Staplehurst to Headcorn or Cranbrook walk
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: 13.1km (8.1 miles)
Staplehurst to Sissinghurst: 12.6km (7.8 miles)
Staplehurst to Cranbrook: 15.2km (9.4 miles)
Cranbrook to Goudhurst (map/GPX only): adds 6.8km (4.2 miles)
2 out of 10: 3 out of 10 to Cranbrook
OS Explorer 136 & 137; OS Landranger 188
Once you get clear of a new housing estate on the outskirts of Staplehurst, 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 (Mondays to Saturdays only: see Transport below) 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.
Sissinghurst 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.
From Cranbrook it is possible to extend this walk by 6.8km (4.2 miles) along the High Weald Landscape Trail to the very pretty hilltop village of Goudhurst. No written directions are provided for this, but there is a GPX file and a map of the route on the Saturday Walkers Club website, and the trail is fairly well waymarked. Given the last bus times from Goudhurst (see Transport below) you will probably want to be leaving Cranbrook by 3.30pm to 4pm to make this option viable, however. There are no buses from Goudhurst on Sundays or bank holidays.
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 around 7pm Monday to Friday, and 6.15pm on Saturdays, serving Sissinghurst village 7 minutes later. There are no buses from Cranbrook or Sissinghurst village on Sundays.
If finishing in Goudhurst, the number 27 bus to Marden (the station before Staplehurst and so covered by a Staplehurst day return) departs at 17.30 every day except Sunday. The 297 bus provides a later connection to Tunbridge Wells station, departing 18.21 Monday to Friday and 18.11 on Saturday, but you will then need to buy a rail ticket from Tunbridge Wells to Tonbridge to return to London. There are no buses from Goudhurst on Sundays.
|Lunch and tea places
The Bell and Jorrocks, Frittenden (01580 852415).Located 7.1km (4.4 miles) from the start of the walk, this is the only lunch option if ending in Headcorn. Groups should definitely book, as this is a small family-run pub. Closed at lunchtimes on Monday and Tuesday (though open for drinks from 3pm), it serves food from 12pm-2.30pm and 6.30pm-8.45pm Wednesday to Saturday and 12-3.30pm Sunday, being open all afternoon for drinks on all these days.
In Headcorn Bill's Village Tea Rooms (01622 890682) close rather early at 4pm daily. A Costa Coffee nearby it is open until 6pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm Sundays. A better choice, however, is George and Dragon (01622 890239), a very friendly and cosy pub which offers both cream teas and excellent food well into the evening
On the Sissinghurst or Cranbrook ending 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.
The Milk House pub, (01580 720200), a gastro pub in Sissinghurst village, is a possible tea stop (or very late lunch stop) 12.6km (7.8 miles) into the walk.
In Cranbrook the most obvious tea place as you arrive in the village is the George Hotel, a pleasant enough old coaching inn with comfortable seating. Otherwise, the various cafes nearby close frustratingly early, especially at weekends. Arthur's, directly opposite the George, is only open until 4pm Monday to Saturday and 3pm on Sunday, for example. Kypseli, a Greek taverna next door, advertises itself as serving coffee and cake (as well as some lovely gooey puddings) and is open until 10pm, but in practice after about 5pm it is preparing for its evening meal service. The nearby Wendy House cafe is open till 5pm Monday to Friday but only 4pm on Saturdays (closed Sundays).
If you get to Goudhurst, the Star & Eagle Hotel is one refreshment option, while the Vine Inn has the advantage of overlooking the bus stop and has outside tables.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Traveline (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