'Quaint' is one of those words that's bandied around far too liberally these days, but trust us when we say that Chiddingstone village is as quaint as they come.
A church, an inn, a shop, a tea room and a primary school, all tightly packed onto a 200m stretch of otherwise quiet country road. That's the extent of the charming countryside village, but for a settlement so small, it attracts considerably more than its fair share of tourists.
The small, picturesque hamlet sits in the Kent countryside, just a few miles from the county's border with London, but a trip down its solitary street feels more like travelling back in time.
The main — and only — street sweeps in through the fields and around a sharp bend, spitting visitors out suddenly into what feels like a period film set. The Castle Inn lingers on the right-hand side, wooden tables outside offering a booze-with-views situation (in normal times), while St Mary's Church sits proudly opposite, its tower elevated above the rest of the village and, at the right time of year, shrouded behind a pink magnolia curtain.
The main attraction of the village depends on your priorities in life — photos, or food.
The Tudor goods here are the real deal, all gables and wooden-beamed buildings with not-quite-straight edges, which makes for some fantastic photos. In fact, the whole village is designated as a National Trust property. The historical epicentre is the village shop, believed to be the oldest functioning shop in England, dating back to 1453, and once owned by Anne Boleyn's father.
These days, though it does offer your typical village shop fare, it's aimed as much at tourists as it is at locals looking for a pint of milk. That's not to say it's all Chiddingstone fridge magnets and 'I Heart Kent' t-shirts — rather, Chiddingstone Stores and Post Office (to give it its full name) takes on the role of a high-end gift shop. Candles, scarves, jewellery and other fancy items are readily available, and it has a fantastically festive makeover for Christmas each year. You'll need to head to the rear of the shop for your cans of beans and jars of mayonnaise.
Back to the aforementioned food, and the other main reason people flog to this tiny patch of land — the Tulip Tree Tea Rooms, owned by the same people as the village shop. To the left of the shop, the display of goods for sale continues into an archway, with fresh fruit and vegetables, plants and gardening paraphernalia displayed in a charmingly haphazard manner. Lured in by the colourful hyacinths, you'll find yourself in an enclosed alleyway leading to a former coach house, now used as the village tea rooms.
People flock from far and wide to visit the Tulip Tree, and it's not unusual to see young families seated alongside lycra-clad cyclists, pole-wielding walkers, and leather-bedecked motorcyclists, each looking equally at home in the chintzy surroundings thanks to the warm welcome offered by the cafe's staff. The menu consists of the usual tea room fare — cakes, sandwiches, hot and cold drinks — served inside (in normal times), out in the courtyard garden, or to take away.
A Tudor village Chiddingstone may be, but the art of getting a shot of those alluring façades without the intrusion of a parked car is very much a 21st century skill. We suspect we're not the first to wonder if locals park like that on purpose, upstaging snapshots as revenge for the inconvenience of having their day to-day lives treated like a film set by the plentiful tourists who traipse through.
But you get the feeling that residents enjoy their village's popularity too — front doors are adorned with quirky signs and seasonally-changing wreaths, and one front step has a frog garden spilling out onto the pavement just begging to be Instagrammed. A standalone litter bin has been converted into a trough for spring flowers. You don't do that if you don't want it photographed.
On a fair-weathered spring or summer weekend, you'll be competing for space and snaps with masses of other visitors too. Walkers, runners, cyclists, Sunday drivers and the occasional horse rider all form part of the near constant parade of traffic through a village which really wasn't designed to deal with this much fuss. Pavements, where available, are decorative rather than functional, with people constantly weaving into the road to take photos.
As for the name, it's commonly believed that Chiddingstone is named after the Chiding Stone, a large stone located in the village where 'nagging wives' and general wrongdoers are thought to have been punished in front of assembled villagers in Medieval times. The stone can still be viewed today — head east out of the village and look for a signpost into the bushes on the right.
If you're visiting during school hours, a soundtrack of playground noise may accompany you as you skirt around the back of the primary school, before the footpath comes to an abrupt stop in front of the Chiding Stone. An information board relays its history, the stone itself carved with all manner of extremely modern graffiti.
Other historical accounts suggest that the village was named by a local person or family with the name Cidda. But we prefer the idea of a settlement taking its name from what was effectively an early version of the naughty step.
Visiting Chiddingstone Village
Although situated only around 10km from the boundary of the London Borough of Bromley, Chiddingstone Village can reasonably be described as 'remote' when it comes to public transport. The nearest railway stations, Hever and Penshurst, are each a few miles away across fields. Confusingly, Penshurst station is located in Chiddingstone Causeway, which is not the same place as Chiddingstone Village. Coming by car is the best option if you can, but parking in the village is extremely limited, and driving through it can be stressful.
Our tip? Park in the car park of the neighbouring Chiddingstone Castle, throw some coins into the car park honesty box, and make the short stroll across the castle grounds and lake to the village. The castle gate is located right next to the Castle Inn, at the centre of the village. The castle itself is worth exploring (open in summer only), and the castle grounds are open all year.
Things to do near Chiddingstone Village
Zoom in on our map of day trips near London for other things to do near Chiddingstone Village, and make a day of it. Hever Castle is a couple of miles down the road, and the towns of Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks are all nearby. Or, try one of these other quaint day trips to the south-east of London.