The Hever walk isn’t the most spectacular of the routes in terms of views but its unspoilt, remote-feeling woods, undisturbed meadows, and clay-tiled houses melding into the countryside give it a rare charm. Its position on the Weald of Kent between the high Ashdown Forest to the south and Greensand Ridge to the north means its topography is dotted with mires (woodland bogs) and ghylls (mini-ravines concealing vigorous little streams), each with its own distinct character and sense of mystery. Throw in the area’s prominent place in English history, what with the Boleyns’ fantastic castle and the area being a stamping ground of Henry VIII in the 16th century, this route has a special atmosphere. A wonderful holloway through the middle of a sandstone outcrop comes as a surprise after the gently sloping serenity of the rest of the walk. But a warning: the mud is horrendous at points until about mid-April. This is compensated by the walks’ multitude of wildflowers beginning to stir, the colours of silver birches in the wan late winter sun, the beautiful Hever church with its medieval tombs and brasses, and the Shepherd’s Neame Masterbrew in the excellent Henry VIII pub, now adorned with the flag of Ukraine.
Anyone doing the Hever walk this weekend will be in for a (hopefully pleasant) surprise. At Wilderness Farm, in the south-east corner of the walk, the Neverland Festival is in full swing and the footpath between Stock Wood and Newtye Hurst Wood goes right through it (stewards are on the gate to check wristbands). Expect to see a lot of pirates, mermaids and lost boys, and hear some great bands. As festivals go it’s small scale and in a beautiful setting – definitely one for the diary next year. There are more festivals coming up at the site. I personally think they add to the walk in a funny kind of way.
Meanwhile, further down the path there are some great unpicked blackberries (well, not any more) lining both sides of the path for 300 metres. In these days of foraging (presumably the whole population will be at it after Brexit!) it’s rare to find so many. Now I just need to freeze them.
Yep, crisp winters’ days are great; mellow autumn walks can be lovely; and spring fills you with hope. But can you really beat heat? Humid, sultry but not too hot today. Clear enough for views stretching for miles too. With my younger son I did the Hever walk in reverse (yes I’ve got the nagging feeling it’s better than the way round I’ve suggested in the description – you get the half-mile road bit out of the way early, for starters). The insect world was happily whirring away; flotillas of butterflies arose from the buttercup-rich meadows. A sparrowhawk glided past us silently in one glade. And in a field by Stock wood we came across some friendly older guys flying large radio-controlled aircraft, including aerobatics, next to a little grass runway cut out of the meadow. They were the only people we met on the 5 mile route; remarkable really when you consider that Hever Castle was, well, heaving. Some pix…
Despite the bluebells having gone, the Kent countryside is looking fantastic, so verdant, so ancient, so colourful with green, yellow and white predominating. This is especially true on the Hever circular walk with its constant shifting between wood and meadow, long views and short, allowing distant glimpses of mysterious old homesteads and farm buildings with seemingly Tudor chimney stacks appearing between gaps between the trees. At a point on the route near the hamlet of Hill Hoath (nr Chiddingstone) there’s an old ‘holloway‘ – an absurdly venerable trail (part of the Eden Valley Path) enclosed by trees. People must have used this path since pre-Roman times, until a few 100 years ago, to move their herds between pastures. Over the centuries their herds and wagons appear to have worn the path through the sandstone, which has the roots of large beeches growing improbably from its mossy stone sides. At the western end of his section of the path, guarding over it, is an enormous yew tree, clearly 500-plus years old. This was a truly memorable afternoon’s walking. It even featured an inquisitive llama (pictured).
On the 5-mile stroll we didn’t encounter a single soul; surprising for such a great day and the fact the walks starts off next to the visitor honeypot that is Hever Castle. It’s great that you can use their car park for free to visit the wonderful St Peter’s Church – final resting place of Thomas Boleyn and Margaret Cheyne – and the starting point of the walk.
On returning to south east London we watched the very gripping Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, in which Luka Modric showed yet again that he’s the world’s best midfielder. A great day.
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