First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A sunny afternoon over Penshurst, the blue sky silvered with lazily drifting clouds. The village houses of mellow brick and Kentish weatherboard held enough olde-worlde charm to spark nostalgia for JRR Tolkien’s mythical Shire. I popped into the Forge Stores, with its round wooden hobbit-hole frontage, and was tempted to ask for a flask of mead and a pouch of Longbottom Leaf along with my chocolate bar.
An embanked lane led west between bracken slopes, sloe bushes heavy with shiny dark fruit and hedges a-twitter with flocks of pink-breasted linnets. This is beautifully maintained countryside, giving off a whiff of money well spent, of care taken and forethought applied. Field ditches have been properly dug and cleaned, new plantations of cherry, hazel and hawthorn established, hedges allowed to bulk out as food and cover for wildlife.
Along the valley stretched a line of Second World War pillboxes, the derelict old strongpoints sprouting ivy and elder. We crossed the sluggish River Eden, where silver dace flicked with a tiny splash into the sheltering shade of alder roots as our shadows loomed over the bridge railings. There was a whisper of wind and a shiver of leaves in the poplar groves. A straggle of straws and leaves along the way showed where last winter’s floods had drowned the path as they encroached on these low-lying fields.
This part of Kent is famous for its hops, witness the cluster of former oasts or drying kilns that stood at Salman’s Farm like red-habited nuns under white coif caps. Beyond on a slope vines had been planted, the grapes in bunches hanging from wires stretched at shoulder height. We sat on a bench to eat our picnic, looking down the rows and imagining the harvest. Regent grapes for a nice rosé, said the adjacent notice. That would do.
Twisted hornbeams and hollies reflected a sombre light in Russell’s Wood. Beyond in Yewtree Wood a gaggle of children shouted and swooped, walking the plank along the smooth recumbent trunks of enormous old beeches that had been thrown in storms long gone and forgotten.
At Wat Stock Farm on the homeward path we sat on a bank and listed to squirrels crunching the last of the hazelnuts in the hedge behind us. Back at Penshurst young men and women were jumping with much ado into and out of the river. The walk ended with a stroll across the sward in front of 14th-century Penshurst Place, an extravagant architectural mishmash of brick, stone, chimneys, gables and arches all picked out in the low sun of late afternoon.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; field paths and lanes
Start: Penshurst Place parking field, Penshurst TN11 8DG (OS ref TQ 530440)
Getting there: Bus 231, 233 (Lingfield-Tunbridge Wells)
Road: Penshurst is signed from A26 (Tonbridge-Tunbridge Wells)
Walk (OS Explorer 147): Down Penshurst Place drive; right along village street. Past Forge Stores, right along The Warren (525436). In 1 mile at Salman’s Farm, through kissing gate/KG (512432); right up track; left, and keep ahead (yellow arrow/YA). At T-junction in Russell’s Wood, right (507430, YA, ‘441’). Opposite Oakenden house, right (501428, YA, stile), then right through KG, across fields; through Yewtree Wood. On west edge of wood cross stile (502435, YA); on to road (501436). Right; pass Sliders Barn; in 150m, right along drive (503439); follow Eden Valley walk for 1½ miles to Penshurst. Left at B2176 (525439); in 200m, right (525440, KG) through grounds of Penshurst Place to car park.
Lunch/Accommodation: Leicester Arms, Penshurst TN11 8BT (01892-871617, theleicesterarms.com)
Info: Penshurst Place – 01892-870307, penshurstplace.com