West Kent – Cranbrook and Sissinghurst circular.
This circular walk of just under 10 miles follows footpaths, tracks and quiet lanes, through the characteristic High Weald landscape of small fields, ancient woodland and orchards, passing ancient houses and a mill site. The route passes through the grounds of Sissinghurst Castle, worthy of a visit in its own right, before reaching Sissinghurst village and returning to Cranbrook. The route follows public rights of way traversing gentle sloping countryside that offers superb views.
At some point during the day, there will be an informal planning meeting for 2025. Please come prepared with ideas or suggestions of any walks you may be prepared to lead next year.
The area around Cranbrook was originally heavily forested. It was part of the Anglo-Saxon Great Wood of Andredsweald. In those times, herds of domesticated pigs were driven every autumn from the north and south downs into woodland clearings or dens - open areas where grazing rites were granted by local leaders. Many of the existing roads and woodland tracks we see today, are ancient drovers' roads, characterised by the steep sides created by generations of wear from feet and trotters. The pigs were fattened on fallen acorn and beech nuts, and over time, the clearings grew large enough to become established settlements. This explains many of the places names ending in 'den' in the area, such as Benenden, Biddenden, and Frittenden. Cranbrook's name post dates these older towns. Its name means the brook of the crane, with the town growing up around the church in the 11th century.
Sissinghurst Castle and village
Between 1560 and 1570, Sir Richard Baker built an Elizabethan house that was one of the best of its kind in the Weald. In 1756, the house was let to the government after a decline in the family's fortunes. It was used as a camp for French prisoners of war, and hence became known as a castle. The buildings were damaged, fell into disrepair and were occupied by poor estate workers and brick makers for 50 years until 1855, when the property reverted back to the Cornwallis family, who built the farmhouse. In 1930, the estate, together with 400 acres of farmland, was bought by celebrated gardener, Vita Sackville-West, who together with her husband, Sir Harold Nicholson, created the garden, which first opened to the public in 1938. After Vita's death in 1962, the estate was transferred to the National Trust in 1967, which ensured the garden was saved for everyone to see.
Sissinghurst village was established from the wealth of the Wealden iron and cloth industries and was formerly known as Mylkehouse Street, or Mylkhouse. The village changed its name in the 1850s, possibly to disassociate itself from previous smuggling activity in the area.
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