Sometimes you just need to get out of the city. Even in good ol’ south east London, with its verdant parks and Victoriana, the urge to swan around in ancient landscapes, free of the roar of traffic, does sometimes come to us all of a weekend. The good news is that there are beautiful fields, woods and villages to walk in just 30 minutes out of town by car or train.
Whether you’ve moved to south-east London for work purposes or whether you are from these parts and just haven’t felt the urge to shift your butt into the woods and fields, my aim with this site is – without wishing to be rude – to tell you where to go. I want to share with you the great places you can walk in without much planning and without dedicating too much time to it. Many of the routes are great to take children on, too.
Being brought up in Bromley alongside crazy, super-energised springer spaniels I was lucky enough to get to know the local Kent countryside pretty early in life. Playing a bit of golf, and riding a bike for miles helped too.
For me, many years later, these places are still magical, especially now I’ve understood how they chime with some fairly momentous history. Take the unassuming North Downs village of Downe (just 20 minutes’ drive from Bromley), for example. Here, a short walk will take you through Charles Darwin’s garden and, 20 minutes later, to the perimeter of an airfield crucial to the UK’s survival in the Battle of Britain, where Spitfires can still be heard and seen. And just down the road are the remains of an oak tree – the Wilberforce Oak – under which in 1787 Pitt the Younger and Wilberforce discussed ending the slave trade. So, in short, giant leaps forward for humanity were made around Downe. Slight over-simplification there, but you get the picture. It looks nice too, and has a couple of decent pubs, a superb old flint church and the sound of skylarks and a yellowhammers.
Nearby there’s Chaucer, medieval pilgrims, historic Formula One racing circuit Brands Hatch, Darwin’s great friend the banker/philanthropist/liberal reformer John Lubbock, the painter Samuel Palmer, a brilliantly preserved Roman villa, Julius Caesar, Churchill, General Wolfe (I don’t know much about him but they say he sure did a lot of travelling and warring) soaring birds of prey, Saxons, Vikings and the birthplace of one of my favourite actors, Naomi Watts. But mostly there’s chalk, the odd river, pyramidal orchids, churches and houses of flint, bluebells, yew trees, beech trees, chaffinches, woodpeckers, deer, big views, big skies. OK it’s a bit suburban in parts, and in attitude, but I did say only 30 minutes out of town didn’t I? You can pretend you’re in Devon sometimes, if it helps…
Disclaimer: blocked routes and my errors
Occasionally, routes are blocked off (for justifiable reasons or not) and you’ll have to improvise. The only time it’s happened to me is on the Hever walk when the castle estate took the bridge away and diverted the path. There is sometimes a need to avoid livestock, particularly bulls and cow herds that cluster around a style and block the path. So please take a map or use GPX (not always easy) just in case you need to improvise a diversion. Sometimes it’s the case I’ve omitted to mention there’s a stile or a gate on the path, so please don’t worry if you’re sure you are in the right place but have to go over a stile I haven’t mentioned. Sometimes the stile was there but has been replace by a gate or has collapsed! The other thing that can go wrong is that my description isn’t doesn’t quite match what you’re seeing. This is often just different people perceiving things differently; at other times my words may mislead or I may have such a fixed memory of a location that reality can’t shake it! If so, many apologies. It’s Kent, nothing terrible will happen if you’re lost. Please remember I’m not an ‘organisation’ that makes money; I’m just a person that wanted to learn how to do a WordPress website and wanted to share lovely places near SE London to walk in. Thanks!
Choose a Kent walk near SE London that works for 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, or the list below.
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. Shoreham/Eynsford and Otford routes (walks 2, 3, 5, 8, 12): direct rail to start of walks on Thameslink services between London Kings Cross/Blackfriars and Sevenoaks (stopping at Peckham Rye, Nunhead, Catford, Bellingham, Bromley South etc). Trains frequent and take about 30 minutes from, say, Catford to Otford.
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. The Westerham walk (15) has the 246 bus from Bromley/Hayes and trains to Oxted and Sevenoaks from where buses and taxis may be available. You can join Walk 21 from Westerham too.
