Summer is here; time for Pluto

Summer is here; time for Pluto

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.

Microclimates and wild meadows

Microclimates and wild meadows

The Darent Valley and its surrounding valleys near Otford, Romney Street and Austin Lodge to the east and Andrew’s Wood to the west seem to me to trap heat and moisture. Even on dull summer days the area feels more humid and sticky than the London suburbs for example. I love it. The area feels ‘different’ and somewhat mystical. It’s certainly very verdant and with rewilding projects, such as at Magpie Bottom, several SSSIs and Kent Wildlife Trust reserves, it’s worth having to change your shirt for. Just take a flask of water. Even on a mostly dull day like last Sunday, you might get a fleeting pool of sunshine to enjoy and the sight of cloud shadows racing across the rippling wildflower rich meadows towards you. (Dogowners are advised to keep their animals on the the lead though…. there’s apparently a threat of adder strikes on dogs in the area and occasionally livestock. Cases of dog theft have occurred too.)

Shoreham, Kent – a perfect village for a stroll

Nine of the walks on this site involve the Shoreham neighbourhood, in the Darent Valley. This is good, because Shoreham is a decent little place with its four fine pubs, vineyard, Battle of Britain museum, river walk and houses from down the centuries. And it has a station, served by trains from London Blackfriars (sometimes Victoria too) via Peckham Rye and Bromley South, and Sevenoaks. Otford down the road is alright too. My walks use the valley rims, east and west; the valley floor along the river and the ‘dry’ valleys (geographical feature – not a reference to any shortage of pubs!) that flank the main one. The Darent river itself rises south of Westerham, on the shallow slope of the Greensand ridge and its early stretches can be seen on walks 15 and 21. Try not to drive through the village itself. On the east side of the village there’s a car park by the station and a huge layby almost opposite the station. On the west side there’s a free car park at Filston Lane. Best of all though, arrive by train if possible. There’s only one (tiny) shop in the place, so don’t expect to do your shopping there.

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It’s a great village to stroll around, explore the ancient church and paths that skirt the northern side, around the back of the vineyard. Full details can be found on each Shoreham walk page. The Darent Valley path itself, which the walks here take in stretches of, is 19 miles long, starts by Sevenoaks station and ends at Dartford, as the river enters the Thames. So that’ll take awhile.

The sublime nine Shoreham walks

Shoreham station is most convenient for the eastern walks but it’s only a half-mile walk down Station Rd to connect with the western valley ones, too. Each of the walks can be adapted into something much longer by joining them together. 

September. A glorious month for walking

There’s still a couple of months before mud sets in, and with fine weather, hedgerows fully laden with berries and insects, trees still in full leaf and birdlife on the move, this is a great time to hit the paths. And I daresay some will prefer the mild temperatures we’re having now, compared with the scorchio stuff that enveloped us in July.

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Quieter Shoreham walks

For anyone who’s enjoyed the Shoreham Circular walk really should give the Shoreham Circular Mk2 a go. It goes along the ridge on the eastern side of the valley before dropping down and eventually joining the Mk1 route by the Darenth golf course. It’s a lovely quiet stroll starting in ancient woods (slow worms, buzzards, woodpeckers), ascending to the top of the hill eventually with great views and wild chalk meadows which teem with butterflies. It all ends by the George pub…

It’s pretty decent for public transport too… Shoreham station is opposite the start of the walk and can be reached by direct train from Blackfriars on the Catford loop line via Nunhead etc (check first, the Thameslink network is chaotic – there’s also the option of a train to Sevenoaks on the London Bridge-Orpington line, then changing). Give it a go this weekend, all is set fair.

If you fancy something longer, ending up in the same place, then the mysterious eastern valleys walk from Shoreham station or the Romney St/Otford/Shoreham circle (from Otford station) will fit the bill.

Shoreham circular mk2 – with improved directions!

We did a superb new walk in late April. Sounds funny to say considering I’ve done Shoreham to death, but we came across yet another variation on the Shoreham (Kent) circular. This time climbing up on to the eastern rim of the valley and walking towards Otford then back down into the valley, popping out by the Olde George. Brimstone butterflies aplenty, buzzards soaring… idyllic. An excellent train walk… no car/bus needed. Full instructions here and PDF (initial errors now corrected!).

