Continuing the theme of overlooked walks at Kent Walks Near London, the Polhill Pluto route yesterday proved the perfect choice on a bright, breezy summer’s day. There were plentiful orchids in the Andrews Wood-Meenfield Wood gap and fantastic ox-eye daisies, scabious and poppies in the fields below Polhill. It’s a great walk to do if you are a fan of the yellowhammer – the colourful, chirpy bunting (we’re talking about a bird by the way!) that adorns hedgerows in these parts and is particularly common for some reason between Shoreham and Otford. It’s repetitive and unworldy song is one of my favourites – it’s commonly described as sounding like ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’ because of its rhythms but to me it’s simply the sound of summer. Listen out for it on the Darent Valley floor; around Sepham Farm it’s nearly always heard, and sometimes present in the lower parts of the Fackenden and Eastern Valleys route (such as around the Percy Pilcher memorial). The Pluto route (so called because you pass the final ‘planet’ on the Otford solar system scale model) can be combined with the Shoreham circular and even the Fackenden, Otford and Eastern Valley routes for a walk of up to 11 miles or so as all these routes intersect, or almost intersect, at various points. For some reason, I only think of this stroll as a summer walk – not entirely rationally, but it just feels right on a warm day.
I’ve finally got around to adding the Otford circular walk. At six miles it’s the longest on this site so far and the most hilly, but it’s worth it. But it’s a crying shame that the halfway-point pub, The Fox and Hounds, has shut down. It had a really good, large beer garden and giant fairytale shoe for kids to play in with a slide on top. I guess it was a bit isolated to survive the rural pub blight – especially in the winter months – not being in a village. Also newly shut is the Austin Lodge golf course, which clearly was suffering from the downturn in golf. There are also quite a number of courses in the area and competition must be tough. Presumably the valley it was in will now go back to farmland, but for now it’s got a rather wistful, wild look to it. The walk, like the others on this site, is within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The walk is best in April-October – after that it gets too muddy at some points. The first time I did it, in 2005, I got home just in time to see Steve Harmison bowl Michael Clarke in the amazing 2nd Test of that momentous ashes series. A big moment (for some of us anyway), and a great ending to a great day.