Gentle walk through the Kentish Weald to one of the tallest follies in Britain.
Main Walk, to Hadlow: 13¼ km (8.2 miles). Three hours 5 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 7½ hours.
Long Walk, to Tonbridge: 20¼ km (12.6 miles). Four hours 45 minutes walking time.
Explorers 147 & 148 (plus 136 for the Long Walk). Hildenborough, map reference TQ557485, is in Kent, 4 km NW of Tonbridge.
2 out of 10 (3 for the Long Walk).
After an unpromising start – 1 km of roadside walking – you eventually escape into typical Wealden countryside of fields, meadows and the occasional wood. At Shipbourne (pronounced Shibbun) you join the Greensand Way for a short section to the hamlet of Dunk's Green, then head south-east along the valley of the River Bourne to Hadlow. On this last stretch you find yourself heading towards one of the more peculiar sights you are likely to encounter on a Home Counties walk: a multi-tiered Gothic folly, taller than Nelson's Column.
Hadlow Tower was built in 1838 by William Barton May as an embellishment to his equally eccentric father's extravagant house in Strawberry Hill Gothic style (“the most singular looking thing I ever saw” according to William Cobbett). Much of Hadlow Castle was demolished in 1951 but fortunately the Tower was saved; after a local campaign it has now been beautifully restored.
Hadlow Tower used to be open to visitors on Thursdays throughout the summer but it is now a luxury holiday rental property. As a condition of its restoration it is obliged to hold occasional open days, but visits have to be booked at least a week in advance.
The walk route also passes Hadlow's other attraction, Broadview Gardens (free entry). This is a collection of small landscaped gardens designed by successive generations of horticultural students at Hadlow College.
Because it needed to be short enough for walkers to reach Hadlow in time to visit the Tower on a public open day, parts of the route overlap the Leigh to Sevenoaks walk (1–21) and the Yalding to Sevenoaks walk (#41), although the latter is in the reverse direction.
You can extend the walk by continuing to Tonbridge (pronounced Tunbridge: see Walk Notes). From Hadlow the Long Walk heads south along a quiet lane, continues across large farm fields to the River Medway and finishes with a long but easy stretch alongside the river.
The route to the River Medway was changed in 2019. The old route was slightly problematic, so when the Hadlow to Tonbridge section of another walk was dropped it was transferred to this walk.
For an even longer extension you could tack on a loop to the west of Tonbridge, either around the large Racecourse Sportsground (an extra 2 km) or through Haysden Country Park (4 to 7 km). The directions for these extra variations can be found in the Tonbridge Circular via Tudeley walk (#220).
There is a half-hourly service (hourly on Sundays) from Charing Cross to Hildenborough, the station between Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, taking 42 minutes. Tonbridge generally has six fast trains an hour to London, reducing to four in the evenings and on Sundays. Buy a return to Tonbridge.
There is no station in Hadlow, but at the end of the Main Walk there is a frequent bus service along the A26 to Tonbridge: Arriva 7 runs every 20-30 minutes (Mon–Sat) and half-hourly to 5.30pm on Sundays. Earlier in the walk there is a less frequent service (Autocar 222; Mon–Sat) through Dunk's Green and Shipbourne to Tonbridge.
The Main Walk is not convenient for car drivers as you would have to return via Tonbridge, but for reference the station car park at Hildenborough costs £6.90 Mon–Fri, £3.50 Sat, £1 Sun & BH (2019).
Take the train nearest to 10:00 from Charing Cross to Hildenborough.
There are two possible lunch pubs on the route to Hadlow. Halfway through the Main Walk the Chaser Inn (01732-810360) in Shipbourne has a pleasant beer garden next to the churchyard and serves food all afternoon. Half an hour further on you come to the smaller and quieter Kentish Rifleman (01732-810727), a charming old pub in the hamlet of Dunk's Green. It serves homemade food up to 2pm (3pm Sun) and also has an attractive back garden.
The pubs in Hadlow are not well placed for a late lunch, but you could carry on past The Square to the Two Brewers (01732-850267).
