The countryside has truly woken up. I saw my first peacock butterfly of the year at Ide Hill on Sunday (the more observant among you will be wondering what took me so long I’m sure, they’ve been around for a couple of weeks now) although oddly I haven’t seen a brimstone yet. Maybe I’m just walking along, daydreaming, not really taking stuff in. Anyway, I have noticed the woods developing a healthy green sheen, patches of primroses, and even the odd impatient bluebell bursting into flower. In Scord’s Wood, below Emmetts Garden, I came across clusters of cardamine pratensis – cuckoo flower, a somewhat overlooked spring flower (it’s pretty but not vividly colourful). My camera ran out of juice though, so no pix.
Birdsong has gone up several notches, with chiff chaffs arriving from African and great tits getting particularly busy, blackbirds clearing their throats and robins getting very territorial about everything. Out running recently I surprised a couple of fieldfare picking out worms at Beckenham Cricket Club, no doubt soon to head east to their breeding grounds in continental Europe and further afield. They might have been mistle thrushes, when I come to think of it. Up close very beautiful.
Winter has arrived but it remains mild; with more rainfall the mud has churned up on the most of the walks so it’s time for wellies. But take care: the chalky Darent Valley hillside paths can be a bit slippery at this time of year, particularly where the paths are worn and the chalk is close to the surface. But the austere beauty of the North Downs in winter is now evident, especially on the eastern side of the valley – walks 5, 14 and 19 – and on the Eynsford routes: walks 3 and 12. If the temperature drops a bit take a flask out with some hot chocolate and maybe a shot of something stronger – really works out here in an easterly wind!
Each of the walks on this site have their own character. There’s definitely a split between the southern routes, such as Chiddingstone, Ide Hill and at Hever, which are more wooded and somehow bucolic, and the more hilly, more grassy northern routes of the Darent Valley where the ridgelines are the highest points for an easterly winds for hundreds of miles. It’s all very atmospheric; when walking I often imagine what life was like for Saxons, Romans, Britons and Vikings who settled these parts and picture them on their long, painstaking journeys.
So, here’s a useful way of choosing a walk near SE London … enlarge the map, then just click on the labels and lines to find a walk that suits you. You’ll see there’s quite a spaghetti junction of walks around Shoreham, you can combine them all and stay out all week if you like! My tip this week is Walk 19: Fackenden Down. It’s on the eastern side of the Darent Valley – straight out of Shoreham train station and the views are terrific. The walks are also on the menu at the top. Enjoy…
An online version of the Ordnance Survey map 147 can be found herebut strangely some public footpaths are not included. I’m gradually working on making GPX files for the walks so they can be followed ‘live’ on smartphone, but, ahem, slow progress is being made!
The clocks have gone back. For me that means rushed late afternoon walks as dusk gathers. Today’s speedy stroll was at Ide Hill, ending in complete darkness. Was hoping for an owl, but didn’t even see a bat. Some beautiful autumnal scenes though, across the Low Weald of Kent.
A dull damp Saturday, a stormy Sunday morning then a bright breezy, cold afternoon. Big contrasts. Two walks: Polhill Bank (an extension of Shoreham mk1) and Ide Hill. I love Meenfield woods high on Shoreham’s western ridge in wet weather, wisps of cloud scraping past the tree tops. Further south, at Ide Hill on Sunday, the sudden bright sunshine, after a morning of torrential rain, strangely failed to warm the air which carried with it hints of the Arctic. We saw a buzzard and a red kite. Chaffinches, a bullfinch pair and blue tits hopped busily in the undergrowth on Emmetts’ southern bank. My boy suggested the pub, then changed his mind: he wanted to see if Arsenal would lose to Everton. They didn’t, and we put the central heating on. There’s a non sequitur for you.
September, rainy day looking out from Polhill Bank near Shoreham.
The new clearing looking south 250 metres in to the Ide Hill walk. September, bright, cold afternoon
Another ‘new’ walk, the 17th for this website. This is a quiet one-hour stroll without any strenuous bits, not good for dogs (because of farms and potential livestock) or pushchairs (unless very dry). It requires a car, there not being any rail stations or bus services realistically within reach. The Kent Wildlife Trust centre was supposed to be a feature, but this is closing (bird hides will remain open) and being converted into an educational centre, and visitors can no longer use its car park.
But now the good news: it’s a charming little stroll, with good views of the reservoir and its often spectacular bird life, a pocket or two of very bird-rich woods and the interesting Bore Placewith its lovely old house, used as an organic farm, events venue and educational centre. It’s close to the Ide Hill (two miles) and Hever/Chiddingstone (four miles) walks and not that far from Knole Park/One Tree Hill (five miles) so can be done as part of a big day out. It ends with a stretch along the reservoir next to the very quiet lane on its north-eastern side. Anyway, here it is. Also, here’s my blog postabout the frustration of trying to find a route around the lake – one of the things that prompted me to find this walk.
Whenever I do the Chiddingstone walk it seems to be fantastic weather. Sunday was a real beauty, clear skies, bright sunshine, a whisper of cool breeze. Our resident anonymous birdwatcher Dave came along and straightaway I heard and saw far more species than usual; cuckoo, song thrush, skylark, goldfinch, and best of all, marsh tit in the swampy woods near the start of the walk. The latter is rare enough to be worth recording with the Kent Ornithological Society, which Dave duly did.
The cuckoo we later saw flying between oaks. For a moment I thought it was a kestrel, with its rapid flap, but Dave pointed out that the wings stayed too low for that to be the case.
Odd though that we didn’t see buzzards or kestrels. And there were only a few swallows, despite the many fantastic meadows left untamed and absolutely buzzing with insect life including mayflies. No swifts at all or house martins. Dave said this was troubling and representative of the mass decline in bird numbers (and, actually, insect numbers) in Europe as a probable result of farms’ use of neonicotinoid insecticides, now being somewhat tardily restricted by the EU.
However, one insect we did see several examples of was the european hornet (Vespa crabro). There’s clearly a nest in the village somewhere, but we also spotted some individuals at the Penshurst side of the walk. These are native hornets and are less troublesome than wasps in many ways; they don’t seem to be such suckers for sweet things for one thing. We certainly enjoyed a swift Larkins at the Castle Inn without being troubled by those we saw zooming around nearby. Of course, when they sting, they hurt. Like hell.
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, 16) 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). Westerham/Chartwell is best with a car, though again bus from Bromley is possible (246), as is taxi from Sevenoaks station.
Always check ‘live departures’ online for trains – service disruption is quite the thing these days you know.
Best for views
One Tree Hill, Ide Hill, Otford circular via Romney St, Westerham/Chartwell, Shoreham’s mystery eastern valleys, Eynsford/Lullingstone. Oh… actually all of ’em.