What a strange, beautiful day. Golden light flooding in from a cloudless sky and a startling clarity in the warm air produced scenes as colourful as anything I’ve seen in an English winter. February? We toiled up the steps ascending the steep hillside of Dunstall Wood amid hectic birdsong; the trees were silent only two weeks ago. I half expected humming birds to zip by and howler monkeys to playfully crash through the canopy.
Dunstall Wood steps – quite a climb on a warm day
At Austin Spring (this was, again, the Fackenden walk) a huge flock of finches rose from the unkempt fringe and flitted into that row of oaks that strides through the fields there. Without binoculars I couldn’t be sure of all the species but among them were goldfinches, chaffinches, greenfinches and siskins. There must have been 100-plus; quite a surprise.
Austin Spring – trees full of finches that had been feeding below
Later, in the twilight at White Hill, a tawny owl flew past us – my younger son saw it first as a silhouette on the path ahead of us, and I’m ashamed to say my first reaction was to think ‘pigeon’.
No butterflies though, not a single brimstone, the first to fly most years. You’d think on such a warm day they’d be present. All in all an excellent way to exorcise an away defeat at Burnley.
18th-century Grade-II listed Dunstall Farm House – an attractive building, with a hint of Normandy
Fackenden Down dusk: end of an amazingly mild February day, looking south-west towards Brasted
It’s been cloudy and mild on the whole; dull really, but the past two days have been crisp limpid classics, with a giant full moon thrown in for good measure. Some pictures from yesterday’s stroll at Meenfield Wood/Polhill Bank: walk 18. And, here’s a batch from Cliffe on the Hoo Peninsula from a trip there in mid-January, quite a haunting place in the right light.
The open spaces and long valley views of Lullingstone make for a very atmospheric walk at this time of year in clear conditions. The Shoreham-Eynsford stations walk takes in an area of the park, as does Walk 12but its easy to devise your own stroll from the Visitor’s Centre or from Eynsford’s Roman Villa car park (not free) or train station. There is also parking in Eynsford village or in laybys along the road to the Villa. It’s a bit cloudy as I write but on Thursday the sky was fantastic, though there was no moon.
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!
Eight of the walks on this site start and end in Shoreham, in the Darent Valley. This is good, because Shoreham is a superb village with its four fine pubs, vineyard, Battle of Britain museum, river walk and atmospheric houses from down the centuries. And it has a station, served by trains from London Blackfriars (sometimes Victoria too) via Peckham Rye and Bromley South, and Sevenoaks. My walks use the valley rims, east and west; the valley floor along the river and the ‘dry’ valleys (geographical feature – not a reference to any shortage of pubs!) that flank the main one. The Darent river itself rises south of Westerham, on the shallow slope of the Greensand ridge and its early stretches can be seen on walk 15.
It’s a great village to stroll around, explore the ancient church and paths that skirt the northern side, around the back of the vineyard. Full details can be found on each Shoreham walk page. The Darent Valley path itself, which the walks here take in stretches of, is 19 miles long, starts by Sevenoaks station and ends at Dartford, as the river enters the Thames. So that’ll take awhile.
Shoreham station is most convenient for the eastern walks but it’s only a half-mile walk down Station Rd to connect with the western valley ones, too. Each of the walks can be adapted into something much longer by joining them together.
The diversion to Fackenden Down is a great variation to the Shoreham circular walks. If you walk over the top of the hill and continue to Magpie Bottom you join the Romney Street walk, shortening it slightly. Fackenden Down and Magpie Bottom are both sites of special scientific interest and are examples of chalk upland being rewilded. Both have great biodiversity with rare plants, insects, birds and reptiles. See details (Walk 19). The other walk that can be altered to take in Fackenden Down is the ‘eastern valleys’ walk. Here are some pictures:
The Greensand Way route between Ightham Mote, One Tree Hill and its Wilmot Hill derivatives are great for winter light after about 2.30pm at the moment. Picture below is from yesterday about 3.45pm. Love how the sheep reflect the light. It looks darker in the picture than it actually was… trying to get the exposure right for land and sky always a challenge.