Ancient woodland clinging to the ‘cliffs’ of the greensand ridge, a natural ‘valley of the butterflies’, the medieval gem of Ightham Mote nestling in a gap in the hills, and a great old pub (the White Rock Inn) make this a memorable summer walk, with glorious views across the Weald to the Ashdown Forest, and rich in fauna and flora.
Access: Car needed, or taxi from Sevenoaks or Hildenborough railway stations. Refreshments at Ightam Mote NT cafe (2.5 miles) and the White Rock Inn (Underriver, 5 miles)
Covered on Ordnance Survey Explorer 147 map
Click on the points on the Google Map above for directions or read description below
The walk (3-4hrs/5.5 miles)
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Park your car in the small NT car park on Carter’s Hill (OS grid ref 147:TQ560532) then follow the broad footpath heading south (ignore the bridlepath heading left or east). The path soon begins to curve east, following the line of the ridge. After a few hundred metres you’ll reach a small grassy glade with a seat a great view over Underriver and Hildenborough. Continue on the path eastward, crossing over a stile and descending slightly in superb woodland. It’s all very muddy in winter (inevitably) this bit, but superb at other times of the year. Soon, you’ll come to an extraordinary tree – a beech – growing out of the side of the ridge, its roots reaching many yards along the surface before disappearing underground. Some wonderful old yew trees along this part of the walk too. Great for wildflowers in spring and summer too, and toadstools and various other fungi in autumn.
Eventually you’ll descend to a narrow lane via some steps (point 3). Turn right and walk a few metres down the lane before resuming on the footpath, now narrow, on your left (point 4). The view to the south continues to be lovely (as pictured below). After a few hundred metres the vegetation becomes particularly lush and the view up to the ridge above you – with its profusion of tangled trees – spectacular. Note the sandstone boulders and many butterflies on this stretch of the walk. Butterflies and other insects do very well on this part of the route because of its south-facing, sheltered aspect. Also, the vegetation and trees are undisturbed being on a steep slope. At various points there’s almost a tropical feel as the lie of the land creates humid, windless conditions.
Pass a sign stating that you are now in the Ightham Mote NT estate, and continue. Then descend some steps to walk past a pretty cottage. To shorten the walk to just 3.5 miles turn right here and follow the path along the field fringe down to Budd’s Green (point 14), which you can see below, continuing the walk from point 14.
If continuing on the longer walk, pass the cottage and walk along the track/country lane (point 6) all the way to Ightam Mote (point 7). This is a truly beautiful 15th century manor with glorious gardens. The cafe is around the far side of the building, so walk past the southern edge of the mote and turn left to the cafe, past the loos, or right on a lane to continue the walk. A few metres down the lane you can cross a stile into a field where the path continues. Enter a rather magical small pine-dominated wood (South Seer Wood, point 8).
On leaving the wood (point 9) continue on the path to Shipbourne church visible ahead of you (point 10). There’s a pub by the church if you need refreshments at this point (not visible from the path). To continue the walk, turn right (point 11), now heading west on a path crossing a vast field towards some larger woods (a lot of pine again). Enter the woods (point 12) and walk a few metres to a fork junction. Take the path on the left here, ignoring the ambiguously positioned footpath sign.
Soon you’ll descend through a dark coniferous tree tunnel (hideous mud in winter) and come out at Budd’s Green (point 14). Cross the road, across a patch of grass and follow the footpath down the side of the house. Ignore the barking of the dogs, if any – they are trained not to leave the garden so don’t worry. Walk past a pond (point 15) and come out in a field. Sorry to be a bit vague at this point but just continue on the path (I think one field diagonally) in fields, copses, through hedgerows, farm buildings. All nice.
Walk alongside a small wood and follow the path as it turns right (point 16) and you’ll come out by some cottages. The path here joins a lane (Underriver House Road, point 17). Turn right up the lane then left over a stile into fields. Make for the large oak tree on the other side of the field (point 18) where a stile will take you into the next field. There are three or fields to cross before you reach Underriver. The path becomes indistinct at times in these pastures so you might have to take a calculated guess at where the next stile is. You are heading west and can see Underriver ahead of you now anyway – you can’t get lost.
Finally you’ll reach the lane (Carter’s Hill again) (point 20). Turn left to the White Rock Inn where there’s a great beer garden, my favourite of any on these walks in fact. In summer there are performances of Shakespeare at the Inn and a music festival. There’s also a proper boules court (pitch?). In 1927 there was a famous plane crash in Underriver when a Fokker passenger plane flying from Croydon to Rotterdam clipped a tree up on the ridge and came down killing one of the 11 people on board.
After leaving the pub, you can turn right on the road to walk back to the car park (15 minutes), or, (25 minutes) follow the map above to Kettleshill Farm (point 21) then turn up the hill on a sunken track. At the top, turn right on a junction of paths (point 22) to follow the top of a field to get back to the car park, crossing Carter’s Hill (point 23). The blue line on the map shows a 1.5 mile extension to the walk, from opposite Underriver’s church.