Barnfield House Kent

Barnfield House Kent

Spacious family-friendly 5-bedroom country house set in 2-acre gardens with glorious views • Sleeps 10 + 2

Kent Advent Calendar – day 24 – Christmas Eve

Christmas baubles at Barnfield House Kent

Day 24 and it’s the last day of our  #KentAdventCalendar… the countdown to Christmas has come to an end.

I have really enjoyed showing you different aspects of Kent during our daily December posts. It has been a daily reminder for me to seek out, share and celebrate all the good things in life.

May this holiday season bring happiness to your home, joy to you and your loved ones, and wonderful memories that will forever touch your heart.

Christmas decorations

Barnfield House Kent’s 2019 KentAdventCalendar

Day 1              Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Day 2              Blighty’s Gift Shop

Day 3              The Walled nursery

Day 4              Dungeness

Day 5              Castle Farm lavender fields

Day 6              Wing walking in Kent

Day 7              Scotney Castle

Day 8              A Kent garden

Day 9              Hawkhurst then

Day 10            Happy & Glorious

Day 11            Hawkhurst Now

Day 12            Vine & Country Tours

Day 13            Kent Wine School

Day 14            Bayham Abbey

Day 15            Cranbrook Union Mill

Day 16            Smallhythe Place

Day 17            Country walks in Kent

Day 18            Taste the Best of Kent

Day 19            The Eight Bells – a traditional English pub

Day 20            Wild Spirits of Kent

Day 21            Ooh How Lovely

Day 22            The Chagall windows of Tudeley

Day 23            Luxury Holiday Let in Kent

Day 24            Merry Christmas!

Luxury five-bedroom holiday let

Kent country house holiday rental

For the penultimate day in our #KentAdventCalendar please excuse a shameless self-plug. I’ve been sharing some of things about the Kent High Weald that we love….and our luxury five-bedroom holiday let is definitely one of them!

I am so grateful for the 170+ families and groups of friends who have chosen to spend time at Barnfield House since we first made it available as a holiday let in 2012. We love sharing our country home with lovely people, cherish their wonderful messages and reviews, and appreciate those families and friends who chose to return year after year.

We love the enthusiasm with which some guests explore the breadth of Kent – visiting the country’s famous gardens, castles and countryside attractions, sharing their favourite finds with us… and contributing ideas for this blog series in the process. We also understand that many guests – especially three- or four-generation families marking a special birthday or anniversary – are happy to stay put instead, and share a special-occasion meal in the dining hall, play board games in the drawing room, or relax on the deck with a glass of wine and wonderful view.

We hope that our #KentAdventCalendar has inspired you to visit Kent and discover for yourself this glorious south-eastern corner of England. If you would like to book Barnfield House for a holiday with your family or friends, please do get in touch.

Beautiful Kent garden iand country views

The Chagall Windows of Tudeley

The Chagall windows in Tudeley

For day 22 of our #KentAdventCalendar we take a look at the magnificent Marc Chagall stained glass windows of Tudeley. All Saints’ is the only church in the entire world to have all of its windows created by Chagall. (There is only one other Chagall window in the UK, in Chichester Cathedral.) I had no idea such an extraordinary artistic treasure existed in Kent… and less than half an hour away from Barnfield House.

An immersion in blue

Stepping inside this diminutive rural church is a surreal and profoundly spiritual experience – an immersion into a world of intense marine blues. I was so lucky to visit in brilliant December sunshine. The breath-taking windows blazed in the light, casting shimmering patterns of blue and gold on the bare walls and flagstone floor. I had the church to myself, and was able to contemplate the windows close up –  no museum barriers, no crowds, no sea of mobile phones. Unusually, the windows are at eye level … you are so close, you can trace the marks Chagall made on the glass, his painted signature. An amazing experience!

The interior of All Saints Tudeley showing Chagall's stained glass window

The story

How did this great Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall come to bestow his art on an Anglican church in the Kent countryside? The story is one of love and loss. The daughter of a local landowner drowned off the East Sussex coast in a dreadful boating accident in 1963, aged 21. Her parents persuaded Chagall to accept a commission for a memorial window for her. When the artist visited in 1967 to oversee the installation of the east window, and saw the church for the first time, he reportedly declared “It’s magnificent. I will do them all.” He did…and they were finished in 1985, the year of his death aged 98. All Saints’ informative website tells the story here.

Even in a county blessed with so many things to do and places to see, the Chagall windows at All Saints’ Tudeley are exceptional. A donation of £3 towards the upkeep of the church is appreciated, and you may also be able to book a local guide in advance (for a £25 fee) to show you around.