The most convenient tea place in Hadlow is the Broadview Gardens Tearoom (01732-853286; open to 5pm Mon–Sat, 4pm Sun). A nearby alternative is the small coffee shop in Weathered and Worn (07963-909156; open to 5pm, Wed–Sat only), on the High Street between the Gardens and the Tower.
There are plenty of pubs, restaurants, cafés and coffee shops in Tonbridge. The Long Walk route comes out onto the High Street opposite The Humphrey Bean (01732-773850), a JD Wetherspoon's pub in the old Post Office building with a beer garden overlooking the river, and continues past a café Beyond the Grounds (01732-667564; closed Mon) in River Walk. If you detour across Big Bridge (or alight from the Hadlow bus at the Tonbridge Castle stop) you will find The Bakehouse at 124 (01732-360382; closed Sun) and two pubs, Ye Olde Chequers Inn (01732-358957) and The Gatehouse (01732-368529).
Some places near the end of the short route through the town are Nancy's Tea Rooms (01732-300401; open to 5pm Mon–Sat, closed Sun) in Lamberts Yard, a Caffè Nero (01732-351356; open to 6.30pm Mon–Sat, 6pm Sun) on the High Street and – the suggested tea place, serving good home-made cakes – the Finch House Café (01732-771775; open to 6pm Mon–Sat, 5pm Sun) at the front of the Pavilion Shopping Centre.
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Out (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
Click the heading below to show/hide the walk route for the selected option(s).
Click on any option to show only the sections making up that route, or the heading above to show all sections.
- Main Walk, finishing in Hadlow (13¼ km)
Click on any section heading to switch between detailed directions and an outline, or the heading above to switch all sections.
- Hildenborough Station to Riding Lane (2¼ km)
- Riding Lane to Riding Lane (again) (1¾ km)
- Riding Lane to Shipbourne (2½ km)
- Shipbourne to Dunk's Green (2¼ km)
- Dunk's Green to High House Lane (1¾ km)
- High House Lane to Broadview Gardens (2 km)
- Broadview Gardens to Hadlow (The Square) (¾ km)
- Broadview Gardens to Hadlow Place Farm (2¼ km)
- Detour into Hadlow village (up to 1½ km)
- Hadlow Place Farm to Tonbridge (Big Bridge) (4¾ km)
- Big Bridge to Tonbridge Station (¾ km)
Go up the station's access road and turn right onto Rings Hill. Go along this road (which becomes Watt's Cross Road) to the B245 at Watt's Cross, optionally cutting across a field at the end. Turn left briefly onto this road, then turn right into Mill Lane. In 175m take a footpath on the right heading north-east across meadows and later past a riding school to Riding Lane.
Cross the footbridge to leave the station by the ticket office on the far side. Turn right, go up the station approach road and turn right onto the pavement alongside Rings Hill, soon crossing over the railway. About 300m after going straight ahead at a staggered junction onto Watt's Cross Road (joining the route of Walk 1–21), there is a footpath sign by a kissing gate into the field on the left.
The suggested route avoids some road walking by taking this little-used footpath, but you could simply continue along the road and turn left onto the B245 at the end (as per the Book 1 route). If you do this, continue the directions at [•] below.
There is unlikely to be a path on the ground but the right of way cuts diagonally across the field towards a large house on the B245, heading N. On the far side of the field turn right at a post with footpath waymarkers onto a grassy path slanting up the edge of some rough grassland towards another house. Go over a stile and between its outbuildings to the main road.
[•] Cross this busy road carefully, go past a garage and turn right into Mill Lane, 125m from the junction with Watt's Cross Road. In 175m turn right onto a signposted footpath, going through a pair of metal gates into a meadow. Follow a clear grassy path curving down to the bottom corner. In the belt of trees cross a stream on a footbridge and go straight ahead across a corner of the next field towards a wood, continuing gently uphill alongside it.
At the top of the rise do not follow the field edge round to the left, but keep ahead across the field towards a gap in the trees. Make your way through a potentially muddy patch here and turn left: the right of way cuts diagonally across this next field to the opposite corner but you may find it easier to walk around the edge. In this corner go over a stile into a large field and turn left as indicated.
