I love to do this walk several times over the spring, catching the various colours as they flare up and die down at Emmetts and in the woods and fields. The bluebell clouds are starting to fade now; by next weekend they’ll be well past their best (although the wild garlic is still vibrant), but soon the foxglove ‘forests’ of the Ide Hill/Toys Hill valley will spire up to replace them. I wonder if the bluebells have been a bit short-lived this year because of the cold, dry weather, which followed a very warm early spring. Meanwhile, the browns of early spring have been replaced by shades of vivid green. Emmetts of course is always a kaleidoscope of colour and right now is peak azalea. And those tulips… weird and so photogenic. This year’s black, red and white scheme is the best I’ve seen – check out the pictures below. Here are a few pix from the past two years in Emmetts and on the Ide Hill walk.
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
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.
The Tudor hamlet of Chiddingstone now boasts a superb pub once again. The Castle Inn (website is a work in progress apparently) reopened a few days ago (6 April 2016) in a 500-year-old building with original beams. It has two smallish bars, a couple of nice lounges and dining areas and a cute beer garden. The local brew, Larkins, is a real winner and the bar staff are friendly and amenable. There’s a large open kitchen and though I didn’t eat there, you kind of feel the food’s going to be pretty good. Recommended for any walkers on the Chiddingstone walk (at the start/end of walk) and Hever walk (short diversion from Hill Hoath).
The Castle Inn, a beautiful pub in a Tudor building next to Chiddingstone Castle
It’s that astonishing time of year when woods turn blue. I think from Easter to early May the bluebells will be great – there are some patches already in full bloom. The best of my walks for bluebells are Ide Hill and One Tree Hill (see below).
Bluebells on the Ide Hill walk
Here are the best places on my walks:
- Shoreham circular: take the high path through Meenfield woods, the one that goes along the top of the hill. It’s marked on my digital map with a blue line. It just means continuing to the top of the hill after point 7 and turning right (north) at the top rather than two-thirds of the way up. The parallel paths meet later, by Shacklands Rd. There are not many bluebells on the regular route, so as I say, take the high Meenfield woods path.
- Ide Hill: the best walk for continuous bluebells. There are great bluebells straightaway once you enter the Ide Hill NT woods behind the church, and even better in Scords wood just below Emmetts Garden. (Picture.) Amazing bluebells at Emmetts of course, but it’s best to pay the fee (or at least buy some cake!) if you linger in the gardens.
- One Tree Hill walks: Good bluebells throughout these NT woods and also at the top of Wilmots Hill (on the ‘figure of eight‘ walk). Some lovely pockets of mixed bluebells and wild garlic (picture) off to the side of the path as you near Ightam Mote too (including a kind of garlic ‘jungle’ at one point). Some in the woodland between Shipbourne and Underriver too.
- Downe: like the Shoreham circular you just have to make a small diversion to get the best bluebells, which are to be found in the hillside woods between Downe and Cudham (picture). Just turn left instead of right at point 3 and walk down to the woods. The hillside is called Downe Bank – a favourite place of study for Charles Darwin and John Lubbock (these great scientists’ names still make infuse this area with greatness and give it a special atmosphere). There aren’t many bluebells to be seen without the diversion.
- There are good stretches of the blue stuff on the Hever walk, but perhaps less so on the Chiddingstone walk except in the woods above the river Eden (picture) on the return leg of the walk. There are excellent areas of the flowers on the Chislehurst/Petts Wood walk in the lower part of the wood, amid the chestnut groves just east of point 7 close to the railway tracks, stretching north towards the central fields. Knole Park is not great for bluebells compared with the other walks – but then One Tree Hill is just round the corner to sate your blues. However, back to Shoreham, the two Romney St/Shoreham eastern valley walks (5 and 14) have fantastic patches of bluebells in most of the woods the paths pass through.
