hedges. This leads down to a street, where you turn left towards Chiddingstone. 30m along this street, you could make a short detour to see the Chiding Stone7.
Turn left onto a signposted path to the Chiding Stone, where there is an information panel. On the way back, a gate in the wooden fence on your left lets you cut through the village's Community Garden and pass between the Village Hall and Primary School to return to the street.
Continue W along Chiddingstone's village street8. Opposite St Mary's church9 the Tulip Tree tearoom is up a short driveway behind the Chiddingstone Stores. Just before the road turns sharply to the right, the Castle Inn is on your left.
Either skirt around Chiddingstone Castle on the road, or cut through its grounds if they are open. On the other side head south on the lane to Hill Hoath.
At the right-hand bend a gate in the wall ahead leads into the grounds of Chiddingstone Castle. The alternative route in §8b is not a public right of way but you could go through the grounds if they are open (there is an Honesty Box for donations).
The grounds are not very large but include a tearoom, an attractive lake and some pleasant woodland paths beyond the lawn at the back of the house.
Continue along the road for 500m, with some views of the castle beyond the lake on the left. At a crossroads turn left onto a lane. You soon pass the main entrance to the castle on the left (the exit for the alternative route).
Go through the gate and follow the path as it curves round and crosses an arm of the lake on a footbridge. The entrance to the house is up ahead; to go directly to the Victorian Tearoom without visiting the house and its collections, turn left and go round to the back of the house to find the shop and tearoom in the far corner.
Afterwards, return to the front of the house. Go past the entrance on your left and continue along the driveway as it curves round to the right past a vehicle barrier. The driveway leads to a lane, where you turn sharp left, almost doubling back.
Stay on the lane as it heads S for 700m, passing some private exits from the castle grounds. At the hamlet of Hill Hoath, follow the lane round to the right at a junction.
From Hill Hoath, head west on the Eden Valley Walk all the way to Hever.
Go along the short stretch of lane, passing a renovated half-timbered cottage and some houses. At the end, keep ahead on an earth track heading W, taking care as you cross the first of several rides laid out with horse jumps. At the top of a small rise the path goes through a sandstone rock cutting, then descends. Shortly before the end of a field on your left, fork right onto a woodland path which crosses more horse rides.
The path soon goes down a flight of steps and across a stream on a footbridge. Continue on a narrow (and potentially muddy) enclosed path as it zig-zags right and left, later crossing a lane onto a similar path opposite. This eventually passes a cottage and comes out onto a driveway where it meets a private road. Veer right to cross over the road and turn left through a gap to continue on a broad grassy path between the road and a wood.
Stay on the roadside path as it bends right and then goes into some trees. Shortly after the path crosses the road on a wooden footbridge it turns left to go alongside the grounds of Hever Castle (which is hidden behind trees). Eventually the path crosses a stream and goes up a slope to enter a churchyard. Go past St Peter's church10 and out through its lychgate to Hever Road, with the King Henry VIII pub opposite.
If you want to visit Hever Castle, follow the instructions below.
Turn right onto the road. Just past the churchyard, bear right to go through a gateway to the entrance kiosks. The moated castle and its formal gardens are some 400m further on. After visiting the castle, return to the road by the pub.
If you are doing a Circular Walk back to Cowden station, go to §11.
Continue to follow the Eden Valley Walk, initially along a road and then south-west on a track. At a T-junction, keep ahead on a lane. After crossing the railway bridge, turn right into a driveway and continue on a path which drops down to Hever station.
Stay on Hever Road as it turns sharp right by the pub, and follow it for 450m to a T-junction. Turn right, then in 50m turn left through a new wooden kissing gate onto an enclosed path (once notoriously muddy but now surfaced). Follow this path for 500m to reach a minor road at a junction.
You could turn right for Hever station (as indicated by the road sign) but the suggested route is to keep ahead on the road towards Cowden village. Go over the railway bridge (with the station visible on your right), then in 40m turn right into a driveway, still following the Eden Valley Walk. Go through a fieldgate across the drive and take the path to the right of the entrance to the last house. As you approach the station, fork right onto a path leading down to the platform for trains to London.
Take the footpath opposite the pub, heading south. Go across a lane and continue on the footpath opposite, but turn right before Meechlands Farm onto a footpath leading to the Greyhound pub. Head north along the road for a short distance, then turn sharp left onto a footpath which goes under the railway and through Oak Wood to Bramsell's Farm. Turn left onto a road to reach Markbeech.
On the bend in Hever Road by the King Henry VIII pub, take the driveway heading S, signposted as a footpath. After passing Hever Primary School continue on a path which leads to a minor road at a bend. Bear left onto the road for 50m, then veer right up the continuation of the footpath, through a kissing gate into a large field.
