In this article Tim & Suzy Seddon explore The Castles and Houses of West Kent experience route they have curated as a weekend e-bike experience for their family business Countrybike. Countrybike is a local bike hire and servicing business operating in the countryside around Tunbridge Wells.
Setting off from Tunbridge Wells station you are soon out into the glorious wooded countryside with rocky sandstone outcrops that cradle most of the western side of the town. Before heading out of town though, we make an obligatory stop at the pedestrian only Pantiles area for a quick coffee and chat about the route. It is a joy of a place and the spiritual heartland of the town. It is home to morning markets and evening live music and is simply a great place to sit out and do a spot of people watching.
From the Pantiles we join the Sustrans Route 21 along the lanes heading out of town towards High Rocks. As the name suggests it is the location of impressive sandstone cliffs that are the highest in the Weald, which became a famous tourist attraction after a visit from James II in the 17th Century. You can, if you wish, pay for access to the Rocks (from the hotel opposite) and take an aerial walk across the tops but today we are looking ahead to our visit to the stunning Hever Castle and other Tudor delights along the way.
Continuing on through the pine tree lined roads through Broadwater Forest we wind our way through to Groombridge and a stop at the Spa Valley Railway station. We are in luck as today the steam trains are running from the main station in Tunbridge Wells to Eridge and back. We eat an ice cream and cheer a steam train as it hoots and blusters its way along the track.
There is plenty to explore in Groombridge from the utterly fantastic bakery to Groombridge Place which was a favoured spot of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when escaping the hustle and bustle of the city to write. We cycle on though and turn left on the green opposite the Crown pub to work our way up and over our first significant hill. We cannot help but think e-bikes are really the way forward as we cruise up the hill with minimum effort.
From here on out we feel like we are in the heart of the Weald. Woodland, farmland and the meandering of the Medway make this a beautiful place to explore. We spot wild deer along with a plethora of other wildlife larking about in their habitat and we start to really unwind as we climb and freewheel our way over the hills towards Hever.
The childhood home of Anne Boleyn who went on to become Henry VIII’s 2nd wife, Hever Castle is a place of outstanding history and beauty. Much credit must be given to the American businessman Willian Waldorf Astor who spent a small fortune on renovating and restoring the castle after he purchased it in 1903. The Italian gardens, lake and Tudor village emerged from his investment and the house itself went through extensive restoration. Whether it is a stroll through the immaculate gardens or a peek inside the castle that you are after, Hever cannot help but stir up the romanticism of Tudor England. It is certainly up there as one of the most picturesque castles in England.
We stay at Hever castle most of the afternoon and find that sipping coffee overlooking the lake by the Italian fountain is our spot de jour. There is so much to do at Hever but it is a hot day and so we decide to cool off by trying our luck around the water maze. Jets of water spring up at you with every wrong turn and before long we are laughing our way towards a second ice cream of the day.
Back on the bikes we head a few miles further on to the bed and breakfast barn conversion that we have booked for the evening. The barn is simply stunning with an open plan living area and mezzanine bedroom that captures the view and wraps you in comfort. In the evening we dine at the 14th Century Wheatsheaf pub in Bough Beech. A perfect end to a perfect first day.