Barnfield House Kent

Barnfield House Kent

Family-owned 5-bedroom holiday rental • Sleeps 10 • 2-acre gardens • Glorious views

Kent Advent Calendar – day 11 – Hawkhurst Now

Hawkhurst Colonnade

Our last post on Hawkhurst took a peek at its history. Today we take a look at the village as it is now. Hawkhurst is really two villages joined together: Highgate with its famed 19th Century Grade 11 listed Colonnade and, less than a mile south, the Moor where you’ll find the 13th Century St Laurence Church, its spire visible across farmland from our family holiday rental.

The white weather-boarded buildings in the picturesque Colonnade house an array of independent family-run shops, the oldest being Hawkhurst Pharmacy which according to Historic England was founded in 1830, around the time the Colonnade was built. There’s also a butcher (Park Farm Butchers), a bakers (Rye Bakery)…but no candlestick maker (though you can probably buy some across the road at vintage Charlie’s Orange). More recent (20th and 21st Century) arrivals to the Colonnade include Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winners Lindsay Barrow Designer Florist, clothing boutique Cordelia James, Two Chicks gift shop, and the Green Shop which raises money for the Hawkhurst Community as the League of Friends. Beyond the Colonnade is Ooh How Lovely, known for its eclectic gift selection and homewares. Other independent shops and services include hairdressers, beauticians, a barber, gym and craft shop. It’s wonderful to have so many independent shops in the village; the only high street names are Waitrose and Tesco supermarkets.

Hawkhurst Colonnade

Opposite the Colonnade and housed in the 1875 Victoria Hall is the Kino, the UK’s first ever digital cinema – a fantastic resource for the village, showing a range of blockbusters, documentaries, and arthouse movies.

Fancy eating in but not cooking? Order in a kebab, fish & chips or Chinese take-aways. The Prince of Kent is a popular Indian restaurant in the village, and pubs include the Royal Oak at the crossroads (known for its Friday steak night), the Oak & Ivy (on the Hawkhurst Smugglers trail), the Eight Bells on the Moor (with excellent set and a la carte menus and weekly steak, burger and fish-n-fizz nights), and the Great House in Gills Green, which offers with its elegant Orangery and dining area.

View of countryside from Barnfield House
Spot the church spire in the distance!

Kent Advent Calendar – day 9 – Hawkhurst then

Hawkhurst village sign

Our #KentAdventCalendar would be incomplete without a ‘window’ devoted to Hawkhurst. Its name comes from heafoc hyrst, an Old English phrase meaning a wooded hill frequented by hawks. (Other ‘hursts’ in Kent –include Goudhurst, Lamberhurst, Sissinghurst).

A rich history

This charming Wealden village has an interesting history traced back over 1,000 years; “Hawkashyrst’ is mentioned in the 11th Century Domesday  Morachorum. The large pond bordering farmland at the bottom of Barnfield House’s garden is a reminder of the village’s involvement in the Wealden iron industry in the Middle Ages – it is one of a string of ponds on a south-facing ridge running to the west of the village that were once open iron works. The Weald was the centre for armaments during the reign of Henry VIII, producing cannon right up to the end of the Seven Years’ War. That was the era of the infamous Hawkhurst Gang – the Holkhourst Genge – the most notorious group of smugglers in England who ‘ruled the Weald’ in the middle of the 18th Century, controlling the movement of contraband such as brandy, rum, coffee and tea smuggled across the channel from France.

Hawkhurst Gang smugglers trail map
Map and brochure by visithawkhurst.org.uk

 

Today you can follow in the footsteps of this infamous gang,  visiting landmarks on their route from Goudhurst and Hawkhurst to the coast at Rye and Hastings, identified on a map produced for visithawkhurst.org.uk.

You can also download a map of the 6-mile Hawkhurst Heritage Trail. And if you are interested in history, do download A Walk in the Past, a free guide that gives “a virtual view of things as they used to be 100 years ago”.

