Cranbrook & Hawkhurst: Heart of the Weald

Union Mill, Cranbrook is in full working order and open to visitors until the end of September (phot

Union Mill, Cranbrook is in full working order and open to visitors until the end of September (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Known respectively as the Capital of the Weald and the Crossroads of the Weald, rural treasures Cranbrook and Hawkhurst are the closest of neighbours

Hawkhurst Fish Farm is one of the most beautiful fisheries in Kent (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Hawkhurst Fish Farm is one of the most beautiful fisheries in Kent (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Cranbrook and Hawkhurst have a unique relationship. Where Cranbrook is one of our smallest towns, neighbouring Hawkhurst is one of our largest villages. Set in the heart of the Weald and picture-postcard pretty, these two rural areas are idyllic.

Packed with traditional white weather-boarded buildings, Cranbrook boasts its own windmill and is known as the ‘Capital of the Weald’. Once the capital of the Weald cloth industry, it later became the heart of the area’s fruit and hop growing industries.

In the 1840s a group of professional artists from London moved to the town and established the Cranbrook Colony. The town’s excellent museum, housed in a 15th-century timber-framed building with pretty gardens, now has an exhibition of the work they produced while living and working in Cranbrook.

Buildings to look out for on a walk around Cranbrook include Union Mill, a restored Grade I listed smock mill, and the Parish Church of St Dunstan, known as the ‘Cathedral of the Weald’. And look out for Cranbrook School – celebrating its 500th anniversary this year.

Meanwhile, Hawkhurst is known as the ‘Crossroads of the Weald’ and is very much a village of two parts, with old and new halves. The notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers made the village famous during the early 18th century but before that Hawkhurst was called Hawk Wood and was at the heart of the Wealden iron industry.

The centre of Hawkhurst features a pretty colonnade of independent shops, thought to have been completed around 1831 and now Grade II listed.

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Other buildings of note include Victoria Hall, a lecture theatre built in 1875 and now the home of the much-loved Kino boutique cinema, as well as Dunk’s Almshouses, willed to the village by local benefactor Sir Thomas Dunk in 1718.

Among the area’s many annual events are this month’s Cranbrook Literary Festival (28 and 29 September), the Cranbrook Apple Fair (6 October) and Cranbrook Art Show (8-10 November). Other events include Hawkhurst Summer Fete and ‘Cranbrook Goes Nuts in May’.

Hawkhurst’s independent shopping colonnade is Grade II listed (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Hawkhurst’s independent shopping colonnade is Grade II listed (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

8 places to visit in Cranbrook and Hawkhurst:

1 Union Mill, Cranbrook

This restored smock mill was built in 1814 and is one of the tallest in the country; its iconic white sails looming over the town. In full working condition and maintained by a group of volunteers, the mill is open to visitors on regular days between March and the end of September.

2 Cranbrook Museum

Set over three floors in one of the town’s most beautiful, historic buildings, Cranbrook Museum has around 6,000 exhibits telling the story of the area’s past social, industrial and rural life. A little hidden gem, the museum is set in its own tranquil gardens.

Happy & Glorious, Cranbrook

Happy & Glorious, Cranbrook - Credit: Archant

3 Sissinghurst Castle

Not far from Cranbrook and Hawkhurst, the National Trust’s Sissinghurst Castle Garden is a top destination for gardening fans. Once owned by writer and acclaimed gardener Vita Sackville-West, the Grade I listed gardens attract visitors from all over the country.

4 Hawkhurst Fish Farm

Said to be one of the most beautiful fisheries in Kent, these tranquil fishing lakes are hidden away from it all and offer just the right spot for both experienced and novice anglers. The complex is based around a large café that sits overlooking the main lake, with lovely views of the water and the landscaped grounds.

5 Queens Hall Theatre, Cranbrook

Set in the grounds of Cranbrook School, Queens Hall Theatre is a community theatre offering a range of professional shows. This September it’s hosting two of the main events from the Cranbrook Literary Festival – evenings with both Jeremy Vine and Alison Weir.

6 The Walled Nursery, Hawkhurst

Set within a walled garden and boasting 13 Victorian glasshouses, The Walled Nursery is a delight. With pretty gardens to explore and all sorts of top quality plants to buy, it also has one of the area’s best cafés, The Vinery - itself set in an historic glasshouse. The nursery also runs courses and events.