There is no clear path but you will eventually be going past a riding school which you can just see in the distance. As you head towards these buildings, make for the point about 200m away where a low fence stretching across the field meets the left-hand field edge, 50m to the right of a metal field gate in the hedge. In this corner go through a pair of metal kissing gates into a small field, with horse training grounds on your left.
Make your way to the opposite corner and leave the field through another kissing gate. Turn left briefly onto a track, but almost immediately veer right towards a stile with a footpath marker. Go over this onto a broad grassy path to the right of another exercise area. At the end go down to a wooden gate and turn left. Make your way past outbuildings and along a house's driveway to Riding Lane.
Turn left onto Riding Lane. 125m after passing Vines Lane, take a footpath on the left between houses and continue northwards across farm fields. With Great Hollanden Farm off to the left, turn right in front of a belt of trees and go along field edges to rejoin Riding Lane.
Turn left onto the road; there is no pavement at first but after passing Princess Christian's Farm there is a surfaced path in the grass verge on the right-hand side. 125m after passing Vines Lane, cross the road to take a signposted footpath on the left, to the right of “Woodside”.
Bear right off the driveway onto a broad grassy path between fences. At the end of its garden go over a stile in a belt of trees into a large field and take the clear path straight ahead (if the field has recently been ploughed, head NNW towards the right-hand end of a hedge 250m away). Go alongside this hedge, straight across a farm track and continue in the same direction towards a line of trees on the far side of another field.
Do not take a path into the trees (the Book 1 route) but turn right to go along the field edge, with trees on your left. After about 300m (two-thirds of the way along this field edge) go over a stile on the left and across a plank bridge to resume your original direction on a fenced path on the other side of the trees. Follow this onto a driveway and out between houses to a road, Riding Lane again.
Turn left onto Riding Lane. In 150m take a footpath on the right going through a small wood and then along field edges. After crossing a driveway turn half-left to go diagonally down across a meadow to Hildenborough Road. Continue on the footpath opposite up a field, then bear right through a gap in the trees. Follow the footpath across fields to Shipbourne church. Go through the churchyard to the A227, with the Chaser Inn on the right.
Turn left onto the road, taking care as there is no pavement. In 150m turn right onto a signposted footpath along the edge of a wood, with the landscaped grounds of a new estate (Fairhill) behind a fence on your right. At the end of the wood the path emerges into the corner of a large field and you continue along its right-hand edge, with trees on your right.
In 500m go over a stile and continue in the same direction in the next field, which takes you to a private road. Go straight across this onto a short track between trees, then over a stile into the corner of a large meadow. Turn half-left to go diagonally across this meadow; if there is no clear path aim for the bottom corner which comes into view as you go over a small rise.
Leave the meadow via a stile in the hedge and carefully cross a lane (Hildenborough Road). Go over a stile into another field and bear right, making for its top right-hand corner. At the top veer right through a wide gap in the trees into a large field, with Shipbourne church visible 800m ahead.
Follow a clear path across the field, slightly to the right of the church as it goes gently downhill. After crossing a stream continue up the next field towards the church and go over a stile into its churchyard, joining the Greensand Way1 (GW). Pass to the left of St Giles church2 and go out through its lychgate to the A227, with the beer garden of the Chaser Inn (the early lunch stop) on your right.
Cross over the A227 and head east across Shipbourne Common on the Greensand Way, alongside Upper Green Road. On the far side continue between houses and then across two large fields to Fairlawne Home Farm. Go alongside its driveway to School Lane. Cross over and continue to head east across a field, then down through a wood. On the far side turn half-right to go up across a field to a lane. Turn left and follow it round to the right to find the Kentish Rifleman by a road junction.
In this section along the GW you follow (in reverse) part of the route of Walk #41.
Cross the A227 carefully and head E across Shipbourne Common (there is a clear grassy path to the left of Upper Green Road). On the far side of the common join the road and follow it briefly round to the right, then turn left onto a signposted grassy path to the left of a house. After passing its back garden go through a kissing gate into a large field.