Kent Advent Calendar – day 8 – A Kent Garden

A woodpecker at the hanging bird table

We love reading the  reviews our guests leave at the end of their week-long stay at our holiday rental, and hearing about the fun they’ve had exploring Kent and East Sussex. Hever, Chartwell, Knole, Ightham Mote, Sissinghurst, Batemans, Great Dixter, Smallhythe, Bedgebury Pinetum, the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells, Bewl Water – they always find more to do in our part of the world than they can possibly fit into a week. Yet for many, our two-acre garden and the fabulous views from every room are up there among the highlights of their trip. And our “Let’s-get-away-from-London-for-a-weekend” guests have been known to not leave the house at all. So for day 8 of our #KentAdventCalendar we decided to stay close to home and share snapshots of some lovely avian breakfast companions taken through the kitchen window.

woodpecker and pheasant
Visitors outside the kitchen

Our Kent garden is blessed with an abundance of birdlife. The woodpecker has been a frequent visitor of late, given to chasing away the wrens, blue and great tits, nuthatch and robins. Below the feeders, wood pigeons and pheasants, perhaps finding refuge from a local shoot, sweep up the crumbs. They find rich pickings in our December garden, feasting still on the autumnal apple windfall.

Kent is one of the top counties for bird-watching in Britain, with five RSPB reserves and two dedicated bird observatories. Kent Ornithological Society’s website provides a wealth of information, as does  Kent Wildlife Trust .

bench in sunshine with countryside views
The view from Barnfield House

Kent Advent Calendar – Day 5 – Castle Farm Lavender

Field of lavender at Castle Farm

For day 5 of #KentAdventCalendar we’re celebrating a farm that has changed the colour palette of Kent. Every year in late June, vast swathes of the North Downs burst into a haze of purple as the spectacular lavender fields of Castle Farm begin to flower. This corrugated carpet of lavender undulating across the Kent countryside is breath-taking – a reward for all the senses.

Lavender growing at Castle Farm Kent

During the short season – usually until the end of July – The Hop Shop at Castle Farm runs public and private tours. This is a chance to go behind the scenes at the UK’s largest lavender farm, learn why lavender is grown, how it is harvested and the oil extracted, and what it’s used for… while immersed in billowing rows of perfumed blooms. On certain summer evenings you can book a BYO pop-up sunset picnic right in the lavender fields – but be quick off the mark, as tickets for these outrageously popular events are only announced a few days in advance and sell out quickly.

Lavender season in Kent

While the lavender season is short, the Hop Shop itself is open all year round, selling seasonal produce from the family farm. With Christmas around the corner, now is a great time to visit and pick up some decorative hop bines and wreathes for the home, as well as special gifts for all the family: edible treats, lavender candles and essential oils, and their own Natural Sleep range – Sleepy Scent, Sleepy Balm, Sleepy Tea and Sleep Pillow. These are also available to purchase online.

The Hop Shop at Castle Farm is just north of Sevenoaks near the pretty village of Shoreham, a 40-minute drive from Barnfield House. Find out more here.

Photo credit: The Hop Farm at Castle Farm

Kent Advent Calendar – Day 4 – Dungeness

Dungeness beach with lighthouse behind

Dungeness is our choice for day 4 of the #KentAdventCalendar. We were watching the tide recede beyond the shadow of the nuclear power station there one crisp November day when I turned round to notice the tip of the lighthouse peeking over the shelving shingles. What quiet drama!

Shingle beach with lighthouse

But then Dungeness can feel like a dystopian film set, it is so otherworldly – and like nowhere else in the country let alone the county of Kent. As it happens, it is one of the largest shingle landscapes in the world, offering one of the most bio-diverse habitats you can find in England.

