Town life in Cranbrook & Hawkhurst
- Credit: Archant
When it comes to the Weald of Kent, Cranbrook and Hawkhurst are its stars, surrounded by fine countryside and with the same friendly community atmosphere that’s existed here for centuries
The small town of Cranbrook and its neighbour, the large village of Hawkhurst, are at the heart of the Weald of Kent. With the open countryside on their doorstep and retaining much of their original character, these quintessential Kentish gems seem to bring history to life.
Cranbrook is often called the ‘Capital of the Weald’, thanks to its bustling high street. With all the charm of a medieval country town but with many of the amenities necessary for modern living, it really offers the best of both worlds.
Famed for its outstanding Cranbrook School, one of only a small number of schools in the country to be state funded but also offer boarding places, and for the working windmill which overlooks the town, Cranbrook has a strong community spirit and is packed with pretty cafés, independent shops and friendly pubs.
Buildings in Cranbrook to look out for include the beautiful Union Mill, a Grade I listed windmill with regular open days, as well as Cranbrook Museum, set over three floors of a pretty 15th-century timber-framed house, and the Parish Church of St Dunstan – known as the ‘Cathedral of the Weald’.
September sees the annual Cranbrook Music Festival (9 and 10 September), where this little Wealden town comes alive to the sound of local musicians. A celebration with something to entertain every member of the family, it’s always a popular event. There’s also the chance to look into the fascinating world of beekeeping, with the Weald Beekeepers’ Bee Show at Vestry Hall (30 September). And in October it’s time for the fun and quirky Cranbrook Apple Fair (7 October).
Nearby Hawkhurst is a sprawling village of two halves. At one end is the older part, brimming with pretty cottages and centred round a green known as The Moor, and at the other is the main road with its shops.
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It’s not for nothing that Hawkhurst has earned itself the nickname of the ‘Crossroads of the Weald’ – the centre is split by the crossing of the A268 and the A229. With easy access to the A21 in one direction, Rye in another, Cranbrook and Maidstone in yet another and Hastings in the final direction, it’s a very well-connected village.
The centre of Hawkhurst features a pretty colonnade of independent shops, thought to have been completed around 1831 and now Grade II listed.
Other buildings to look out for also include Victoria Hall, a lecture theatre built in 1875 and now housing the excellent Kino boutique cinema, as well as Dunk’s Almshouses and Schoolroom, willed to the village by local benefactor Sir Thomas Dunk in 1718.
Historically, the village was of great importance in the cloth and iron industries, and later in the growing of hops. In the 1700s it was home to the infamous Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers.
Shopping and eating
Cranbrook: A great selection of independent shops includes Antiques @ Number 19, All Wrapped Up, Odyl Boutique, Phillips Man’s Shop, Lemon Blue, Alfie & Daisy toy store and Happy & Glorious.
As for eating out, Cranbrook boasts the excellent Apicius restaurant, which reopened earlier this year, as well as The George Hotel and several cafés, including Gastronomia Campo Vecchio, Food For Thought, Ted’s Room, Fabio’s, The Waterloo House Tearooms and Cocolicious.
Take time to explore outside the town centre and discover Hartley Coffee House & Farm Shop, Hartley Dyke Farm Shop and its neighbour Charity Farm Countrystore. There are also all sorts of interiors stores in the town, as well as all you could need for day-to-day life including a butcher, baker and chemist. Best of all is the free parking.
Hawkhurst: Wander along the pretty colonnade for ladies fashion boutique Cordelia James, gift shop Two Chicks At The Colonnade and traditional shops including a butcher, pharmacy, florist and a bakery.
Further down the road is one of our favourites, vintage and retro homewares shop Charlie’s Orange, and venture to Ockley Road for the wonderful Cranbrook Iron shop.
Hawkhurst also boasts the fabulous Walled Nursery, which is set in the Victorian glasshouses of the old Tongswood Estate and now has a charming café.
Pub restaurants are plentiful in this area and some to choose from include The Great House, The Queen’s Inn and the Royal Oak. For a snack, visit the Waterside Café in a wonderful setting at Hawkhurst Fish Farm or the café at the Kino cinema.
Literary festival shortlisted for an award
With last year’s inaugural Cranbrook Literature Festival attracting appearances from writers including Sarah Raven, Julian Clary and Gyles Brandreth, the main event is now taking a year off to prepare for the 2018 festival.
A biennial weekend celebration dedicated to the joy of books, writing and reading, the festival was a huge success and earned itself the runner-up position in the Cultural Event of the Year category at the Kent Creative Awards 2017.
Particularly aiming to engage young people by providing access to live authors, the festival financed 50 free tickets for children, which were distributed via the local primary schools. Running alongside the festival there was also a range of children’s competitions, with winning entries displayed in local shops.
Although the main festival won’t be back until next year, there will be a special literary event this September in the form of an evening with historian and writer Alison Weir.
Alison is the top-selling female historian in the UK and has published 17 history books and six historical novels. Discussing her novel The Innocent Traitor, based on the life of Lady Jane Grey, she will be appearing at the Vestry Hall at Cranbrook on 27 September.
Visit www.cranbrookliteraturefestival.com for details and tickets.
Postcard from Cranbrook
I’m Marie Prett from Singing Soul Gallery. I spent six years at art college, leaving with an NDD, HND and BA Hons in Ceramics. I set up a workshop in 1992 in my parents’ garage and have worked as a full-time ceramic artist ever since.
In 2010 I found a beautiful Georgian building to let in Stone Street, Cranbrook, and somehow managed to open the Singing Soul Gallery just in time for Christmas - although very heavy snow closing the roads dampened our grand opening somewhat. I chose the name ‘Singing Soul’ for the gallery because it describes the feeling you have when absorbed in being creative and when you see a piece of art that moves you and brings you joy.
Singing Soul shows contemporary art and craft from many leading and local artists. We have work in all disciplines, from life-size steel dogs by Duncan Thurlby, beautiful sculpted animals by Elaine Peto, delicate, turned wooden bowls by Kevin Hutson, colourful felted bowls by Rachel Morley, detailed woodcuts by Cranbrook Artist Sue Scullard and many, many more.
The gallery is also home to my workshop. I can be seen sculpting my circus pieces and English Bull Terriers, usually accompanied by my canine model, Mani, most days. I also run two week-long courses a year and regular pottery classes on Tuesdays.
Cranbrook is a very picturesque town with a windmill and stunning Wealden architecture. We stand out from many other towns because nearly all of the businesses are independent, making the high street fresh and interesting.
There is a great artist community in Cranbrook who put on the Cranbrook Art Show every year, and I love the independent cafés such as Fabio’s, Ted’s Room, Cocolicious and Waterloo House Tearooms.
I sometimes walk Mani on my way to work at Crane Valley Nature Reserve in Cranbrook and at the weekends we love to go to Bedgebury Forest near Goudhurst. On my day off a favourite treat is meeting friends and The Walled Nursery in Hawkhurst for lunch and then going to the Kino cinema.
Cranbrook and Hawkhurst are sought after. Within the town and village themselves there are plenty of family properties for sale, with larger country residences in the rural areas surrounding them. At the time of writing, two-bed terraced cottages started from £245,000, with three-bed properties from £265,000. Four-bed semis were on the market from £390,000 and detached four-beds started at £500,000. Hawkhurst tends to be slightly more affordable. Large detached properties are available in the area for up to £1.5million.
Cranbrook and Hawkhurst are not served by train stations, with the nearest being Staplehurst and Etchingham. By car, Cranbrook is about 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.