Brimstone butterfly

Not the best for bluebells (some in Dunstall woods though) but a super walk.

UPDATE: Apologies to those who tried this walk out then realised some of my PDF instructions were missing half way through! I had unwittingly and absent-mindedly positioned the map over some of the text without realising it. Also, I had referred to Mill Lane wrongly… in fact there is only one Mill Lane and that is at the northern end of the village. But there is a Mill Cottage in the vicinity! Thanks to the walker who pointed these errors out to me…

Soft light on a December walk in Kent

There’s no doubt about it. Winter walks aren’t always particularly uplifting. Views are subdued and less vibrant. The oranges and reds of autumn have gone, to be replaced by toned-down browns and greens. There’s mud, damp and murkiness that can make you want to flee the country. But the sky picks its moments to remedy everything; pink and orange sunsets, swathes of deep azure; the rush towards dusk bathing ancient Kent rural scenes in yellow and grey light. There are times when you feel that our little pokey-out county is in tune with the timeless far north; Iceland, Norway, Lapland… maybe the Vikings who settled here felt most at home on these dark cold days. Am I being pretentious? Stop me if I am. I’ll stop then.

Here are some pictures from early afternoon on December 16, 2017, on the high-level Meenfield woods walk, to the west of Shoreham and the little valley separating Meenfield and Andrews woods (an extension to walks 2 and 8).

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Suddenly it’s autumn in the Darent Valley

Two weeks ago I did the Shoreham circular in 25C heat. Now, dodging showers amid sudden switches in temperature I’ve ventured out on the Shoreham-Eynsford walk ( 3), the Eynsford-Lullingstone (walk 12) and to the eastern valleys of Shoreham (walk 14).

It’s often the case that the sky can make landscape photography easy; with the weather we are having this mid-September, the clarity of air and development of interesting cloudscapes transmit atmosphere and steal the scene with drama. Enjoy this slideshow…

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New walk: Shoreham’s mystery eastern valleys

Beyond the steep, thickly wooded eastern wall of the Darent Valley is a quiet chalk upland area of dry valleys, meadows and plateaus. There’s a disused golf course, now overgrown and becoming a bit of an unofficial wildlife reserve, lovely north-south views, a discreet private airstrip behind a strip of woods from which vintage light aircraft are regularly flown, and, well… that’s it really. It’s a very atmospheric area and, for me, quite different in nature from the western valley wall. My new, ‘eastern valleys’ walk (number 14, 4.5 miles, pix below) really digs into this tranquil, timeless landscape via the little hamlet close to the defunct Austin Lodge clubhouse. Also the Otford/Shoreham/Romney St walk (5) takes in some of it. Walkers can combine the two routes to make a 10-miler or combine them with the Shoreham Circular strolls (8.5 miles). The starting point for the new walk is Shoreham railway station, which is well connected to south-east London, by Thameslink trains (not the most reliable line but so handy for the countryside). It can also be started from the church with an alternative route up to the plateau. There are some steep sections so you’ll feel this one afterwards. Enjoy. (Download a pdf of this walk.)

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Slow worm and autumn colours

Slow worm and autumn colours

Enjoyed an excellent walk on the western ridge above Shoreham to Polhill today. Autumn colours were beginning to kick in, lit up by the slanting late afternoon sun low in a sky that looked to be in a state of flux. High cirrus, ragged grow low broken cumulus, patches of blue and squally showers on the horizon.

I love coming across unexpected wildlife so was delighted when my son spotted a large slow worm by the path. They are legless lizards apparently, not snakes and not worms. This one was a real beauty, more than 20cm long, and I think a female (males aren’t so stripy apparently). In one of the photos you can see its little black tongue flickering out. They eat slugs and worms apparently – the only creatures that aren’t quick enough to get away – and can live to, amazingly, 50-odd years.

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Just finished reading Beryl Bainbridge’s Birthday Boys novel about the expedition to the Antarctic led by Captain Scott that finished in tragedy in 1912. An incredible book that gets inside the heads of some of the main protagonists on the trip and leaves the reader staggered all over again at the risks and appalling hardship those men gladly signed up for: recommended.