7 Kino, Hawkhurst

Set in an old hall at the heart of Hawkhurst, Kino is a small cinema boasting digital technology and showing all the latest films. The cinema also has a cosy café which is popular with the locals and boasts a sunny outdoor terrace for the warmer months.

8 St Dunstan’s Church, Cranbrook

The ‘Cathedral of the Weald’ dates back more than 500 years and sits in a tucked-away part of the town. It’s an unusually large church, said to owe its size to the wealth of the area between the 14th and 16th centuries, when its cloth industry boomed

Eating and shopping

Cranbrook: Despite being quite rural, both towns have everything for day-to-day needs, from supermarkets to pharmacies and traditional butchers and bakers. A bustling little high street and a great range of independent shops and businesses (including holiday let experts Kent & Sussex Cottages and The Potting Shed), restaurants and cafés awaits visitors to Cranbrook.

A few of our favourites are toy shop Alfie & Daisy, Singing Soul Gallery, Lemon Blue, Phillips Man’s Shop, Ralph’s, Charity Farm Country Store and Happy & Glorious. When it comes to eating out you’re spoilt for choice with

The George Hotel, Apicius, Food For Thought, Cocolicious, the new Cloudberry restaurant and more. Larkin’s Alehouse micropub has also just opened.

Hawkhurst: With a much smaller offering, Hawkhurst’s main shops are set along the historic colonnade. Look out for Park Farm Butchers, clothing boutique Cordelia James and gift shop Two Chicks @ The Colonnade, and there’s the excellent Charlie’s Orange vintage shop close by. Eat at one of the excellent pub restaurants (The Great House, The Queen’s Inn or The Royal Oak), or have

a snack at Kino’s café.

Getting there

Cranbrook and Hawkhurst don’t have train stations; the nearest are Staplehurst and Etchingham. By car, Cranbrook is 15 miles south of Maidstone on the A229 and Hawkhurst is four miles south of Cranbrook. The large towns of Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone and Ashford are all easily accessed.

Sat nav: TN17 3HF for Cranbrook and TN18 4EY for Hawkhurst

Property prices

Cranbrook and Hawkhurst are desirable places to live and as such property prices are relatively high, with Cranbrook being more expensive than its neighbour. At the moment there are lots of new homes being built in Hawkhurst too. Prices currently start at around £175,000 for a two-bedroom flat in the area and at £320,000 for a three-bed house. At the top end of the market there are large rural properties for sale right up to £3m.

A postcard from Cranbrook

My name is Kate Tompsett and I own Happy & Glorious on Cranbrook High Street. I sell beautiful British-made gifts and homeware from the shop and online. I set up Happy & Glorious online in 2012, while working full-time elsewhere. I wanted to create a business that specialised in British-made products and was inspired by Mary Portas’ Bottom Line documentary, and the need to reinvigorate the British manufacturing industry. I started exhibiting at fairs, and held ‘gift parties’ in people’s homes.

I then started to use any annual leave from my job to exhibit in pop-up shops. I took on my first shop in Ashford and finally went full time with the business.

In early 2017 I moved my shop to Cranbrook. I went to school here, so I really feel as if things have come full circle.

We stock candles, diffusers, soaps and pampering products, ceramics, lighting, cards, cushions and throws.

I also have a guest artist exhibiting each month which keeps things fresh, and host creative workshops in the space after hours, from cross stitch and papercutting to creative writing.

Happy & Glorious is housed in a stunning 15th-century building that has been a cloth hall, a pub, a butchers, a tailors, an electrical shop and a house.

I love the brilliantly bonkers street events, such as the Apple Fair and Chelsea Fringe event, Cranbrook Goes Nuts in May. There’s a great sense of community here and my customers are so lovely, enthusiastic and appreciative.

Cocolicious in Cranbrook is the loveliest place to enjoy delicious tea and cakes; served on vintage china in a beautiful setting. The Cloudberry Restaurant has opened too, serving delicious, locally sourced food. County Cookshops is a treasure trove of fabulous kitchen and homeware and Ralph’s has some fantastic gifts and clothes for men. We also have a great DIY shop, some fab fashion boutiques and gorgeous interiors shops.

I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing independent businesses and look forward to keeping our high street a happy and vibrant place!