An easy walk through fields in the Kentish Weald, with some fine bluebell woods en route, and an option to visit Sissinghurst Gardens (NT).
Staplehurst to Headcorn: 12.8km (7.9 miles)
Staplehurst to Sissinghurst: 12.6km (7.8 miles)
Staplehurst to Cranbrook: 15.2km (9.4 miles)
a) Staplehurst to Goudhurst: 22km (13.6 miles)
b) Longer walk via Sissinghurst 19.8km (12.2 miles)
c) Sissinghurst to Headcorn 11.8km (7.3 miles)
OS Explorer 136 & 137; OS Landranger 188
A housing estate is being built on some fields at the start of this walk. The existing footpath route should still be maintained in some form across this estate, but in the meantime a diversion has been included in the directions - see paragraph 2 of the walk directions - which avoids the construction site altogether, albeit at the cost of nearly 1km of suburban road walking.
Once clear of the housing construction mentioned above, the morning of this walk is an easy stroll through fields and woods in the Low Weald of Kent, with a very fine bluebell wood en route from mid April to early May, and good displays of wood anemones from mid March to mid April. The whole route is wonderful for wild flowers in late April and early May.
After lunch at Frittenden you then have the choice of carrying on over low-lying fields to the pretty Kent village of Headcorn, which has a railway station, or diverting south to the National Trust-owned Sissinghurst Castle, the former home of the diplomat Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West, the writer now more famous as the lesbian lover of Virginia Woolf.
The house was originally a moated Tudor mansion, which fell into disrepair until only a few buildings – including the gatetower and the stable buildings were left. Nicholson and Sackville-West bought the property in 1930 and created the famous gardens that are now maintained by the National Trust. Notoriously, each lived in their own separate building – Sackville-West in the tower, Nicholson in the nearby house, only coming together in the communal living room in the stable block. A member of the family still lives on the property, though it has been owned by the National Trust since 1962. The gardens are open daily from mid March to December, but the permissive paths across the estate used by this walk are open year round.
Beyond Sissinghurst the walk takes you to Sissinghurst village, from where there are buses back to Staplehurst station. Or you can continue for 2.6km (1.6 miles) to the very pretty town of Cranbrook, which is served by the same buses as Sissinghurst and which has various tea options and a working windmill that still grinds corn.
a) Extension to Goudhurst This option continues on from Cranbrook on the High Weald Landscape Trail from Cranbrook for 6.8km (4.2 miles) to the attractive hilltop village of Goudhurst, making a total walk from Staplehurst of 22km (13.6 miles). A problem here is that the village has a rather restricted bus service (including no Sunday or bank holiday service) - see Transport below. The route at first passes through a large area of woodland and then across open hillsides with fine views of Goudhurst as you approach that have an almost Tuscan feel to them.
b) Long walk to Headcorn via Sissinghurst This option allows you to visit Sissinghurst Castle and then end at Headcorn, but after a fairly long section on a quiet (almost entirely traffic-free) tarmac lane, the way is by little-used paths, with stiles and signposts that have not always been well-maintained, making route finding challenging at times. It is 9.5km (5.9 miles) from Sissinghurst Castle to Headcorn, making a total walk from Staplehurst of 18.8km (12.2 miles).
c) Sissinghurst to Headcorn You can use Arriva bus no 5 from Staplehurst to start the walk from Sissinghurst village. Permissive National Trust paths take you to the Sissinghurst Gardens in 2.3km (1.4 miles), and you can then do the 9.5km (5.9 miles) option b) route to Headcorn: but see the description above for the challenges of this route. This makes a total walk from Sissnghurst village to Headcorn of 11.8km (7.3 miles).
Staplehurst is on the line between Tonbridge and Ashford, and is served by twice hourly Charing Cross and London Bridge. Journey time is about 1 hour. Catch the train nearest to 9.30am from Charing Cross to Staplehurst to get to the lunch pub in time.