Fishing hut and boat on shingle beach at Dungeness
Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

Dungeness is well worth the 50-minute 27-mile drive from Barnfield House, whether you plan to visit for an hour or a day. Wander along the beach, past fishermen’s huts, beached fishing boats and a scattering of houses, some created from old railway carriages dragged across the shingle a century ago. Down a pint at the Pilot Inn. Visit film director Derek Jarman’s extraordinary shingle garden at Prospect Cottage. Then head inland to Dungeness Nature Reserve for the two-mile circular trail, stopping off at a few hides for a spot of birdwatching at this migration hotspot and birdlife haven.

For more information, visit the Dungeness National Nature Reserve website and RSPB.

Kent Advent Calendar – Day 2 – Blighty’s

For day 2 of our #KentAdventCalendar, we’ve chosen Blighty’s, a quintessentially British gift shop in the historic Wealden village of Cranbrook just four miles from Barnfield House. Camilla Cogger, who manages this fabulous independent family-run gift shop, loves spotting and supporting talented artists, designers and craftspeople, and makes a point of only sourcing products designed and made in Britain. A fabulous place to pick up a gift, it is overflowing with gorgeous Christmas-themed items right now, from scented advent candles to 3D advent calendars to ceramic star Christmas tree decorations.

Camilla Cogger at Blighty's gift shop CranbrookCamilla has recently launched the own-brand Blighty’s Collection, starting with stunning scented candles hand-made close by in Tenterden, and a beautiful ceramic heart featuring Cranbrook’s famous Union Mill, hand-made in Gloucestershire by Broadlands Pottery – super gifts for our holiday renters to purchase as a souvenir of their stay! Blighty’s – an informal term for Britain coined early in the 19th Century – is also a ‘Just a Card’ superhero, supporting a campaign encouraging people to shop local and independent. And if you can’t shop local, you can always shop online . at https://blightys.uk/

 

Kent Advent Calendar – Day 1

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

There is so much to experience in Kent that we decided to celebrate our corner of the world with a Kent Advent Calendar. Every day in the run-up to Christmas Day, we’ll be sharing with you photos of some of our favourite places, people and products in Kent and across the border in East Sussex — village pubs, woodland walks, ancient castles, famous gardens, indie boutiques and artisanal fare.

For the first day of our #KentAdventCalendar we’ve chosen world-famous Sissinghurst Castle Garden — the quintessential English garden  less than seven miles from Barnfield House. Wonder if poet and writer Vita Sackville-West could have imagined that her life’s exuberant creation would become arguably England’s most beautiful garden as well as the top attraction in the Weald of Kent?

A birdseye view of Sissinghurst Castle Garden

This year Sissinghurst Castle Garden, which lies less than seven miles from our family holiday rental, will open during winter for the first time. This gives visitors the chance to view the much-loved garden through a different lens, and appreciate the classic structure and layout created by Vita’s husband Harold Nicolson. What better way to experience the Garden of Kent’s colourful changing seasons than at this National Trust treasure!

The British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition at Bodiam Castle

award-winnning photo of a swan exhibited at Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle in East Sussex never fails to surprise. Monty Python fans might remember glimpsing this  perfectly moated medieval marvel in the film Monty Python & the Holy Grail, where it was the exterior of Swamp Castle. Moving from films to stills, this pint-size castle is currently hosting the 2019 British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition.

Bodiam Castle is of the first venues on the national tour of 2019 winners. The crenelated walls, soaring towers and surrounding moat provide a stunning backdrop to a spectacular series of photos that capture British wildlife and landscapes in all their power and  glory.

wildlife photos exhibited within the ancient walls of Bodiam Castle
Top photo, Paul Sawer’s category winner, ‘Seasonal Blue Tit shot in Suffolk

It was an overcast day when we visited, and the National Trust volunteers were getting up to speed with the diverse locations of the exhibition. This included the first floor of the West Tower which we understand was opened to the public for the first time especially for this exhibition. It was rather extraordinary climbing up the narrow, steeply spiralling stone stairs and stepping into a small circular tower room to see the most astonishing photographs of British wildlife.