Keep ahead on a clear path across the field, gently downhill. At the bottom cross a stream and continue on a track up the right-hand edge of the next field. Near the top of the rise this leads into a tarmac driveway by the buildings of Fairlawne Home Farm. Veer right to continue along the broad grassy strip to its right and follow this out to a minor road (School Lane).
Cross the lane and go over a stile to continue in the same direction across a field. On the far side go over a stile into a wood. Ignore faint paths off to both sides and fork left to go gently downhill through the wood, heading ENE. At the bottom of the slope leave the wood via a stile, with two footpaths climbing up the field ahead.
Do not take the main path straight ahead but turn half-right to cut diagonally across the field, aiming for its top right-hand corner when it comes into view. Go over a stile and continue alongside a hedge on your right. At the end go through a metal kissing gate and down a few steps to a lane on the outskirts of Dunk's Green.
If you are not stopping at the later lunch pub you can take the footpath opposite, a grassy path across a meadow. If you take this short cut (saving 150m) go through a kissing gate on the far side, turn right and continue the directions at [•] in the next section.
For the main route, turn left onto the lane and follow it round to the right to find the Kentish Rifleman on your right at a road junction.
Continue briefly past the pub, then turn right onto a footpath heading south and later south-east to Hamptons Road. Turn left and go along the road for 350m. Opposite a fish farm turn right onto a footpath heading south across a small meadow. At the end cross the River Bourne and continue along the edge of a large field, alongside the river. At the end of the field keep left and go down a short track to meet High House Lane at a bend.
From the pub continue briefly along Roughway Lane, but almost immediately turn right again onto a signposted footpath, leaving the GW. This soon becomes a fenced path along the edge of a meadow. In 125m it bends left by a metal kissing gate, where a grassy path joins from across the meadow (the short cut).
[•] The path heads SE, soon with a wood on the left, and comes out past a cottage onto Hamptons Road. Turn left to go gently downhill on this road for 350m, taking care as there is no pavement. Shortly after crossing a branch of the River Bourne, and opposite the entrance to a fish farm, go over a stile on the right onto a signposted footpath along a narrow meadow.
At the far end of the meadow bear right to cross the stream on a wooden footbridge. Do not take the obvious path ahead across a large field, but turn left to go along the field edge for 600m, with the meandering tree-lined stream always close by on your left.
At the end of the field keep left on a grassy path through a small and rather overgrown area. This leads out via a stile onto a farm track, where you turn left. Go down this potentially muddy short track to meet High House Lane at a sharp bend, by a house called “Mount Pleasant”.
Turn right onto the lane. Ignore a footpath on the left after 450m but take a second one 125m further on. At the end of a large field turn right, then turn left onto a green lane leading to Hadlow College. Follow the main driveway through the college grounds for 400m to come to Broadview Gardens on the right.
Turn right to head S on the lane. In 450m ignore a footpath on the left and follow the lane round to the right, into the hamlet of Stallion's Green. In a further 125m, just after the lane bends left, turn left onto another footpath, going over a stile in the hedge into a large field.
Follow a clear path off to the right, gradually moving away from the lane and heading SE (slightly to the right of Hadlow Tower, 1¾ km away). Follow the path for 400m, crossing a ditch along the way. On the far side turn right to go along the field edge, with a line of trees on your left.
In the field corner go through the belt of trees ahead and turn left onto a broad grassy track between the trees and a low hedge. Later there is a small wood on your right and you could switch to a parallel permissive path on the other side of the hedge. Either way brings you out to an area in front of some stables, part of Hadlow College3.
Go over a stile to the right of a fieldgate to continue in the same direction along its main driveway (which is a right of way). About 200m before the main road which you can see up ahead, veer right through the car park for Broadview Gardens and its tearoom.
The entrance to the gardens is to the right of the Garden Centre. At the information panel you should be able to pick up a leaflet with a plan of the gardens, which shows a suggested short route through them. However, they are worth exploring more fully if you are not pressed for time.
If you are doing the Long Walk (continuing to Tonbridge), go to §8.
