The austere beauty of the Kent Downs in winter

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…

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
Download Walk 18: Shoreham/Polhill Bank (4 miles) View
Downland Walk 19: Fackenden Down (4 miles) View

An online version of the Ordnance Survey map 147 can be found here but 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!

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Walking at Fackenden Down and Magpie Bottom, Shoreham, Kent

The diversion to Fackenden Down is a great variation to the Shoreham circular walks. If you walk over the top of the hill and continue to Magpie Bottom you join the Romney Street walk, shortening it slightly. Fackenden Down and Magpie Bottom are both sites of special scientific interest and are examples of chalk upland being rewilded. Both have great biodiversity with rare plants, insects, birds and reptiles. See details (Walk 19). The other walk that can be altered to take in Fackenden Down is the ‘eastern valleys’ walk. Here are some pictures:

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Here’s a map of the near-four-mile route; description here

One Tree Hill, Sevenoaks – good place to catch a winter sunset

The Greensand Way route between Ightham Mote, One Tree Hill and its Wilmot Hill derivatives are great for winter light after about 2.30pm at the moment. Picture below is from yesterday about 3.45pm. Love how the sheep reflect the light. It looks darker in the picture than it actually was… trying to get the exposure right for land and sky always a challenge.

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Surely that’s it for snow?

The Westerham-Chartwell loop … a popular walk in good weather but not a soul today. The temperature was -2.5C. At Mariners Hill on the Greensand Ridge it began to snow heavily; the spruce and pine woods near French Street took on a Scandinavian air, and the douglas firs above Chartwell added a touch of Oregon. I’ll add this longish walk shortly. Some pictures:

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Winter meets spring as Knole thaws

OK, I still feel chilled to my bones, but this afternoon’s stroll at Knole was a beaut in the retreating snow. Misty yellow light, bursts of weak sun, patches of pale blue sky, and a sense of winter and spring sharing the day. Some interesting birds around looking for food: nuthatch, wrens, redwings, great tits, robins, song thrush all seen quite close. Hope they found enough. Here are some pix

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In the grip of the beast: snow in north-west Kent

Little gets the south-east England as excited as the prospect of a bit of snow. It is fairly unusual, particularly in the London suburbs, so the ‘Beast from the East’ has real novelty value. The hills of the North Downs regularly get a lot more snow than the local London boroughs, however, so if you fancy a good old crunching snow walk, with scenes reminiscent of a winter’s day in Finland, hot foot it out to the walks on this website – even if your part of the metropolis has drawn a blank. Below are pictures from previous years, but I reckon this period will see much deeper snow – until a thaw sets in at the weekend.

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Right now the heavy snow showers seem to be slanting across the area north-east to south-west in a line. They are making landfall between the Isle of Sheppey and Margate and dumping the white stuff on Canterbury, Ashford, Maidstone and Sevenoaks. Places further north and west, like Bromley and Lewisham are not seeing anything like as much. Late on Thursday a different weather system will swing up from the south and may deposit several inches of wetter snow across the western parts of Kent particularly, including London.

Not being able to get out and photograph it all is a bit frustrating for me but the best hills for sledging are on the Shoreham circular and Romney St walks. One Tree Hill and Ightam Mote have thick snow but getting a car out there might be a problem. Knole Park should be easy to reach though and would be great.

Exotic trees and crazy mud

Emmetts Garden (on the Ide Hill walk) is showing off its rare tree species at the moment, with orbs hanging off branches and baskets draped with national flags. Inside each basket is the name of the tree and its origin. Surprisingly good fun going from one to the other trying to work out what it is. I’d never heard of a castor oil tree (China) before but the Japanese cedar was my favourite.

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Meanwhile, mud is a sticking point on the walks, as you’d expect in February. One Tree Hill and around is awful, Hever too. But Ide Hill is not too bad – even the bit where you meet the Toys Hill red route is passable. Elsewhere, Lullingstone/Eynsford is generally OK, Shoreham circular too. Downe and Knole Park are bankers for lack of mud in huge quantities, but Petts Wood has plenty of squelchy areas. All are fine with decent boots – it’s just that you should be mentally prepared for a bit of slippin’ and slidin’, and going to the pub afterwards means taking boots off or bringing spare shoes.