One of the most magical times of the year is when the woodland floor turns blue. This year it’s kicking off a bit later than normal because of the frankly disgraceful weather between February and mid-April. But thanks to the sudden switch to summer – bypassing spring completely it seems – there should be a profusion of bluebells from now until the third week of May, so it will be worth heading for the woods (update: as I write, now May 6 the bluebells are already fading somewhat). The best bluebell displays on the walks here are Ide Hill, One Tree Hill, Hever, Petts Wood and Chislehurst, Westerham, Shoreham Circular (take the high Meenfield Woods diversion), Otford and Romney Street, and Downe (if you do a brief diversion down into the woods at Point 3 – marked on the map and the pdf). Pretty much all of them then! See below or the menu above for details of these walks.
Meenfield Woods bluebells, above Shoreham
We walked at One Tree Hill last Saturday (14 April) and very few bluebells were out but there was a pervasive aroma of wild garlic and plenty of cheeky little wild flowers popping up – primroses and the like. The bluebells that were blooming were on south-facing slopes.
There was a lot of mud in places, but beginning to dry up on this, by far, the best day for walking in about five months! Three highlights were the profusion of daffodils at Ightam Mote, the sight of buzzards wheeling and soaring in the thermals and brimstone butterflies floating around the meadows (but never close enough to photograph).
I love to do this walk several times over the spring, catching the various colours as they flare up and die down at Emmetts and in the woods and fields. The bluebell clouds are starting to fade now; by next weekend they’ll be well past their best (although the wild garlic is still vibrant), but soon the foxglove ‘forests’ of the Ide Hill/Toys Hill valley will spire up to replace them. I wonder if the bluebells have been a bit short-lived this year because of the cold, dry weather, which followed a very warm early spring. Meanwhile, the browns of early spring have been replaced by shades of vivid green. Emmetts of course is always a kaleidoscope of colour and right now is peak azalea. And those tulips… weird and so photogenic. This year’s black, red and white scheme is the best I’ve seen – check out the pictures below. Here are a few pix from the past two years in Emmetts and on the Ide Hill walk.
Sadly for us south-east London golfers the 18-hole Beckenham course – once the UK’s busiest – has gone; happily for us south-east London walkers the space now opened up is superb! There are expansive grass areas, a mildly hilly terrain, footpaths through woods adorned with bluebells just now, plus excellent birdwatching and a no-nonsense cafe in the striking, though decaying, 18th-century mansion (where there are also yoga classes and an artist’s studio). If you can’t make it out to the countryside or to Chislehurst/Petts Wood, the park is a great place to get some exercise locally: it’s possible to do a three-mile walk within and around it.
Beckenham Place Park mansion
You can enter it from opposite Ravensbourne Station or from several points on Beckenham Hill Rd and from Westgate Rd. If you get off the train at Beckenham Junction or New Beckenham, just walk up to Foxgrove Rd and take the lane off to the left with rather grandiose houses on it called Beckenham Place Park. It’s also a short walk from Beckenham Hill station on the Thameslink (like Ravensbourne).
There are no plans to build on the park yet thankfully – but maximum vigilance is urged on that score. The only development at present will be flood defences (the Ravensbourne, Quaggy, Pool and Honor Oak rivers have been known to flood houses in the past), so bore holes and the creation of a water meadow kind of thing are on the cards. There has also been a lot of tree planting (native species).
The Friends of Beckenham Place Park website provides more details on events, development plans and amenities in the park. It’s possible to do a good urban walk linking Beckenham Place with the excellent Kelsey Park and South Norwood Country Park without too much pavement stomping. Oh, and there are kingfishers regularly seen on the Ravensbourne river.
It’s that astonishing time of year when woods turn blue. I think from Easter to early May the bluebells will be great – there are some patches already in full bloom. The best of my walks for bluebells are Ide Hill and One Tree Hill(see below).
