I’m in a village in Kent that once had a reputation for ‘smuggling, cockfighting, outrage and robbery… committed by rogues who infested every corner of the street’, according to an information board there. Fortunately, that was in the 19th century. Back then it was called Milkhouse Street – and such was its rotten notoriety that it was rebranded to Sissinghurst. A name that stuck. Today, it’s a far cry from a rogue-infested epicentre of smuggling and outrage. It’s an idyllic chocolate-box village with a noteworthy rollcall of former residents, including poet and gardener Vita Sackville-West and Ian Hislop, and a charming rustic pub, The Milk House – my lodgings for the night. My stay at this characterful bolthole with a chum has been well earned, for we have cycled 55 miles to it from my South London abode across the ‘Kent Alps’, along leafy leaf-strewn lanes, through utopian hamlets and past wonderful examples of the county’s distinctive oast houses, conical structures used for drying hops as part of the beer brewing process, with most now converted to houses. We set off in the morning and schedule a tearoom lunch stop in the village of Otford, just north of Sevenoaks. Standing in the way of the cake and sandwiches, though, is the infamous Downe Road climb, a savage little number with an incline on two bends at the top that reaches 24 per cent. Fortunately, this mildly terrifying section – so steep you must lean over the handlebars while pedalling – is mercifully short. We experience the thrill of descending Star Hill, with a maximum gradient of 12 per cent, before our Otford pitstop, Sally’s Cake Emporium. At this delightful, cartoonishly decorated paradise for the sweet-toothed we refuel with BLTs and cinnamon cake. Our stomachs full, we roll on to Hadlow and its extraordinary 175ft-tall folly, the Grade I-listed Hadlow Tower, a Gothic Victorian structure that was used as a Home Guard lookout post during WWII. Next is a dalliance with the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a dusk cruise through the time-capsule village of Cranbrook. Sissinghurst lies just beyond on the AONB’s border. The warmly lit 16th-century Milk House pub is a sight for sore eyes and relief for sore thighs. It’s run by Sarah and Dane Allchorne, who bought the place in 2013 when it was called The Bull. Sarah tells me: ‘When Dane and I took it over in 2013, we thought it needed a total refresh. It had been closed for three years. Its reputation leading up to closing was poor and we wanted a new start. ‘It’s a listed building – the front of the pub where the fireplace is, is where we think the original 16th-century structure started. It was built onto from then by many previous incumbents. All we did was redecorate and move a few internal walls around. It was an old coaching inn on Mylkehouse Street. That’s how we came up with its new name. ‘It was a long slog negotiating The Milk House, but we got there eventually.’ The hard work has paid off. Sarah and Dane have installed affable staff, had fun with puns on the menus – and let the heritage breathe, with guests relaxing amid soothing pastel decor, ancient wooden beams and the odd wonky floor. We love our twin room – The Buttery, which is one of four. Fresh milk for tea and coffee is stored in mini milk churns and the towel rail is hot on arrival. The handle for the handheld shower unit is mysteriously missing, but the rain shower in the bath restores me to pre-55-mile-ride perkiness. After freshening up, it’s time to discover the pub part of this enticing ‘pub with rooms’. A brace of Harveys Sussex Best ales by the roaring fire in the bar gets matters here off to a blissful start. Much of the downstairs floorspace is given over to a dining room next door, and rightly so, given Dane’s prowess at the stove. He’s worked as a chef in Australia and with Michelin chefs in London. We discover that here he offers good value grin-inducing gourmet pub grub. I really enjoy my fresh and sprightly grilled mackerel fillet with sourdough ciabatta, dill and chive cream, citrus pickled cucumber and radish slaw – and a first-rate main of fish and chips keeps the taste buds dancing. But I’m slightly miffed by my dessert – a pink grapefruit curd with meringues, cream and freeze-dried blackberries The curd is too sour for my liking. However, the wine offering is appealing, with descriptions of the bottles refreshingly meaningful to non-connoisseurs on the list.