Kent walks near London scrub up well on crisp late winter days like … today! Here are views of the One Tree Hill walks and the Downe walk from recent sunny days.
Just a heads up that the Biggin Hill airshow is back next weekend (19-20 August). This year’s event is a bit bigger than the recent ones and features on Sunday the French air force’s display team, the Patrouille de France (and the Red Arrows). Very spectacular. There will also be three extremely noisy modern jet fighters performing as well as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancaster and various stunt and biplanes, some of first world war vintage. Worth getting tickets for, or at least taking the Downe circular walk for a peek. If you don’t like that kind of thing then take a walk a long way away!
Update: 26 August. Well the airshow proved a great success with brilliant displays and a very supportive crowd. The weather behaved too, despite being a little cold on the Saturday – although as you can see from my pix cloud cover was variable. The Red Arrows and Patrouille de France were extraordinary – amazing skill and training. The jet fighters (Typhoon, F-16, Gripen) all splendidly noisy and rapid and the solo Spitfires’ aerobatics quite moving considering the history of the location. The sight of Hurricanes, Spitfires and the B-17 over the Kent countryside was very evocative as always. For some truly epic photographs of the event by a pro, take a look here.
Cyclists from all over south-east London head off for the nearby North Downs lanes on weekday evenings and at weekends, often en masse as part of clubs. A lot of popular routes (like this one) leave from Crystal Palace/Elmers End and involve Westerham, Downe, Brasted and Cudham with some testing climbs, great scenery and relatively car-free lanes. You can do one of these routes on an old hybrid or mountain bike… you don’t need the latest road bike. There are hills, of course, though so a smidgeon of fitness is required. And although the lovely green lanes are nearly car-free at times, always bear in mind a Range Rover is about to come round the corner.
I’m partial to a good cycle too, along with various members of the fam, but we don’t think heading out on the busy ‘A’ roads is a lot of fun, so we plonk the bikes on a rack and drive to Downe or Cudham, park up, shed the bikes and off we go.
Here’s route one (Downe, Knockholt Cudham, Downe):
Go to menu (top right) and click on ‘hills’ to get a profile view of the route with terrain guide, gradients and heights above sea level. The second half of the route, after Hawley’s Corner, is remarkably traffic free but at all times, however quiet, you should anticipate a Range Rover swinging round the corner ahead of you. There are some fabulous downhill sections later in the ride (Shelley’s Lane, Knockholt and Downe Rd on leaving Cudham) where really high speeds can be built up quickly but please just imagine a car pulling out (there’s one or two driveways) or coming round a corner quickly. The final (steep) hill, back up to Downe village (Cudham Rd), is through Downe Bank, one of Charles Darwin’s research zones. Some massive history right there in those woods.
Here’s a link to a topographic view of the route; there’re more uphills than down but don’t be misled; most of the uphills are gentle whereas the downhills are sharper.
Route 2 (via Chevening): Downe, Horns Green, Chevening hamlet, Knockholt, Cudham, Downe
This one’s a bit longer at 16 miles (say 90 mins) and adds in one gorgeous downhill (Brasted Hill) and one strenuous uphill section (Starhill Rd). The route is easy to extend to Brasted and Ide Hill, even Hever, if you like, but those roads tend to be a bit busier. On the map it looks as if you have to double back at Chevening but in fact you can take your bike on a footpath behind the church to join the road and crack on up Starhill Rd. Oh yes, Chevening House is where Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis periodically hang out. The church and houses there are very nice though. A third Downe variation, taking in the very quiet but taxing Sundridge Hill (rather than the busier Starhill Rd) is here:https://www.plotaroute.com/embedmap/447637
Route 3: (Downe, Knockholt, New Years Lane, Cudham, Downe). This third route is very quiet traffic-wise and, at 14 miles, is a good little work out with a couple of steep hills. A nice road to cycle down is Blueberry Lane just before Knockholt Pound.
If you don’t fancy parking on the street at Downe (sometimes awkward) there is the car park at High Elms country park a mile to the north and the car park at Cudham recreation ground. Or just cycle all the way from Peckham/Lewisham or wherever. Or get the train to Orpington or Hayes and cycle from there. Take care on the busy roads though.
Two weeks ago I walked at Downe in snow (see pictures below) – a reminder that villages near the leading edge of the North Downs (Ide Hill is another) are just enough metres higher than SE London to convert rain into snow. Since then there have been signs of spring; no sightings of ridiculously early bluebells so far, unlike this time last year, but a milder feel despite Doris rushing through. This past weekend a drizzly Knole Park walk was hugely enjoyable. Although the park was surprisingly busy there was a lovely wild atmosphere about the place and the removal of scaffolding from the side of Knole House restores the Tudor integrity of that fantastic structure. Busy green woodpeckers and flitting small mixed groups of finches provided the evidence that change is in the air. No owls though, even as dusk came on.