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. The walk starts at Hever Castle, 1 mile from the station but there’s a path that will take you there.
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).
My walks (click on walk pages for GPX maps)
• Download Walk 1: Downe circular (near Bromley, 2.6 miles) View on your phone/desktop
• 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 (6 miles) View
• Download Walk 6: One Tree Hill circular (near Sevenoaks, 6 miles) View
• Download Walk 7: One Tree Hill figure of eight (near Sevenoaks, 6 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: Shoreham’s mystery eastern valleys (5 miles) View
• Download Walk 15: Westerham/Chartwell (5.5 miles) View
• Download Walk 16: Shoreham circular mk2 (3.5 miles) View
• Download Walk 17: Bough Beech/Bore Place (2.5 miles) View
• Download Walk 18: Shoreham/Polhill Bank (4 miles) View
• Downland Walk 19: Fackenden Down (4 miles) View
• Download Walk 20: Downe circular mk2 (4miles) View
• Download Walk 21: Hosey Common/Chartwell circular (3.9 miles) View
• Download Walk 22: Oldbury Hill/Ightham Mote/Stone Street circular (6 miles) View
• Download Walk 23: Polhill and Pluto circular from Andrews Wood car park (4.2 miles) View
• Download Walk 24: Knockholt Pound and Chevening circular (5 miles) View
• Download Walk 25: Cudham chalk paths (4 miles) View
• Download Walk 26: Underriver and Budds (5 miles) View
Train to the Darent Valley
The railway that runs through the Darent Valley from London Victoria/Blackfriars via Denmark Hill, Peckham Rye, Catford, Bromley South and Bickley is great for walkers destined for Shoreham, Eynsford and Otford, each of which has a station. It terminates at Sevenoaks, from where you can get to Knole Park fairly easily on foot (20mins). It’s a pleasant train journey after Bromley South – the train travels through the surprisingly large Petts Wood and some scenic woodland between St Mary’s Cray and Swanley. But the best bit is when you emerge from the tunnel after Swanley, entering the Darent Valley via an impressive Victorian viaduct over the river. The views here are gorgeous. See above for more on trains.
I can’t guarantee that all of the routes are suitable for dogs, particularly large ones. I think dogs should always be on the lead at Kent Wildlife Trust reserves and other sites of special scientific interest – such as Polhill, Magpie Bottom and Fackenden Down. Lullingstone and Petts Wood are good places to take dogs to. If you take your dog on most of the walks be prepared to put it on the lead for some stretches, particularly in the vicinity of farm animals, wild animal reserves and sanctuaries (Eagle Heights for example) and near roads.
Pubs on, or close to, the walks
See the page on pubs. Some rural pubs have closed, such as the much-missed Fox and Hounds at Romney Street and Padwell Arms of Stone Street, but many have reinvented themselves as gastro entities, offering decent food to go with superb Kent beers from Westerham Brewery, Shepherd Neame, Larkins and the like. Each of the following offers proper meals and aim for a decent standard. I love to see visitors from abroad in the pubs enjoying themselves, and hearing French, Spanish, Italian being spoken etc… it makes me feel good about this area.
I particularly like the amiable Queens Head in Downe (walk 1) with its good beer selection and ciders (the flattish Rosie’s Pig is very refreshing on a warm day), and medievally wonky Ye Olde George Inn in Shoreham (walks 2, 5, 8, 14). The Plough in Eynsford (walks 3, 12) is smart and right by the Darent river (the bank here is wide and grassy, a popular spot for a summer drink – often a bit too popular) and a really old bridge and ford. The bijou and cheery Cock Inn in Ide Hill, large Chaser Inn in Shipbourne, and the White Rock in Underriver – with its superb beer garden – are excellently placed for the Greensand Ridge walks of One Tree Hill, Oldbury Hill and Ide Hill (walks 4, 6 and 7). I’m a big fan of the Mount Vineyard in Shoreham, with its large outdoor areas and superb setting.
