Underriver and Budds, Sevenoaks: a scenic route

Underriver and Budds, Sevenoaks: a scenic route

Another new route. Walk 26, Underriver and Budds, cobbles together the optional scenic extension to Walk 6 with the Wilmot to Budds path of Walk 7. It’s a brilliant walk with a superb hedgerow-lined path currently full of berries, a sunken trail with amazing trees growing out of its embankment, atmospheric oasthouses and far-flung views of the Weald. The woods at One Tree Hill are always a pleasure to walk in, especially the ‘tropical’-feeling bit east of Rooks Hill lane and there are myriad springs and little streams that trickle out of the sandstone ridge at various points – mostly around where the farms are, their positioning being no accident. It’s a two-hour round-trip hike starting and finishing at Underriver village.

For those who do these walks with younger children, I wonder if any of them find the appearance of oasthouses a bit disturbing; I certainly used to when I was small. I still find them fascinating and this walk takes you close to some of the best.

‘Walking’ beech trees on the sunken path near Underriver

The only blot on the landscape is the temporary (we hope) closure of the White Rock Inn, one of the nicest pubs on these walks.

The farms encountered have attractive old houses attached and pasture for horses, sheep and cattle, plus a few alpacas. However, around Budds, the fields are for cereals and can be quite barren depending on time of year. They lack wildlife/wildflower margins too – a slight blemish on what is a tremendous afternoon’s stroll. Check out the interractive map below and, as ever, on the walk’s page there are links to GPX (real time location) maps – including a nice short cut variation too.

 

Summer’s lease

Summer’s lease

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date…

Any weather that isn’t warm and sunny feels like a major disappointment at the moment with autumn round the corner, Covid-19 issues and some fairly other horrendous news going on around the world. We need the compensation of mood-lifting sunlight. But even in these cold, cloudy conditions walks work wonders with wellbeing. Last week, with a few days off work I tried a new route starting from Underriver – in pouring rain as it turned out – that joins on with the One Tree Hill routes. It proved excellent and featured some really interesting farms with lovely old buildings as well as the familiar Greensand Ridge views. I’ll write it up soon but if you do Walk 6 in full (with the western extension past Romshed Farm) you’ll have done it anyway. But maybe I’ll work it into a shorter route too, so time won’t be such a pressure.

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The next day proved equally splashy, so failing to find anyone who wanted to join me I set off down the A2 in teeming rain to the Hoo peninsula. I’ve done the walk there, starting at Cliffe, several times but this was probably the most spectacular occasion yet, with huge storm clouds to the north and south and slivers of sunlight illuminating the bleak marsh. I heard cetti’s warbler, saw a whitethroat, lapwings, avocet and various unidentified waders. A marsh harrier glided across the track at one point; very thrilling if you like that kind of thing. My luck ran out on the final mile, however, as the heavens opened. It’s an hour’s drive from Sydenham but Cliffe is a good place to visit, particularly for bird watching, picking blackberries, elderberries and sloe and gazing over the Thames estuary. You can park at the RSPB reserve or in the car park by the main village church and just wander the marsh paths and tracks. There is a train service to Higham (three miles away) or to Strood – a Thameslink service that can be picked up at London Bridge, Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Charlton. There are local buses (the 133) from Higham/Strood but a taxi might work better.

Over the weekend I returned for the second time in a week to one of my favourites: Fackenden Down, this time in good company – I love a social walk even more than a solitary one! I never tire of this route, one that always delivers in terms of views, rustic atmosphere and so on. It’s still pretty colourful too with ripening berries, scabious and trefoil flowers aplenty on Fackenden Down itself and many chalkhill blue butterflies lingering in the sheltered spots. Very few birds around, however, just a solitary buzzard and a kestrel with a few lingering swallows speeding over the meadows.

Party time for buzzards

Party time for buzzards

Yesterday I was lucky enough to emerge from the trees at the top of Fackenden Down just as eight – yes, eight – buzzards soared in the updraft together overhead, calling out and engaging in mock battles. I’ve never seen anything like it. Nearby Magpie Bottom was also a picture with mauve scabious flowers and purple knapweed giving the pollinators a real treat. On a small sandy lump, made by burrowing insects I guess, I spied a tiny, dark lizard which shot off as I reached for the camera inevitably.

Fackenden Down, near Shoreham and Otford stations, is a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve of rare and superb value. The trust is trying to encourage reptiles, butterflies and more varieties of wildflower to return to the spectacular site but needs money so please donate to them if you can.

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Sky highs

Sky highs

I’ve always paid a lot of attention to sky. Since I was a kid I’ve always tried to work out what was likely to happen to the weather from reading cloud formations. I remember bugging my geography teacher about it: “So why did it rain for 40 minutes yesterday afternoon… was it a cold front or just a convection shower?” He’d study me with a bemused expression that said “yes, I know I gave a lesson on cloud identification yesterday but how the hell am I supposed to know?”, before giving me an answer in a tone of voice that suggested he was guessing.

