Exotic trees and crazy mud

Emmetts Garden (on the Ide Hill walk) is showing off its rare tree species at the moment, with orbs hanging off branches and baskets draped with national flags. Inside each basket is the name of the tree and its origin. Surprisingly good fun going from one to the other trying to work out what it is. I’d never heard of a castor oil tree (China) before but the Japanese cedar was my favourite.

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Meanwhile, mud is a sticking point on the walks, as you’d expect in February. One Tree Hill and around is awful, Hever too. But Ide Hill is not too bad – even the bit where you meet the Toys Hill red route is passable. Elsewhere, Lullingstone/Eynsford is generally OK, Shoreham circular too. Downe and Knole Park are bankers for lack of mud in huge quantities, but Petts Wood has plenty of squelchy areas. All are fine with decent boots – it’s just that you should be mentally prepared for a bit of slippin’ and slidin’, and going to the pub afterwards means taking boots off or bringing spare shoes.

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Snow flurries, mud and cloudscapes on the Greensand Ridge

The mud is horrific but worth slopping through for the wonderful scenes on the One Tree Hill/Ightam Mote walk – a steep wooded escarpment with beech trees growing out of it at extraordinary angles, huge Weald views over to the Ashdown Forest and the beautifully situated Mote house itself, in its secret little cleft in the hill line. With dramatic skies, clear air, flurries of snow, the ridge routes around One Tree Hill and Wilmot Hill left us in awe yesterday.

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Let it snow and let peregrines unexpectedly appear

Some of this winter’s coldest weather has breezed in from the north east. It’s brought snow flurries, few of which have penetrated as far west as London but have deposited a few centimetres on the Greensand Ridge south of Sevenoaks, and along the North Downs towards Maidstone.

I was rather taken by the scene yesterday morning at 9am while cycling from my home in Lower Sydenham to the railway station. As I crossed Perry Hill in bright sunshine, flakes of snow suddenly intensified into a bit of a mini-blizzard, seemingly out of a blue sky. I looked around and saw it was being blown in from a dark cloud to the north. Just at that moment I heard the ‘cawing’ of a crow and saw to my astonishment a peregrine falcon clutching a small bird in its talons wheel away to the south, beating its wings rapidly, as two irate crows followed in lukewarm pursuit. An unusual thing to see in Sydenham, while it snowed – from a blue sky.

Anyway, proof that snow still happens south of London is provided by Ightam Mote’s Twitter feed. (Walk to Ightam Mote from One Tree Hill.)

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Fancy a mud-free January walk? Then, Knole Park, Kent, is the one

Well, almost; the forest (pictured below) in the far east of the park has a bit. But yes, Knole today was a joy. Glorious sunshine, brisk breeze – a special wintry atmosphere and little gooey saturated soil. Many of the walks on this site are now besieged by mud – One Tree Hill could be the worst. There has been a lot of rain in the past two weeks so good wellies essential for now – apart from Knole. My Knole walk is here.

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Find a north-west Kent walk that suits you


Here’s a map of all the walks on this site so far. Click on the pointers to take you to descriptions of the walks online or in printable pdf format. Alternatively, use the walk tabs at the top of this page.

The best walks on this site for public transport, if you live in SE London are:

Best for public transport: Chislehurst/Petts Wood walk (13): direct train to Chislehurst/Petts Wood/Bickley stations from Brixton/Hither Green/Catford/Herne Hill/West Dulwich/Peckham Rye/Nunhead. For the Shoreham/Eynsford and Otford routes (walks 2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 14) there are trains direct to the starts of the walks on Thameslink services between London Blackfriars and Sevenoaks (stopping at Peckham Rye, Nunhead, Catford, Bellingham, Bromley South etc). Trains are relatively frequent and take about 30 minutes from, say, Catford to Otford. Pubs in Shoreham and Eynsford well placed for any delays or cancellations!
So-so for transport: Downe (walk 1): closest route to SE London but involves a (fairly frequent) 25-min bus ride – 146 from Bromley South station
OK for transport: Knole Park (walk 11) – you’ll have to walk from Sevenoaks station (good rail services to Sevenoaks station on Thameslink – see above – or Charing Cross line (Hither Green etc) for nearly a mile to the leisure centre and enter Knole from there, joining the walk as per instructions and map.
Bit of a stretch but do-able: Hever (walk 9) actually has a station, on the London Bridge line via East Croydon, so quite easy from Forest Hill, Brockley etc if you plan ahead. The walk starts at Hever Castle, 1 mile from the station but there’s a path that will take you there from the station.
Not so accessible: Sevenoaks routes (walks 4, 6, 7): can take train to Sevenoaks station on Thameslink or Charing Cross line (Hither Green etc), but then a taxi ride – Ide Hill is about 4 miles from the station; One Tree Hill about 3 miles (also quite close to Hildenborough station).
Car only, although…: I think Chiddingstone is definitely best by car. But, you can take the train to Hildenborough or Edenbridge and get a taxi (more details on walk’s page).

Always check ‘live departures’ online for trains – service disruption is quite the thing these days you know.

My walks

Download Walk 1: Downe circular (near Bromley, 2.6 miles) View on your phone/PC
Download Walk 2: Shoreham circular (3.5 miles) View
Download Walk 3: Shoreham to Eynsford (4.2 miles) View
Download Walk 4: Ide Hill circular (3 miles) View
Download Walk 5: Otford circular via Romney St (5.5 miles) View
Download Walk 6: One Tree Hill circular (near Sevenoaks, 5.5 miles) View
Download Walk 7: One Tree Hill figure of eight (near Sevenoaks, 5 miles) View
Download Walk 8: Shoreham/Otford circular (5 miles) View
Download Walk 9: Hever circular (4.5 miles) View
 Download Walk 10: Chiddingstone/Penshurst circular (4 miles) View
Download Walk 11: Knole Park’s Wild Side (3.5 miles) View
 Download Walk 12: Eynsford/Lullingstone circular (4 miles) View
 Download Walk 13: Chislehurst station to Petts Wood station (3.7 miles) View
Download Walk 14: Shorehams mystery eastern valleys (4.5 miles) View

Hoo peninsula walk at Cliffe, north Kent

A lovely piece by Carol Donaldson in the Guardian at the Christmas weekend drew my attention to this area just east of Gravesend. It’s only an hour’s drive from, say, Brockley (potentially less if you can get to the A2 more quickly than I did today) and 40 minutes by train from Lewisham (direct to Higham on the Gillingham route). You can walk direct (about 2.5 miles from Higham station) to the marshes RSPB reserve at Cliffe Pools or get the 133 bus. The walk I did starts at Cliffe village on the little chalk ridge above the marshes, right by 13th-century St Helen’s Church and heads west, reaching the sea wall before returning through lagoons to Cliffe. The churchyard could be where Pip came across Magwitch in Great Expectations (it might be that the children’s graves at nearby Cooling is where this was imagined) and Charles Dickens’ daughter was married nearby at St Mary’s, Lower Higham. More recently, the marshes served as paddy fields in Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick’s Vietnam movie made in the late 1980s.

The beauty of the area is that you can just walk off into the marshes and make for the sea wall – there’s lots of interesting historical features including a beached boat. Otherwise there’s big skies, a lot of birds (the plaintive calls of waders accompany you throughout), ships gliding on the river beyond the wall, timeless atmosphere … I’ll add details of the route I took soon, as well as the Westerham-Chartwell route. Yet another place near London that takes you to another time seemingly hundreds of miles away. Some pix…

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