Woodland rich with mystery, orchards, lavender fields (in bloom from May-July), and beautiful Tudor Ightham Mote (a tiny detour) are the stars of this longer stroll. There’re also signs of a hillfort from prehistory and sandstone outcrops. And lovers of wild ponds will like it too. I was recently introduced to this quintessential Kent walk by a friend … It’s a funny shape, with two parts of the walk almost meeting in Oldbury Wood. Best to use the GPX map while following the instructions because Oldbury Wood has many paths so it would be easy to take the wrong one. Not that it would matter that much; it’s hardly the Monteverde cloud forest – you’d find your way back to the start point easily enough
Distance from SE London: 45 min drive from Sydenham
Sadly there’s not a decent public transport option other than Go Coach’s route 4 from Sevenoaks station (check it’s running before travelling). However, it wouldn’t be too expensive if sharing to get a taxi from Sevenoaks, Kemsing or Bat and Ball stations to the start of the walk – it would only be a 10-minute drive.
Easy-moderate. It’s a reasonably long walk (allow at least 2.5 hours) and there are three steepish bits, but they are quite short. There are no stiles that I can remember and good paths throughout.
START OF THE WALK
Oldbury Hill NT car park, Styants Bottom Lane, just off the A25 a few miles north east of Sevenoaks. (Walk uses paths MR425, MR426, SR126, SR123, MR416 and some with no number.)
Point 1-2 1km Leave the Oldbury Hill car park heading south on Styants Bottom Lane and immediately cross the A25 looking for a signed footpath heading south into the woods. It’s nearly opposite but to the left (east) a bit. Continue through this beautiful woods past a series of ponds on an increasingly sandy path. Don’t worry about the private property signs either side; the path is fine. Eventually you will climb large steps (difficult if you have dodgy knees) to reach the top of Raspit Hill, part of the Greensand Ridge, at Point 2.
Point 2-3 1.5km Turn left (south east) at the top of the steps but stay close to the edge of the steep south-facing slope as the path starts to descend, curving back south. This path will take you all the way to Ightham Mote. Soon it crosses Stone Street road then passes between woods, orchards and meadows, descending, before eventually swinging more eastward to reach Mote Rd. Here, walk along the road southward towards Ightham Mote. But before reaching the beautiful Tudor manor (continue straight down to take a peep if you haven’t seen it before), look out for the sharp right turn by a pond, opposite an attractive cottage (Scatheswood House). This is Point 3.
Points 3-4 2km Walk up this track, passing the old hoppers’ hut, heading west (it’s the delightful ‘secret valley’ mentioned on the One Tree Hill walks). Very good for butterflies, birds and wildlife this area. After about 700 metres – as you near a large attractive pond to the left – you’ll reach a path uphill to the right (north). I think there are steps here because it’s a bit steepish. Soon the path emerges into the open with a single fruit tree posing rather evocatively among grasses up ahead. Cresting the hill between May and the end of July, however, you’ll be bowled over by spectacular lavender fields belonging to Mitchell and Peach (body care firm). Skylarks and bees abound here – and it’s the best place on the walk to stop off for a picnic. Continue across a country lane (Bitchet Green Lane) and then, after another 5-600 metres you reach Stone Street Road opposite a building that was the Padwell Arms, yet another country pub sadly lost. This is Point 4.
Points 4-5 1km Turn right on Stone Street Road then after 100 metres take a footpath into woods on the left (northward) past a large old house with tennis court and all the trimmings! Continue through the wood uphill for a say 150 metres before curving to the right and joining Church Rd. Here, turn right (south east) and walk past the lovely secluded St Lawrence’s Church to a footpath leading into more woods on the left. After a few metres take a path sharpish left heading north again, downhill. This emerges at Lower Frankfield into a pleasant area of pasture (all very horsey horsey) and continues, now as a track, all the way to the A25 and Point 5 at Crown Point.
Points 5-6 1km. Some blundering around in woods will now take place. Carefully cross the A25 aiming for a footpath to the left (west). Immediately turn right (north-east) on a path going downhill, then take the third path on your left (the first more major-looking path you come to). (If you went straight on here you’d be back at the car park you started from, which might be handy if you’re not enjoying yourself.) Continue on this path heading north-west and look out ahead for a field. Follow the path along the western (left hand) edge of this field, actually a campsite (Oldbury Hill Camping Club), then turn right (heading east) along the northern edge of the field to meet the top end of Styants Bottom Lane (point 6).
Point 6-end 2km This last bit is all in Oldbury Woods, site of the one of the largest Iron Age hilltop forts in the UK. There may be more blundering around. It’s best to use the GPX map for this section to pinpoint your realtime location because woods can be hard to navigate. It’s easy at first though. Turn left on Styants Bottom Lane towards attractive houses and, behind them, an oast house. Ignore the first path you see off to the right but take the second one, a wide path, heading uphill, eastward. Soon you pass through a sandstone holloway probably marking the edge of the ancient fort, probably first occupied in the Stone Age and then by peoples right through to the Romans. There must have been a lot of fighting here as different groups came in from east and north but we don’t know much because, says the NT, there hasn’t been a lot of recent excavation. The path twists to the south-east following the edge of the hillfort.
Off to the left through the trees you’ll see Kemsing Down and the chalk escarpment of the North Downs. Keep going straight, ignoring paths off to the right for 800 metres or so (it would be useful to follow the GPX map here). Ignore also a path slanting to the left – stay on the signed Bridleway. The view to the left will disappear as the woods deepen to the north and the fields end. Keep going east then at the second junction of paths turn sharp right on a bridle path. Follow this south – we’re kind of circling the hillfort now, straight on all the way down to the A25 at which point you turn right (west) until you reach the car park. Phew.