Go down to the A26 at the end of the main driveway. Unless you want to
catch a bus from the nearby stop, turn left and go along the main road into the centre of Hadlow, passing the entrance to Hadlow Tower shortly before reaching the bus stop in The Square.
After visiting the tearoom and/or the gardens go back through the car park, keeping to the right. Veer right onto a surfaced path running parallel to the driveway and follow this out to the A26.
If you want to finish the Main Walk without going into the village, the nearest bus stop for Tonbridge is 100m off to the right (on the other side of the A26); there are other stops on the main road into the village.
For the village turn left and go along the pavement beside the main road. Shortly after crossing the River Bourne there is another possible tea place on the right, Weathered and Worn. Later you pass the Maltings4 on the left and an imposing gateway on the right, the entrance to Hadlow Tower5.
This entrance arch is one of the few surviving parts of Hadlow Castle. Note that you are only allowed to enter this private estate when accompanied by one of the Tower stewards on a public open day.
If you have not already done so, cross over to the right-hand side of the A26 at the pedestrian lights and go up to a small parking area called The Square. At the back you might like to take the short street to St Mary's church6, if only for a good view of the Tower and parts of the old Hadlow Castle over the churchyard wall.
The bus stop in The Square is the end of the Main Walk, but if you have a long wait the Two Brewers pub is a little further along the main road.
At Tonbridge you might like to alight from the bus at the Tonbridge Castle stop to visit the ruins, completing the walk with the route in §10 (or perhaps one of the suggested longer extensions). The station is between the next two stops (High Street and Quarry Hill Parade), with the former being more convenient for refreshment places.
detour into the village, turn right onto the A26. In 200m turn left into Blackman's Lane. Take the second footpath on the right to go across a large field and keep ahead at a crosspaths. Turn left at a large oast house conversion and head south to Three Elm Lane. Turn left onto the lane, then turn right into the driveway to Hadlow Place Farm.
If you want to make an out-and-back detour into the village before continuing the Long Walk (along the A26 to the right), follow the directions below as far as you wish before turning back.
To resume the Long Walk, retrace your steps along the A26 and continue past the driveway to Hadlow College.
Head SW along the A26 (away from the village). 100m after passing the Hadlow College bus stop, turn left into Blackman's Lane. Ignore the first footpath on the right (after 300m) but turn right at a second, 200m later and opposite the entrance to Bourneside Farm.
Follow a broad grassy path heading W for 700m, initially with a copse on the left and then between large fields. Follow the path as it veers left and right to skirt around a large oast house conversion, then immediately turn left to head S on another broad grassy path.
The path curves slightly right and later goes alongside a line of trees on the left. At the end turn left onto a road (Three Elm Lane), taking care as there is no pavement. In 100m turn right into the driveway to Hadlow Place Farm, signposted as a public footpath.
Where the farm drive swings left, bear right and head south on field paths for just over 1 km to reach the River Medway. Head west on the riverside path all the way to the A26 at Cannon Bridge. Turn left to go over the bridge, then turn right to continue alongside the river. At Tonbridge Moorings bear left onto Medway Wharf Road to reach the High Street.
Go along the farm drive for 150m. Where it swings round to the left bear right through a gate to head S on a broad track on the left-hand edge of a large field, with trees on your left. In 350m keep left where the main track swings right, staying close to the trees. This takes you down a slope and round to the left, where you immediately turn right onto a well-defined path going straight across a large field, still heading S.
Continue in much the same direction across four fields for 750m, crossing a stream on a concrete bridge halfway along. Eventually you come to a footpath signpost in front of the river and turn right, joining both the Wealdway7 (WW) and the Medway Valley Walk8 (MVW).
You now simply follow the riverside path all the way to Tonbridge9. You pass Eldridge's Lock after 800m, then in a further 700m go under a low girder bridge carrying an access road to gravel pits on the far side of the river. You stay on the main path for a further 800m, at which point you need to fork left to stay close to the river (the right fork goes through a belt of trees into a playing field).
