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 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:
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
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.
There’s no doubt about it. Winter walks aren’t always particularly uplifting. Views are subdued and less vibrant. The oranges and reds of autumn have gone, to be replaced by toned-down browns and greens. There’s mud, damp and murkiness that can make you want to flee the country. But the sky picks its moments to remedy everything; pink and orange sunsets, swathes of deep azure; the rush towards dusk bathing ancient Kent rural scenes in yellow and grey light. There are times when you feel that our little pokey-out county is in tune with the timeless far north; Iceland, Norway, Lapland… maybe the Vikings who settled here felt most at home on these dark cold days. Am I being pretentious? Stop me if I am. I’ll stop then.
Here are some pictures from early afternoon on December 16, 2017, on the high-level Meenfield woods walk, to the west of Shoreham and the little valley separating Meenfield and Andrews woods (an extension to walks 2 and 8).
The autumn colours have well and truly gone and the more subtle tones of winter are with us. I’ve had to change all the header images on this website to suit… didn’t feel as though the autumn ones got much of a run. My favourites of the headers are the row of trees against a blue sky in late afternoon at Lullingstone with flinty field in the foreground, and beautiful winter sunset colours from east of Shoreham. Snow at Downe and in Meenfield Wood feature, as does a fantastic fog at Ide Hill.
Mud has set in on all the walks so if you lack wellies you may want to know that Knole Park, Shoreham circular, Lullingstone and Downe are the most mud-free strolls on this site (See walks at top of page) – perfect for Boxing Day. Below is that misty sunset from farmland just east of Shoreham.
Nearing Dunstall Farm at the end of the walk (walk 14 and walk 5)