I haven’t lost this childlike fascination with weather and hold in my memory particular freak weather moments from years ago.

I think an interest in clouds and meteorology (“I am a meteorologist not a weather man!” – sorry, Larry David reference there) adds something to the walks. The sky in the UK is ever-changing, constantly offers up clues and is often as beautiful as the countryside. It’s the greatest art gallery of them all; maybe Turner would have agreed. Here are some cloud photos from down the years from the walks and from south-east London.

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Something to chew on in Cudham

Something to chew on in Cudham

Here’s a new circular route not far to drive from SE London that’s great for a bit of quiet contemplation and is fun to navigate. Sadly public transport options for getting there aren’t great, though the R5 and R10 buses from Orpington station do drop by from time to time and Knockholt station is a couple of miles away. The Cudham/Knockholt area is rich in paths and sleepy lanes, linking up its chalk valleys and lovely woods. With lots of old hedgerows, meadows and pasture it’s not bad for birdlife with buzzards and finches aplenty.

The walk starts at the recreation ground car park just off Cudham South Lane, close to the hamlet’s lovely church and attractive pub, the Blacksmiths Arms, and takes about 1.5 hours. As car parks go it’s a really pleasant one, too, with playground and huge cricket pitch backed by trees. I’ve called the route “Cudham chalk paths” because it sounds nice and early on there are a couple of trails where the North Downs chalk comes right to the surface. It also differentiates it from the many Cudham circular walks on various other websites.

Being close to walks at Downe, Knockholt and Andrews Wood/Polhill, it’s an easy route to combine with others for a full day out. It also is a bit of a marker as it is the 25th walk I’ve added to Kent Walks Near London. I’m sure there’s another 25 I can rustle up… and I’m open to ideas.

I’ve only ever done this four-mile walk on dull drizzly days so my photos are lacking dazzle but, like I say, it’s a walk that seems to suit quiet reflection and I wouldn’t want to oversell it.

Full instructions with PDF, GPX maps and all the trimmings here.

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Greenwich in the murk

Greenwich in the murk

What a strange period of weather. And how odd that the many thunderstorms that have battered parts of London and the rest of the UK have managed to miss SE London. As Thursday became murkier and murkier and the hail downpours rumbled away to the south and west, I set off on my bike to Greenwich to capture on camera the curious evening light turning orange over the Thames. I failed. But the cycle was great, along the rivers (the Pool and the Ravensbourne), which had been swollen by the storms.

I hit the Thames next to the Oystercatcher restaurant then cycle past the Cutty Sark, stuck my head in at the Navy College and pedalled up to the fantastic Flamsteed House and through the Greenwich Park Flower Garden, returning over Blackheath then through Hither Green and Ladywell. My pictures failed to capture the light but I still like them… On returning I caught the Atletico Madrid v Leipzig Champions League match – a great victory for the German side, as indeed was tonight’s amazing game between Barcelona and Bayern Munich. And what’s the relevance of that you may well ask.

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I’ve got something concrete to say about heat in my street

I don’t use these pages to vent usually but something’s got me hot and bothered, and the beauty of running a website is that you are your own editor. Not always a good thing I suppose. Anyway, I’ve realised on my evening cycles that my street is actually hotter than surrounding areas. My one-hour route takes in Lower Sydenham, Beckenham, West Wickham and Hayes, taking in urban environments that lean on the lush side.

I’m a casual cyclist with an old bike and not much appetite for speed or lycra but this is beside the point. When I re-emerge onto my own street I feel a blast of heat. It’s because there’s far too much concrete in relation to greenery. Other streets have trees and front gardens, but here people – not necessarily current residents – have paved over their lawns, the council has removed anything arboreal (thanks guys, it looks like s*** now), and there is no strip of grass by the pavement. Just concrete mercilessly radiating heat. The water run off, if it ever rains again, will be pretty appalling and I imagine the street is now vulnerable to flooding thanks to the collective thoughtlessness. Doesn’t anyone care about aesthetics or the environment? You don’t have to be a keen gardener to have a patch of grass and a few plants. I think it’s pretty poor.

River Pool path with no litter – for a change.

Now for a rant that’ll echo what we’ve all heard on the news and elsewhere. Close to my road there is a park and a stream: the River Pool. It’s pretty nice. I think it’s grand for the kids to go paddling in it (mind any glass though) but for adults to leave litter everywhere and not consider taking it home is beyond the pale. I’ve often tried to clean it up a bit myself and I know the Friends of the River Pool do their best too. So I say shame on you selfish people who foul up the place. Does this happen in Germany, France etc? I don’t think so, not to the same extent.

Is it too hot for walking?

Is it too hot for walking?