Chagall stained glass windows

Ooh How Lovely – hand-crafted Christmas gifts

Gifts on shelves of a Kent gift shop

Our choice for day 21 of our #KentAdventCalendar is Ooh How Lovely, a 10-minute stroll from our English holiday rental and our go-to for fabulous last-minute Christmas gifts.

With its distinctive lime green façade, Ooh How Lovely adds a dash of colour to Hawkhurst’s historic white weather-boarded buildings. Owner Lisa Edwards, who opened the shop in March 2019, loves playing with colour… the more vibrant the better. Take, for instance, her approach to designing the show-home for a local development. Spurning the usual neutral tones, she covered the walls with Koi carp in a blaze of orange and turquoise. No surprise then that her corner shop is a kaleidoscopic explosion of colour, pattern and texture.

Showcasing local artists

Lisa, who has a degree in decorative arts & crafts, loves supporting local artists. She values their talent and makes a point of paying them appropriately. Often she gives them the confidence to show and sell their creations for the first time. Showing me around her treasure trove, she pointed out some thoroughly individual teddy bears made by an artist friend, hand-sewn felted toys “made by a lady in Eastbourne”, and the cutest toddlers dresses in vintage fabrics “hand-made by a lady in Hastings”. The shop is an Aladdin’s cave of hand-crafted objects and curios. Everywhere you look, there is something unique – a bouquet of hand-dyed and felted flowers, lampshades in a patchwork of different fabrics, paper cut buntings, signed limited edition prints.

Lisa and her Ooh How Lovely gift shop in Kent
Lisa Edwards has curated a whimsical collection of hand-crafted gifts in her Hawkhurst shop Ooh How Lovely

Last minute Christmas gifts

Still need last minute Christmas gifts or stocking fillers? How about  hand-knitted socks and bunnies, hand-sewn mushrooms, soy candles, ceramic angels, Moroccan leather slippers, mirror-mosaic flying ducks, a multi-coloured wingback chair? Or what about an old fire surround bookcase up-cycled for the BBC programme Money for Nothing – watch out for the programme in early 2020.

Lisa’s passion for all things hand-crafted is infectious. “Ooh how lovely,” she often enthuses. Hence the name.  Nothing beats a unique hand-crafted gift! Check out her website here.

The interior of Ooh How Lovely gift shop

Wild Spirits of Kent hedgerow tipples

Miniature bottles of Wild Spirits of Kent

For day 20 of our #KentAdventCalendar we’re getting into the festive spirit with Wild Spirits of Kent. This supremely creative Kent company makes what they delightfully refer to as ‘hedgerow tipples’ – botanical liqueurs and flavoured spirits made from premium Kent gin and vodka infused with hand-picked fruits and flowers foraged from the Kent countryside. ‘Kent’s Countryside Preserved in a Bottle’ is their tagline.

I first came across Wild Spirits of Kent purely by chance. A late September visit to Smallhythe Place happened to coincide with ‘Orchard Day’ – and a bottle of Rose Sambuca  waylaid me as we weaved past a row of stallholders en route to the museum entrance. Its companions were equally compelling: Rhubarb & Vodka, Raspberry & Gin, Blackberry & Whisky, Sloe Gin. Bliss in (beautifully labelled) bottles!

Different Wild Spirits of Kent drinks

Wild spirits foraging

The Wild Spirits story is fascinating. Founders Louise Newland and Gill Ford developed a passion for foraging after noticing the abundance of wild fruits and berries adorning the hedgerows they passed on long dog walks in the Kent countryside. They started off making Sloe Gin and Damson Gin, and their drinks business took off from there.  Now they gather fruits, berries, nuts, flowers and leaves every season, and use their own inventive recipes to transform them into delicious botanical liqueurs and flavoured spirits. Each is available in three sizes – 500ml, 200ml and a 50ml miniature (popular for wedding favours). Here’s a taster of their tipples, :

  • Wild Damson & Vodka – using wild Damsons hand-picked along the Pilgrims Way on the North Downs
  • Quince Vodka – said to aid digestion and ease sore throats. Drink on its own or drizzle over ice cream
  • Sloe Gin –  “Drink on its own or with Prosecco for a welcoming Christmas cocktail”
  • Cocktail Kit – a set of six cork-topped miniatures in a gift box, complete with cocktail suggestions.

We prefer drinking them after dinner, with cheese, as a night cap, in front of the fire, with friends, at a dinner party, drizzled on ice cream, soaked into sponge cake, as a Christmas welcome drink, as a base for a cocktail, on the rocks, with a mixer, with coffee,” Louise and Gill enthuse. For added inspiration, the they  created some fabulous hedgerow cocktails such as Bramble Blush, Damn Wild and Sloe Highland Fling…. recipes here.

