Best known for Lorna Doone, novelist R. D. Blackmore (1825-1900) set part of his novel Alice Lorraine (1874–75) in the Weald of Kent. It is on the fringes of Wrotham that, when the scene shifts from the Wen to the 'Weald', R. D. Blackmore’s novel Alice Lorraine (1874–75) finds its earthly paradise. The novel’s second instalment, which appeared in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in April 1874, sees the heroine’s brother Hilary Lorraine and a fellow London law student going to Covent Garden Market on a sunny Saturday in June 1811. They hitch a ride on one of the waggons, now cleared of its cargo of cherries and carrots and cauliflowers, as it wends its way homeward. The third instalment then opens on the audible expressions of delight with which Hilary “enjoyed his sudden delivery from London.”

Bypassing the novel’s better-known Kentish locations, such as “the good town of Tonbridge” with its Chequers Inn, Hilary has been carried to the northern edge of the Weald. He is on a farm situated “a few miles above Maidstone” and “five miles the other side” of the “pleasant town” of Sevenoaks. “Old Applewood farm contained altogether about six hundred acres, whereof at least two-thirds lay sweetly in the Vale of Medway, and could show root, stem, or bine against any other land in Kent, and, therefore, any in England. Here was no fear of the heat of the sun or the furious winter’s rages…” Nor is there any sense of what E. J. Clery has shown was “the explosive situation current in the years 1811 to 1812.” Eventually this will impinge; but nobody has yet thought to tell the good folk of Applewood farm, which is “a very old-fashioned place” where everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster.

Hospitality in this world of fresh woods and “pastures of the deepest green” comes courtesy of Martin Lovejoy, “the Grower,” and his daughter Mabel, “the flower of Kent.” Next day the “ruddy gloss” of the cherries that she fetches from her father’s orchards gives Hilary another inflaming inrush of the colour that “this lovely daughter of the Kentish Alcinous” could bring to his life. Undeterred by her parents’ pointed remarks about cross-breeding, Mabel and Hilary have soon “straggled off into the strawberry-beds, where nobody could see them,” and there they do a dry run of the strawberry scene in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

The “poetic landscape-painting” of the Applewood sequence, according to The Saturday Review on 15th May 1875, “bespeaks an artist who has thrown himself into his work.” A similarly admiring notice in The Graphic a fortnight later terms it “a graceful and pretty idyll of which we should not care to lose a line.” Having wound the clock back to the pre-Dickensian world of 1811, as if to erase the many marks that the leading novelist of his lifetime had left on the area, Blackmore transforms the Vale of Medway into a land of pastoral Plenty.