A suburban saunter around Petts Wood

A suburban saunter around Petts Wood

The Chislehurst station to Petts Wood station walk via the Hawkswood Estate might be ‘just’ a suburban saunter surrounded by 1930s mock Tudor, but it has loads going for it: it’s obviously great for public transport being between two stations with links to inner SE London; it’s near to London; it has surprisingly good views at points as far as Biggin Hill and Croydon; the woodland is beautifully managed by the National Trust with a huge variety of trees and restored patches of the heathland that was once common here; there are loads of paths to explore often crossing mysterious little streams running down to the lovely Kyd Brook river (which later becomes the Quaggy and joins the Ravensbourne); and it’s big, so makes for a decent workout. You can go off piste without really getting truly lost because the extensive woods are enclosed by suburbia. On the other hand you can adapt it into a much longer walk taking in Scadbury Park nature reserve and Jubilee country park, both adjacent to the Petts Wood/Hawkwood hub. There are usually plenty of people around, in my experience mostly very friendly and with docile pooches. Owls can be seen and heard at dusk and woodland birds proliferate here.

Today, in glorious late March weather, it was a picture. My route is intended as a guide to some of the best bits: the heather areas with their raised path embankments; the central fields with their long views; hidden ponds and mires; chestnut groves; the Willett Memorial glade; pine clumps and bluebell vistas. And once you leave the woods to get to the station, there are quite a few interesting inter-war houses and gardens, and the town of Petts Wood doesn’t disappoint when it comes to food and beverages.

My moment in the sun

My moment in the sun

I hope everyone who dips into this website had a decent Christmas.

Yesterday (Boxing Day) there was a strange interlude on the Downe walk: a shard of blue sky suddenly appeared ahead, to the north. This was a most welcome sight given I’d accepted the walk would be a uniformly grey and dank trudge. It was also completely out of context with what has been a remarkably gloomy couple of months.

I hadn’t realised that a similar clear gap had developed behind me to the south west. Suddenly, without warning, the landscape was bathed in an utterly spellbinding glow. This reminder that the sun also rises in the UK lingered on for 45 minutes or so as curtains of impenetrable low cloud with rain began to threaten from the London direction. It was pure magic while it lasted.

The final field on the walk (pictured below) was laughably squelchy – definitely wellies only. The mud on all the walks is fairly horrendous at the moment. I was concerned to see the Polhill Bank/Pluto walk being viewed a lot on this site over the past 24 hours. The steep escarpment slope will be absolutely treacherous at the moment. The Fackenden route would be best avoided for the same reason. The best bets for lower mud levels are Knole and Lullingstone (although the woods will be a quagmire). One thing about mud though: I reckon you get more fitness benefits from trying to squelch your way round the walks, necessitating extra and lighter steps. (Best not to take dogs to Knole because of deer; they must be kept on lead at all times.)

Field in winter at Downe
The final (horrendously muddy) field during Boxing Day 2021’s half hour sunny interlude. This was once a lovely wildflower meadow with hawthorn trees, alive with bees and home to yellowhammers and bullfinches. But all biodiversity was ripped out around 2014.
A suburban woody world

A suburban woody world

Petts Wood is brilliant for 2-3 mile walks combined with a cafe or restaurant visit to the town itself. The superb National Trust-maintained woodland has a multitude of paths, plenty of birdlife, some atmospheric heathery glades and a field with a nice view. There are little streams, a wonderful variety of trees from chestnut groves to scots pine, tulip trees, yew, holly and stout oaks, and lots of mud I’m afraid. I strongly advise travelling there by train if possible especially at the moment because the west side of town is gridlocked having been hit by petrol queues and major roadworks. It’s only a few minutes on the train out of Bromley South, on the Victoria-Orpington line; or 15 minutes from Hither Green/Lewisham on the Charing X-Sevenoaks route. The woods are a 10-minute walk to the north of the station, as is Jubilee Country Park. I’ve created a GPX map (revealing where you are on the route in real time) that ties in many of the more interesting parts of Petts Wood and its neighbour Hawkwood (see bottom of post for OS and All Trails versions).

