Set up by PhD research and development chemists Andy Reason and Norman Lewis, this artisan gin distillery produces Anno Kent Dry Gin in a small batch copper pot still called Patience, using a blend of traditional botanicals with local hops, lavender from Downderry Nursery, samphire from Romney Marsh and wild flowers. Time a visit for a distillery tour and tutored tasting.
The Milk House Sissinghurst, Kent, TN17 2JG
The personal touch
Faded and forlorn following two years of closure, the former Bull Inn was rescued in 2013 by Dane and Sarah Allchorne, who were looking to escape London to develop their own business. Fuelled by passion, enthusiasm and ideas, they have carefully restored and refurbished the striking village pub, which dates back to the 16th century, recreating a thriving community hub, with a busy bar and restaurant, four comfortable rooms and an amazing outdoor terrace with summer pizza oven. The informal, airy and open-plan interiors are simply, yet stylishly decorated, with fireside sofas, cushioned benches and old pine tables in the bar, and painted timbers and beams, fat lamps, big mirrors, jugs of fresh flowers and bold local artwork in the spacious, wood-floored dining room. It’s just over a mile to the famous gardens at Sissinghurst Castle (see Out & About), which are best reached on foot from the pub – a memorable stroll through orchards and bluebell woods.
Expect a big welcome towards children – board games in the bar; Heron’s Nest play equipment in the garden; freshly made dishes on the excellent children’s menu (baby bangers, mash, broccoli, gravy; pitta pockets, ham, cheese, humus, carrot sticks), ‘DIY’ ice cream sundaes and pizzas from the wood-fired oven (served all day). Families staying over should book the Byre room, which has a king-sized double, space for two pop-up beds and a cot, and a glorious free-standing bath tub. Extra beds £10.
Dogs are welcome but only allowed in the bar. No dogs in bedrooms.
The sun-trap side terrace is the place to be on warm sunny days, so arrive early to bag some space on the huge central table, which is made from vast slabs of local timber. The ‘Hopper Hut’ outside bar dispenses chilled beer and rosé and jugs of Pimms to save you queuing inside. Just past the pizza kitchen and duck pond, a gate leads to a lawn with picnic benches and unusual play area, so a great space for kids to let off steam.
The August Bank Holiday Milk Fest is a four-day feast of fun for all the family, built around The Milk House’s favourite local artisan suppliers, who sell their produce from stalls around the terrace, and live music from local bands.
The Milk House Sissinghurst, Kent, TN17 2JG
Do not disturb
With more than a few famous gardens and grand houses within an easy drive of Sissinghurst, The Milk House has become a popular base for exploring the Kent countryside. The clutch of four comfortable upstairs rooms (with their own entrance) have been beautifully decorated in a simple, stylish and uncluttered way, all are light, spacious and very relaxing with soothing heritage hues, the best linen and down on big beds, chic fabrics, upholstered armchairs, a mix of pine and painted furniture, fresh flowers and floral paintings. Modern tiled bathrooms boast rain showers and local soaps and lotions. If you fancy soaking in a claw-foot tub surrounded by candles while enjoying country views, then book the Byre.
Romney Marsh soaps & lotions; Dorset linen; rain showers; sound proofing; double glazing.
Smart TV; reading lights, clocks.
What’s for Breakfast?
Homemade muesli, berry compote, Northiam Dairy yoghurt; Bacon or sausage bap, red or brown sauce; Croissants or pain au chocolat, South Downs butter and preserves; TMH breakfast: Park Farm sausage & bacon, free-range eggs, grilled mushroom, tomato & toast.
The Milk House Sissinghurst, Kent, TN17 2JG
Mastering the menu
New Zealand born chef Dane may have cooked around the world – from the Mediterranean to the Middle East, and including some of London’s finest restaurants – but his menus at The Milk House are very much in keeping with the relaxed ethos of the pub. Expect to find a light, all-day grazing menu, the deep-fried guacamole bites with minted sour cream being the perfect accompaniment to quaffing a pint at the bar or in the garden, alongside an imaginative seasonal menu. A real crowd-pleaser, it lists classic pub dishes with a modern twist, perhaps beer-battered cod with skinny fries, minted pea puree, charred lemon and lemon thyme tartare sauce, and an eye-catching selection of more inventive dishes, take sea bream wrapped in nori with jewelled rice, smoked pepper compote and miso beurre blanc, for example. Dane’s passion to offer delicious English food extends to sourcing quality produce from within a 20-mile radius of Sissinghurst, the rich local larder delivering artisan bread, handmade charcuterie, succulent lamb, amazing asparagus, and even a boutique gin.
On the menu
(Starters: £5-£12; Main Courses: £8-£24; Desserts £6)
Goat’s cheese, purple basil & pink peppercorn roulade, summer salsa, superseeds
Grilled langoustines, fennel leaves, charred lime, smoked lemon & garlic butter
Pan-fried sea bream and squid, artichoke colcannon, herb & sorrel oil
Wasabi-crusted salmon, purple potato salad, watercress, caper berries, salsa verde
Flat-iron steak, porcini salt, polenta, tomato confit, mushroom confit
Park Farm pork & herb sausages, wilted spinach mash, red onion marmalade, red wine jus
Chocolate mousse cake, salted caramel, chocolate nibs
Rolled roast leg of lamb, hazelnut, shallot & herb crust, crispy duck fat pink potatoes, cauliflower cheese, watercress and a wild nettle jus
Out on the terrace you’ll find a traditional wood-fired pizza oven serving homemade pizzas topped with local charcuterie, cheese, seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs. Open all day during spring through to autumn.
Time to Eat
Breakfast: 8.30am – 10.30am
Lunch: 12 noon – 3pm (4.30pm Sunday)
All day grazing menu: 12 noon – 9pm
Pizzas menu: 12 noon – 9pm
Dinner: 6pm – 9pm (no food Sunday evening; except Pizzas)
Local, Local, Local
Anno Gin, Marden (see Food Trail)
Moons Green Charcuterie (www.moonsgreen.co.uk)
Claire’s Bread (Frankie’s Farm Shop – see Food Trail)
Park Farm Butchers, Staplehurst (see Food Trail)
Chapel Down Vineyard, Tenterden (see Food Trail)
Herbert Hall Vineyard (www.herberthall.com)
Old Dairy Brewery, Tenterden (see Food Trail)
Rye Bay Coffee (www.ryebaycoffee.co.uk)
Behind the bar
The enthusiasm for everything local extends to the bar and stocking it with quality local beers, wines and, where possible, spirits. The latter includes the delicious and very moreish Anno Gin and Elderflower Vodka, distilled 5 miles away in Marden. Naturally, there’s space on the wine rack for some local fizz, notably Herbert Hall Brut Rosé, again from Marden, and Chapel Down’s Vintage Reserve Brut from their vineyard near Tenterden. The short and interesting wine list offers 13 by the glass. Tip-top ales on tap regularly feature brews from Old Dairy Brewery, just down the road in Tenterden, alongside beers from Sussex brewers Dark Star and Harveys, and ciders from artisan Kent makers Gibbet Oak, Turners and Kentish Pip. Drivers and juice drinkers are spoilt for choice, with quality juices from local Chegworth Valley and Kingsdown producers, as well as Fentimans.
Deep-fried guacamole bites, minted sour cream
Mini Park Farm sausages, mustard mayonnaise
Sesame prawn toast, pickled daikon, sweet chilli
Sweet potato chips with harissa mayo
Time at the bar
9am – 11pm (Sunday – Thursday); 12 midnight (Friday & Saturday)
Take it back home
Tour the brewery that brewed your favourite pint, visit the shop on the farm that reared your delicious Sunday roast beef, and seek out the roadside stalls selling the local crab and samphire on the inn’s menu, the Food Trail features the local artisan producers and suppliers where you can buy to enjoy at home.
Change of scenery
Looking for a pub for lunch following a country walk, a different venue for dinner, or a good café for coffee, light lunch or afternoon tea, then the best in the area are listed below. If you find a new and exciting eatery in the area that’s worthy of a mention on the Food Trail, then please to do let us know – firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Inn Location - The Milk House
'Fine ales from the garden of England' is the tagline for this exceptional brewery housed inside two World War II Nissen buildings just off the High Street. As well a core range of beers such as Gold Top and Copper Top, there are seasonal ales and specials such as AK 1911 brewed to a century-old Kentish recipe. The Brewery shop is open Monday to Saturday and brewery tours run on Thursdays and Saturdays.
In a converted barn just outside St Michael’s, this exceptional farm shop sells a range of top quality organic meat and dairy produce from land farmed by the Fenton family for the past 25 years. Rare breed beef, pork and lamb is on offer alongside organic vegetables, and you can refuel at the Silcocks Cafe, which uses the same produce from the farm.
In the heart of Rye and close to the coast, this lovely pub specialises in local seafood including Hastings smoked prawns, smoked mackerel and pickled cucumber and fish cakes made from the day's catch. Wash it down with Kentish ciders or Hastings-brewed First In Last Out Gold ale.
Established in 2001, this wonderful shop sells high quality free-range and grass-fed beef, pork and lamb reared by Andrew and Anne Clarke who farm some 300 acres of Wealden farmland in the parish of Hawkhurst. The farm participates in an ongoing conservation and education programme and also offers open days by prior arrangement.
As well as its own superb smoked fish, meats and cheeses, this award-winning deli just off the A21 carries a huge range of local, British and international fine foods including pastas, chocolates and wines. There's also the Kiln Room brasserie serving light lunches, coffees and afternoon teas.
Open since 2012, this well-stocked farm shop is situated next to award-winning Staplehurst Nurseries, which supplies local garden centres and London markets. The farm shop sells a range of freshly baked bread, preserves, condiments, fresh fruit and vegetables, cakes, hams and chocolates. The cafe serves deli tasting platter, light lunches and takeaway sandwiches.
With celebrity supporters, including Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, Chapel Down is widely regarded as England’s leading wine producer, with award-winning still wines, sparkling wines and craft beers produced amongst the 22 acres of vineyards at Tenterden. The winery and restaurant is open all year round, with guided tours offered between April and November.
Housed within The Corn Exchange in the lower Pantiles, this cookery school from celebrated chef Rosemary Shrager runs a full range of courses and classes for cooks of every level in the state-of-the-art kitchens.
1 Inn Location - The Milk House
On the borders of Kent and East Sussex and a stone's throw from the Queens Inn, this is a perfect location for keen anglers. There are four main angling lakes and three junior course ponds. Expect carp, tench and golden orfe - among other fish.
Opposite the Colonnade in Hawkhurst, the Kino Digital Cinema offers a great boutique entertainment venue with HD projection and sound. Kino is the first purely digital cinema in the UK.
Bewl Water, near Hawkhurst, offers a multitude of things to do. There are walks and cycle rides, fishing, watersports and many family-friendly activities, plus a range of great events throughout the year.
Chart Hills is challenging, beautifully laid out course, designed by Nick Faldo, set in a stunning spot in the Weald, with peaceful views across its 200 acres of parkland, complete with oak woodlands and lakes. It is one of finest courses in the South of England.
The picturesque line weaves between Tenterden and Bodiam for 10.5 miles. Experience travel and service from a bygone age aboard beautifully restored coaches and steam locomotives dating from Victorian times.
Stylish range of British and Scandinavian (mostly) house and garden products, including vintage items, furniture, textiles, glass and ceramics, plus gardening tools, pots and gifts.
Based in a former Salvation Army chapel in Rope Walk in picturesque Rye, Glass Etc is one of Britain's largest shops selling antique and 20th-century glass. A vast stock, not all of it on show, consists of around 30,000 pieces spanning the period c1750-1980.
From the Victorian feel of the High Street to the historic, handsome Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells is not short of shopping opportunities. The Pantiles, which is a colonnaded walkway dating back to the 17th century, consists of almost entirely independent shops - from fashion and jewellery to home and garden. Don't miss the Pantiles Food Festival in mid-May.
Very jolly selection of practical and unusual handcrafted stoneware pottery from Poland, plus Savon de Marseille soap from France.
Completely fabulous and long-established cookware shop stuffed to the rafters with everything you could ever need for your kitchen, from pots and pans to gadgets, china and glass, and every type of implement and utensil.
West End House is located in the heart of beautiful, historic Smarden. Original artworks on show include paintings, prints, photography, ceramics, glass and jewellery by a wide range of renowned artists and makers.
An exciting gallery exhibiting work by local contemporary artists, with an emphasis on landscape and abstract work. There are also classes in art and creative writing, plus workshops in painting, drawing, poetry and writing for adults and children.
Home to Marie Prett’s ceramic workshop & artist studio, where she also runs ceramic courses, the gallery exhibits high quality contemporary art and craft by many of the country’s top makers, including some fine local artists.
This boutique draws customers from all over Kent and further afield in search of exclusive clothes and accessories. Expect jewellery, hats, bags and shoes – among many items. Carole travels all over Europe and the Far East to source clothes for every new season.
Places to visit
A picturesque 14th-century moated castle, a Victorian country house and a lovely garden, all set in a beautiful wooded estate. The castle makes a glorious backdrop and there are over 770 acres of woodland and parkland to explore.The house was built from sandstone quarried from the grounds of the old castle, and it was positioned to overlook the castle and estate. The garden was created at the same time, ensuring that all the three elements: house, garden and estate would work together.
Romantic English landscaping and planting framed by lovely old trees, fountains and ponds, with the unusual Grade I-Listed, timber-framed Tudor/Georgian manor house as a backdrop.
Not far from Cranbrook, Sissinghurst's wonderful garden is the enduring legacy of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson who laboured long and hard to complete this horticultural work of art. There's a lot to see at Sissinghurst, including Vita's tower writing room and nearby lakes and woodland.
Located in the glorious Weald of Kent, this small 16th-century cottage was the home of the greatly admired Victorian actress, Ellen Terry. Explore this pretty, half-timbered building and discover her fascinating theatrical collection. In the garden stands the thatched Barn Theatre.
Between Hawkhurst and Rye, Great Dixter was for many years the much-loved home of the renowned gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd who spent many years helping to establish one of the most exciting, colourful and constantly changing gardens of modern times. One of Great Dixter’s most striking features is the magnificent Great Hall, the largest surviving timber-framed hall in the country.
Situated at Rolvenden, Great Maytham Hall's wonderful garden can be viewed on Wednesday afternoons in spring and summer and the visit is well worth it. Great Maytham is where the writer Frances Hodgson Burnett lived around the turn of the century. Her time here inspired the classic tale The Secret Garden and the setting continues to evoke the magic of her writing.
Ten miles north of Hastings, the charming East Sussex town of Rye is filled with picturesque cobbled streets and clay-tiled roofs. Exploring the town really does convey the impression of visiting the set of a period costume drama or film. The National Trust-owned Lamb House, the former home of the American writer Henry James, is located in Rye and open to the public.
One of the most important and fascinating houses in Kent, Godinton House at Ashford boasts an illustrious history dating back to the medieval period. The gardens are especially striking and idiosyncratic. Included here are a newly designed Rose Garden and the Walled Garden with its greenhouses and delphinium collection.
Tunbridge Wells is a busy town with some lovely buildings, including the Pantiles, which is a Georgian colonnade filled with shops and restaurants. There are three theatres and a music venue, as well as several lovely parks.
The National Pinetum is home to a world leading collection of conifers and is a centre for International conservation. It also provides a beautiful setting for peaceful walks and picnics. Bedgebury Forest features an adventure play trail, Go Ape, and miles of trails for family cycling, mountain-biking, walking, and running. The café at the Visitor Centre café enjoys panoramic views across the Pinetum.
Kent has more than 4,200 miles (6,700km) of countryside and coastal paths. Chalk cliffs, downland, marshes, beaches – there’s something for everyone. Miles of footpaths and a variety of waymarked long distance routes make the area ideal for walkers. Ashdown Forest provides 2,500 acres of open heathland criss-crossed with pathways and bridleways. The Weald Way runs across Kent and Sussex crossing the chalk ridges of the North and South Downs and through the Weald, stretching almost 80 miles (126.8km). The Sussex Border Path runs along the county borders of Kent, West Sussex and East Sussex, over the South Downs towards East Grinstead, passing south of Royal Tunbridge Wells to Bewl Water and Hawkhurst, finishing in Rye. The North Downs Way and South Downs Way are also within easy reach.
The two-wheeled action available ranges from fast-paced mountain biking to family friendly routes. You can hire bikes at Bedgebury National Pinetum, where there are tracks for all levels of ability. Bewl Water is great for rough, muddy riding round the lakeside. The Royal Military Canal, near Rye, is a favourite destination for many families, with long traffic-free sections making it safe and user-friendly. The Cuckoo Trail is another popular choice, running for 14 miles through East Sussex, from Hampden Park to Heathfield.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
By Road: Sissinghurst is situated on A262 between Biddenden and Goudhurst and two miles north east of Cranbrook off A229. The Milk House is in the village centre. Both The Channel Tunnel and Dover are within an hour’s drive.
By Rail: Staplehurst Railway Station (1 hour from London Charing Cross) is 5 miles away.
The Street, Sissinghurst, Kent, TN17 2JG