Spotlight on Cranbrook
Cranbrook has a rather grand title: the capital of the Weald of Kent. Quite apt, if we do say so ourselves. Located around halfway between the county town of Maidstone and East Sussex’s coastal Hastings, Cranbrook looks like a traditional Wealden town, feels like a traditional Wealden town, and acts like a traditional Wealden town. Yet beneath the tradition, Cranbrook’s beating heart is most definitely up to date.
History in Brief
Whereas many old and original names for places in and around Kent seem to have changed unrecognisably, Cranbrook’s name hasn’t changed very much at all. It originally came from the Old English ‘cran broc’ and simply means ‘crane marsh’. Of course, what the early settlers thought were cranes are actually herons (many of which can still be seen in the area), but since the Old English for heron is hairon, it actually turned out for the best that they made this mistake; Haironbrook doesn’t quite have the same charm to it as Cranbrook does.
The Weald became famous thanks to the cloth industry. It was Edward III who invited Flemish weavers to settle in the area – he could see that their skills could bring the country a lot of money. Cranbrook and the surrounding area was ideal for weaving as the river could be dammed and watermills built quickly. At one point there were 17 such watermills in Cranbrook.
As the money came in, that small village grew into a town, and Cranbrook became the epicentre of the Weald of Kent.
THINGS TO DO
- The Union Mill
Perhaps unsurprisingly given its history, one of the most interesting and popular attractions in Cranbrook is the Union Mill. This Grade I listed building stands on the highest point in the town, and this windmill is the tallest such structure in the UK. And to make the Union Mill even more fascinating, it is maintained in working order, so you can see exactly how milling was traditionally done.
- Cranbrook Museum
Within the lovely Cranbrook Museum are hundreds of exceptional artefacts from the town’s past. The museum covers three floors and is located within a stunning example of a Wealden-built house – the building is Grade II listed, and it dates from the 15th century. Inside the museum are many different stories that all meld together to tell the history of Cranbrook itself.
- Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest
In neighbouring Goudhurst you can find Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest. A day spent here is a day enjoyed by everyone, young and old. Both a recreational and conservational arboretum, there is plenty of space to play here. There is a long list of things that you can do including horse riding, bird watching, Go Ape!, walking, orienteering, exploring, a treasure hunt and cycling.
FOOD & DRINK
- The George Hotel
This impressive building dates back to the 14th century, and the winding passageways and wood panelling certainly have that authentic feel. The food served at the George Hotel, however, is anything but dated – it is modern and memorable and compliments the surroundings perfectly. The menu includes dishes such as pan-fried scallops with pea purée, chorizo, black pudding and a brie bon bon; grilled venison sausages with a creamy butternut squash and sweet potato mash, braised red cabbage and apple and a rich red wine and onion gravy; and traditional apple and blackberry crumble.
The menu at Apicius changes on a regular basis since the chef is keen to use only the best seasonal produce – sourced locally wherever possible. It is always wise to book a table here if you are interested in going, as space is limited and those in the know will most certainly get there before you if you go in on the off chance of being seated! Examples of the food here include poached and roasted breast of guinea fowl with Paris brown mushrooms, gnocchi and Roscoff onions and white chocolate gateau.
- The Small Holding
The Small Holding has been named as one of the best restaurants in Kent, which is an impressive feat. Everything that the chef strives to do comes down to three things: foraging, growing and cooking. It’s an extraordinary place with extraordinary food including ‘pork, cauliflower, sour cream’, ‘lamb, pearl barley roots’ and ‘raspberry, yoghurt, potato’.
- The Cloudberry
The Cloudberry likes to produce simple, honest food that is seasonal and local. Stepping inside this gorgeous place, you’ll see that gimmicks and twists are most certainly not needed on a menu that includes steamed mussels with Thai spiced broth; cauliflower soup with queen scallops, crispy kale and curry oil; chargrilled chicken with chermoula, rosemary potatoes and seasonal veg; and grilled pineapple with chilli syrup and vanilla ice cream.
- Larkins’ Ale House
This independent, family-run micropub is the first of its kind in Cranbrook – a place where local ales are served straight from the cask, along with a variety of Kent ciders, wines, vodka, gin and soft drinks. Delicious tapas is served on a Thursday evening, and you can enjoy your drinks inside, or relax outside in the beer garden.
- Cranbrook Apple Carnival // Oct
This year is the Apple Carnival’s 13th anniversary, and this quirky – absolutely Kentish – event will be as fun as always. At the fair there will be food stalls, cider tasting, live music, a fancy dress competition, Morris dancing, plenty of cider and much more. Come and celebrate the county’s fruit!
- Cranbrook Art Show // Nov
Now heading into its 27th year, the Cranbrook Art Show attracts artists and art lovers from all over the country and even across the world.
- Cranbrook Literature Festival // Sep
Held every two years, the Cranbrook Literature Festival is packed full of literary readings, book signings, talks and book sellers. The next event will be in 2020.
Cranbrook’s High Street is as Kentish as Kentish can be, with a big dash of Wealden architecture thrown in. There are dozens of different shops to browse, as well as plenty of places to eat and drink too.
Did You Know?
Daniel Defoe chose Cranbrook to hide in when King George I grew displeased with him. He secretly lived in a cottage on the outskirts of the town, and it is here that he is said to have written Robinson Crusoe, known as the first ever English novel.