Awful weather this week – overcast, cold – but at least there was some snow today to enliven proceedings. I decided to get some fresh air on the Downe walk. In south-east London the snowfall didn’t stick whatsoever but by the time I reached Keston there were extensive patches. Below are some iPhone images of the Downe circular walk taken sequentially. I nipped off-piste down to the golf course after point 5 – the unblemished snow on the fairway made me feel as if I were walking on goose feathers; the powder had a strangely translucent appearance I’d never seen in snow before. Popped into the Queen’s Head where a half of Westerham Ales’ Grasshopper by the fire, with Italy v Ireland rugby on the telly, was a splendid ‘warm down’. Once again, a rotten day for weather comes up trumps (whoops, sorry, banned word there).
One of Earth Wind and Fire’s finest, but also a great month if the weather is half decent, as it has been. I haven’t been out walking much, due to work and various things, and when I have it’s been mostly very local. At Downe, on Sunday, our late afternoon stroll was rewarded by wonderful light and colour and a great view of a tawny owl (big one, too), gliding between beeches near the end of the walk. Below are some pictures from recent walks. Clear September days have a special quality.
I really like the meadows around Downe, especially on the hillside between points 4 and 8 on the second half of the walk. Right now the buttercups have largely gone and have been replaced by a mix of scabious, daisies, clover etc amid the long grass. The colours are not so obvious as a few weeks ago when the grassy fields were ablaze with yellow but they are more varied and seem to attract a wider variety of insect life. The Downe circular is particularly useful for south east London dwellers, being the closest and shortest of the walks on this site. I can do the whole journey in under two hours if I get a move on.
Original post: Today, Saturday June 11, there’s a small airshow at Biggin Hill airfield, so it’s a good day to do the Downe circular walk. There’ll be aerobatic teams, Spitfires, a Hurricane and Mustangs and, at 15.30, the Red Arrows who are arriving at the airport directly from the Queen’s birthday flypast. Adds a bit of spectacle to the walk if the usual birdsong, trees and wildflowers aren’t enough for you!
Update: Today, Sunday June 12: A pretty poor weekend of weather though there were a couple of windows of brightness: Saturday morning and late afternoon, and late Sunday afternoon. We set off to do the Downe walk in pouring rain on Saturday, assuming the airshow had been called off. But incredibly, the rain stopped on our arrival, the clouds lifted and we were treated to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Red Arrows, a Mustang, stunt planes and a Spitfire/Hurricane finale. I’ve supported the event for many years so not feeling too guilty about walking around it, though I certainly recommend paying to enter to get the full experience. Photographically you get some interesting shots of the aircraft from public footpaths near the airfield and to hear and see Spitfires and Hurricanes in this setting, their natural domain considering the airfield was a principal fighter base in 1940, is a wonderful thing.
I’ve added two new circular walks, a bit further than the others from south-east London, at Hever (walk 9) and a few miles to the east, Chiddingstone/Penshurst (walk 10). They are both possible on public transport from south London: trains from East Croydon run to Hever and Penshurst, but unfortunately neither station is en route; being 1.5 miles from the start in the case of Hever and two miles from the walk for Chiddingstone/Penshurst. Both are lovely and quiet; Hever has more woods and sandstone outcrop, whereas Chidd/Pens is more meadowy and crosses the river Eden twice. Each has a small section on roads where you have to be careful. The bit on the road at Penshurst on the Chiddingstone walk is particularly bad so don’t do it with younger kids. Both walks use the Eden Valley Path for the first half. Hever, Chiddingstone and Penshurst are all Tudor villages with great houses linked with Henry VIII, the Boleyns and others so these walks, or parts of, are particularly good for youngsters studying that period at school. Both have great pubs: the Henry VIII at Hever and the Castle Inn at Chiddingstone.
Here’s a reminder of the historical connections of the walks on this site and a map of their locations.
• Penshurst Place (nr Tonbridge) Tudor home (many scenes from Wolf Hall were shot here) with great adventure playground and superb gardens. On Chiddingstone circular
• High Elms nature reserve (nr Bromley): excellent nature centre with orchards, ponds, cafe, wildlife information plus gardens (free). Close to Downe circular
• Hever Castle (nr Edenbridge), quite expensive but a great day out. Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. Often a bit crowded. Hever circular starts here
• Emmett’s Gardens: (nr Ide Hill/Brasted) great gardens for azaleas, tulips, bluebells with south facing escarpment, lovely view. Lubbock family connection. On the Ide Hill circular
• Knole: (Sevenoaks) super Tudor pile, but public not allowed in gardens (boo). Knole Park brilliant for walking though and close to One Tree Hill walks on this site
• Lullingstone Country Park (Eynsford): on the Shoreham to Eynsford walk; a great area for strolling. Tudor gatehouse to much altered castle
• Down House (Downe/Bromley): Charles Darwin’s house always fascinates with interesting gardens. On the Downe circular walk
And here are those walks again. They work for me at all times but in the spring I’ve always favoured the Otford circular via Romney St and the Ide Hill walks for some reason.
• Download Walk 1: Downe circular (near Bromley, 2.6 miles) View on your phone/PC
• 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: Shoreham’s mystery eastern valleys (4.5 miles) View
So I took my own advice and walked with friends and family around Downe while the airshow was on. Here are a couple of the resulting pictures.