Photos of a plover and a snake exhibited at Bodium castle
Top photo, Nicholas Court’s highly commended ‘Golden Plover Moor shot in Derbyshire. Jack Perk’s highly commended Grass Snake in Garden Pond, photographed in Nottinghamshire.

The work of both amateur and professional photographers is displayed in the north east, north west and west towers. Somehow these rather magnificent photos of Britain’s bucolic landscape and abundant wildlife sit well against a backdrop of the castle’s ancient blocks of stone – story-tellers themselves across the centuries.

Photo of a bluebell wood displayed within Bodiam castle
Pauline Godwin’s highly commended Carpet of Bluebells at Badbury Clump in Oxfordshire
A bee, barn owl and blenny - photos exhibited at Bodiam castle
(Left) Andy Rouse’s highly commended Barn Owlets Fledging from Nest, photographed in Lincolnshire. (Centre) Daniel Trim’s highly commended Sinister Cargo. (Right) Dan Bolt’s highly commended Dahlia Splash shot in the seas of South Devon, and Kirsty Andrews’ highly commended Golden Boy, a characterful Yarrell’s blenny shot in the Scottish Borders.

The details captured by the photographers were extraordinary. Daniel Trim’s Sinister Cargo shows a European Beewolf  – “tenacious little wasps” – carrying a paralysed honeybee to its burrow, where it will become the unwitting host for the wasp’s egg… and ultimately dinner for the newly hatched larva. And I just love the expression on Golden Boy, Kirsty Andrews’ fine portrait of a blenny.

Photo of a dipper eating a bug
Highly commended, Breakfast Bug by Peter Bartholomew – a dipper tucks into a juicy bug in the Cairngorms.

There’s food for thought too. For example Breakfast Bug,  Peter Bartholomew’s photo of a dipper perched on a plastic bottle draped in what looks like fishing net, shows how nature adapts to its changing surroundings. “Over several weeks I observed that the dipper had adopted various pieces of plastic waste as perching spots in preference to the usual stones and branches.”

We visited Bodiam Castle this time mainly for the exhibition. But of course Britain’s most photogenic castle provides multiple opportunities to shoot stunning photos, whether you use a camera or your phone. (The photos accompanying this article were all taken on a Huawei P20 Pro smartphone). So after visiting the exhibition rooms in the three towers, do climb further up the spiral stairs to the top of the towers to the reward of fantastic countryside views.

Bodiam Castle portcullis, tower stairs, and external view
Enjoy a leisurely tour of Bodiam Castle

This inspiring BWPA exhibition is a reminder of the riches that nature gives us right on our doorsteps. Indeed the castle grounds are home to a variety of wildlife within its wetlands, wooded areas, trees, and grasslands. It is also one of the most important bat roosts in the south east of England.

Bodiam Castle is just 5 miles from the five-bedroom holiday rental Barnfield House, which is the perfect base for families interested in exploring the attractions of Kent and East Sussex.

The exhibition is on until Sunday 5 January 2020 (closed 24 & 25 December).

More information here.

Family days out in Kent & East Sussex

There are so many places to see and things to do when on holiday in Barnfield House Kent. Here are some of our favourites — ideas that will appeal to adults and kids of all ages.

Great Dixter Gardens

We’re lucky to have England’s most famous gardens within a short drive — the kind that attracts visitors from around the world. My favourite is Great Dixter Gardens an eight-mile drive away in Northian, East Sussex, known as “a place of pilgrimage for horticulturalists.  from across the world”.  Great Dixter is a riot of colour in the summer months, and is fascinating any time of the year. You can also visit the Tudor house, extensively restored by Edwin Lutyens. Allow time for a tea break in their enchanting garden cafe. And do check out their events calendar of talks, tours and workshops.

Camber Sands

Just half an hour from Barnfield House, this miles-long beach of golden sand is gorgeous in all seasons —this photo was taken on Boxing Day! We take bracing walks along the promenade, or on the beach at low tide. Kids love building sandcastles, paddling in the shallow water, and exploring the sand dunes. And there’s excellent kite surfing for the water sports enthusiast.

