Bluebells in north-west Kent: where’s best?

Bluebells in north-west Kent: where’s best?

It’s that time of year when the cobalt carpet spreads its magic in many of the woods covered in the KWNL area. Bluebells are now fully out on the North Downs chalk hills walks such as the Cudham stroll (in New Year’s Wood particularly), and Meenfield Woods on the various Shoreham circular and Polhill routes. Further south the Greensand Ridge walks at Underriver, One Tree Hill, Ide Hill (perhaps the best bluebells), Oldbury and Hosey Common are awash with blue. Closest to south-east London, Beckenham Place Park, High Elms and Petts Wood-Hawkwood Estate (in the lower, damper parts) has several swathes too. The Downe walk mk1 doesn’t have a lot of bluebell action en route but a quick diversion down to Downe Bank (the west side of the Cudham valley) from point 3 or at the start of the walk should see you in the magical blue realm. Following the Downe Mk2 walk will be kind of blue too, particularly at Downe Bank and Blackbush and Twenty Acre Shaw woods. I’m sure there are loads on the Hever walk too but I’ve never been on that stroll at this time of year so can’t vouch for them. The Chiddingstone route doesn’t have many bluebells I can confirm, not that this detracts from the superb stroll. (Pictured below: bluebells at New Year Wood on Cudham walk; Meenfield wood, Shoreham circular/Polhill routes; Ide Hill route)

  • New Year's Wood: early bluebells
  • New Year's Wood bluebells 2022
  • Bluebells on the Ide Hill walk, April 25, 2015
  • Bluebells, Emmetts/Scords wood, 2017
  • bluebells Meenfield wood
  • bluebells

Anyway, here are some bluebell factoids gleaned from an excellent article with far more detail called Bloomageddon: seven clever ways bluebells win the woodland turf war at The Conversation website.

  • They are uniquely adapted to suited the multispecies ancient woodlands of the UK
  • Low temperatures trigger their growth (but might delay their blooming if in April). Bluebell seeds germinate when the temperature drops below 10°C.
  • Bluebells predominantly convert sunlight into fructose allowing them to photosynthesise at low temperatures.
  • They are supreme competitors with other plants, allowing them to carpet woodland floors. But they get help in the form of mycorrhiza, a symbiotic fungi.
  • Almost half the world’s bluebells are found in the UK, they’re relatively rare in the rest of the world.

But please be careful never to tread on any; it takes bluebells years to recover from damage. Digging them up – surely no one visiting this site would consider such a thing – is illegal, and please don’t let dogs trample them either – keep them on the lead.

Splendid isolation

Splendid isolation

Personally I don’t mind ‘busy’ walks. Anyone who’s hiked the Samaria Gorge, climbed Snowdon or sauntered along the Amalfi coast’s spectacular ‘Walk of the Gods’ trail, will be familiar with routes’ long lines of dehydrated tourists in frankly inappropriate footwear. These Kent walks offer comparative splendid isolation and are undertaken by people who are generally dressed for the conditions. But if it really is solitude you are after you might find that the Shoreham circular isn’t the best choice on a sunny Sunday, and Petts Woods main paths are much frequented by families and dog walkers – unsurprisingly considering its suburban location. Lullingstone is particularly busy around the visitor’s centre and river and Knole around the house – but both are big enough country parks to escape the crowd. There were snaking queues of day trippers on the One Tree Hill routes before the winter mud arrived on sunny weekends. Personally I like to see everyone out and about; it’s great to see people of all ages enjoying the local countryside and greeting strangers as walkers do. But if you want a quieter walk the best routes are Shoreham’s eastern valleys, Otford to Kemsing, Hever, Otford circular and Fackenden Down. The Cudham and Knockholt walks aren’t exactly choc-a-bloc either usually. Don’t get me wrong, there are always people around on these walks – you won’t feel like Cheryl Strayed in Wild (as portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in the film). By the way, if you do choose a Shoreham route and happen to be hungry, the Mount Vineyard does great pizzas I’ve found recently – and it’s a great spot for a drink if you’re waiting for the train (the station’s an eight-minute walk up the road).

Hosed down after Hosey

Hosed down after Hosey

A beautiful dusk walk around Chartwell and Mariners Hill on the Hosey route, accompanied by a stunning full moon and the mew of a buzzard, hit the spot last Sunday afternoon. It’s not always the early bird that catches the worm, you know. The mud just before point 8, the ‘dramatic’ crossing of the infant River Darent, is hilariously sloshy and treacherous enough to defeat any footwear bar stilts fitted with spikes but can be avoided by walking parallel in the grassy field alongside and rejoining just before the log bridge. A satisfying hose down of boots after returning home was called for.

Ide and seek on the greensand

Ide and seek on the greensand

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.

Biggin Hill airshow

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.

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Beckenham Place Park – great for a local stroll

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.

Beckenham Place Park mansion

Beckenham Place Park mansion

Access

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).

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Development

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.

Places on these Kent walks where you might go the wrong way

Hidden valley path on way to Ightam Mote

Hidden valley path on way to Ightam Mote

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.

 

Easter – a curate’s egg

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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.

An early Easter as the meadows and woods wake up

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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