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.
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.
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…
There’s no doubt about it. Winter walks aren’t always particularly uplifting. Views are subdued and less vibrant. The oranges and reds of autumn have gone, to be replaced by toned-down browns and greens. There’s mud, damp and murkiness that can make you want to flee the country. But the sky picks its moments to remedy everything; pink and orange sunsets, swathes of deep azure; the rush towards dusk bathing ancient Kent rural scenes in yellow and grey light. There are times when you feel that our little pokey-out county is in tune with the timeless far north; Iceland, Norway, Lapland… maybe the Vikings who settled here felt most at home on these dark cold days. Am I being pretentious? Stop me if I am. I’ll stop then.
Here are some pictures from early afternoon on December 16, 2017, on the high-level Meenfield woods walk, to the west of Shoreham and the little valley separating Meenfield and Andrews woods (an extension to walks 2 and 8).
The autumn colours have well and truly gone and the more subtle tones of winter are with us. I’ve had to change all the header images on this website to suit… didn’t feel as though the autumn ones got much of a run. My favourites of the headers are the row of trees against a blue sky in late afternoon at Lullingstone with flinty field in the foreground, and beautiful winter sunset colours from east of Shoreham. Snow at Downe and in Meenfield Wood feature, as does a fantastic fog at Ide Hill.
Mud has set in on all the walks so if you lack wellies you may want to know that Knole Park, Shoreham circular, Lullingstone and Downe are the most mud-free strolls on this site (See walks at top of page) – perfect for Boxing Day. Below is that misty sunset from farmland just east of Shoreham.
Nearing Dunstall Farm at the end of the walk (walk 14 and walk 5)
Deciding to do a half-remembered walk without map or instructions I set off from Westerham to Chartwell on a 4.5-mile circular route taking in French Street hamlet. Of course I got lost. These woods (Tower wood, Hosey Common) are pretty full-on and some of the paths they contain draw you in only to spit you out into a ditch or thicket with no choice but to retrace your steps. Still, I stumbled across Chartwell eventually but saw nothing of French St. Being Remembrance Sunday it seemed a good choice; but then I remembered that Churchill hadn’t stayed there much during the war, having been withdrawn to Chequers – far away from possible commando raids. It’s not a particularly amazing house but it’s hard to think of one in the south of England with as much significance and in such a brilliant setting.
Looking back towards Westerham and the North Downs ridge, 11 November 2017
The path up on Mariners Hill gives a great view over Winston’s house and into the Weald beyond to the Ashdown Forest. There are also some fantastic sequoia-type trees (giant firs?) to admire. I took a trail back in the direction of Westerham in the twilight; another false path that delivered me without fanfare right on to the dangerous B2026, which hairpins around the greensand ridge on its way to Edenbridge. As I hugged the verge, most cars slowed and gave me a wide berth – and I thank them, but not Mr Audi Q5; he sped around the bend oblivious to the possibility of a vehicle coming the other way and me, a pedestrian, plodding along on the verge. He nearly ran me down. I gestured; he beeped. A prime SUV numpty – a person wrapped up in their own importance I thought.
Chartwell from Mariners Hill
By now it was the gloaming time and I spotted another path on the left leading down through woods into a valley. What a joy this was: a carpet of red leaves and glimmering water to my left. I later found out this was the infant River Darent. A gorgeous path. I’ll have to incorporate it into a walk soon.
The Downe walk is very handy when you haven’t got much time (and you have a car) because it’s relatively close to SE London. It’s also great to do after/before visiting Downe House and has two good pubs, a lovely cake shop and a pretty good curry house. It’s also quite short (2.5 miles) – enough for a bit of exercise without risking pulling a hamstring. One thing I’ve noticed of late is that whoever farms the final field on re-entering the village keeps obliterating the footpath every time they harvest/plough. It’s quite annoying and thoughtless. There are enough walkers to re-establish the path but after it rains that final field won’t be a lot of fun. I can’t really suggest a diversion either. Anyway, with autumn colours it’s all looking rather nice … (pictured is the penultimate field, not the ploughed up one).