Bodiam Castle

The 14th Century Bodiam Castle is just what you’d imagine a medieval castle should be: four castellated towers complete with arrow slits reflected in the encircling moat, further protected by a portcullis, and in a fairytale countryside setting. One of the most photographed castles in Britain today, this National Trust site it’s only five miles from Barnfield House. Do visit!

Picturesque villages

Barnfield House is an excellent base for exploring the many beautiful villages of the Weald of Kent and East Sussex. Within walking distance of the house is Hawkhurst, with its Victorian weather-board shopping colonnade and pubs (among them the historic Oak & Ivy Inn, from where the notorious 18th Century Hawkhurst Gang ran their smuggling ring).

Cranbrook four miles away is blessed with the medieval St Dunstan’s church, 15th century cottages, a fascinating museum, and the tallest working mill in England. Glorious countryside drives from Barnfield House reveal more picturesque villages with quaint tearooms, cosy pubs, insta-perfect pastoral settings and poetic names that roll off the tongue – Biddenden, Beneden, Rovenden, Smarden, and Tenterden. Plus lots more ‘hursts’ (meaning wooded area) including Goudhurst, Lamberhurst and Ticehurst.

National Trust Attractions

We are so lucky to have an amazing selection of National Trust-run historic houses, castles and gardens within a 30-mile radius — the closest being a 10-minute drive away.  It’s worthwhile paying for a National Trust annual membership even if only staying a week in the area.

Bodiam Castle – (see above) 5 miles

Sissinghurst Castle Garden – renowned gardens created by Bloomsbury poet Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson. 6 miles

Scotney Castle – country house, moated castle and wooded estate. 7 miles

Batemans — Jacobean house, home of Rudyard Kipling. 8 miles.

Smallhythe Place – Victorian actress Ellen Terry’s 16th century house and cottage garden. 13 miles

Lamb House Rye – Georgian house with literary associations. 15 miles

Stoneacre — medieval yeoman’s house and garden. 17 miles

Chiidingstone Village – one of the oldest and most beautiful villages in Kent. 23 miles

Ightham Mote — 14th century moated manor house. 24 miles

Old Soar Manor — remans of a 13th Century knight’s dwelling. 24 miles

Knole — historic house and 1,000-acre wild deer park. 25 miles

Coldrum Long Barrow — created 1,000 years before Stonehenge. 25 miles

Alfriston Clergy House — medieval thatched Wealden hall-house. 27 miles

Sheffield Park & Gardens — historic parkland, woodland and landscaped gardens. 28 miles

Chartwell — family home of Sir Winston Churchill, 30 miles

South East Open Studios

There’s so much on in the Weald of Kent this month! Something not to miss is South East Open Studios (SEOS), a creative event running til the 23rd June where artists, craftspeople, printmakers and designers open their studio spaces to the public. Its your chance to meet artists up close and personal, learn about their process, passion and philosophy, and see them at work. Many will be giving demonstrations and sharing stories behind their creations, and most will be offering their works for sale (at direct-to-artist prices without gallery mark-ups).

Some 200 artists are participating this year (the 22nd year of this annual event), many of them on our doorstep. Within a few miles of Barnfield House Kent, you have the chance to see talented artists such as. Sue Scullard (wood engravings), Felicity Flutter (watercolours inspired by the sea), Nicola Colbran (wildlife oil paintings), Jackie Summerfield (ceramic wildlife sculptures), Katie Brinsley (ceramic tableware), Ali Stump (etchings), and Peter M Clarke (metal garden sculptures).

https://youtu.be/K9O1aUrTNJs Download a guide and suggested itineraries from SEOS’s informative website (http://www.seos-art.org), or create your own art trail through the enchanting countryside of Kent and East Sussex – truly the Garden of England. You could return home with a piece of art you’ll treasure for a lifetime!