In the depths of springter

In the depths of springter

Of all the seasons-within-seasons, the end of winter, or springter, is one of the least enjoyable for walking I find. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy getting out into the countryside; it just means that when I do, I look around and think “meh” quite a bit. There’s still a lot to look out for in early March: old man’s beard (clematis vitalba), hazel and alder catkins, blossoming blackthorn, the vigorous growth of bluebell shoots, redwings and fieldfares flocking to migrate east, small birds breaking into song, the passage of gulls at high level etc, but the predominant colours are grey and brown, the air is still harsh and raw, mud clings to your boots and you slip on steep paths.

On recent walks to Hosey, Fackenden Down, Bough Beech and Downe, I found plenty to like but not much to inspire. This was partly because, apart from at Fackenden where there was an eyecatching sunset, the sky was unyielding and grey. Drama is needed in the sky at times like these, and springter often provides it as great air masses come into conflict, showering us with rain, hail, snow and sleet and producing fascinating aerial vistas. But at Hosey, all was monotone, at Bough Beech a thin Sunday drizzle dampened down any sense of vitality and at Downe, the morning brightness was consumed by a blanket of altostratus – the precursor to an approaching front – which had stealthily taken over the day as I was en route. But everyday is different if you look closely enough and the sun, a white ball behind the veil, did its best to make the stroll memorable.

  • View over Chartwell, Hosey walk
  • Bough Beech nature reserve
  • View over Bough Beech reservoir from the Bore Place chair
  • Downe walk under altostratus cloud
  • View from Fackenden Down

That terrific birder Dave accompanied me at Bough Beech, educating me as we went on the courtships of goldcrests, the behaviour of gadwall – a much underappreciated duck, he said – West Ham’s unsatisfactory season, the calls of marsh tit and treecreeper (I’d forgotten, again), and the distribution of local chaffinch populations. Although we made it to 39 species we saw no snipe, barn owl, brambling, kestrel or even buzzard as we hoped. The bird of prey fraternity was represented only by a solo red kite who lazily loitered above the low weald landscape for nearly half the walk, sometimes close, sometimes distant – an almost spectral presence so unfettered was it by the subdued, squelchy land below.

Thinking back to that red kite (which by the way would have been an extraordinarily rare sight in this part of the world until about 10 years ago) my springter moans and groans appear misplaced; these grey walks were brilliant.

Photographs by AMcCulloch


May soleil and last chance for bluebells

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An amazing weekend for getting outside, to local parks and beyond to the nearby Kent countryside. Just eight days after snow and hail showers, we were bathed in warm sunshine with the Kent countryside in full bloom. On Saturday we tried what turned out to be an excellent new walk between Chiddingstone and Penshurst done from the Ordnance Survey map then nipped round the Ide Hill circular on Sunday as temperatures hit 26C. Emmetts‘ azaleas and tulips were looking great. I hope regular visitors to this site managed to get outside. Pictures above.

The coming weekend (May 14) I reckon will be the last chance for bluebells at somewhere near their best, so hit Ide Hill and Emmetts, One Tree Hill/Wilmot Hill, Meenfield Wood (Shoreham), Petts Wood, and Downe Bank (between Downe and Cudham just off the Downe circular walk at Point 3).

Two new walks on the Kent Weald, via Hever, Chiddingstone and Penshurst

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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 2Shoreham circular (3.5 miles) View
• Download Walk 3Shoreham to Eynsford (4.2 miles) View
• Download Walk 4Ide Hill circular (3 miles) View
• Download Walk 5Otford circular via Romney St (5.5 miles) View
• Download Walk 6One Tree Hill circular (near Sevenoaks, 5.5 miles) View
• Download Walk 7One Tree Hill figure of eight (near Sevenoaks, 5 miles) View
• Download Walk 8Shoreham/Otford circular (5 miles) View
• Download Walk 9Hever 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: Shorehams mystery eastern valleys (4.5 miles) View