Oh yes, by the way, there’s a major running event in the woods on Sunday October 10 so best avoid then.

Click here for Ordnance Survey GPX map to follow

Click here for All Trails GPX map with waypoints added.

Also, try this site’s Chislehurst Station to Petts Wood Station walk (3.5 miles)

Walks are the only show in town

Eynsford-Lullingstone walk in late afternoon, winter. Photo KWNL

Updated 19 December

It’s hard to keep up. A few days I wrote “Country walks are now the only safe activity we can indulge in this Christmas. Pubs, clubs, theatre, cinema, restaurants are sadly all out. And with the rules stating it’s OK to meet up to six people who don’t live with you, walks are pretty much the only shout at a social gathering (at a safe distance) we can get up to.”

That’s now incorrect. Going for a walk is not OK with more than one person who doesn’t live with you.

The rest of the blog post now appears curiously dated and irrelevant: “So expect popular locations to be busy; it might be best to avoid Lullingstone Visitors’ Centre car park, for example, and the road parking around Knole. Even the One Tree Hill car park has been full at times recently. It might be a case of arriving before 10am or after 2pm in those locations or indulge in a bit of creative parking. Anyway, there are plenty of other options; peruse Kent Walks near London to find the right hike for you. But whatever you do, take wellies or walking boots. The mud is quite something at points on all the walks. And I’ve found a flask with hot chocolate, possibly laced with something a wee bit stronger, can add a bit of value too.”

At least the bit about mud is still accurate. I just hope everyone can chill out and make the best of it and I wish you all well.

Tiers in the rain

Downe, Kent, England
Photo: Frosty hillside fields, Downe. Photo: KWNL

Blade Runner quote there, ho ho. So scrub my last post about being in tier 2. London, from Wednesday, is in tier 3 along with Kent. It means you can meet up to six people you don’t live with outside (but not in a garden or outdoor venue). If you live with more than six that’s fine to walk with them all too. However, the guidance states: “You should avoid travelling outside your area and reduce the number of journeys you make wherever possible.” I’m not sure how “your area” is defined to be honest. But I guess it still means our walks will have to be a bit closer to home than an hour’s drive away. (See official tier 3 guidance here.)

The four walks on this site closest to south-east London are walks 1, 13, 20, and 25 – they are in each within the London Borough of Bromley. So, Chislehurst-Petts Wood, Downe and Cudham walks probably count as “in your area”. You can also walk from Keston to Downe via Keston Ponds – a walk I haven’t as yet got round to adding to the site. But it’s easy to follow on a map. The Knockholt and Darent Valley walks from Eynsford and Shoreham are the next closest. Maybe stay away from the villages and take to the more remote paths, such as at Fackenden Down and the eastern valley routes. I think beyond that can’t be described as “your area”. Other lovely places to explore closer to SE London are Joyden’s Wood and Foot’s Cray Meadows in the London Borough of Bexley. There’s also Scadbury Park north-east of Chislehurst and I’ve previously described Beckenham Place Park and the Waterlink Way, which runs from Beckenham’s Cator Park to Greenwich along the Pool and Ravesbourne rivers.  It’s easy to improvise your own routes in these places. Common sense, regular handwashing and social distancing remain of course the crucial issues. Stay safe and be patient with the many other walkers, joggers, dog walkers and cyclists you are bound to encounter.

If you do venture into the local countryside on any of the KWNL routes, go prepared… not just for Covid but for mud. Only wellies will really do it on most of the walks at the moment. Even the Downe walk is a quagmire at points. Lullingstone and Knole are best for mud avoidance. It looks like continuing to be a wet, mild winter so this won’t change anytime soon. Still, the mud is mainly at hot spots… it’s not continuous throughout any of the walks.

Blog updated 14 December 2020