The Weald of Kent and Sussex

South East England is my area. It is where I was raised and, other than a few years spent abroad, it is where I have lived my whole life. In particular, the Weald and the Downs. Not so much the coastline, which has never particularly attracted me, but the hills and valleys, the woodlands and rabbits, the hidden crags and open downland, the land of streams and foxes and badgers, birds and villages and butterflies.


On the Sussex Downs

There is a curious fact about the wooded areas of South east England, which is that there is more woodland, covering a greater area now, than was the case four hundred years ago.


Back then, South East England was the industrial heartland of Britain. This was before the discovery of the coal seams of the North and the Midlands, and the various factors which would eventually lead to the greatest impact of the Industrial revolution being in those areas.  Instead, the modest iron deposits of the Weald were mined and worked into firedogs and nails, cannon and cooking pans, as the wealth of words such as hammer and forge in place names still bear witness.



Huge numbers of trees were cut down to feed the fires of these forges, and huge numbers also for charcoal burning, for building, and near the coast the great Kent and Sussex oaks were in huge demand to build the large number of ships the navy demanded. But then from the mid eighteenth century onwards, industry began to shift northwards.

Despite the pressures on the land for building and for farming in this crowded corner of our crowded island, there is actually more woodland now than there was during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And that is not something that can be said of many parts of Britain or, I suspect, many parts of the world at all.


The Weald is an area whose underlying rocks are sandstone and clay, which means that the unimproved soils are inevitably either light and sandy or thick and claggy. In some parts there are old sunken tracks known as ‘Summer Roads’, so-called because they became impassable in the winter months, when they might have had a foot or more of thick, wet, muddy, clay on their surface. When these were in use, journeys between villages that might take an hour or two in summer, could became almost impossibly long during the winter.


At the moment, all everything in the news seems depressing and unpleasant and so, this post is an indulgence. Just a smattering of information, and a few photos of places I love, largely to improve my mood.

30 thoughts on “The Weald of Kent and Sussex

  1. a perfect post Mick and a lovely antidote to anything that needs antidoting… you know what I mean. Great images too… and it’s spring with all those bluebells about to do their thing… I’d not thought about the hammer in the title of say Abinger Hammer either. Obvious when it’s pointed out… like so much omy life.

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  2. Never heard that fact about the South East having more woodland now than 400 years ago. Fascinating especially as so may people are quick to dispel Kent and Sussex and suburbs of London covered in concrete. Have to remember it now to quote it back when necessary.

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  3. It looks like a beautiful region, I wouldn’t leave there, either.
    In grade school, we were taught that, despite urban sprawl, New York State has more trees now, than when Henry Hudson arrived. Supposedly we’re over 60% forested!

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      1. It’s almost all 2nd-growth, and a lot is abandoned farmland/pasture. We have a huge preserve in the Adirondacks, protections in the Catskill Mts (NYC’s drinking water), a ton of parks, state forests, etc. There’s still farms that are reverting, although in some areas, the expanding Amish/Mennonite population is actually clearing land again. Probably most of the unending urban/suburban sprawl is eating up farmland, rather than forest.
        In college I read a lot about the Iroquois and other native tribes, and once the corn/bean/squash food suite arrived in the northeast, they practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, that must have deforested a lot of territory.

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  4. I can’t fault you for your indulgence. I generally make a point of avoiding politics and religion in posts, just because both seem to have lunatic fringes that dominate discussions – and not in a good way. You could argue my entire blog is an indulgence, escapism, visits to parts of the world that are interesting, or entertaining, or educational. So I say indulge away, give yourself the escapes, and we’ll indulge too, vicariously.

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  5. It is good news that your part of the world has become better with more grass and trees. How many places on this planet can have a similar claim? I like both seashore and mountains but mountains have their own charm and offer beautiful landscapes.

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