The Henry VIII at Hever (walk 9) offers very good food, quick-serving bar staff, Shepherd Neame and guest beers, a large dining area and a large garden. It attracts loads of international visitors stopping for a bevvy after visiting the nearby castle of the Boleyns so has a great cosmopolitan vibe. The White Hart at Brasted (well placed for the Ide Hill walk and en route to south east London if returning from Hever and Chiddingstone/Penshurst) is another large gastro-style pub which prides itself on its food. In 1940 it was the pub of choice for the Biggin Hill squadrons who often let off steam there during the Battle of Britain and was the original site of the famous blackboard with the chalked signatures of many leading RAF pilots of the second world war (now at the Shoreham aircraft museum). Well placed for people returning from the Ide Hill, Westerham and Hosey Common walks is Westerham Brewery’s tap room and shop on Beggars Lane, which does food too.
As of mid April 2017 the Chiddingstone and Hever walks have gained a great new pub: the Castle Inn which inhabits a superb medieval building, boasts a lovely garden and excellent food from its open kitchen.
The geology of the region is interesting. On the terrain map above you can see how the south-facing chalk escarpment of the North Downs (which runs all the way to Folkstone incidentally) is broken by the River Darent. Then, beyond Sevenoaks, there is another south-facing ridge (the Greensand ridge), of sandstone, from which you can see the Ashdown Forest and the Weald of Kent. Both escarpments face their mirror image in the north-facing ridge of the South Downs, and beyond that the chalk highlands of north eastern France. Most of the walks are among the so-called dry valleys of the chalk hills behind (ie to the north of) the escarpment. Shoreham lies in the Darent Valley, as does Otford and Eynsford. Toys Hill, Knole Park and One Tree Hill lie along the Greensand ridge further south, past Sevenoaks and Brasted.
Wildlife and plants
You need a degree of exercise to see wildlife that’s not in-yer-face obvious. Animals are generally pretty good at hiding. There are snakes around but you’ll only see one if you are very light on your feet/lucky/eagle-eyed or you’ve chanced across a particularly lazy specimen who can’t be arsed to move. Deer are plentiful and often make an appearance around Downe, the Shoreham walks and One Tree Hill. Bats are still common despite the decline in insect numbers.
I’m no expert on wildlife but I’m slowly improving thanks to wildflower apps and by paying attention to birdsong. The best places to find out more about local flora and fauna is the Kent Wildlife Trust website. KWT is always thirsty for funds so please make a small donation when you visit its website. I give a good percentage of the donations I receive to KWT anyway. Also see Dave’s bird page, Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve and High Elms Visitor Centre near Downe. I’ve once or twice seen grass snakes, slow worms, lizards on the walks and always get a thrill from seeing buzzards, sparrowhawks, kestrels, tawny owls and small birds you don’t get in your garden like yellowhammers, redstarts and bullfinches. I’ve also seen or heard some quite rare birds such as crossbill, turtle dove and short-eared owl. It’s sadly true though that bird numbers have declined over the years; even once plentiful summer visitors like swallows and house martins can’t be counted on to make an appearance. But in October do watch out for flocks of redwings and fieldfares arriving from the east – a great sight.
In June on the chalk North Downs walks watch out for various types of orchids and in April every walk here has bluebell vistas, clouds of ransoms, cowslips and other beauties. There are magnificent trees on all the walks and, in spring/early summer spectacular, explosions of wildflowers with butterflies like commas, peacocks, painted ladies and orange tips. It’s hard to say one walk is better than another for wild things but do check out Dave’s bird page for localised tips and remember that detection of wildlife is a skill to be practised in many respects.
To gain a better appreciation of what expertise in flora and fauna looks like when it comes to the North Downs check out blogs like this one by Steve Gale. Donations If you’ve enjoyed one of the walks on this site and feel it’s enriched your day, feel free to make a small donation here if you wish. It'll encourage me to add more walks, update information and work harder to improve accuracy and quality. Thanks a lot. £3.00
If you’ve enjoyed one of the walks on this site and feel it’s enriched your day, feel free to make a small donation here if you wish. It'll encourage me to add more walks, update information and work harder to improve accuracy and quality. Thanks a lot.