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.
Just a heads up that the Biggin Hill airshow is back next weekend (19-20 August). This year’s event is a bit bigger than the recent ones and features on Sunday the French air force’s display team, the Patrouille de France (and the Red Arrows). Very spectacular. There will also be three extremely noisy modern jet fighters performing as well as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancaster and various stunt and biplanes, some of first world war vintage. Worth getting tickets for, or at least taking the Downe circular walk for a peek. If you don’t like that kind of thing then take a walk a long way away!
Update: 26 August. Well the airshow proved a great success with brilliant displays and a very supportive crowd. The weather behaved too, despite being a little cold on the Saturday – although as you can see from my pix cloud cover was variable. The Red Arrows and Patrouille de France were extraordinary – amazing skill and training. The jet fighters (Typhoon, F-16, Gripen) all splendidly noisy and rapid and the solo Spitfires’ aerobatics quite moving considering the history of the location. The sight of Hurricanes, Spitfires and the B-17 over the Kent countryside was very evocative as always. For some truly epic photographs of the event by a pro, take a look here.
Sadly for us south-east London golfers the 18-hole Beckenham course – once the UK’s busiest – has gone; happily for us south-east London walkers the space now opened up is superb! There are expansive grass areas, a mildly hilly terrain, footpaths through woods adorned with bluebells just now, plus excellent birdwatching and a no-nonsense cafe in the striking, though decaying, 18th-century mansion (where there are also yoga classes and an artist’s studio). If you can’t make it out to the countryside or to Chislehurst/Petts Wood, the park is a great place to get some exercise locally: it’s possible to do a three-mile walk within and around it.
You can enter it from opposite Ravensbourne Station or from several points on Beckenham Hill Rd and from Westgate Rd. If you get off the train at Beckenham Junction or New Beckenham, just walk up to Foxgrove Rd and take the lane off to the left with rather grandiose houses on it called Beckenham Place Park. It’s also a short walk from Beckenham Hill station on the Thameslink (like Ravensbourne).
There are no plans to build on the park yet thankfully – but maximum vigilance is urged on that score. The only development at present will be flood defences (the Ravensbourne, Quaggy, Pool and Honor Oak rivers have been known to flood houses in the past), so bore holes and the creation of a water meadow kind of thing are on the cards. There has also been a lot of tree planting (native species).
The Friends of Beckenham Place Park website provides more details on events, development plans and amenities in the park. It’s possible to do a good urban walk linking Beckenham Place with the excellent Kelsey Park and South Norwood Country Park without too much pavement stomping. Oh, and there are kingfishers regularly seen on the Ravensbourne river.
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.
The weather forecasters were spot on: sunny Good Friday, dreary Saturday, all over the place Sunday and Monday (with a dose of tropical storm bringing down branches and fences on Sunday night). A lot of the paths returned to peak mud status and the magnolias at Emmetts, usually so beautiful at this time of year, were looking a bit windblown and fed up. Looking at the pictures I put up below, on my previous post, I realise they must have been taken in mid-April last year – certainly the tulips at Emmetts were some way off flowering this weekend. So apologies to anyone I mis-sold on that! In the meantime, above are some pictures from Sunday and Monday at Knole and Ide Hill.
This weekend is bound to be a big one for walking; I’m just hoping the mud has subsided a bit now it’s been dry for a while. The early weather forecasts are suggesting that Good Friday will be best on the meteorological front; after that it’s downhill with a drizzly Saturday and showery Sunday in store. Check the Met Office here. Spring proper is just round the corner and the countryside is waking up. I’ve seen my first queen bumblebee of the year; ponds are full of frog and toad spawn; birdsong is taking off (though I’m yet to hear signs of chiffchaff arrivals from Africa – Ide Hill walk great for them); wood anenomes, hawthorn, and wild garlic are flowering; and the carpet of green in the woods will be turning blue by mid-April from the looks of it, although I spotted my first flowering bluebell in early February this year – see previous blog post.
It’s a good time to visit National Trust and other interesting places, which usually offer nature walks and children’s activities in the coming days. Here are some of my favourites, either on or close to the walks listed here:
• Penshurst Place (nr Tonbridge): crafts, storytelling and, for adults, a spring guided stroll including lunch (£28 including admission)
• High Elms nature reserve (nr Bromley): excellent nature centre with orchards, ponds, cafe, wildlife information plus gardens (free)
• Hever Castle (nr Edenbridge): an array of easter stuff including a Lindt Gold Bunny Hunt (free after paying admission)
• Emmett’s Gardens: (nr Ide Hill/Brasted): Cadbury’s (or should that be Kraft?) easter egg hunt (free after paying admission)
• Knole: (Sevenoaks) guided walks, easter egg hunt (free after admission)
• Lullingstone Country Park (Eynsford): activity trail and easter egg hunt
• Down House (Downe/Bromley): something interactive and historical for kids involving people in costumes (basically I’m not quite sure, but chocolate will happen). Very close to High Elms though, so could tie in.
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
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.
Just a one-hour drive from south-east London or train journey from London to Tunbridge Wells, Crowborough (nearest station), Uckfield or East Grinstead then bus/taxi/cycle. More info on public transport options here
Further afield than the walks on this site, but not inaccessible from London by train/bus/taxi/bike, is the extraordinary Ashdown Forest (map here) in East Sussex. ‘Forest’ is a misnomer; the word did not originally mean just woodland, it referred to areas where deer were kept for hunting – often in a mixed habitat.
The Ashdown Forest lies on the high weald of sandstone between the chalk of the North and South Downs. It’s a great place for walking – you can wander anywhere, there are few fences and loads of paths. There is scots pine, heather, gorse, rare birds like the dartford warbler, lizards and snakes, many varieties of butterfly, moth and dragonflies. There’s also a lot of history – the area was a favourite hunting ground for Henry VIII (useful for nipping into Hever Castle on the way back too or, if Anne wasn’t in, Bolebrooke Castle), and there was a medieval iron industry in the forest too. On a misty, drizzly, murky day like Monday this week it really resembles parts of Scotland (you wouldn’t be able to see any mountains on such a day anyway).
The pictures here were taken around Gills Lap – a place immortalised by AA Milne in Winnie the Pooh – and Wren’s Warren Valley (Eeyore’s gloomy place in Milne’s stories).
Where to go: Parking is easy in the Ashdown Forest. There are many little car parks from which paths meander off. My favourites are King Standing, Gills Lap, (both off the B2026 from Hartfield and great for high level walks between the clumps of pines), Hollies (off the Nutley Rd near Duddeswell), Lintons (ideal for the Tabell Ghyl walk), and Broadstone (close to the excellent visitors’ centre).
Near the Ashdown Forest is a flat off-road cycle route called the Forest Way running 6 miles from Groombridge to Forest Row (bikes for hire in Forest Row). Groombridge (home of the superb manor house, gardens and woodland, Groombridge Place) is on a steam train line – the Spa Valley Railway – between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge, on the edge of the Forest.
The extra hours of daylight means you can even get out into the countryside from south London after work if so inclined. Worth the effort I’d say. Pictured is Darwin’s house from the adjacent field, June 2015 at about 8.20pm; the others are of various fields on Walk 1.