The austere beauty of the Kent Downs in winter

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…

My walks

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 (5.5 miles) View

Download Walk 6: One Tree Hill circular (near Sevenoaks, 5.5 miles) View
Download Walk 7: One Tree Hill figure of eight (near Sevenoaks, 5 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: Shorehams 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

An online version of the Ordnance Survey map 147 can be found here but 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!

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Rye Harbour

Odd huts, unusual plants, shingle, birds, marsh and just sheer weirdness pop all along the Kent coast into East Sussex. Dungeness feels like the source for all this, but little Dungenesses pop up from Reculver near Herne Bay right round to Rye Harbour. The latter I visited on the ‘hottest day of the year’, last week (July 26, 2018).

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Hoo peninsula walk at Cliffe, north Kent

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…

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