2 castles, a stately home, rivers, ponds, woods, undulating hills and three lovely villages
||14.2km (8.8 miles), 3 hours 40 minutes. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 8 hours 30 minutes.
||2 out of 10.
||Explorer 147 or Landranger 188. Hever, map reference TQ 465 445, is in Kent, 3km south-east of Edenbridge.
This is a fascinating and very beautiful walk through the Garden of England. It includes two castles, a stately home, rivers, ponds, woods, undulating hills and three lovely villages: the National Trust village of Chiddingstone; Penshurst, with its half-timbered houses; and Leigh (pronounced 'Lie'), with its large cricket green, dominated by the Church of St Mary.
The Medway Valley is prone to flooding, and it is possible that parts of this walk may not be passable in extreme conditions.
There are 3 places to visit on this walk (not to mention the churches), Hever Castle (large, restored, the Boleyn family and Henry VIII connections, Italinate gardens), Chiddingstone Castle (smaller, eclectic art collection, nice tea room) and Penshurst Castle (large manor house). However, you would need to do the walk in mid summer to have enough time to do them justice. Both Hever Castle and Chiddingstone Castle are members of the Historic House Association, which has a recipricol annual membership scheme, a bit like the NT's.
You can shorten the walk by 1.5km by not heading into Chiddingstone when you reach Hill Hoath (see the asterisk [*] in the Walk Directions). This misses out the lunch stop in this pretty village, but you could stop further on in Penshurst and choose between a late pub lunch or tea in the village or in Penshurst Place.
If you want to abandon the walk after lunch in Chiddingstone, and you have the OS map, you could head across country to Penshurst Station, one stop to the west of Leigh (but it is not worth doing this after tea in Penshurst because it is almost as far away as Leigh Station).
You can extend the walk by just over 2.5 miles by finishing the walk in Tonbridge. You reverse the opening leg of SWC 235 - Tonbridge to Penshurst walk, via Haysden Country Park.
Hever Castle (HHA Member, tel 01732 865 224) was erected in 1453 by Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, Lord Mayor of London, and was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn (mother of Elizabeth I). She was courted here by Henry VIII. William Waldorf Astor acquired the estate in 1903, and set about restoring the castle. He employed 1,500 men for five years to divert the course of the River Eden and form a large new lake of 35 acres. He also built a new but surprisingly convincing Tudor-style village on the north side of the castle to accommodate guests and staff. The castle makes the most of its Henry VIII connection. The compact grounds include a maze, topiary and Italinate gardens leading down to the lake, draped on ruins imported from Italy. There is a cafeteria restaurant by the lake. Opening times vary with the seasons; check in advance. Admission (2019) is £17.75, or £14.95 for the gardens and grounds only (both slightly cheaper if you buy on-line).
St Peter's Church in Hever is a part-Norman church with a fourteenth-century tower topped with a shingle spire. Within the Bullen Chapel is the brass over the tomb of Sir Thomas Bullen, Anne Boleyn's father, showing Sir Thomas in his garter robes.
Chiddingstone Castle (HHA Member, tel 01892 870 347) is not much of a castle compared with Hever – it is more of a country squire's house, masquerading as a fantasy castle. It is infact a castellated manor house rebuilt in the 19thC, containing an unusual collection of art and curiosities left behind by its late owner, Denys Eyre Bower. The grounds are usually open but currently (post Covid lockdown, summer 2020) the house is only open Sundays and a few weekdays from August to October; admission is £9.50 (2020). It has a pleasant courtyard tea room - currently open Sundays and Mondays.
The village of Chiddingstone became wealthy as a centre of the iron industry in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Streatfeild family sold the village to the National Trust in 1939, as a consequence of which it remains largely unspoilt. The building that is now a village shop (with tearoom in buildings at the back) was bought, in 1517, by Anne Boleyn's father as the manor house of Chiddingstone.
In 1624, St Mary's Church in Chiddingstone was struck by lightning and extensively damaged by fire. Prominently displayed in the church is a Vinegar Bible of 1717, so called because in St Luke's Gospel, Chapter 20, 'The parable of the vineyard' is misprinted as 'The parable of the vinegar'! The gazebo in the churchyard covers the vault of the Streatfeild family.
