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A Herbal High Around Goudhurst

A short but rewarding walk around one of Kent's highest villages.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Well-marked field paths, short sections of road, 12 stiles

Landscape Superb views of the Weald throughout, take your camera

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 136 The Weald, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Start/finish TQ 7233776

Dog friendliness Good but keep on lead as there are lots of grazing animals, stiles are particularly high and might be hard to negotiate

Parking Car park in Goudhurst behind duck pond

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the car park turn left, cross the road and walk up it opposite the duck pond. Just past the bus shelter turn left and follow the public footpath, crossing a stile and walking downhill. There are outstanding views over the Weald from here - the whole countryside seems to have been sprinkled with oast houses. It's the sort of view you usually only get after a steep climb. Keep going down, past two large trees and walk to the bottom right of the field where you hop over a stile and into a narrow, tree-lined path. Follow this to a stile, go over a little bridge and on to a tarmac minor road.

2 Cross over to another stile and continue ahead over pasture to a tennis court. Skirt round the left of this and, after another stile, come on to the road, where you turn right. Turn left through the gate signed 'Private Road' into Trottenden Farm. Follow the track that winds to the right, go past a pond, over a stile and walk ahead along a fenced track and across pasture. The ways are so clearly marked on this walk that you can't really go wrong. Hop over a stile by a gate and continue ahead to another stile. At a fence post walk to the right, round the edge of a meadow, cross a wooden bridge, nip over another stile and into woodland. Walk uphill to another stile and continue ahead to a road.

3 Turn right and at a corner turn left up a public bridleway. Turn right at a cottage and come down into a field. At a post by a hedge turn right and go downhill. At the bottom cross some water and then veer left, walking uphill towards a farmhouse.

4 Just before the farm outbuildings turn right along a track that runs by a hedge. As you walk you will see fruit trees peeping through the gaps in the hedge. Eventually pass the parkland of Ladham House on the left and then come to some concrete bollards. Continue walking to join the road.

5 At the road turn right, and walk up to the B2084. Cross over and walk along the road immediately in front of you. At a junction keep to the right and continue to reach the main road. Turn right here and you can now see St Mary's Church. Follow the road and walk back into the village.

This is the sort of walk that you can do again and again. It's varied, lovely at any time of the year and offers great views from the start - for very little effort. Even better, it's unusually well signposted - so thumbs up to the sensible farmer (or farmers) who help to keep it so enjoyable.

Goudhurst is a very pretty village, though sadly blighted by heavy traffic. It's one of the highest villages in Kent - hence those great views. The village is dominated by St Mary's Church, which has an eye-catching memorial to members of a prominent local family - the Culpepers. The family pop up all over Kent (Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard was a Culpeper) but the most famous member of all was Nicholas, the physician and author of The English Physician Enlarged, or The Herbal which was published in 1653.

At that time the working class was moving away from the countryside and into the rapidly growing industrialised towns and cities where there were more job opportunities. In these unfamiliar, urban environments they could no longer gather the traditional herbs they used to make their own medicines. They became increasingly reliant on herbalists and apothecaries - who frequently exploited them. Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54), who trained as a herbalist in London, was conscious of the gulf between the lifestyle of his wealthy family and the majority of the population. He tried to help by letting his poor customers have their herbal medicines at low prices; always tried to use cheaper, local herbs in his remedies, and would even tell people where they could go to gather the herbs themselves. He wrote The English Physician Enlarged, or The Herbal so as to make his remedies accessible to as many people as possible. Although some of his concoctions sound rather outlandish today, many of the herbs he recommends are still in use. One of his remedies was a 'decoction' of that distinctive Kentish plant hops, which he said: 'cleanses the blood, cures the venereal disease and all kinds of scabs'. Herbalists today say that hops are a mild sedative and contain a natural antibiotic.

In 1341 the Archbishop of Canterbury decreed that the vicar of Goudhurst should receive an annual tithe which included 'pears, onions, and all other herbs sown in gardens?'. Hops were an important local crop even then and this started a fierce legal dispute over whether hops were grown in gardens or fields, with the vicar, of course, arguing that they were grown in gardens. Although the vicar lost his case, people in Kent still talk about hop gardens - rather than the hop fields that are found in the rest of England.

Where to eat and drink

The ancient Star and Eagle Inn is right next to the church (a story tells that it was once connected to the church by a secret passage). It serves Sunday roasts, light meals, baguettes and teas and coffees. There are also some tea rooms and several other pubs in the village.

What to look for

One local tale concerns marks on the outside of the 13th-century St Mary's Church. They are said to have been made by archers sharpening their arrows before going into battle at Agincourt in 1415. It is impossible to say whether this is true or not, however, inside the church is a brass commemorating John Bedgebury who is thought to have been one of the English knights who fought at Agincourt. There's certainly a good chance that he came to the church before heading off to war.

While you're there

Just by Goudhurst is Finchcocks, a Georgian manor house, set in its own parkland, that has hardly altered since it was built in 1725. It is now a museum of musical keyboard instruments. There are chamber organs, harpsichords, pianos and clavichords, and you can hear them being played when the house is open.

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