Awesome orchid wonderland

Awesome orchid wonderland

I was bowled over by the wildflowers on the Fackenden Down walk yesterday. I’ve never seen so many orchids; with yellow trefoil and tall ox-eye daisies blazing away as a background some of the meadows were mesmerising. Full credit to those managing the sites of special scientific interest at Magpie Bottom, Austin Spring and Fackenden Down along to White Hill (Kent Wildlife Trust in conjunction with local landowners?). Their hard work has produced a superb return. I’m not good at identifying orchids beyond the pyramidal variety, but I’ll give it a shot for the photos.

To strike a more negative note, I got the feeling there should still be more insects enjoying this abundance; there were plenty of bees around but not a lot else (a few marbled white butterflies, the odd peacock butterfly and red admiral notwithstanding). There was a distinct lack of swallows, martins and swifts, too. These species haven’t made it to these shores in great numbers this year it seems and that could be because of the effect of insecticides. But anyway, a beautiful and memorable walk.

And remember, this wonderland is only 50 minutes direct on the train from Peckham Rye, with the walk starting opposite Shoreham station.

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Fabulous Fackenden

Fabulous Fackenden

The Fackenden Down walk is such a winner at all times of year – and it’s so easy to get to from SE London, because it starts right outside Shoreham train station. In yesterday’s perfect weather wildflowers illuminated the hillsides and meadows; cirrus clouds offered a dramatic dreamscape high above and incessant birdsong filled the air. So many highlights on this walk: the bit when you leave the ancient beech wood and enter the timeless Magpie Bottom valley is my favourite. And the distant views of the City and the Shard from Romney Street are dramatic too. I was disappointed to see my team lose in the Champions League final later on (yet so thankful we got to the final) but the memories of the walk compensated. I created a GPX track of the walk too… so going off-route is now impossible (if you have a smartphone that is). The walk does have some steep sections though, so take it easy.

Interactive pdf of walk (to print or download on phone) is here.

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Lullingstone country park – perfect for a winter walk in fading 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 12 but 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.

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Shoreham, Kent – a perfect village for walkers

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.

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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.

The great eight Shoreham walks

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. 

Quieter Shoreham walks

For anyone who’s enjoyed the Shoreham Circular walk really should give the Shoreham Circular Mk2 a go. It goes along the ridge on the eastern side of the valley before dropping down and eventually joining the Mk1 route by the Darenth golf course. It’s a lovely quiet stroll starting in ancient woods (slow worms, buzzards, woodpeckers), ascending to the top of the hill eventually with great views and wild chalk meadows which teem with butterflies. It all ends by the George pub…

It’s pretty decent for public transport too… Shoreham station is opposite the start of the walk and can be reached by direct train from Blackfriars on the Catford loop line via Nunhead etc (check first, the Thameslink network is chaotic – there’s also the option of a train to Sevenoaks on the London Bridge-Orpington line, then changing). Give it a go this weekend, all is set fair.

If you fancy something longer, ending up in the same place, then the mysterious eastern valleys walk from Shoreham station or the Romney St/Otford/Shoreham circle (from Otford station) will fit the bill.

Hot bank holiday and Penshurst Place

An unexpectedly superb weekend of weather; it seems to me that late summer and early autumn are now routinely drier and warmer than mid-summer but I’m too lazy to look for figures to back that up. I hope, dear readers, you’ve been able to get out and about. A small component of my family ventured forth by car and bicycle to Penshurst Place (on the Chiddingstone circular walk) yesterday. We parked at Haysden country park a mile or so from Tonbridge station, then cycled the remaining 3.5 miles to Penshurst Place, on lanes at first, then off-road alongside the river Medway.

We passed a good swimming/picnic spot in the river close to the bridge as it passes beneath Ensfield Rd, before ascending the moderate hill at Well Place Farm then freewheeling down the slope to Penshurst Place manor house itself. The gardens are always a joy and so is the cafe by the house in a large courtyard dominated by a lime (I think) tree. I wrote about the house and its interesting history for the Guardian a while back – also got more detail there on how to get there and prices. A great afternoon out if you are fancy free on the bank holiday but best done with a car/bike combination.

There are trains from Victoria (via East Croydon) and London Bridge but Penshurst station is two miles from the house. I haven’t devised a walking route from the station away from the road yet but there must be one. Hmm…

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Find a north-west Kent walk that suits you


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, Fackenden Down, Westerham/Chartwell, Shoreham’s mystery eastern valleys, Polhill, Eynsford/Lullingstone. Oh… actually all of ’em.

Best pubs on the walks – click here

See menu at top of page for full list of walks