My first wild camp of the year didn’t exactly go smoothly. We backpacked along the High Weald Landscape Trail, experiencing the beautiful, exciting and sometimes terrifying way of the Weald.
This was the first overnight hike I’d done with a full set of kit carried on my back.
We were going to hike a section of the High Weald Landscape Trail – from Matfield to the seaside town Rye. I’d got an Osprey 50 litre pack for the occasion (pricey at £130, but comfy, and I’ll get a lot of use out of it). In went my tent, sleeping bag, some first aid supplies and a bit of clothing. I filled my water reservoir up, strapped it any myself in, and I was off. I felt like a pro. It was super exciting.
That feeling did not last long.
The walk was bags of fun, don’t get me wrong. But we were just so unprepared.
I went with a university pal and we both expected the trip to be a lot more, shall we say, intuitive than it actually was. I had a vague route saved on my phone and no paper guides. As much as I love the OS Maps app, it fucks your battery up. The High Weald trail is well signposted for the most part, but the bits where Chloe and I couldn’t find markers were always at crucial decision-making points. (Right or left? Who knows!).
All of the above combined meant we took a fair few detours and had a couple of disheartening moments where it felt like we weren’t making progress.
But it was beautiful, and it was the beginning of a long weekend, so I didn’t mind. In fact, here’s a picture of me taken just after just set up camp for the night, on the edge of the Angley Wood. Don’t I look relieved! We had just bought wine.
The High Weald Landscape Trail itself was great – I hope I’m not putting you off. We hiked through some amazing farm land with vines criss-crossing up enormous cables, saw some fun birds (fluffy-footed bantums and black marans), and took in some beautiful sweeping landscapes, fields and woodlands. Everyone we came across was curious about our massive packs (I guess you don’t get many thru-hikers in Kent..), and everyone was super helpful whenever we did need directions.
There were a couple of hairy moments, though. After walking through several fields of sheep and lambs, none of which bothered us, we entered another bit of farmland. We saw a horse in the distance. All of a sudden, it was running towards us. Not trotting, but full-on galloping. Chloe screamed ‘Ruuuuuun!’ and before I knew it she had launched herself and her pack over a nearby fence. I didn’t get over in time. My memory of this event is actually really hazy; I was terrified. Luckily it ran straight on, so all that mattered was that we got out of the way.
After that, the field was off limits, and we were stuck on some luxe estate complete with a private pool and massive pond (if this is how the rich live, sign me up). We tried to stalk our way through inconspicuously, but we were totally lost. Rather embarrassingly, a young girl who was having a horse riding lesson on the estate have to ask her teacher to give her five so she could tell us how to get out of the property.
Detours like this added on to our journey time, and although we were hoping to get as far as Benenden or Rolvenden that evening, we decided to finish our walk at Cranbrook. The next morning we would catch the train to Rye from Staplehurst, so we could make the most of the warm weather. Next time, we’ll crack this.
From London, catch the train to Paddock Wood (departing from Cannon Street), then catch the number 6 bus to Matfield. Alight at Standings Cross to get on the High Weald trail. You can also walk – Google Maps says this takes about an hour.
Where to stock up
There’s a Waitrose by Paddock Wood station where you can get supplies. There’s also a Co-op in Cranbrook, if you prefer not to lug things around with you.
We had an early stop at the Bull in Brenchley. A fair distance into the route is the Goudhurst Inn, which looks nice and is reasonably priced. The Milk House just past Cranbrook also has good reviews if you don’t fancy a camp-side cook-off.
What we’d do differently
Honestly, so many things. Maps are key to get sorted if you’re going on a long trip like this. Even if you’re not in the middle of nowhere, you can’t rely on your phone for that length of time.
17.5km / 11 miles
4:30 if you’re walking sans-pack, but with ours on our pace slowed right down. We completed the walk in about 6 hours, not including a couple of breaks and detours we took.
For more walks in Kent, click here.