With Saturday a washout it was a real pleasure on Sunday to find time for the Ide Hill route (a three-hour round trip from SE London). For some reason I often take this Greensand Ridge walk while my chosen football team is playing so it’s rarely the relaxing stroll it ought to be. Fortunately, after initial tension, the goals came in a rush so by the halfway point all was well and I could enjoy the subdued January colours, stillness of the woods and occasional bird calls. A huge buzzard glided away from us soon after leaving Scord’s wood leaving a cacophony of jackdaw and carrion crow calls its wake. There were few other birds evident though, a few robins, wrens and a dunnock the only compensation for the finches I was hoping for. The tiny cricket pitch at point 5 seemed even more titchy with no one on it. We caught the sun as it slipped out of the blue sky into a solid-looking bank of cloud draped across the western horizon as far as the eye could see. This gave us a strangely false sunset, and an early dusk at odds with the sky overhead. But those weald views – fantastic as ever. A pint in the cosy Cock Inn was a perfect way to conclude proceedings. Oh, happy new year by the way.
I followed my own advice and stuck to Knole and Lullingstone over the Christmas break, with the family. Christmas Day was a real beaut as were the past two days. When it’s clear, it’s fine to walk until 5pm, after sunset; you’ll be rewarded with vibrant sky colours, maybe drifting mist and even the silent flight of an owl. The next few days look fairly dull but the walks on here have great atmosphere in all conditions. Here are some pictures of Knole and Lullingstone from the past few days.
I love to do this walk several times over the spring, catching the various colours as they flare up and die down at Emmetts and in the woods and fields. The bluebell clouds are starting to fade now; by next weekend they’ll be well past their best (although the wild garlic is still vibrant), but soon the foxglove ‘forests’ of the Ide Hill/Toys Hill valley will spire up to replace them. I wonder if the bluebells have been a bit short-lived this year because of the cold, dry weather, which followed a very warm early spring. Meanwhile, the browns of early spring have been replaced by shades of vivid green. Emmetts of course is always a kaleidoscope of colour and right now is peak azalea. And those tulips… weird and so photogenic. This year’s black, red and white scheme is the best I’ve seen – check out the pictures below. Here are a few pix from the past two years in Emmetts and on the Ide Hill walk.
Knole Park is great for an autumn walk. Fantastic beeches and oaks, with the odd yew and pine plantations, make for a colourful spectacle. Encounters with deer, interesting birdlife such as green woodpeckers, redstarts, and weird fungi and so on, add to the interest. Oh, and a great 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.
My walk takes in the more remote-feeling eastern side of the park, starting in woodland on the park’s southern perimeter. I’m afraid that’s not the most convenient place to start the walk if you’re travelling to Sevenoaks on the train, but you can still do the walk by starting closer to the station at the park gate behind the leisure centre (half a mile walk from the station) – and then joining the route by Knole House (ie point 4 to 5 when you see the map – click link below).
I don’t think there’s too many places on these walks where you can get lost but it’s very easy when writing instructions to mislead inadvertently. The word ‘track’, for example, does not mean the same thing for everyone; ‘pass a large pine tree’ won’t be too clear to someone who doesn’t think it is a large pine tree. And it’s very easy to miss out stiles and kissing gates in the instructions as I have done quite a lot. Then there are farmers who plough up paths (that’s happened at Shipbourne and Downe in the past). Here are the points where people have contacted me to ask for clarification (I’ve altered the instructions in all cases but it may not be enough…)
1 Downe walk: some people have gone wrong at the very start by missing the path just next to Christmas Tree Farm and setting off to Cudham on the footpath a few metres further on. My fault, because I didn’t mention initially that the correct path is slightly hidden by vegetation whereas the Cudham one is clearly visible.
2 One Tree Hill walks: the woods to the rear of the hill, if walking from OTH to Wilmot’s Hill on the way to Ightam, are easy to get lost in. You have to keep your bearings in relation to a couple of houses and an orchard. I’ve tried to make it easy but it’s quite hard to describe (I’ve gone wrong myself in there). However, once you hit the country lane you’ll be able to pick up the Wilmot’s Hill path OK.
3 Ide Hill: Near the beginning, people have told me my instructions are unclear and they almost set off on the Greensand Way to the east, towards Sevenoaks. The answer is to walk down the hill, ignoring all detail I’ve stated, then turn right when you hit another path, thus keeping Ide Hill village (at the top of the hill) to your right. Then you cross the valley towards Scord Wood and Emmett’s Garden with Ide Hill at your back. Not my fault that one, I feel.