Wouldn’t these spirited infusions make wonderful gifts! I would be delighted to find ANY Wild Spirits hedgerow tipple lurking under the Christmas tree. Wouldn’t you?

Do head over their website to browse flavours and buy online.

Photos courtesy Wild Spirits of Kent

The Eight Bells – a traditional English pub

A traditional English pub

With less than a week to go to Christmas Day, we’re in the mood for mulled wine and a festive meal. So for day 19 of our #KentAdventCalendar we’re heading to The Eight Bells, a traditional English pub in Hawkhurst, Kent.

No weekend escape or summer week in Kent would be complete without a visit to a few celebrated centuries-old inns in the historic villages of the High Weald. The Eight Bells is a favourite, both for us and for our holiday rental guests. This quintessentially English pub looks onto the Moor just south of Hawkhurst, with a pretty village duck pond and the 14th Century St Laurence’s church as near neighbours – that’s the church spire you can see from Barnfield House a five-minute drive or 25-minute walk away.

The Eight Bells pub interior

The Eight Bells has the ambience and architectural details you’d expect of an 18th Century hostelry – think head-grazingly low ceilings, a wealth of exposed oak beams, and blazing log fires. This creates a delightfully warm and welcoming setting for a pint or two in convivial company – there’s an excellent selection of local and national real ales as well as a good choice of wine. It is also an excellent choice for a meal out… and you can expect so much more than the usual pub grub. James and Annie Rogers, who recently took over the Eight Bells, have done wonders in the kitchen, creating a loyal following for their fresh locally sourced seasonal fare, changing menus and surprisingly competitive pricing. The set lunch menu in particular (served Tuesdays to Saturdays) is a steal at £10 for two courses, £13 for three; check out the sample menu here. In addition to a tempting Sunday lunch and a la carte menu, there are also some popular weekly specials: Tuesday’s Build-your-own-Burger Night, Wednesday’s popular Steak Night, and Fizzy Friday where beer battered cod is served with homemade chips and a glass of bubbly.

If you are staying at Barnfield House in the winter, cosy up by the open fire with a steaming mug of mulled wine. In summer head outdoors to the beautiful beer garden for an alfresco tipple. And to get into festive spirit, just take a look at their Christmas set lunch and dinner menus. Venison, pheasant or Kentish roast turkey and all the trimmings, anyone?

plates of food from the Eight Bells pub in Hawkhurst

All photos courtesy the Eight Bells

Taste the best of Kent

Fresh Kent produce

The Garden of England is a foodie’s paradise, with a wealth of home-grown artisanal fare, so we’ve chosen Taste Kent for day 18 of our #KentAdventCalendar. This  new online magazine focuses on Kent’s food and drinks scene, exploring new restaurants, menus, food and drink products and fine food stores.  “If it’s happening in Kent, made in Kent, grown in Kent or produced in Kent we want to know about it,” they say.

Their Kentish Christmas Gift Guide is an excellent reason to check out Taste Kent right now. Every day until the end of the year they are sharing fantastic gift ideas from Kent. It’s an inspiring list full of surprises – e.g. Nim’s brussel sprouts crisps, O’er the Moon crystallised ginger fudge, Message in a Million personalised tarts, and environmentally-friendly Nespresso-compatible coffee capsules from Lost Sheep Coffee.  Non-food products make an appearance in the guide too, such as Pure Wix natural soy candles, Kentish Soap gift boxes,  Bray’s Bees reusable beeswax food wraps, and the cutest Romney Marsh Wools sheepskin baby booties,

Taste Kent is a must-read for foodies interested in exploring the diverse tastes of Kent. You’ll find their website here. Do follow them on Instagram and Facebook to receive their daily suggestions!

Food products of Kent

Country walks in Kent

Horses sheltering under a large tree

We’re celebrating country walks in Kent for day 17 of our #KentAdventCalendar. Walking is the perfect way to appreciate the county, which has more than 4,200 miles of paths. It’s the perfect way to experience the breadth of scenery: rich farmland and orchards, rolling countryside, marshes, swathes of beaches, chalk-white cliffs…all dotted with medieval villages and traditional pubs.

Country walks are one of the delights of a self-catering holiday in the Kent High Weald, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And you don’t have to go far. There’s a network of paths a five-minute walk away from Barnfield House that lead across farmland and along small rural lanes. You’ll see fields of Alpacas – full of character, often curious and even ready to photo-bomb your family photo. Stop off at The Great House with its wealth of exposed beams, acclaimed menu, log fires and Orangery. This 16th Century inn, which is less than a mile from our holiday rental, has created a series of scenic walks around Hawkhurst running from 1.5 to 5 miles. You can view and download them here.

