Winter walks of Downe, Shoreham and Sevenoaks

The autumn colours have well and truly gone and the more subtle tones of winter are with us. I’ve had to change all the header images on this website to suit… didn’t feel as though the autumn ones got much of a run. My favourites of the headers are the row of trees against a blue sky in late afternoon at Lullingstone with flinty field in the foreground, and beautiful winter sunset colours from east of Shoreham. Snow at Downe and in Meenfield Wood feature, as does a fantastic fog at Ide Hill.

Mud has set in on all the walks so if you lack wellies you may want to know that Knole Park, Shoreham circular, Lullingstone and Downe are the most mud-free strolls on this site (See walks at top of page) – perfect for Boxing Day. Below is that misty sunset from farmland just east of Shoreham.

Nearing Dunstall Farm

Nearing Dunstall Farm at the end of the walk (walk 14 and walk 5)

Ide Hill colours

All of these walks are great for autumn colour but Ide Hill’s panoramas, valley mists and tree varieties are a bit special. Even thought the red/orange thing hadn’t really got going last week these pictures give a flavour of the season’s changes (see the walk’s page for more great autumnal shots).  At Emmetts last week I really liked the weird bush with pink ‘berries’ – it loves it down in Patagonia where it lives above the tree line and it’s called gaultheria mucronata. The berries are apparently edible.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Emmetts Garden and the Ide Hill walk colours

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 Meanwhile, the browns of early spring have been replaced by shades of vivid green.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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Find a north-west Kent walk that suits you


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.

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).

My walks

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: Shorehams mystery eastern valleys (4.5 miles) View

Bough Beech – the lake you can’t quite get to

Bough Beech

No closer … the elusive Bough Beech

From the heights of Emmett’s Gardens, perched on the Greensand Ridge by Ide Hill, the reservoir at Bough Beech off to the south looks so inviting on a hot summer’s day – a cool dash of blue among shades of green, dotted with the white of small sailing dinghies breezily tacking this way and that. On a hot day you might even think: ‘Cor, let’s get down there, hire a boat, a pedalo, splash about, perhaps a bit of waterskiing, finish off with a swim followed up by a nifty little sundowner in a trendy bar surrounded by people almost as slick as me.’

This would be deluded thinking; none of these things are possible. True, there is a sailing club and it does have a bar (at the weekends at least) but its home page proclaims it is ‘run by the members for the members’. Which is lovely … for the members. But, hey, I’m totally in favour of learning to sail and having a space to practise and race and enjoy narrowly avoiding collisions with like-minded people, so you can’t knock it. Fair enough. All good.

Oh well, we can’t get on the lake to cool us off on a summer’s day, so how about a picnic in a delightful meadow with a spot of paddling in the softly lapping water? Er… absolutely not! Much of the lake’s boundary is a nature reserve and you can’t get close to the water. Again, OK, fine. Nature is good, we love nature, even if we can’t touch it  – in fact it’s best if we don’t touch it.

Bough Beech reservoir

Bough Beech reservoir. Photo taken from causeway at north east corner,
near visitor centre

Right, we can’t go in it or stop next to it. We’ll just have to walk or cycle round it while enjoying views across it, in the same way as you can at Bewl Water, an even larger reservoir not that far away. I suspect you may by now have worked out the format of this post and are anticipating me writing ‘Sorry, but you can’t walk round it’. Sorry, but you can’t walk round it. I did try a couple of times (recently my son and I walked up to nearby organic farm Bore Place on public footpaths and back down to the lakeside road – quite nice, but you could only see the lake for a few minutes at the end) with no real luck.

Where you can almost see the lake

Ah, here’s the Kent Wildlife Trust to the rescue. The KWT has a visitor centre, habitat reserve, nature trail and bird hides at the northern end of the map. There are picnic tables too. Big whoop! We’ve got our beautiful lakeside view after all, co-existing nicely with nature. Haven’t we?

Don’t be so naive. Joker. Come on, get real. You can barely see the lake from the visitors’ centre, nice though it is there. And the nature trail goes for about a third of a mile close to the lake’s western edge without quite giving you a view of the lake. Well, it does at one point, but there’s a huge fence in the way to prevent people from messing with nature. Then you have to walk back on a country lane down which cars drive too fast.

Bough Beech

Bough Beech – that view again (the only view!)

I’m told the KWT site is a great spot for birdwatching (even us dullards spotted greylag geese and great crested grebe) and, of course, you’ve got to support it; it’s a great resource, has friendly volunteers who’ll sell you a drink and tell you what creatures to look out for and where, and a nice oast-house visitor centre. Bough Beech even has ospreys from time to time – not a creature fond of beautiful natural areas being opened up to the masses for frolicking. So the KWT can do no wrong in my book, no way, but there’s still no view of the lake.

