If you come to stay in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in September, you’ll be following in the historic footsteps of all the East Enders who once flocked to the area at this time of year for their annual holiday – in their case, a working holiday!
The High Weald – particularly the Kent High Weald – was once an important hop growing area. Extra help was always needed when the time came to pick the hops in September as the value of the crop depended on being picked quickly and at the right moment. Records from the mid-17th century mention some ‘strangers who came a hopping’: this refers to the main help coming from the poor and unemployed of London.
By the turn of the 19th century, special train services brought whole families down from London and there are many records of families visiting the same ‘hop garden’ for several generations!
On arrival, a family would be allocated a hut and up to ten people would live in the cramped conditions, sleeping on straw and makeshift beds. The earliest forms of hopping accommodation amounted to little more than animal stalls, but with the help of charitable and religious missions, conditions improved in the late 1800s.
Despite primitive conditions and hard work, the annual trip to the countryside to pick hops was considered a holiday from the squalor of Victorian and early 20th century London. Although this tradition came to an end on most farms in the mid-20th century with the advent of hop picking machinery, hopping holidays in the High Weald are still fondly remembered.
Meet Ruby, a High Weald Hop Picker between the wars. For your High Weald Hopping Holiday, you will not be staying in a hop-picker’s hut, but in a luxuriously renovated and converted oast house!
Perhaps the most enduring reminders of the 'hopping' days, these distinctive buildings are characteristic of the area, particularly the Kent High Weald. Originally, an oast house was the building where freshly picked green hops were dried, cooled and packed or ‘pocketed’ – before being sent to brewers or hop merchants.
Read more about how hops are used to make beer. Today, many surviving oast houses – with their ‘roundels’ and adjoining barns – have been converted to dwellings. Unusual dwellings to say the least! They have circular rooms and some still have rotating cowls that turn in the wind. You will never stay in more distinctive country holiday accommodation!
Here is some hand-picked Our Land Oast house accommodation:
Cranbrook oast house B&B, Kent is the oldest oast house in England. Situated in the stunning grounds of the 16th Century Godwin House with a view across peaceful green meadows, this private and spacious accommodation offers the height of comfort and style in a unique atmosphere – ideal for a cosy weekend retreat.
Price for double occupancy is £90 while single occupancy is charged at £80 per night.
This includes a delicious home cooked breakfast. Walkers will be spoilt for choice. For example, from the grounds, you can follow the High Weald Landscape Trail across farmland to the interesting and picturesque town of Cranbrook – just one mile away.
Cranbrook boasts an early history of weaving and iron works. The High Street – with its weather boarded buildings – is typical of the Kentish Weald. It has changed very little in the last 100 years and today supports an interesting array of independent businesses, which adds to the character of this lovely town.
Also just outside Cranbrook is this High Weald B&B renovated oast house. When filming Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys, the BBC wanted to visit a typical Kentish oast house – and this was their choice! Cloth Hall Oast and barn is Grade II listed.
It is a remarkably fine renovation of a typical Kentish Oast house and is set in 5 acres of beautifully kept gardens – private and secluded, without being isolated. For the renovation, the owner used local workers and the materials were as locally sourced as possible. The beams are all oak and Kent peg tiles were used. Cloth Hall Oast is the perfect base for exploring the Weald. There are many houses, gardens and museums to visit nearby.
Price is from £90 - £120 per room per night (sleeps 2).
Kent oast house B&B, High Weald is at Goudhurst. Set amidst glorious countryside at the end of a one- mile farm track, Three Chimneys Bed and Breakfast is run from a 16th Century Kentish Oast House on a working farm. This is an ideal base from which to explore leafy country lanes; visit stately homes, castles and delightful gardens – or enjoy a long leisurely lunch in one of the five inns in the pretty hilltop village of Goudhurst. Or you may prefer to stay on the farm and play tennis, enjoy the spectacular views across the wooded ridges or walk in medieval Bedgebury Forest, with its National Pinetum.
When the owner moved into Three Chimneys Farm, the whole plot was derelict. Every building has been completely renovated, using local materials and labour as much as possible.
Price is from £68 per room per night (sleeps 2).
High Weald oast house Bed and Breakfast is set in the village of Icklesham, near Winchelsea. Built in 1860, this oast has been sympathetically converted to make a B&B with large spacious rooms – most with en suite facilities. One of the rooms is completely round and is in one of the towers. All the rooms are furnished to a high standard, with luxury toiletries and many other extras, and are inspected by the AA earning 5 yellow stars for excellence.
There is a walled garden for guests to sit in and enjoy the peace and quiet. The owners are passionate about their oast. They feel that, though they own the house, they are only custodians for future generations and it is their responsibility to keep it in excellent order – and to give visitors the experience of staying in an oast house!
Price is from £95 - £105 per accommodation per night (sleeps 2). Includes a full Sussex breakfast. Midweek bookings are the lower rate.
More ‘Our Land’ High Weald holidays can be found here. An Our Land High Weald holiday helps to keep local farmers and producers in business which, in turn, will help conserve the much loved features of our beautiful countryside – including its oast houses and other distinctive agricultural buildings.