A late winter walk in the Ashdown Forest

A late winter walk in the Ashdown Forest

A rare day off afforded me (us, actually) to venture somewhere during an afternoon when it didn’t rain continuously. We settled on the Ashdown Forest, an hour’s drive from my corner of south-east London, in East Sussex between Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead. A perusal of the visitor centre’s maps online led us to choose Walk 11, Chelwood Gate, in the south-west of the Forest.

The area has got the lot: interesting geology, flora and fauna, views, history and literature, being the landscape for Winnie the Pooh’s capers with many recognisable spots. These include Eeyore’s Gloomy Place, Galleons Lap, the Heffalump trap, for example, all of which can be identified.

The walk was beautifully laid out in printable format, with lots of informative text. But it was very difficult to follow; a “narrow path” beside a ditch was actually a wide path that went through a huge puddle – that sort of thing, but we made it around thanks to careful map analysis. In fact, with a compass, a sense of direction and an Ordnance Survey sheet you can pretty much make it up as you go; there are many paths to choose from and the Forest’s inner Pale is open for exploration in a similar way to Knole Park, for example.

What was immediately apparent was just how much rain has fallen this winter; everywhere there were overflowing ponds, gushing streams, seas of mud. You’d think it was Scotland at times. But in fact the Forest, being easily the highest point of the Weald between the North and South Downs does attract far more rainfall than the lower surrounding areas and really does pep up the local rivers, eventually flowing into the Eden and Medway. The high heath and the Pale melds into wooded valley mires where the pines give way to alder and birch, and planks serve as bridges over vigorous streams, alongside some very old looking stone bridges.

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I love how the Forest has its own vocabulary: there are ghylls, hatches, laps … And the names of the car parks are evocative too: Friends, King’s Standing, Roman Road, Goat, and of course Piglets and Pooh.

After we finished with Chelwood Gate (where medieval hero John of Gaunt used to enter for hunting and a home to Howard Macmillan, who once entertained JFK here) we drove a few miles east past Nutley and up onto the highest part of the Forest, to Gills Lap (Galleons Lap in Winnie the Pooh). Up there the views extend over bright yellow gorse for mile after mile in all directions. We walked down to the memorial to AA Milne and EH Shepherd. I felt quite moved, those stories have a real character and a sense of an innocent time that has been lost.

Our final port of call was the 15th-century Anchor Inn in the small village of Hartfield, a cosy labyrinth of a pub that serves two of the finest ales in all England: Harvey’s and Larkins. As we arrived at dusk a barn owl glided across the road in front of us. Then it was back to the smoke to plonk in front of the telly to watch Chelsea beat Liverpool … who would have credited that?

Getting there on public transport: Train to East Grinstead from East Croydon then the 261 or 270 bus seems to be the best option. At East Grinstead the brilliant Bluebell Railway takes day trippers by steam train down to Sheffield Park, south of the Forest. At the moment a landslip caused by rain means trains can’t reach East Grinstead, but there is a bus service from Lingfield. Boring though… so best wait ’til services are restored, hopefully in spring.
Getting there by car: Drive via Keston, Biggin Hill, Westerham, Edenbridge, Cowden and Hartfield on the rather pleasant B2026.

Soggy Saturday: super cool Sunday

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.

Polhill Bank

September, rainy day looking out from Polhill Bank near Shoreham.

Ide HIll

The new clearing looking south 250 metres in to the Ide Hill walk. September, bright, cold afternoon

Best walks for autumn colour in north-west Kent

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.

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Lake, fields, woods, birds – the 2.5 mile Bough Beech walk

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 Place with 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 post about the frustration of trying to find a route around the lake – one of the things that prompted me to find this walk.

Bough Beech reservoir

Chiddingstone again… with angry clouds

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.

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Find a Kent walk near London that suits you


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.

Best pubs on the walks – click here

My walks

Download Walk 1: Downe circular (near Bromley, 2.6 miles) View on your phone/desktop
Download Walk 2: Shoreham circular (3.5 miles) View
Download Walk 3: Shoreham to Eynsford (4.2 miles) View

Download Walk 4: Ide Hill circular (3 miles) View
Download Walk 5: Otford circular via Romney St (5.5 miles) View

Download Walk 6: One Tree Hill circular (near Sevenoaks, 5.5 miles) View
Download Walk 7: One Tree Hill figure of eight (near Sevenoaks, 5 miles) View
Download Walk 8: Shoreham/Otford circular (5 miles) View
Download Walk 9: Hever circular (4.5 miles) View
 Download Walk 10: Chiddingstone/Penshurst circular (4 miles) View
Download Walk 11: Knole Park’s Wild Side (3.5 miles) View
 Download Walk 12: Eynsford/Lullingstone circular (4 miles) View
 Download Walk 13: Chislehurst station to Petts Wood station (3.7 miles) View
Download Walk 14: Shorehams mystery eastern valleys (5 miles) View
Download Walk 15: Westerham/Chartwell (5.5 miles)
View
Download Walk 16: Shoreham circular mk2 (3.5 miles) View
• Download Walk 17: Bough Beech/Bore Place (2.5 miles) View