I was planning to do the Shoreham eastern valleys walk yesterday but the friend who wanted me to introduce it to him decided it would be ‘too hot’. I agreed, but I’m sure I would have gone along with him had he decided to go ahead. It was set to be 34C and I must say I kind of relish the walking in these temperatures – you become quickly unkempt and crazed but the first cold drink after finishing is just fantastic. It might be that masochistic tendency instilled in me by my mother (WW2 generation) which dictates that if the conditions are particularly unsuited to a certain activity, then you are duty-bound to press ahead with said activity! Nearing the age of 80 she once cycled to her local GP’s surgery, about two miles away, in a rainstorm to ask why she felt fatigued. This was straight after another cycling trip to Homebase to buy plants. Which followed a decent walk with the dog. Different generation. Sure.

I guess we all draw our lines somewhere. Tourists – many not in peak physical condition I noticed – troop through the 13-mile Samaria Gorge in Crete every summer en masse. So maybe what’s ‘too hot’ here is actually acceptable when in the Med. Oh, it’s ‘dry heat’ I hear you cry. Well, that’s OK then. I once walked in Joshua Tree national park in southern California in 40C, but only for a mile or so at a time, with a lovely air-conditioned electric car for refuge. Some American friends did find my Joshua plans slightly worrying (‘Are you serious?’). But then the lyrics of a certain Noël Coward song were brought up and we all agreed I was suffering from Englishness. Truth to tell I was just desperate to see the place and stubbornly refused to let anything get in my way. It was great, until we nearly ran out of water at the end of the trip. Then we remembered the tragic fate of a tourist couple there the previous year who got lost and actually died of dehydration and heat stroke or something.

Properly hot: Joshua Tree national park, California. Photograph: Adam McCulloch

So, I can’t offer any advice. It’s an individual thing. Some people like the heat, absorbing it to recharge themselves, like human solar panels. Others retreat to a dark room surrounded by fans they’ve just had delivered, but later in the year emerge to crack on in pouring rain and snow. You know yourself and your limits, hopefully. But at times like these it’s a shame there aren’t more places around for swimming. So many of the lakes we do have are very restrictive (not as much as Bough Beech but a lot more than, say, the lakes of Berlin) about safety but it often seems unnecessary and a bit jobsworthy. It’s a shame, given that such hot weather each summer is occurring increasingly often (somebody do something, yes I know).

Anyway, never mind it being too hot for walking; it’s too hot for sleeping, that’s for sure.

 

Lullingstone’s wild garden is a match for its World Garden

Lullingstone’s wild garden is a match for its World Garden

I don’t publicise Lullingstone Country Park that much because it’s busy enough already and it’s easy to devise your own walk around its lush acres. The visitors’ centre car park is full to brimming by mid-morning of a sunny weekend and, just down the road, Castle Farm catches much of the overspill and is a lovely attraction in its own right with its lavender fields and local produce. And then there is the excellent World Garden at Lullingstone Castle. Throw in picnic tables, viewpoints, a cafe, the river path and there’s no mystery about its popularity.

Credit where it’s due; whoever looks after the place – I guess it’s Kent County Council – has done a wonderful job of rewilding areas of meadow and wildflower around the paths and fairways of the golf course. In spring it’s all about orchids, bugle, speedwell and cowslips but at this time of year the profusion of marjoram, thyme, fine grasses and wild carrot growing all over the place is spectacular. 

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A walk around the park’s curvy contours and its superb ancient woodland (probably the quietest parts of the park) is a very civilised activity indeed. Those big North Downs skies are good for spotting birds of prey (I’ve seen all the major UK species here) and yellowhammers have made a comeback in the hawthorn/buckthorn thickets on the slopes. I’ve seen grass snakes here, too. Biggin Hill’s Spitfires often appear overhead on their joyriding flights … all in all it’s a real picture. Maybe visit later in the day on a fine weekend – they say the car parks are freed up a bit after 3pm. 

I think during the pandemic it’s best to avoid the river path, however. It gets a little too busy for my liking with myriad dogs confusing the issue. I’ve got two walks on here (3 and 12) that venture into the park from nearby Eynsford and Shoreham railway stations, but I’m considering adding another … perhaps starting at the public golf club entrance and taking in more of the woods. We’ll see.

Lullingstone CP’s Facebook page has all the latest news including whether or not the car park is rammed.

New route to a hamlet that’s no tragedy

New route to a hamlet that’s no tragedy

Last year I wrote about the walk from Knockholt Pound to Chevening. I wasn’t that impressed by it; a fairly long boring bit and woods with too many ‘Private’ signs which I can’t help but feel are a bit rude. However, I tried it again last, rainy, Saturday and concluded that if you do it the wrong way round with the drab bit first, it’s actually a really nice walk. You emerge from the woods with a great view over towards Ide Hill and with Chevening House before you. And Chevening hamlet itself has an atmospheric church. The route later takes in a nice path back up to Knockholt Pound across the face of the escarpment. There are two sections on roads; thankfully the longer section (about 800 metres) is on a very quiet lane called Sundridge Hill. The bit on busier Sundridge Road is only around 200 metres, so pretty safe though I wouldn’t take young children. The walk is about 5 miles but easy to follow. It’s pretty good for blackberry picking right now, particulary the hedgerow path after Point 5. But leave some for me. I have a shorter loop walk covering some of the same ground I’ll add soon.

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