Soft light on a December walk in Kent

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).

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Remembrance Day walk – lost in the woods

Deciding to do a half-remembered walk without map or instructions I set off from Westerham to Chartwell on a 4.5-mile circular route taking in French Street hamlet. Of course I got lost. These woods (Tower wood, Hosey Common) are pretty full-on and some of the paths they contain draw you in only to spit you out into a ditch or thicket with no choice but to retrace your steps. Still, I stumbled across Chartwell eventually but saw nothing of French St. Being Remembrance Sunday it seemed a good choice; but then I remembered that Churchill hadn’t stayed there much during the war, having been withdrawn to Chequers – far away from possible commando raids. It’s not a particularly amazing house but it’s hard to think of one in the south of England with as much significance and in such a brilliant setting.

Looking back towards Westerham

Looking back towards Westerham and the North Downs ridge, 11 November 2017

The path up on Mariners Hill gives a great view over Winston’s house and into the Weald beyond to the Ashdown Forest. There are also some fantastic sequoia-type trees (giant firs?) to admire. I took a trail back in the direction of Westerham in the twilight; another false path that delivered me without fanfare right on to the dangerous B2026, which hairpins around the greensand ridge on its way to Edenbridge. As I hugged the verge, most cars slowed and gave me a wide berth – and I thank them, but not Mr Audi Q5; he sped around the bend oblivious to the possibility of a vehicle coming the other way and me, a pedestrian, plodding along on the verge. He nearly ran me down. I gestured; he beeped. A prime SUV numpty – a person wrapped up in their own importance I thought.

Chartwell from Mariners Hill

Chartwell from Mariners Hill

By now it was the gloaming time and I spotted another path on the left leading down through woods into a valley. What a joy this was: a carpet of red leaves and glimmering water to my left. I later found out this was the infant River Darent. A gorgeous path. I’ll have to incorporate it into a walk soon.

Weald view from Mariners Hill, Kent

Weald view from Mariners Hill, Kent

Special trees on these Kent walks

Of the countless arboreal delights of north-west Kent there are a few standout trees. There’s the tall, straight oak on the Ightam Mote path, the enormous yew near the sandstone holloway’s entrance on the Hever walk, the high, buzzard-friendly larches encountered on the Shoreham eastern valleys walk, just about every tree in Knole…

But few are more striking – or precarious – than this beech growing out of the greensand escarpment at One Tree Hill, which walkers pass on their way towards, or back from, Ightam Mote. The picture below doesn’t do it full justice: because the camera is pointing down, it’s hard to appreciate the gradient this amazing tree is growing out of. Let’s hope it lasts a while yet.

The amazing tree growing out of the escarpment at One Tree Hill

Emmetts Garden and the Ide Hill walk colours

I love to do this walk several times over the spring, catching the various colours as they flare up and die down at Emmetts and in the woods and fields. The bluebell clouds are starting to fade now; by next weekend they’ll be well past their best (although the wild garlic is still vibrant), but soon the foxglove ‘forests’ of the Ide Hill/Toys Hill valley will spire up to replace them. I wonder if the bluebells have been a bit short-lived this year because of the cold, dry weather, which followed a very warm early spring. Meanwhile, the browns of early spring have been replaced by shades of vivid green. Emmetts of course is always a kaleidoscope of colour and right now is peak azalea. And those tulips… weird and so photogenic. This year’s black, red and white scheme is the best I’ve seen – check out the pictures below. Here are a few pix from the past two years in Emmetts and on the Ide Hill walk.

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Knole Park’s wild side (3.5 mile walk)

Knole Park is great for an autumn walk. Fantastic beeches and oaks, with the odd yew and pine plantations, make for a colourful spectacle. Encounters with deer, interesting birdlife such as green woodpeckers, redstarts, and weird fungi and so on, add to the interest. Oh, and a great National Trust maintained tudor mansion (Knole House). A lot of the park counts as rare lowland dry acid grassland, if you’re in to topographic categories.
My walk takes in the more remote-feeling eastern side of the park, starting in woodland on the park’s southern perimeter. I’m afraid that’s not the most convenient place to start the walk if you’re travelling to Sevenoaks on the train, but you can still do the walk by starting closer to the station at the park gate behind the leisure centre (half a mile walk from the station) – and then joining the route by Knole House (ie point 4 to 5 when you see the map – click link below).

Read about the route here
Download and print off a pdf of the walk

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