The peaceful, small country town of Cranbrook surrounded by woods, orchards and farmland is set around a lovingly restored 19th-century windmill.
- Location: Cranbrook, TN17 3JU
- Distance: 3.8 miles (6.1km), allow 2 hours
- Steps: approximately 7,600
- Terrain: woodland paths, field paths, a little road walking, some good views, 5 gates, 5 stiles
- OS Explorer Map: 136
- Parking: free parking opposite the Crown Pub on the High Street, signposted by Co-op car park
- Refreshments and facilities: good selection of pubs, cafs and restaurants; public toilets off the High Street
The Weald Information Centre is an ideal starting point for a peaceful walk through this most attractive area of Kent (see also page xx).
Leaving the ancient church behind you, walk along Stone Street towards Union Windmill, built in 1814, the windmill stands at the highest point overlooking the town. Measuring 72 feet (22 metres) from base to cap, its one of the tallest surviving smock mills in Britain.
The eight-sided three-storey brick base is topped by a four-storey, fixed wooden tower, clad in white weather-board. Its four sails (or sweeps) have patent shutters, and a fantail keeps the sweeps facing into the wind at all times.
A working mill until 1958, it was renovated in 2002-2003 and is owned by Kent County Council, but operated by the Cranbrook Windmill Association. Volunteers open the mill to the public on summer afternoons, with stewards on each floor to explain the mill workings.
The association grinds wheat using wind power whenever possible and stone-ground wholemeal flour is on sale in the mill shop on open days. Entry is free but donations are appreciated.
Known as the Capital of the Kentish Weald, Cranbrook was once a major centre for textiles – its broadcloth industry started in the 14th century and reached a peak in Tudor times. For 300 years Cranbrook was one of the wealthiest and largest towns in Kent, but as the importance of textiles waned, agriculture took its place, and acres of orchards and hop gardens were planted around the compact market town.
In 1331, an Act of Parliament encouraged thousands of immigrants from Flanders to bring their unique skills as wool dyers, fullers and weavers and settle in England to boost the countrys economy. When Cranbrook became a centre of Flemish weaving,its rich and pious merchants built a substantialstone church, enlarged and improved it throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, the period of the town’s greatest wealth, and also endowed the Tudor school (which evolved into Cranbrooks large independent day/boarding school), and other charitable institutions.
St Dunstans became known as the Cathedral of the Weald, because of its great size, fine architecture and splendid monuments. It still dominates the town and surrounding countryside, and is well worth a visit, its history explained on panels inside.
The walk continues out of the town along footpaths, tracks and country lanes with superb views across the characteristic High Weald landscape of small hedged fields, ancient woodland, and orchards, historic houses and rolling parkland.
Did you know?
On either side of the door to the tower of St Dunstans church youll see four early Green Man roof bosses – a pagan reminder that the Great Forest of Andredsweald was always present in the minds of local people.
According to local tradition the carved wooden figure of Father Time fixed above the clock on the side of the tower of St Dunstans comes down once a year to cut the grass in the churchyard below.
When Queen Elizabeth I stayed at the George Hotel, during her Royal Progress through Kent in 1573, the people of Cranbrook were rich enough to present her with a silver gilt cup, and according to a dubious but persistent tradition, they rolled out a length of Kentish broadcloth a mile long so that Her Majesty could walk dryshod from Cranbrook to nearby Coursehorne manor.
Providence Chapel in Stone Street is believed to be England’s first prefabricated building, built for visiting preachers, Cranbrook Museum houses the remarkable Boyd Alexander collection of Victorian stuffed birds in Cranbrook Museum – the largest in the UK outside the Natural History Museum.
During the 19th century, John Callcott Horsley RA moved to Cranbrook and formed the Cranbrook Art Colony, which produced many of the bestselling pictures of their day.
Novelist Vita Sackville-West described Cranbrook as having an air of busy peace. Her writing room in nearby Sissinghurst Castle has been preserved and can be seen during visits to the castle gatehouse and gardens, owned and managed by the National Trust.