Continue to head S, keeping fairly close to the left-hand edge of the field. The shortest route is to go through the trees ahead near the corner of the field, but the path here can be awkward and you could veer a little way to the right where there is a wide gap. In the next field, aim for the left-hand end of the hedge opposite, where it meets some trees. Go over the first of two stiles here and turn right onto a narrow enclosed path.
Follow the path for 300m, where it leads into the beer garden of the Greyhound pub (which is usually closed in mid-afternoon). Turn right to go along the road (Uckfield Lane). In 125m turn sharp left onto an enclosed footpath, to the left of “Wedgwood”.
In 350m the path goes under a high brick railway bridge and bends left on the other side. Follow the path S through Oak Wood for 750m, climbing steadily. After going alongside a more open area on the left for about 125m, and where the main path veers down to the right, fork left onto a narrow path. This goes between fields and later farm buildings before reaching a minor road.
Turn left and follow the road E for 300m into Markbeech (or Mark Beech, according to the road sign). Just before you come to Holy Trinity church on your right, there is a wide track on the right with a stile and a footpath sign on its left.
If you want some refreshment before the journey home, follow the directions in §11b.
Go over (or around) the stile onto the footpath, which goes through a belt of trees into the churchyard. Bear right towards a stile in the hedge.
The track from the road is a more direct route as it passes the exit from the churchyard, but a fieldgate along it is usually locked.
Continue along the road and turn right at the crossroads to find the Kentish Horse on the right-hand side.
After visiting the pub, go onto the driveway leading to the pub's car park and through a gate into the churchyard. Go past the left-hand side of the church and keep ahead on a faint grassy path towards a stile in the hedge opposite.
Take the footpath heading south-west from the churchyard. Go down through some fields, then bear left to go through a strip of woodland. Head south-east alongside the railway to reach a road just past Cowden station. Go under the railway bridge and turn left for the station entrance.
Leave the churchyard via the stile, emerging onto a track in front of a field. The right of way is half-left across this field, but if there is no clear path you could simply turn left onto the track, which goes round the field edge towards a locked enclosure; veer right to go round this.
Either route leads into the top of a large field, with views of the South Downs ahead. Bear left to go down its left-hand edge, initially alongside a wood. About halfway down this field, now with a hedge on your left, go over a stile into the adjacent field and continue in your previous direction on the other side of the hedge.
In the bottom field corner cross a stile and bear left to continue on a woodland path. Shortly after passing the picturesque Hole Cottage11 in a clearing on the right, keep left at a three-way path junction by a large beech tree, now heading SE.
Ignore a path on the right leading down to a footbridge over a stream, but fork right at the next path junction, with a post containing two footpath markers. Continue on this path as it goes gently downhill for 500m, now with the railway (which has emerged from a tunnel) in a cutting on your left. After passing Cowden station, the path goes up to a stile which you cross to reach a road. Turn left to go under the railway bridge and turn left again into the station's access road.
Go through the station's entrance hall onto the single platform1. Take care to catch a train heading in the right direction: those to London are going from left to right.
- A plaque on the station platform commemorates the five victims of the Cowden rail crash in October 1994. A northbound train passed a red signal in thick fog and collided head-on with another train on the single-track section to the south-east of the station.
- The River Eden has its source in the North Downs near Titsey and flows into the River Medway 1½ km downstream, just outside Penshurst.
- The large horseshoe-shaped doorway in the quaint shop/garage is a relic of its days as the village smithy.
- Some of the half-timbered and tile-hung houses around Leicester Square (named after a favourite of Elizabeth I) are Victorian imitations, like the post office house of 1850.
- “My Flesh also shall rest in Hope”, inscribed above the archway leading out of Penshurst churchyard into Leicester Square, is from Psalm 16:9.
- The Sidney Chapel in St John the Baptist, Penshurst contains many memorials and a fine armorial ceiling, restored in 1966. By the side altar is the Luke Tapestry (in Greek), made by Penshurst's former village doctor: it honours the partnership between medical science and Christianity.
- The Chiding Stone is a large sandstone boulder after which the village is named. Nagging wives or wrongdoers were supposedly brought here and told off (chided) by the other villagers.
- The Streatfeild family sold the buildings of Chiddingstone village to the National Trust in 1939. As a consequence it remains largely unspoilt and has been used as a location in period films, eg. A Room with a View.
- St Mary, Chiddingstone contains many memorials to the Streatfeild family. On display is a Vinegar Bible of 1717, so called because in St Luke's Gospel, Chapter 20, “The parable of the vineyard” is written as “The parable of the vinegar”!
- The Bullen Chapel in St Peter, Hever has a brass over the tomb of Sir Thomas Bullen, Anne Boleyn's father.
- Hole Cottage is the remnant of a much larger medieval hall-house, the rest of which was demolished in 1833. It is managed as a holiday cottage by the Landmark Trust.
» Last updated: October 19, 2015