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Iron Men of Brenchley

This walk from Brenchley takes you back to Kent's industrial past.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 312ft (95m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Orchard tracks, field margins and footpaths, 14 stiles

Landscape Varied, rolling landscape of orchards and hop fields

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

Start/finish TQ 679418

Dog friendliness Good, can run free in many places

Parking Car park in Brenchley

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the car park turn left to the war memorial. Turn right, then left at the top of the road and go up some steps into an orchard. Walk ahead, crossing two stiles, then turn left to pass some cottages. Continue through the orchard, nip over a stile and on to the golf course.

2 Pass between the greens on the track, skirting the corner of a wood. Take the track on the right, climb a stile and join the road.

3 Walk a few paces to the right and then climb a stile on your left. Cross the field and follow the track to Biggenden Farm, where you cross a stile, turn left and eventually reach the road. Walk to the right and then take the path on the left. Cross a stile and the field beyond, then bear right. Continue towards the tree line and go up steps to Knowle Road.

4 Turn left, then, where the road bends, take the path on the right. Head across the field towards the hedge line, maintaining direction to cross a bridge and a stile. Bear left then right over another bridge and stile, to join the road.

5 Turn right past some hop fields, then take a path on the left. Soon turn right through an orchard to a road. Turn left past a pond, then right on a path at a vineyard.

6 Continue to a white timbered house, nip over a stile and walk between the gardens to another stile. Turn right to join the main road, then left and up to a parking area at Furnace Pond.

7 Turn right at Lake Cottage, right again across the bridge and walk around the pond. Join the path on the right and walk up the side of an orchard, to turn right at a waymarker. Continue across to a lane. Turn left and walk to Hononton Farm. Turn right along the track, through an orchard, then left at a gap in the windbreak. Turn right at the waymarker to the road.

8 Cross over, then take the track to your left. Follow this past the house, over a stile and turn right. Cross two more stiles and a bridge. Eventually turn right to join the road at the Halfway House pub. Half-way up the hill take the track on your right, cross the field and return to Brenchley.

If you thought there was little more to Kentish history than battles with invaders and the intricacies of apple growing, this walk will soon change your mind. It starts in Brenchley, an atmospheric village with several old timbered houses, a church, pub and - a working forge. The forge, a rare sight these days, is a reminder that Kent once had a thriving iron industry and Brenchley was once at its heart.

Even before the Romans came to Britain, iron had been produced in the Weald (the wooded area) of Kent. Ore was extracted from the clay soil and roasted with charcoal (made from the trees) in a small furnace. The resulting molten iron was then hammered into shape. In the 15th and 16th centuries technology improved and large-scale, water-powered blast furnaces and hammer forges were introduced, revolutionising the industry.

Large ponds were created to provide the necessary water power and were given workmanlike names such as Hammer Pond, Pit Pond and, as in the case of the one you pass on this walk, Furnace Pond. The industry grew rapidly and brought prosperity and employment to the Weald - the ironworks at Brenchley once employed 200 men. The industry flourished until the 18th century when it moved to the coal producing regions of the north. Today Furnace Pond is a tranquil place and it's hard to believe that there was once a noisy and bustling ironworks here.

A blacksmith called Wat Tyler once lived at Brenchley and gained notoriety by leading the Peasants' Revolt in 1381. This rebellion, which originated from the introduction of a hated poll tax, began in Kent and Essex and soon spread throughout the country. Tyler and his men marched to London, took control of the Tower and murdered various unpopular figures including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The authorities were unable to take control of the mob and some semblance of calm was only restored when Richard II, then just 14, rode out to meet the rebels. He agreed to meet many of their demands and promised freedom from serfdom (peasants in those days were not free but had to work for the lord of the manor). However, Tyler made further demands and was consequently killed at Smithfield, probably by the Lord Mayor of London. The authorities rapidly regained control and crushed the rebellion. The King went back on his word, serfdom was not abolished and little was gained from so much bloodshed.

What to look for

An avenue of yew trees, more than 400 years old, dominates the entrance to All Saints Church at Brenchley. Yew trees are a common sight in churchyards and there are many myths and legends attached to them. Some are older than the churches and indicate that the site was once used for pagan worship as yews were considered to be sacred trees.

Where to eat and drink

The Bull Inn at Brenchley serves teas, coffees and sandwiches, as well as main meals. The menu features traditional English dishes and Mexican food.

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