One of the most magical times of the year is when the woodland floor turns blue. This year it’s kicking off a bit later than normal because of the frankly disgraceful weather between February and mid-April. But thanks to the sudden switch to summer – bypassing spring completely it seems – there should be a profusion of bluebells from now until the third week of May, so it will be worth heading for the woods (update: as I write, now May 6 the bluebells are already fading somewhat). The best bluebell displays on the walks here are Ide Hill, One Tree Hill, Hever, Petts Wood and Chislehurst, Westerham, Shoreham Circular (take the high Meenfield Woods diversion), Otford and Romney Street, and Downe (if you do a brief diversion down into the woods at Point 3 – marked on the map and the pdf). Pretty much all of them then! See below or the menu above for details of these walks.
Meenfield Woods bluebells, above Shoreham
We walked at One Tree Hill last Saturday (14 April) and very few bluebells were out but there was a pervasive aroma of wild garlic and plenty of cheeky little wild flowers popping up – primroses and the like. The bluebells that were blooming were on south-facing slopes.
There was a lot of mud in places, but beginning to dry up on this, by far, the best day for walking in about five months! Three highlights were the profusion of daffodils at Ightam Mote, the sight of buzzards wheeling and soaring in the thermals and brimstone butterflies floating around the meadows (but never close enough to photograph).
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, Westerham/Chartwell, Shoreham’s mystery eastern valleys, Eynsford/Lullingstone. Oh… actually all of ’em.
A lovely jaunt south through woods and hidden valleys, eventually ending up overlooking Winston Churchill’s beloved Chartwell and a view to the Weald beyond (pictured). Then slowly turns back north to head through the old deciduous woods of Hosey Common and new conifer plantations before re-entering Westerham. Check it out
If the abysmal weather puts you off travelling out of town for a walk, but the local park bores you rigid, I suggest Beckenham Place Park and Petts Wood for a stroll this Easter. Plenty of great woodland, only a few minutes’ drive from Forest Hill/Lewisham; a great chance for some fresh-ish air close at hand. Beckenham has a good cafe in the mansion; Petts Wood (a bit further out) has ample pubs dotted around it. Below are two pictures from yesterday late afternoon in Beckenham.
Beckenham Place Park mansion with a bunker from the rapidly disappearing old golf course
Sunshine at last … A view down a former golf fairway at Beckenham Place Park
An extraordinary amount of rain falling in north-west Kent at the moment (Good Friday), but it should relent by tomorrow, with the possibility of a little afternoon sunshine (and a shower or two). Sunday will be mainly dry but cloudy. Monday is pretty nailed on to be another stinker with heavy rain all day. So a rather disappointing Easter weekend for walking. Even if Saturday and Sunday are dryish the mud will be pretty horrific and temperatures on the low side. It seems spring has got no further than being a hint. Oh well. Here’s what it should look like:
Blackthorn blossom on One Tree Hill, Sevenoaks, 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…
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).