Walk 11: Knole Park’s wild side (Sevenoaks) 3.5 miles

Knole Park is great for a walk full of character at all times of the year. It’s quite popular, however, so probably not the best option for a ‘solitude Sunday’. Fantastic grassland, beeches and oaks, with yew and pine plantations, make for a colourful spectacle. Encounters with deer, interesting birdlife such as green woodpeckers and redstarts, weird fungi and so on, add to the interest. Oh, and there’s an incredible 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. This route keeps walkers away from the golf course in the park, only crossing one fairway on an established track just after point 4 – give way to any golfers at this point. Do not take a dog on this walk – too many deer, lots of wildlife and golfers too! The route can be combined with One Tree Hill walks by exiting park at point 4 and taking established footpaths through the woods.

Distance from SE London: 45 mins’ drive from Sydenham; train to Sevenoaks from Hither Green, 30 mins; Peckham Rye, 50 mins

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Starting point: Parking spaces around junction of St Julian Rd and Fawke Wood Rd. Google map reference 51.2639447,0.21755
Steep bits? One down and one up, but short in duration.
Buggyable? Long stretches of this walk are buggyable (point 4 to the end) but not the beginning – though I daresay some buggies will be fine. But the route can be adjusted to use the main paths only.
Getting there: Car is easiest; park free of charge along St Julian or Fawke Wood Rd. If travelling by train to Sevenoaks train station (two-thirds of a mile from Knole), walk up the hill to the high street then take the entrance to Knole Park behind the swimming pool and join the walk between points 4 and 5 coming up to Knole House. Trains to Sevenoaks twice an hour on Blackfriars/Peckham Rye/Nunhead/Catford/Bromley South line and also on Charing Cross/Hither Green/Grove Park/Chislehurst line.
Dogs: Best not to bring them because there are loads of deer here. I think they are allowed, technically, but should be kept on the lead – no fun for you or the dog. Also there may be quite a few ticks around because of the deer herds.
Bikes: It’s fine for young kids to pedal around on the main surfaced paths but mountain biking not permitted and adult biking not really the done thing because the place is for strolling (I haven’t seen any signs ruling it out but no adult cycles here – much).

My route (about 3.5 miles) starts at one of the southern entrances to the park (free of charge), at the junction of St Julian Rd and Fawke Wood RdEnter by the gate (point 0 on interactive map above) (dogs aren’t allowed off the lead by the way) opposite the pond at the junction then bear right (leave the surfaced path) on an unsurfaced, quite undefined path going roughly south to north parallel with the park’s eastern boundary, passing among spaced trees of great age and beauty – chestnuts, oaks and beech mainly (so, basically, go through the gate then bear slightly right and take the path parallel with the fence on your right). After about 300 metres the atmosphere darkens as you enter a lovely pine wood (point 1). Goldcrests and coal tits flit among the higher branches of the trees – listen out for the high pitched calls of the former.

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Continue straight on into the pine woods then, after a few metres, at a junction of paths, turn left, down into a slightly muddy valley (still in the pines). It crosses a bridge over a ditch then turns right, going uphill. It emerges on to grassland a couple of hundred metres further on. Here, you should be able to see the distant outline of Knole House and, immediately ahead, a fallen tree trunk (point 2) and a reedy dip that’s a pond in winter. Walk past the tree trunk at point 2 then turn right, heading along the ridge then downhill on a path through ferns to a lovely grassy dry valley. Admire the trees here that survived the 1987 hurricane; the stark remains of those that didn’t survive are all around you too. This is a really unique spot and very beautiful I think.

Grassy valley

Walk along the grassy valley for a couple of hundred metres (passing the entrance to another valley) then climb up the eastern (right hand) side on a path (point 3) slanting northward through ferns. There are more than one of these paths off the grassy valley; it doesn’t matter if you take the earlier one – as long as you head along the top of the little ridge in a generally northward direction). Continue until you meet a clump of pines with wonderful views to the south and west (point 4), which is close to Godden Green, then go down the surfaced track that descends via a fairway on the Knole golf course. Make way for golfers at this point and be aware of any misdirected shots (ie stand well to the side if anyone’s preparing to play a shot).

Immense Tudor house

Stay on this path for nearly a mile as it descends back into our little valley (now a golf fairway constantly chewed by grazing deer) then gradually goes uphill all the way to Knole House. Walk past the front of the house then turn sharp left (point 5) and follow the immense garden wall (with beautifully ornate metalwork at points) to the east. Admire the cedar of lebanon tree on your right. As you leave the lee of the wall there are pine clumps ahead and left and thicker woods on the right. Turn right on to a large path heading south (point 6) for a few metres then very quickly turn left on a main surfaced path heading south east. Green woodpeckers are everywhere at this point. Watch out for interesting combinations of trees again… ancient yew especially, and more hurricane victims. I’ve seen lizards and grass snakes from this path too dashing into the ferns. This comes out after two-thirds of a mile on the wide perimeter path known as the Chestnut Walk (point 7). Turn left, heading roughly east, and after a couple of hundred metres turn right to go return to the gate at the starting point.

Birdlife

If you are interested in bird life, it might be worth listening to the song of redstarts and goldcrests before a trip to Knole (on the internet), which is  particularly good for these hard-to-spot species. Also, if you do the walk late in the day, particularly if a bit rainy, listen out for the unmistakable calls of the many tawny owls that live here – with luck you’ll spot one silently gliding over a clearing, scanning for a mouse or shrew.

Read about low acid grassland. National Trust Knole House. Sevenoaks railway station

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