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Winter walk at Ulcombe, near Maidstone, from Kent expert Geoff Rambler

The Pleasure House - now Tower House - where Alice Keppel `entertained' Edward VII
The Pleasure House - now Tower House - where Alice Keppel `entertained' Edward VII

Keep that New Year's resolution on track with the latest historic walk from our resident expert, Geoff Rambler.


Distance: Five-mile circular walk

In a nutshell: “Places that have a ‘relationship story’ to tell – if only they could talk!”

Start point: All Saints Church, Ulcombe, near Maidstone ME17 1DN

Directions: Pick up the Greensand Way (GSW) by All Saints Church, heading west away from Ulcombe Hill. On reaching Morry Lane, turn left and shortly pick up the footpath on the right, through a garden. At the next road, continue ahead on Church Lane to pass the prison. At the T junction, continue ahead on the footpath to Pleasure House Lane. Continue on the GSW on East Sutton Road. Take the first left (note Cherry Hill) and follow the road round to the remains of Sutton Valence Castle.

Return to Cherry Hill and follow the road round to the right, signed Stallance Farm. Follow the path to reach Boyton Court Road. Turn right and follow the road, passing Boyton Cottages on the right. When the road does a sharp left (it is midway on the S-bend that you will notice when the road does its sharp left), look out for a metal gate on your left and take it. Follow the path, enjoying a great view of the Weald. You will be passing to the left of a reservoir, to reach a road. Pick up the path again opposite/to the left, and follow the path back to Ulcombe, crossing Charlton Lane (note Charlton Hall on the left) and Morry Lane. On reaching Ulcombe, you will be coming out by a school; turn left and follow the road back to the church.

East Sutton Park is the ancestral home of the Filmer family, who did much to develop the area. Edward VII used to stay there – quite possibly having an affair with Lady Filmer – while paying visits to Pleasure House, the home of another mistress, Alice Keppel.

Horsetail plants can be seen on this walk
Horsetail plants can be seen on this walk

On this walk you will possibly see a considerable amount of horsetail plants, which like wet ground. Don’t be tempted to take any home: as attractive as it is, it will take over the garden. If you stroke the spears they feel rough. This is due to silica deposits on the ‘leaves’. The Romans used to eat the spears rather like we eat asparagus, and used the rough mature plants as pan scourers.

Part of the ruin of Sutton Castle
Part of the ruin of Sutton Castle

Sutton Valence Castle overlooked the road from Maidstone to Winchelsea, and would have been a dominating structure viewed from the Weald of Kent. In 1238 the castle was owned by Simon de Montfort – coming into his possession through his marriage to Eleanor of England (the daughter of King John). However, it was repossessed after his failed attempt to overthrow Henry III and passed into the ownership of William de Valence, who gave his name to the village.

All Saints Church has some monumental yew trees, which clearly pre-date the church. Yews were used by pagans to mark places of religious significance and these sites were often adopted for churches when Christianity arrived. There is a certificate in the church saying that one of the yew trees is more than 2, 400 years old.

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