Ashurst, Speldhurst, and Penshurst, a social walk organised by the Kent group of the LDWA – Sunday 12 January 2020.
A circular (anti-clockwise) route, including footpaths, fields and tracks. It is over 17 miles in length, including a total ascent of not far short of 2000 feet, and starts from Ashurst railway station (GR TQ 507 388).
There is a section towards the end of the walk which overlaps with a previous Walk Report Cowden Circular – Kent, East and West Sussex and Surrey (September 2019).
From the railway station, head south and then south east before swinging left to head north east to follow The Wealdway to the village of Fordcombe.
The church of St Peter in the village was completed in the late 1840’s and a fair proportion of the cost was provided by Henry, 1st Viscount Hardinge, recently retired as Governor-General of India. He had a most distinguished military and diplomatic career, joining the Army aged 14, serving later under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula campaign and then in Flanders before Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo (missing the actual battle, having had his left hand shattered and amputated at Ligny two days earlier).
He had been Secretary for Ireland and, in 1844, when he was Secretary at War and aged 59, he most reluctantly agreed to be appointed Governor-General of India, wishing instead, after a lifetime of public service, to enjoy a peaceful retirement at his country seat, South Park, situated halfway between Fordcombe and Penshurst (fordcombevillage).
The walk continues north eastwards along The Wealdway, and this part of the route coincides with the Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk, to reach Speldhurst.
In the mid-fifth century the Anglo-Saxons began to colonise North Kent. For the next 500 years the High Weald woodlands to the South provided autumn feeding for herds of pigs. Over time settlers arrived, cleared the trees for pasture and established isolated farms. By about 1000 AD there was a church in Speldhurst, probably built of wood by the lord of the manor. Soon after the Norman Conquest the church had its own parish: the southern boundary ran with the Sussex border (speldhurst).
The name Speldhurst derives from the Old English for ‘wooded hill (‘hyrst’) where wood-chips (‘speld’) are found.
After Speldhurst, the walk continues generally northwards to reach Bidborough and beyond. On reaching the River Medway, the route heads south west to follow the Eden Valley Walk to pass Penshurst Place before arriving in the village.
The present manor house was built in 1341 for Sir John de Pulteney, a London merchant and four times Lord Mayor of London who wanted a country residence within easy distance of London.
In recent years, the building has featured in many film and television productions. The Beverly Hillbillies television show used Penshurst Place as “Clampett Castle” in the episode “Jed Inherits a Castle”.
A church has stood on the present site in Penshurst since 1115, at the centre of a cluster of buildings, including the manor house, guild house and rectory. There may have been a church on the site since Saxon times, as suggested by the recent discovery of artefacts dating from 860 AD on adjoining land.
Penshurst’s first priest, Wilhelmus, was installed in 1170 by Archbishop Thomas Becket, his last public act before he was assassinated two days later in Canterbury Cathedral. The core of the nave as it appears today may be of that date.
From Penshurst the route heads initially westwards before turning southwards, eventually joining up with the Sussex Border Path to return to Ashurst.