If ending at Headcorn, this is the station beyond Staplehurst, served by the same trains, so buy a day return to Headcorn.
If planning to finish in Sissinghurst or Cranbrook, a day return to Staplehurst is sufficient. Once you get to Sissinghurst village of Cranbrook, you will need to use Arriva bus number 5 to get you back to Staplehurst station. At time of writing the buses go from Cranbrook go roughly hourly until 18.56, serving Sissinghurst village 7 minutes later. On Sunday the buses are only every two hours - 13.05, 15.05, 17.05 (the last bus).
For option a) Extension to Goudhurst, the buses work best Mondays to Fridays, when bus number 27 takes you in just 13 minutes to Marden railway station (the station before Staplehurst and so covered by a Staplehurst day return) at 17.15 or 18.45. On Saturdays only the 17.15 runs, but there is an 18.31 number 297 bus (direction Tenterden) to Cranbrook, arriving 18.46, in time to catch the 18.56 number 5 bus to Staplehurst station mentioned in the previous paragraph. In the other direction the 297 goes to Tunbridge Wells, the last bus from Goudhurst being the 18.11. This takes 50 minutes, but Tunbridge Wells has a regular train service to London until late. You would probably need to buy a train ticket from Tunbridge Wells to Tonbridge, though a Staplehurst return may just be accepted if you explain you have done a walk. There are no buses from Goudhurst on Sundays or bank holidays.
The Bell and Jorrocks, Frittenden, TN14 7QB (01580 852415). Food served noon-3.00pm Wednesday to Sunday. Located 7.1km (4.4 miles) from the start of the walk, this is the suggested lunch stop and the only lunch option if doing the standard walk to Headcorn. Groups should definitely book, as this is a small family-run pub and cannot cope with large numbers of customers turning up unexpectedly.
On the Sissinghurst, Cranbrook or Goudhurst endings of the walk Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, 3.2km (2 miles) beyond Frittenden - or 2.3k (1.4 miles) from the start of option c) - have a National Trust self-service restaurant and tea room which can be accessed without paying an entrance fee to the site. It does hot meals from midday to 3pm, and serves tea until 5.30pm daily from mid March to the end of December. There is also a separate small cafe, near the entrance to the car park.
If you are doing the Cranbrook or Goudhurst endings, the Milk House pub, (01580 720200 www.themilkhouse.co.uk), a gastro pub in Sissinghurst village, is a possible late lunch stop, 12.6km (7.8 miles) into the walk.
The Village Tea Rooms (01622 890682) are a very nice tea option in Headcorn, but they close rather early at 4.45pm Mondays to Saturdays and 4.30pm on Sunday. Just as good is the George and Dragon (01622 890239), a very friendly and cosy pub which offers both full cream teas and excellent food well into the evening.
On the Sissinghurst and Cranbrook endings, Sissinghurst Castle's self-service restaurant is the obvious tea stop if you have had lunch in Frittenden. 2.3km/1.4 miles further on, the Milk House in Sissinghurst village is another possible tea stop. See Lunch above for more details of these.
Otherwise, it is a good idea to hold fire until Cranbrook, which has several tea options. These include Arthur's opposite the George Hotel (the obvious pub option), which has a good range of cakes and some comfortable armchair seating around the back, and is open till 5pm daily (possibly not Sundays). In another 80 metres or so Cocolicious is a trendy new patisserie, seemingly also open till 5pm, and around the corner the more traditional Waterloo House tea room 01580 713802 is open till 5pm daily in spring and summer, but only 4pm in winter. There is also a Costa Coffee 100 metres beyond the number 5 bus stop, open till 7pm Monday Saturday and 6pm Sunday.
If you end in Goudhurst, the Star and Eagle Hotel does tea in pots: alternatively the Vine Inn has the advantage of overlooking the bus stop and has outside tables where you can sit and wait for your bus. In between these two options the high street does have a cafe or two but they close at 5pm.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk