Newenden hugs the border of Kent and East Sussex so tightly that an ambitious shot from the village’s immaculate cricket pitch might have just enough on it to be classed as an inter-county six.
In fact, given the restricted size of the green, well-placed strikes along the grass to the boundary are most likely advised. Anything else could cause considerable damage to the church, pub, passing traffic or any one of the attractive properties on Lossenham Lane.
A walk up this lane is recommended before exploring the rest of the village. Fine cottages, including the manor house, have excellent views over the River Rother (of which more later) and by the time these properties give way to farmland you have a strong sense of Newenden’s history.
That history, however, is more surprising than such a modestly-sized community suggests. Going back centuries, Newenden was credited in the Domesday Book as being one of only two towns in Kent officially permitted a market. Indeed when the coastline was so much further north than it is today it was an important port – so much so that it boasted sixteen pubs to quench the thirsts of those dealing with so many ships and cargo.
However by 1790, with the retreat of the sea, the population dwindled quickly to 350 and now stands at approximately 200.
What remains of such an ambitious medieval settlement is an appealing village with much to offer the modern day visitor. In the very centre, next to the cricket pitch, two companies have formed an unlikely but very winning alliance. Wheeler & Sons specialise in furniture and kitchens, but also do a fine line in bespoke shepherd’s huts. Nibbles, the neighbouring cafe, do a fine line in coffees, breakfast and lunch and cakes, and use three of Wheeler’s showpiece huts to house diners in a fun and unique environment.
St Peter’s church looks modestly sized – if not strangely small – for a place of such historic importance, but there’s a story behind that. It was once far larger, but as the port moved south along with most of Newenden’s population it fell into disrepair. By the end of the 18th Century much either collapsed or was demolished.
Now having been repaired, saved and then added to as late as 1932 the downsized church is far more in keeping with a village of this scale and looks exceptional. One question that will mystify visitors stepping inside is how the enormous font – dating from around 1100 – got to be there in the first place? Nobody seems to know. But answers on a postcard… several of which are for sale by the chancel.
Across from the church is the only one of the sixteen old taverns to remain, The White Hart. Up on the white weatherboard outside is a black plaque dating from 1967 declaring it to have been the Evening Standard’s Pub of the Year.
Perhaps the Standard should revisit because the pub is still very well thought of today, with an extensive (wood burner warmed) restaurant that reflects how popular it is with diners. The large beer garden benefits from the addition of recently constructed heated dining areas with more development ongoing.
Heading south out of the village you meet the river again, and cars are controlled by traffic lights to allow traffic to only cross the original medieval bridge in one direction at the time.
This spot is an ideal starting point for a river walk. Although if you take advantage of Bodiam Boating Station you can instead embark on a river cruise along the Rother in their ex-Royal Navy lifeboat or indeed hire your own row boat, kayak or canoe for an adventure at your own pace.
With the Kent and East Sussex Railway’s Northiam station (complete with bespoke accommodation in old carriages and good wagons) only a very short drive further south it’s fair to say that although Newenden’s medieval glory years may be behind it, there is still plenty for the village to boast about.
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