4 Hever. Ah. Luckily for me perhaps, not the most popular of these walks, though I love it personally. There are four points where you can go wrong. I’ve covered them all in the instruction but, hey, you’ve got enough to read. First, turning right at the ‘second house’. This path angles off the lane in front of a house called ‘Bothy Cottage’, at the entrance to the house’s drive. Secondly, immediately on leaving the sandstone outcrop at Hill Hoath, turn right and go through a kissing gate next to a long strip of meadow (some walkers have been known to go straight on – fine if you want to go all the way to Penshurst). Third, in Stock Wood, ignore the major-looking path off to the right and narrow one angling left – keep on the centre path even though it doesn’t look very ‘major’. Fourth, turning off Uckfield Road it’s quite easy to miss the footpath, though it does have a sign. The kissing gate is a bit buried in hedge.
There are bound to be other spots that left walkers in a quandary… please let me know in the comments section, or by email, so I can update my instructions accordingly.
Rosebay willowherb is now in full bloom in glades, on verges, and by railway tracks throughout Kent. One of the factors causing the plant to spread so much in the past 70 odd years was the second world war when clearings were made in woods, aerodromes were built all over the south east and bombs were dropped across the region. Why this should be I don’t know… anyway honey bees love ’em and when you see clusters it’s quite a spectacular sight. One such spectacle is in the clearing in the woods at the top of One Tree Hill. Keep quiet here and just listen to the hum of the bees. On Sunday we did the ‘hidden valley’ walk from One Tree Hill; I haven’t put it on this site yet, but will do. The walk ends up as another Ightam Mote circular but takes in a fabulous secluded valley behind Wilmots Hill which brings you out at the Mote after passing somewhat sinister-looking accommodation for early 20th century hop pickers. I’ll write up the walk soon… can’t believe I haven’t done it before.
That seemed to happen very quickly. A dreamy, misty, surprisingly warm autumn has suddenly snapped into winter with a blast of Arctic air. Truth to tell, the past 10 days have become increasingly turbulent, with high winds stripping the trees of much of their leaves… all those beautiful greens, oranges and reds were too good to last. I know; this happens every year, but somehow it all seems somewhat abrupt each time, in the same way as you feel plunged into darkness when the clocks go back.
So … up for a winter walk? Of the routes on this site, the least affected by mud are usually the Shoreham circular, Shoreham/Otford circular, Shoreham to Eynsford and Downe Circular. You’ll still need boots, but the woodland walks at One Tree Hill and Ide Hill are truly squelchathons come December, although they remain great to do if you have the right footwear (and attitude!). Also excellent are Knole Park and Lullingstone Country park (where you can do a variety of walks arriving at and leaving from Eynsford station, but can also explore on the Shoreham to Eynsford walk). The latter two are great for huge skies and spectacular late afternoon sunlight. Just take a look at winter sun shining on Knole House (pictured).
I’ll soon be adding some more winter pictures on the site and maybe my routes around Knole and Lullingstone (nearly mud-free). So stick around.
Fine days at this time of year are fantastic for colours and light. All fine days are great of course, but there’s a surprise element when it’s nice in October and November that somehow helps you enjoy country surroundings all the more. Yet some of the finest autumn colours are to be had in London: Dulwich Park, for example, with its variety of trees (the turkey oak by the western perimeter lane is amazing) and also Burbage Rd, nearby, which has some maples of the deepest red right now, yellow-green honey locusts (I think), and wine-coloured cherry plums amid others.
Trees are such a part of the landscape in the city or out in the sticks that most of us hardly bother to stop and wonder. I’d been doing the One Tree Hill walks for years before I noticed the most amazingly tall, straight oak (picture). Great beech trees abound on all of these walks; some of the most extraordinary, again, on the One Tree Hill escarpment (picture).
The images below are from One Tree Hill, Shoreham and, most recently, Ide Hill, which was right on the borderline between foggy and sunny on 1 November.
What a beautiful house Ightam Mote is. A real treasure kept open by the National Trust dating from the 14th century set in lovely gardens and surrounded by woods and hedgerows, oast houses and old stone barns. It’s also at the junction of several excellent walks along the greensand ridge of the North Downs. My newly added walk 6 is one of these. Nearby pubs and villages offer a lot too – Stone Street, Underriver, Plaxtol and West Peckham are all great places to stop off in.
(Read latest bluebell piece for 2020, here) 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.