Here’s a useful way of choosing a walk near SE London … enlarge, 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 in the Darenth valley, you can combine them all and stay out all week if you like! The walks are also on the menu at the top. Enjoy…
Once again off to Chiddingstone, this time without birding maestro Dave. But saw my first two bullfinches of the year, plus very large slow worm (too fast for me to take pic of however), skylarks and cuckoo. Plus the best variety of dragonflies – some real beasts – I’ve ever seen on a walk, perhaps brought out by the number of winged insects after the huge storm last nght. Some awesome cumulus nimbus forming beyond north London (Channel 4 news’ weatherforecaster Liam Dutton reckons this storm was the one that wrought temporary havoc to Buckinghamshire yesterday evening). The cloud tops of this storm reached 40,000ft so everyone who saw it from Kent and Surrey thought it was much closer than it actually was.
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.
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…
Yep, crisp winters’ days are great; mellow autumn walks can be lovely; and spring fills you with hope. But can you really beat heat? Humid, sultry but not too hot today. Clear enough for views stretching for miles too. With my younger son I did the Hever walk in reverse (yes I’ve got the nagging feeling it’s better than the way round I’ve suggested in the description – you get the half-mile road bit out of the way early, for starters). The insect world was happily whirring away; flotillas of butterflies arose from the buttercup-rich meadows. A sparrowhawk glided past us silently in one glade. And in a field by Stock wood we came across some friendly older guys flying large radio-controlled aircraft, including aerobatics, next to a little grass runway cut out of the meadow. They were the only people we met on the 5 mile route; remarkable really when you consider that Hever Castle was, well, heaving. Some pix…
The Tudor hamlet of Chiddingstone now boasts a superb pub once again. The Castle Inn (website is a work in progress apparently) reopened a few days ago (6 April 2016) in a 500-year-old building with original beams. It has two smallish bars, a couple of nice lounges and dining areas and a cute beer garden. The local brew, Larkins, is a real winner and the bar staff are friendly and amenable. There’s a large open kitchen and though I didn’t eat there, you kind of feel the food’s going to be pretty good. Recommended for any walkers on the Chiddingstone walk (at the start/end of walk) and Hever walk (short diversion from Hill Hoath).
The Castle Inn, a beautiful pub in a Tudor building next to Chiddingstone Castle
Knole Park is great for an autumn walk. Fantastic beeches and oaks, with the odd yew and pine plantations, make for a colourful spectacle. Encounters with deer, interesting birdlife such as green woodpeckers, redstarts, and weird fungi and so on, add to the interest. Oh, and a great National Trust maintained tudor mansion (Knole House). A lot of the park counts as rare lowland dry acid grassland, if you’re in to topographic categories.
My walk takes in the more remote-feeling eastern side of the park, starting in woodland on the park’s southern perimeter. I’m afraid that’s not the most convenient place to start the walk if you’re travelling to Sevenoaks on the train, but you can still do the walk by starting closer to the station at the park gate behind the leisure centre (half a mile walk from the station) – and then joining the route by Knole House (ie point 4 to 5 when you see the map – click link below).