Best bluebell walks in north-west Kent 2019

One of the most magical times of the year is when the woodland floor turns blue. From this weekend (April 19) onwards there should be a profusion of bluebells until the second week of May, so it will be worth heading for the woods. The best bluebell displays on the walks here are Ide Hill, One Tree Hill (walk 6 and 7), Polhill Bank/Meenfield Woods at Shoreham (walk 18), Hever, Petts Wood and Chislehurst, Westerham, Fackenden Down and Romney Street (19), and Downe (but only if you do the diversion down into the woods at Point 3 and continue to Berry’s Hill – marked on the map and the pdf). Eynsford/Lullingstone and Chiddingstone/Penshurst probably aren’t the best bluebell walks, although on the latter there are rich concentrations at one or two points.

Meenfield Wood bluebells

Early bluebells at Meenfield Wood, near Shoreham, Kent. 2019, April 13. © Adam McCulloch

In many of the woods you’ll be walking with the pervasive aroma of wild garlic (which you can use to make pesto sauce etc) and alongside plenty of cheeky little wild flowers – primroses, wood anemone, common dog violet, arum, red campion, wood-sorrel (oxalis), yellow archangel and orchids (Downe Bank, Lullingstone up from the visitors’ centre, Bough Beech’s Bore Place meadows particularly good for the latter). A highlight not to be missed is the profusion of daffodils at Ightam Mote (One Tree Hill walks) where you should also see buzzards wheeling and soaring in the thermals and yellowy/greeny brimstone butterflies floating around clearings and copses. Emmett Garden’s tulip ‘plantation’ on the Ide Hill walk is also wonderful. Look out for migrant bird species arriving, particularly the following warblers: chiffchaffs newly arrived from southern Europe and north Africa can be heard in all the woodland on these walks, and it’s worth learning and listening for the song of blackcaps and common and lesser whitethroats. The latter two, which arrive from as far away as sub-Saharan Africa, migrate at night and are a favourite of the birdwatching fraternity.

That reminds me, the One Tree Hill routes are very good for butterflies – where the path goes through the lee of the Greensand Ridge amid boulders and rich vegetation the insect world gets particularly busy and peacocks, orange-tips and brimstones proliferate on a bright day. This coming weekend (April 20), forecast to be warm, should be a good time to see them.

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Cities of mauve spires

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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 HillKeep 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.

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A few Downe images

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I really like the meadows around Downe, especially on the hillside between points 4 and 8 on the second half of the walk. Right now the buttercups have largely gone and have been replaced by a mix of scabious, daisies, clover etc amid the long grass. The colours are not so obvious as a few weeks ago when the grassy fields were ablaze with yellow but they are more varied and seem to attract a wider variety of insect life. The Downe circular is particularly useful for south east London dwellers, being the closest and shortest of the walks on this site. I can do the whole journey in under two hours if I get a move on.

Best bluebells near Shoreham, Orpington, Downe

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Walkers on the Shoreham Circular route will see very few bluebells unless they make a slight detour, extending the walk slightly by continuing up the hill at point 7 (instead of taking the path on the right) then turning right at the top and walking to point 9 along the lovely straight bridlepath through Meenfield Wood. Here, on either side of the track, the bluebells right now are magical, the spacing of the trees and lack of leaves allowing exactly the right light conditions for them I suppose. The photos above don’t do them justice whatsoever. The blue line on the map below shows the detour. There are also great bluebells near Shoreham on the Otford Circular walk between points 5 and 6, and the copses between points 8 and 9. For the Downe Circular, to add bluebells, turn left at Point 3 instead of right and walk for a couple of minutes into the woods at Downe Bank (also pictured above), then just retrace your steps. You won’t have to deviate from the route to find endless blue vistas on the Ide Hill Circular, however: there are wonderful displays on Ide Hill itself and in Scord woods and Emmetts Gardens, all en route.