The stately home of Penshurst Place (tel 01892 870 307) is a perfectly preserved, unfortified manor house, which has been the home of the Sidney family since 1552, when Edward VI gave it to his old tutor, Sir William Sidney. The poet Sir Philip Sidney was born here in 1554. The oldest part of the building dates from the fourteenth century, but the present house represents a curious blend of five centuries of architectural styles. It is open to visitors daily from late March to the end of October and at weekends only from mid-February to late March. Admission (2019) is £12.00; or £10.00 for the gardens and grounds only.
On the south side of St John the Baptist Church, Penshurst, are timber-framed cottages which form part of Leicester Square (named after a favourite of Elizabeth I) and include a post office house dated 1850. In the Sidney Chapel of the church are many memorials and the effigy of the top half of Stephen de Penshurst, Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle, who died in 1299. The fine armorial ceiling in the chapel was restored in 1966. By the side altar is the Luke Tapestry (in Greek), made by Penshurst's former village doctor: it honours the partnership between medical science and Christianity.
Take the train nearest to 10.20am from London Bridge Station to Hever. Journey time 41 minutes. On Sundays there is no direct service from London stations to Hever; you will need to travel from Victoria or London Bridge and change at East Croydon and/or Oxted, with a longer journey time.
Returning from Leigh, you can either take a westbound train via Edenbridge and Redhill to London Bridge (on Sundays you might need to change at Redhill), or an eastbound train and change at Tonbridge for Charing Cross. The journey time for both routes is about 1 hour. It is usually best to take the first train to arrive, so check the timetable when you arrive in order to decide on the right platform.
Buy a day return Any Route Permitted to Leigh (Kent). You will need the Any Route Permitted option for your ticket to be valid for both return routes, via Redhill or Tonbridge, but on the way out it is only valid as far as Edenbridge Town (on a different line, but tickets via the two Edenbridge stations are interchangeable). In practice a Leigh ticket is usually accepted to Hever, the next stop, but you might be asked to pay a small supplement.
This walk is not very convenient for car drivers, but you could park somewhere in Edenbridge between its two stations and travel out from Edenbridge Town Station and return to Edenbridge Station.
The suggested lunchtime stop is the Castle Inn (tel 01892 870 371) in Chiddingstone, just over a third of the way into the walk. This early fifteenth century pub re-opened in April 2017 under new tenants after an extensive, sympathetic refurbishment of the interior. Early reports on the cuisine on offer are very good. The pub serves Ramblers bar snacks (all day), generious sized sandwiches (12 noon to 5 pm) and a la carte dishes (probably 12 noon until 2-30 pm), with traditional roasts in addition on Sundays. The pub also has a pleasant garden for outdoor dining in summer. If you arrive at the pub before 12 noon and plan to dine here, you should be able to find things to do in Chiddingstone to kill time before opening.
An alternative stop in Chiddingstone is The Tulip Tree Tearooms in Burghesh Court behind Chiddingstone Stores. Open Monday to Thursday, and at weekends 10.00 am to 5 pm and on Friday 08-30 am to 5 pm. A selection of hot and cold dishes and sandwiches, and teas served, to sustain a walker for the afternoon leg of the walk.
When Chiddingstone Castle is open, you could try its Victorian tearoom.
Finally, you could have a pub lunch later, in Penshurst (one hours walk from Chiddingstone), at the Leicester Arms Hotel (tel 01892 870 551), which serves à la carte and bar meals until 2.30 pm weekdays, possibly later at weekends.
The recommended tea place in Penshurst - when open - is the Fir Tree House Tea Rooms (tel 01892 870 382). In winter opening is limited to weekends only, and at other times of year, Wednesdays to Sundays, from 2.30 pm to 6 pm.
A good alternative in the grounds of Penshurst Place is the Porcupine Pantry (tel 01892 870 307) open daily all year from 10.30 am to 5.00 pm. Entry free.
For alcoholic refreshments in Penshurst, the Leicester Arms is open all afternoon, also for tea and coffee.
For those wanting refreshmenst at walk-end in Leigh, your choice is limited. The Fleur-de-lis pub (tel 01732 832 235), a few minutes’ walk from the station, is open all afternoon on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with food served until 2.30 pm, for a possible late lunch, but on other days of the weeek this pub closes at 2.30 pm, re-opening at 6.00 pm. However, just up the road and next door to the closed Bat and Ball pub is a Village Store which sells cold drinks, cakes and provisions.
|| Use this on-line edition. Latest updates May 2017. Opening times of Leigh pub corrected September 2018. Minor updates August 2020.