One of the most magical times of the year is when the woodland floor turns blue. This year it’s kicking off a bit later than normal because of the frankly disgraceful weather between February and mid-April. But thanks to the sudden switch to summer – bypassing spring completely it seems – there should be a profusion of bluebells from now until the third week of May, so it will be worth heading for the woods (update: as I write, now May 6 the bluebells are already fading somewhat). The best bluebell displays on the walks here are Ide Hill, One Tree Hill, Hever, Petts Wood and Chislehurst, Westerham, Shoreham Circular (take the high Meenfield Woods diversion), Otford and Romney Street, and Downe (if you do a brief diversion down into the woods at Point 3 – marked on the map and the pdf). Pretty much all of them then! See below or the menu above for details of these walks.
Meenfield Woods bluebells, above Shoreham
We walked at One Tree Hill last Saturday (14 April) and very few bluebells were out but there was a pervasive aroma of wild garlic and plenty of cheeky little wild flowers popping up – primroses and the like. The bluebells that were blooming were on south-facing slopes.
There was a lot of mud in places, but beginning to dry up on this, by far, the best day for walking in about five months! Three highlights were the profusion of daffodils at Ightam Mote, the sight of buzzards wheeling and soaring in the thermals and brimstone butterflies floating around the meadows (but never close enough to photograph).
It’s that astonishing time of year when woods turn blue. I think from Easter to early May the bluebells will be great – there are some patches already in full bloom. The best of my walks for bluebells are Ide Hill and One Tree Hill (see below).
Bluebells on the Ide Hill walk
Here are the best places on my walks:
- Shoreham circular: take the high path through Meenfield woods, the one that goes along the top of the hill. It’s marked on my digital map with a blue line. It just means continuing to the top of the hill after point 7 and turning right (north) at the top rather than two-thirds of the way up. The parallel paths meet later, by Shacklands Rd. There are not many bluebells on the regular route, so as I say, take the high Meenfield woods path.
- Ide Hill: the best walk for continuous bluebells. There are great bluebells straightaway once you enter the Ide Hill NT woods behind the church, and even better in Scords wood just below Emmetts Garden. (Picture.) Amazing bluebells at Emmetts of course, but it’s best to pay the fee (or at least buy some cake!) if you linger in the gardens.
- One Tree Hill walks: Good bluebells throughout these NT woods and also at the top of Wilmots Hill (on the ‘figure of eight‘ walk). Some lovely pockets of mixed bluebells and wild garlic (picture) off to the side of the path as you near Ightam Mote too (including a kind of garlic ‘jungle’ at one point). Some in the woodland between Shipbourne and Underriver too.
- Downe: like the Shoreham circular you just have to make a small diversion to get the best bluebells, which are to be found in the hillside woods between Downe and Cudham (picture). Just turn left instead of right at point 3 and walk down to the woods. The hillside is called Downe Bank – a favourite place of study for Charles Darwin and John Lubbock (these great scientists’ names still make infuse this area with greatness and give it a special atmosphere). There aren’t many bluebells to be seen without the diversion.
- There are good stretches of the blue stuff on the Hever walk, but perhaps less so on the Chiddingstone walk except in the woods above the river Eden (picture) on the return leg of the walk. There are excellent areas of the flowers on the Chislehurst/Petts Wood walk in the lower part of the wood, amid the chestnut groves just east of point 7 close to the railway tracks, stretching north towards the central fields. Knole Park is not great for bluebells compared with the other walks – but then One Tree Hill is just round the corner to sate your blues. However, back to Shoreham, the two Romney St/Shoreham eastern valley walks (5 and 14) have fantastic patches of bluebells in most of the woods the paths pass through.
Walkers on the Shoreham Circular route will see very few bluebells unless they make a slight detour, extending the walk slightly by continuing up the hill at point 7 (instead of taking the path on the right) then turning right at the top and walking to point 9 along the lovely straight bridlepath through Meenfield Wood. Here, on either side of the track, the bluebells right now are magical, the spacing of the trees and lack of leaves allowing exactly the right light conditions for them I suppose. The photos above don’t do them justice whatsoever. The blue line on the map below shows the detour. There are also great bluebells near Shoreham on the Otford Circular walk between points 5 and 6, and the copses between points 8 and 9. For the Downe Circular, to add bluebells, turn left at Point 3 instead of right and walk for a couple of minutes into the woods at Downe Bank (also pictured above), then just retrace your steps. You won’t have to deviate from the route to find endless blue vistas on the Ide Hill Circular, however: there are wonderful displays on Ide Hill itself and in Scord woods and Emmetts Gardens, all en route.
A lot of wild flowers are a bit confused at the moment. A warm winter without any prolonged cold snaps led to a bit of a false start in February. But since then the weather has struggled for sunshine and real warmth so blooms such as magnolia haven’t hit their stride. I’ve seen individual bluebells flowering since early February but now we are on the cusp of the great transformation of the woods. At Downe Bank last week things seemed particularly advanced though the bluebells won’t be at their best I reckon until the final weekend of April. Here’s a reminder of the best walks for bluebells on this site.
Here, bluebells are everywhere. Especially brilliant in Ide Hill NT woods and on the south-facing slope of Emmetts Gardens.
You can easily extend the walk into the woods above Shoreham (Meenfield wood and Pilot wood) to the west, as far as Andrews wood on the other side of the boggy little valley for great bluebell vistas. Lots of paths bring you back to Shoreham via Meenfield wood.
At Point 3, instead of turning right towards Downe House, turn left on the path that heads down into woods (in to the valley between Downe and Cudham – an area called Downe Bank, which also contains some orchid varieties). The bluebells here are amazing. In fact every little copse around Downe, Biggin Hill and Cudham has spectacular seas of blue.
Both of the One Tree Hill walks passing Ightam Mote on this site will shortly have great bluebell displays, along with wild garlic.
5 Closer to London
Closer to London, the National Trust woodland at Petts Wood/Hawkwood has some great swathes of blue. Enter the wood from the entrance under the railway line at the intersection of Towncourt Crescent and Birchwood Road and take the second path on the left and you’ll soon be in the realm of the bluebells (in Edlmann Memorial wood) after passing through a grove of sweet chestnut trees. I’m sure there will be some bluebells in Sydenham woods and Beckenham Place Park too but a bit more patchy.
The bluebells, as I write on April 26, are in full swing. They generally love moist, even swampy ground in sun-dappled woodland (so coppiced trees are very good) and south-facing slopes where the drainage isn’t great. The best places for walking amid bluebells – of the walks on this website – are:
1 Ide Hill-Toy’s Hill circular walk via Emmett’s Gardens. Here, bluebells are everywhere. Especially brilliant on the south-facing slope of Emmett’s Gardens.
2 Shoreham circular – extend the walk into the woods above Shoreham to the west, as far as Andrews Wood for great bluebell vistas.
3 Downe circular – at Point 3, instead of turning right towards Downe House, turn left on the path that heads down into woods (in to the valley between Downe and Cudham – an area called Downe Bank, which also contains some orchid varieties). The bluebells here are amazing. In fact every little copse around Downe, Biggin Hill and Cudham has spectacular seas of blue.
Other superb displays can be seen at One Tree Hill (1km south east of Knole Park), near Sevenoaks. Then, and closest to SE London, there is Petts Wood/Hawkwood. For the latter, enter the wood from the entrance under the railway line at the intersection of Towncourt Crescent and Birchwood Road and take the second path on the left and you’ll soon be in the realm of the bluebells (in Edlmann Memorial wood) after passing through a grove of chestnuts.