Bluebells on the Ide Hill walk
Here are the best places on my walks:
Shoreham circular: take the high path through Meenfield woods, the one that goes along the top of the hill. It’s marked on my digital mapwith a blue line. It just means continuing to the top of the hill after point 7 and turning right (north) at the top rather than two-thirds of the way up. The parallel paths meet later, by Shacklands Rd. There are not many bluebells on the regular route, so as I say, take the high Meenfield woods path.
Ide Hill: the best walk for continuous bluebells. There are great bluebells straightaway once you enter the Ide Hill NT woods behind the church, and even better in Scords wood just below Emmetts Garden. (Picture.) Amazing bluebells at Emmetts of course, but it’s best to pay the fee (or at least buy some cake!) if you linger in the gardens.
One Tree Hill walks: Good bluebells throughout these NT woods and also at the top of Wilmots Hill (on the ‘figure of eight‘ walk). Some lovely pockets of mixed bluebells and wild garlic (picture) off to the side of the path as you near Ightam Mote too (including a kind of garlic ‘jungle’ at one point). Some in the woodland between Shipbourne and Underriver too.
Downe: like the Shoreham circular you just have to make a small diversion to get the best bluebells, which are to be found in the hillside woods between Downe and Cudham (picture). Just turn left instead of right at point 3 and walk down to the woods. The hillside is called Downe Bank – a favourite place of study for Charles Darwin and John Lubbock (these great scientists’ names still make infuse this area with greatness and give it a special atmosphere). There aren’t many bluebells to be seen without the diversion.
There are good stretches of the blue stuff on the Hever walk, but perhaps less so on the Chiddingstone walk except in the woods above the river Eden (picture) on the return leg of the walk. There are excellent areas of the flowers on the Chislehurst/Petts Wood walk in the lower part of the wood, amid the chestnut groves just east of point 7 close to the railway tracks, stretching north towards the central fields. Knole Park is not great for bluebells compared with the other walks – but then One Tree Hill is just round the corner to sate your blues. However, back to Shoreham, the two Romney St/Shoreham eastern valley walks (5 and 14) have fantastic patches of bluebells in most of the woods the paths pass through.
So that’s it for this year’s bluebells but buttercups, cow parsley and hawthorn are making for some fairly spectacular viewing, I noticed on the Downe Circular walk today. The buttercups in the meadows next to Down House are superb right now, as are the hawthorns forming the hedges of the three fields on the second half of the walk. A strangely murky day which eventually turned into a downpour. Quite fun really.
An amazing weekend for getting outside, to local parks and beyond to the nearby Kent countryside. Just eight days after snow and hail showers, we were bathed in warm sunshine with the Kent countryside in full bloom. On Saturday we tried what turned out to be an excellent new walk between Chiddingstone and Penshurst done from the Ordnance Survey map then nipped round the Ide Hill circular on Sunday as temperatures hit 26C. Emmetts‘ azaleas and tulips were looking great. I hope regular visitors to this site managed to get outside. Pictures above.
I’ve added two new circular walks, a bit further than the others from south-east London, at Hever (walk 9) and a few miles to the east, Chiddingstone/Penshurst (walk 10). They are both possible on public transport from south London: trains from East Croydon run to Hever and Penshurst, but unfortunately neither station is en route; being 1.5 miles from the start in the case of Hever and two miles from the walk for Chiddingstone/Penshurst. Both are lovely and quiet; Hever has more woods and sandstone outcrop, whereas Chidd/Pens is more meadowy and crosses the river Eden twice. Each has a small section on roads where you have to be careful. The bit on the road at Penshurst on the Chiddingstone walk is particularly bad so don’t do it with younger kids. Both walks use the Eden Valley Path for the first half. Hever, Chiddingstone and Penshurst are all Tudor villages with great houses linked with Henry VIII, the Boleyns and others so these walks, or parts of, are particularly good for youngsters studying that period at school. Both have great pubs: the Henry VIII at Hever and the Castle Inn at Chiddingstone.
Here’s a reminder of the historical connections of the walks on this site and a map of their locations.