Here’s a map of all the walks on this site so far. Click on the pointers to take you to descriptions of the walks online or in printable pdf format. Alternatively, use the walk tabs at the top of this page. No one likes standing for ages at bus stops or on railway platforms but I will say the bus to Downe is relatively reliable and frequent and the train to Eynsford, Shoreham and Otford is pretty good too (and there are pubs to dip in to if you have to wait for ages anyway) – although watch out for engineering work on Sundays. More details below. Tell me if you have any tips I’ve left out.
The best walks on this site for public transport, if you live in SE London are:
Best for public transport: Chislehurst/Petts Wood walk (13): direct train to Chislehurst/Petts Wood/Bickley stations from Brixton/Hither Green/Catford/Herne Hill/West Dulwich/Peckham Rye/Nunhead. For the Shoreham/Eynsford and Otford routes (walks 2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 14) there are trains direct to the starts of the walks on Thameslink services between London Blackfriars and Sevenoaks (stopping at Peckham Rye, Nunhead, Catford, Bellingham, Bromley South etc). Trains are relatively frequent and take about 30 minutes from, say, Catford to Otford. Pubs in Shoreham and Eynsford well placed for any delays or cancellations!
So-so for transport: Downe (walk 1): closest route to SE London but involves a (fairly frequent) 25-min bus ride – 146 from Bromley South station
OK for transport: Knole Park (walk 11) – you’ll have to walk from Sevenoaks station (good rail services to Sevenoaks station on Thameslink – see above – or Charing Cross line (Hither Green etc) for nearly a mile to the leisure centre and enter Knole from there, joining the walk as per instructions and map.
Bit of a stretch but do-able: Hever (walk 9) actually has a station, on the London Bridge line via East Croydon, so quite easy from Forest Hill, Brockley etc if you plan ahead. The walk starts at Hever Castle, 1 mile from the station but there’s a path that will take you there from the station.
Not so accessible: Sevenoaks routes (walks 4, 6, 7): can take train to Sevenoaks station on Thameslink or Charing Cross line (Hither Green etc), but then a taxi ride – Ide Hill is about 4 miles from the station; One Tree Hill about 3 miles (also quite close to Hildenborough station).
Car only, although…: I think Chiddingstone is definitely best by car. But, you can take the train to Hildenborough or Edenbridge and get a taxi (more details on walk’s page).
• 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
• Download Walk 11: Knole Park’s Wild Side (3.5 miles) View
• Download Walk 12: Eynsford/Lullingstone circular (4 miles) View
• Download Walk 13: Chislehurst station to Petts Wood station (3.7 miles) View
• Download Walk 14: Shoreham’s mystery eastern valleys (4.5 miles) View
Two weeks ago I walked at Downe in snow (see pictures below) – a reminder that villages near the leading edge of the North Downs (Ide Hill is another) are just enough metres higher than SE London to convert rain into snow. Since then there have been signs of spring; no sightings of ridiculously early bluebells so far, unlike this time last year, but a milder feel despite Doris rushing through. This past weekend a drizzly Knole Park walk was hugely enjoyable. Although the park was surprisingly busy there was a lovely wild atmosphere about the place and the removal of scaffolding from the side of Knole House restores the Tudor integrity of that fantastic structure. Busy green woodpeckers and flitting small mixed groups of finches provided the evidence that change is in the air. No owls though, even as dusk came on.
Awful weather this week – overcast, cold – but at least there was some snow today to enliven proceedings. I decided to get some fresh air on the Downe walk. In south-east London the snowfall didn’t stick whatsoever but by the time I reached Keston there were extensive patches. Below are some iPhone images of the Downe circular walk taken sequentially. I nipped off-piste down to the golf course after point 5 – the unblemished snow on the fairway made me feel as if I were walking on goose feathers; the powder had a strangely translucent appearance I’d never seen in snow before. Popped into the Queen’s Head where a half of Westerham Ales’ Grasshopper by the fire, with Italy v Ireland rugby on the telly, was a splendid ‘warm down’. Once again, a rotten day for weather comes up trumps (whoops, sorry, banned word there).