Damn it. We’ll have to just drive around the lake on the adjacent country lanes, admiring it from various viewpoints. Off we go. We pass a sign that seems to be warning us about frogs. Ah, mmmmm, the lake should be over there … no – there’s woods, there’s fields… it’s over there somewhere, but now there’s a shallow hill in the way. Bloody hell, I give up – you can see it from Emmett’s but I’m beginning to think it was a mirage, it doesn’t exist. I’ll have to join the yacht people.

There it is!

Hold on though, what’s that? Suddenly there it is; a roadside vista of Bough Beech lake. And you can park up. In the northeast corner of the lake, close to the KWT reserve, there’s a causeway traversed by a lane; handily there’s a pavement so it’s a good spot to get out of the car and have a gaze and a twitch maybe. The photos here were taken from there.

I suppose Bough Beech lake would be ruined if we were able to do what we want on it and around it. So really I’m glad I can’t organise a barbecue on a summer’s evening on the shoreline, and that there’s not a kiosk charging £7 to plonk one’s jam jar there with an ice cream van for company. I’m delighted not to be able to pedalo on it – disturbing the geese – or cycle round it – and risk squashing toads. I rest easy at night knowing I haven’t had a swift pint watching the sun go down over this elusive but idyllic spot. But suddenly my sleep is broken; I jolt upright – did I just run over a frog?

May soleil and last chance for bluebells

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

An amazing weekend for getting outside, to local parks and beyond to the nearby Kent countryside. Just eight days after snow and hail showers, we were bathed in warm sunshine with the Kent countryside in full bloom. On Saturday we tried what turned out to be an excellent new walk between Chiddingstone and Penshurst done from the Ordnance Survey map then nipped round the Ide Hill circular on Sunday as temperatures hit 26C. Emmetts‘ azaleas and tulips were looking great. I hope regular visitors to this site managed to get outside. Pictures above.

The coming weekend (May 14) I reckon will be the last chance for bluebells at somewhere near their best, so hit Ide Hill and Emmetts, One Tree Hill/Wilmot Hill, Meenfield Wood (Shoreham), Petts Wood, and Downe Bank (between Downe and Cudham just off the Downe circular walk at Point 3).

Two new walks on the Kent Weald, via Hever, Chiddingstone and Penshurst

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve added two new circular walks, a bit further than the others from south-east London, at Hever (walk 9) and a few miles to the east, Chiddingstone/Penshurst (walk 10). They are both possible on public transport from south London: trains from East Croydon run to Hever and Penshurst, but unfortunately neither station is en route; being 1.5 miles from the start in the case of Hever and two miles from the walk for Chiddingstone/Penshurst. Both are lovely and quiet; Hever has more woods and sandstone outcrop, whereas Chidd/Pens is more meadowy and crosses the river Eden twice. Each has a small section on roads where you have to be careful. The bit on the road at Penshurst on the Chiddingstone walk is particularly bad so don’t do it with younger kids. Both walks use the Eden Valley Path for the first half. Hever, Chiddingstone and Penshurst are all Tudor villages with great houses linked with Henry VIII, the Boleyns and others so these walks, or parts of, are particularly good for youngsters studying that period at school. Both have great pubs: the Henry VIII at Hever and the Castle Inn at Chiddingstone.

Here’s a reminder of the historical connections of the walks on this site and a map of their locations.

• Penshurst Place (nr Tonbridge) Tudor home (many scenes from Wolf Hall were shot here) with great adventure playground and superb gardens. On Chiddingstone circular
• High Elms nature reserve (nr Bromley): excellent nature centre with orchards, ponds, cafe, wildlife information plus gardens (free). Close to Downe circular
• Hever Castle (nr Edenbridge), quite expensive but a great day out. Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. Often a bit crowded. Hever circular starts here
• Emmett’s Gardens: (nr Ide Hill/Brasted) great gardens for azaleas, tulips, bluebells with south facing escarpment, lovely view. Lubbock family connection. On the Ide Hill circular
• Knole: (Sevenoaks) super Tudor pile, but public not allowed in gardens (boo). Knole Park brilliant for walking though and close to One Tree Hill walks on this site
• Lullingstone Country Park (Eynsford): on the Shoreham to Eynsford walk; a great area for strolling. Tudor gatehouse to much altered castle
Down House (Downe/Bromley): Charles Darwin’s house always fascinates with interesting gardens. On the Downe circular walk

And here are those walks again. They work for me at all times but in the spring I’ve always favoured the Otford circular via Romney St and the Ide Hill walks for some reason.

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