The path goes between the river and a high fence shielding an industrial estate for 400m, then comes out onto the A26 at Cannon Bridge. Cross over this busy main road at the traffic island and turn left. On the other side of the river turn right onto the continuation of the riverside path, with modern apartment blocks on both sides of the river. As you pass Tonbridge Town Lock you can see the town's Big Bridge ahead.
It is just about possible to go up to the bridge on the riverside path, but at the end you have to squeeze past the outside tables of a restaurant. You might see locals doing this but it is not a designated right of way and seems unnecessarily intrusive.
The suggested route is to move away from the river at or soon after Tonbridge Moorings, where the riverside area has been enhanced as part of the Medway Wharf10 redevelopment. The adjacent road (Medway Wharf Road) leads up to the High Street.
Tonbridge station is 500m away to the left, but the suggested route is to go straight across the High Street onto River Walk and loop back via Lamberts Yard, continuing along the High Street to the station.
For a direct route to the station you could simply turn left and walk along the High Street, but the suggested route is not much longer and goes past some additional tea places away from the congested town centre.
Cross the High Street carefully (towards The Humphrey Bean pub) and continue on a broad pedestrian pathway (River Walk), leaving the WW and MVW. You pass Beyond the Grounds (a café) and the pub's beer garden, with a fine view of Tonbridge Castle11 across the river.
At the end of River Walk keep ahead on a cycleway to the left of a modern apartment block (Waterside Lodge), which then veers right to pass between Tonbridge Memorial Garden12 and the river. Immediately after crossing a water channel (Gas Works Stream) at Buley's Weir, turn sharp left onto a path leading into a short side street.
Nancy's Tea Rooms are on the left. At the end of Lamberts Yard turn right onto the High Street, where there are two more tea places on the way to the station: a Caffè Nero on the right-hand side and the Finch House Café across the road at the front of the Pavilion Shopping Centre.
To complete the walk make your way onto the right-hand side of the High Street and follow it up the slope beyond the roundabout. The station entrance is on the right at the top; trains to London usually leave from Platform 2 (down the steps on the left).
- The Greensand Way follows the course of a sandstone ridge just to the south of the North Downs. It runs for 175 km from Haslemere in Surrey to Hamstreet in Kent.
- St Giles, Shipbourne was built in 1881, replacing an earlier church which had fallen into disrepair.
- Hadlow College of Agriculture and Horticulture was established in 1968. It runs a wide variety of land-based training courses.
- Hadlow had several breweries until the mid-20thC. The Maltings were converted into flats in 1990.
- Hadlow Tower was badly damaged in the 1987 storm and the lantern had to be removed in 1996. A two-year restoration project (including replacement of the lantern) was completed in February 2013.
- St Mary, Hadlow dates from the 11thC, with the tower being added in the 13thC. Its churchyard contains the elaborate Barton May family tomb and – hidden away in the far corner – a monument to 30 hop-pickers who drowned in 1853 while trying to cross the flood-swollen River Medway at Hartlake Bridge.
- The Wealdway runs for 130 km through the Kent and Sussex Weald, from Gravesend on the Thames estuary to the outskirts of Eastbourne.
- The Medway Valley Walk runs alongside the river for 31 km, between Rochester and Tonbridge.
- Tonbridge has always been pronounced Tunbridge and was often spelt that way. The 'o' spelling became standard in the late 19thC to help distinguish it from its spa neighbour Tunbridge Wells, which retained the 'u' spelling.
- Medway Wharf was where barges were loaded and unloaded. The river was made navigable between Maidstone and Tonbridge in the 1740s and was profitable for 100 years, until the coming of the railways. It was claimed to be “the most irregular and worst constructed navigation in England” as it had no towpath and barges had to be hauled by teams of men.
- The original motte and bailey Tonbridge Castle was destroyed after a failed rebellion against WilliamⅡ in 1088. A new stone castle was built in the 13thC, with the imposing gatehouse being completed in 1260. The site is now owned by the local council and the grounds are a public park.
- Tonbridge Memorial Garden was created after World WarⅡ “in grateful memory of the men of this town who died in the service of their King and Country”.
» Last updated: November 1, 2019