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!
It has been said that the longish hot summer this year will lead to particularly vibrant colours from later this month and up until December. Could be hype I suppose, but let’s entertain the notion that it’s true. Even if it isn’t, every autumn is colourful and fascinating given the migrating birds, transforming hedgerows and trees. All the walks on this site are great for classic fall colours because there a lot of trees in Kent! And I can’t think of a walk here without a great view. But if push comes to shove I’d say the One Tree Hill walks (6 and 7), the Chiddingstone walk and the Westerham walk are the top three, closely followed by Ide Hill and Shoreham Mk2. Anyway, we’re not there yet… still warm enough to pretend it’s summer (well, it was if you were reading this on Friday – no longer!), even if the wind is gusting noisily as I write and talk of storms is darkening the bright smiles of the TV weatherforecasters.
My favourite of all the wonderful meadows on these walks is the one adjacent to Darwin’s house at Downe. In August the grass is yellowing and long; it shines in the sun and bends, waving with the breeze. The thought of the scientist wandering these paths, perhaps with his wife and children, pondering some quirk of fauna and flora makes it all the more atmospheric.
After passing through this field, you cross Darwin’s ‘sandwalk’ and a hillside meadow with views across woods with no sign of human habitation in sight. Deer gather in this field at dusk and it’s a good place to spot birds in the surrounding beeches. For some reason green woodpeckers are often seen on the ground here. A tranquil, timeless place, but deceptive: there’s Biggin Hill airport (the former Battle of Britain base and now a major heritage and business aviation centre) just on the other side of the woods, and beyond that the eponymous town.
I’ve added a link to a GPX map now too, where you can check your progress on the Downe walkin real time – if you can get a network connection.
Much as I like the little Downe walk on this site, a walk with its roots in being taken by Dad to watch Biggin Hill airshows ’round the back’ in the late 1960s, it’s time to add another Downe walk. It’s a popular walk here, because of its proximity to south London, Charles Darwin’s house, the pleasant village and verdant hills. I’m a bit torn though. I could add one I’ve done a few times that takes in Cudham and Downe Bank; I could add an extension to Jail Lane and the airfield perimeter … but neither totally satisfy me for one reason or another. I’d like to do one that takes in Knockholt but that might end up being too long. Anyway, I’ll reach a conclusion soon… perhaps it’ll end up being two walks; one from Downe and one from Knockholt taking in the North Downs escarpment and various woods. We’ll see.
Threatening clouds. Between point 6 & 7 hawthorn on Downe walk in May
Another ‘new’ walk, the 17th for this website. This is a quiet one-hour stroll without any strenuous bits, not good for dogs (because of farms and potential livestock) or pushchairs (unless very dry). It requires a car, there not being any rail stations or bus services realistically within reach. The Kent Wildlife Trust centre was supposed to be a feature, but this is closing (bird hides will remain open) and being converted into an educational centre, and visitors can no longer use its car park.
But now the good news: it’s a charming little stroll, with good views of the reservoir and its often spectacular bird life, a pocket or two of very bird-rich woods and the interesting Bore Placewith its lovely old house, used as an organic farm, events venue and educational centre. It’s close to the Ide Hill (two miles) and Hever/Chiddingstone (four miles) walks and not that far from Knole Park/One Tree Hill (five miles) so can be done as part of a big day out. It ends with a stretch along the reservoir next to the very quiet lane on its north-eastern side. Anyway, here it is. Also, here’s my blog postabout the frustration of trying to find a route around the lake – one of the things that prompted me to find this walk.
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.
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.