Walks in the WEald of Kent

Bedgebury a five-minute drive away is one of our favourite walking spots, offering walking, cycling, mountain biking and horse-riding trails criss-crossing the 2,000+ acres forest. Another is Bewl Water, a 10-minute drive away on the Kent/Sussex border, where you can take a short walk along the edge of the reservoir or tackle the entire 13-mile circuit.

brochures on Kent walksThere is also a series of interesting country walks centred on some of the historic villages in the High Weald, including Benenden, Cranbrook, Goudhurst and  Sissinghurst. Our holiday rental house guide includes brochures and maps, and you can also pop into the Weald Information Centre in Cranbrook to pick up your own copies. Each includes a map and detailed route directions, plus some interesting notes on the area.

Drive further and you could walk part of the Pilgrims Way along the North Downs towards Canterbury, or take the 207-mile Kent Coastal Path; we’ll leave that for another blog post.

Smallhythe Place

Smallhythe Place cottage facade

2019 has been a significant year for Smallhythe Place, which takes centre-stage for day 16 of our Insider’s Guide KentAdventCalendar: it marked the 90th anniversary of this fascinating museum, and 80th anniversary since it came under the care of the National Trust.

Just 13 miles from our Kent holiday rental, Smallhythe Place dates back to the early 16th Century – to the time when the area was a thriving shipbuilding port, before the sea receded. Today the picturesque timber-framed cottage is a museum to the professional and private life of the Grand Dame of the Victorian stage, Ellen Terry, who bought the place in 1899 as a rural retreat from London theatreland. After her death in 1928, her daughter Edith Craig transformed the place into a museum in homage to her mother’s extraordinary stage career and somewhat unconventional private life.

Photos from Smallhythe place

A visit to this photo-perfect traditional English cottage really does feel like stepping back in time. Virtually unchanged since the 1930s, the rooms are crowded with Ellen’s personal and stage memorabilia that that give insights into her life. There are over 9,000 artefacts –  correspondence, manuscripts, portraits, photographs, press cuttings , theatrical costumes and stage props. The huge collection includes a letter to her from Oscar Wilde, her death mask, the Guinevere costume designed for Ellen by Edward Burne-Jones, and the beetle wing dress, covered in the iridescent wings of jewel beetles from Southeast Asia. Playing Lady Macbeth in 1888, Ellen commanded the Lyceum Theatre stage in this extraordinary costume, catching the attention of American artist John Singer Sargent who subsequently painted her portrait wearing the same dress.

In addition to the museum, there’s also a vintage tea room, a gorgeous rose-filled cottage garden and the stunning 17th Century thatched Barn Theatre which hosts production throughout the season. For more information, click here.

Click here these blog posts about about some other National Trust properties in Kent:

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Bodiam Castle

Scotney Castle

Cranbrook Union Mill

windmill against blue sky

The 200-year-old Grade I listed Union Mill in Cranbrook is our choice for day 15 of our #KentAdventCalendar. Standing over 70ft at the historic Wealden town’s highest point, this white weather-boarded smock mill is the tallest in England.

A quick history

The Union Mill was built in 1814 by a local millwright for one Mary Dobell who set her son Henry up in business. But his fledgling enterprise became a casualty of the depression that hit England after the end of the Napoleonic wars, and went into bankruptcy. The mill passed into the hands of a union of creditors  –hence the name – who sold it to John and George Russell in 1832. The mill remained in the Russell family for over 120 years, right up until the death of John’s great grandson (also called John) in 1958. Before he died, under pressure to sell the mill and its land to property developers, John chose to save it from demolition and secure its future by handing it to the Kent Country Council in return for their promise to preserve the mill in perpetuity. With the support of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the council returned it to good repair. Then in 1982 the Cranbrook Windmill Association started up to look after the mill, carry out further restoration work and open it to the public. In 2014, John Russell’s generous act received recognition with a memorial plaque outside the town’s Vestry Hall, unveiled during the Union Mill’s bicentenary celebrations.

2 photos of Cranbrook Union Mill

Take a tour

You can visit the Union Mill during certain summer afternoons and on special occasions such as National Mills Weekend in May and Heritage Open Days in September – thanks to the dedicated volunteers at the Cranbrook Windmill Association. This is your chance to climb the seven steep flights of stairs right to the top, see the wind powered milling machinery, learn how windmills work, and buy – or perhaps even make –wholemeal flour ground in the mill itself.

The Cranbrook Union Mill is only a four-mile, 10-minute drive from Barnfield House. Entrance is free. Before you visit, do check opening days and times on their website. If it isn’t open during your stay at our Kent holiday rental, don’t worry; you can take a fascinating virtual tour here on their website instead.