Slow worm and autumn colours

Enjoyed an excellent walk on the western ridge above Shoreham to Polhill today. Autumn colours were beginning to kick in, lit up by the slanting late afternoon sun low in a sky that looked to be in a state of flux. High cirrus, ragged grow low broken cumulus, patches of blue and squally showers on the horizon.

I love coming across unexpected wildlife so was delighted when my son spotted a large slow worm by the path. They are legless lizards apparently, not snakes and not worms. This one was a real beauty, more than 20cm long, and I think a female (males aren’t so stripy apparently). In one of the photos you can see its little black tongue flickering out. They eat slugs and worms apparently – the only creatures that aren’t quick enough to get away – and can live to, amazingly, 50-odd years.

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Just finished reading Beryl Bainbridge’s Birthday Boys novel about the expedition to the Antarctic led by Captain Scott that finished in tragedy in 1912. An incredible book that gets inside the heads of some of the main protagonists on the trip and leaves the reader staggered all over again at the risks and appalling hardship those men gladly signed up for: recommended.


One of Earth Wind and Fire’s finest, but also a great month if the weather is half decent, as it has been. I haven’t been out walking much, due to work and various things, and when I have it’s been mostly very local. At Downe, on Sunday, our late afternoon stroll was rewarded by wonderful light and colour and a great view of a tawny owl (big one, too), gliding between beeches near the end of the walk. Below are some pictures from recent walks. Clear September days have a special quality.

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Country pubs on walks around Shoreham, Downe, Sevenoaks, Ide Hill and Hever, Kent

One of the unique pleasures of walking in the UK is the array of superb pubs offering refreshment within reach of wherever you are – often in a lovely garden and at a reasonable price. In recent years many have taken to offering wider ranges of beers, wines and soft drinks, better quality coffee and more imaginative food choices. There are many good brewers in the county – see the interactive map at Camra’s website – from old, famous names like Shepherd Neame to smaller outfits such as Westerham Brewery and Larkins of Chiddingstone. Big names from Suffolk and Sussex supplying pubs in the area include Greene King and Harvey’s.

Liking a pub is a personal thing – we all have different criteria and it’s hardly scientific in my case. I genuinely don’t know why I prefer some things over others! Of the pubs on the walks I particularly like the Queens Head in Downe (good beer selection and cider drinkers will love flattish Rosie’s Pig on a summer’s day). My pick of Shoreham pubs is Ye Olde George Inn opposite the church. It’s the closest to the station, has medieval-low ceilings and a friendly vibe. Can’t vouch for the food because I haven’t eaten there, but it looks pretty decent. There are lots of other pubs in the village – you won’t suffer in any of them. Camra has reviewed them all, handily, on one page.

The Plough in Eynsford is right by the Darent river (the bank here is wide and grassy, a popular spot for a summer drink – often a bit too popular) and a really old bridge and ford.

Cock Inn, Ide Hill

Cock Inn, now refurbished, Ide Hill

The wonderfully refurbished Cock Inn in Ide Hill, the large, efficient Chaser Inn in Shipbourne, and the rustic White Rock in Underriver are excellently placed for the Greensand Ridge walks of One Tree Hill and Ide Hill (walks 4, 6 and 7). The White Rock boasts a lovely unfussy beer garden and lawn with a competition-ready petanque court. The White Hart at Brasted (well placed for the Ide Hill walk and en route to south east London if returning from Hever and Chiddingstone/Penshurst) is another large gastro-style pub which prides itself on its food. In 1940 it was the pub of choice for the Biggin Hill squadrons who often let off steam there in the evenings during the Battle of Britain and was the original site of the famous blackboard with the chalked signatures of many prominent RAF pilots of the second world war (now at the Shoreham aircraft museum). Today, it’s very popular, maybe with more of the dining crowd than the walkers. Also in Brasted, off the main road, is the friendly, family-run Stanhope Arms, again which serves much-praised food.

The Henry VIII at Hever offers very good food, quick-serving bar staff, Shepherd Neame and guest beers, a large dining area and a large garden. It’s in a lovely old building and is perfectly positioned right at the end of the Hever walk.

Sadly, there have been quite a few pub closures too. The Fox and Hounds at Romney St is much missed but surely the Castle Inn at Chiddingstone – perfect to end up in at the end of that walk – will be open again before too long. It’s in a 15th century building in need of some repair but it’s owned by the National Trust so surely they have the funds to crack on.

Around Penshurst the Bottle House Inn and Spotted Dog both have big reputations but neither is very close to the walk unfortunately. Likewise the excellent Rock Inn at Chiddingstone Hoath, a pub in which one or two walkers on the Hever walk have found themselves having overshot at Point 3 (Hill Hoath) (see blog post below for further details)!

Do look out for those local brewers like Larkins, particularly around Chiddingstone, Penshurst and Hever; and Westerham, around Downe, Biggin Hill, Ide Hill etc.

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.


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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