STAPLEHURST has a little light industry and a large Mazda warehouse by the station. It is a plain village in comparison with some of the jewels of the Kentish landscape which lie to the south. But the vibrant community spirit (from a football club to a bellringers’ society) helped it to become Kent Village of the Year in 2003. With 6,000 residents it is large and has its own primary school, five pubs, two churches and a full range of shops. Three-bedroom semis on Sixties’ estates sell for around £180,000; four-bedroom detached houses from at least £350,000. Period properties carry the expected premium, with a three-bedroom cottage selling at over £300,000.
Cranbrook has a special appeal for Londoners concerned about schooling. Cranbrook School for boys and girls has a reputation sufficient to add a premium to property prices within its catchment area, which stretches just over six miles. The school is state-run, but fees are charged for boarding so parents will sometimes choose to live outside the area for the cheaper house prices (a £1m house can sell for £200,000 less beyond the boundary) and pay for their children to board. Cranbrook is an enchanting town of weatherboarded houses with a well-preserved smock mill at one end. A farmer’s market takes places once a month in Vestry Hall, and the nearby Weald Smokery at Flimwell has won awards for its smoked meat and fish. New houses are being slipped in all the time. Small two-bedroom houses, old or new, start from £180,000. Three-bedroom semis cost £190,000 to £215,000; period farmhouses on the outskirts from £875,000 to over £1.3m.
A mile up the lanes from Cranbrook is Sissinghurst – a pretty one-street village of weatherboarded and half-timbered houses with a pub and primary school, close to Sissinghurst Castle (National Trust), where Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson created their wonderful gardens. Benenden is just over seven miles from Staplehurst (15 minutes by car) and is popular with commuters. It is a perfect Kentish village set around a green (cricket is played in summer) beside the King William IV and The Bull pubs. There is a handsome range of brick and weatherboarded cottages and old hall houses close to the parkland of Benenden, the girls’ public school. A detached family house with three acres and an annexe, and in need of some modernisation, could cost £750,000.