Yep, crisp winters’ days are great; mellow autumn walks can be lovely; and spring fills you with hope. But can you really beat heat? Humid, sultry but not too hot today. Clear enough for views stretching for miles too. With my younger son I did the Hever walk in reverse (yes I’ve got the nagging feeling it’s better than the way round I’ve suggested in the description – you get the half-mile road bit out of the way early, for starters). The insect world was happily whirring away; flotillas of butterflies arose from the buttercup-rich meadows. A sparrowhawk glided past us silently in one glade. And in a field by Stock wood we came across some friendly older guys flying large radio-controlled aircraft, including aerobatics, next to a little grass runway cut out of the meadow. They were the only people we met on the 5 mile route; remarkable really when you consider that Hever Castle was, well, heaving. Some pix…
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 Meanwhile, the browns of early spring have been replaced by shades of vivid green.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.
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.
Beyond the steep, thickly wooded eastern wall of the Darent Valley is a quiet chalk upland area of dry valleys, meadows and plateaus. There’s a disused golf course, now overgrown and becoming a bit of an unofficial wildlife reserve, lovely north-south views, a discreet private airstrip behind a strip of woods from which vintage light aircraft are regularly flown, and, well… that’s it really. It’s a very atmospheric area and, for me, quite different in nature from the western valley wall. My new, ‘eastern valleys’ walk (number 14, 4.5 miles, pix below) really digs into this tranquil, timeless landscape via the little hamlet close to the defunct Austin Lodge clubhouse. Also the Otford/Shoreham/Romney St walk (5) takes in some of it. Walkers can combine the two routes to make a 10-miler or combine them with the Shoreham Circular strolls (8.5 miles). The starting point for the new walk is Shoreham railway station, which is well connected to south-east London, by Thameslink trains (not the most reliable line but so handy for the countryside). It can also be started from the church with an alternative route up to the plateau. There are some steep sections so you’ll feel this one afterwards. Enjoy. (Download a pdf of this walk.)
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).
The weekend has started abysmally, with heavy rain, low temperatures and general murk. Great for walking! Yes, there’s a real frisson in donning hat, gloves and coat and striding off on a ridge amid horizontal precipitation. Failure to remember hat or gloves, however, is detrimental to the cause. Some places take on a whole new atmosphere of wilderness when you walk in poor conditions. Knole Park suddenly seems like a Scottish glen, the Ashdown Forest becomes Dartmoor, Lullingstone the Cheviot hills (bit of a stretch that). Anyway, whatever, my point is that waiting for perfect conditions is just not good form if you want to enjoy the local countryside. I can see from my exalted position as webmaster that the number of views on this website fall dramatically as the clouds gather. So don’t delay, ignore the moisture, get out there. I’ll be watching.
Ide Hil walk, Ram Pump Pond
A great walk on a grey day is my latest offering here… Eynsford/Lullingstone (4 miles; 90 mins). It’s mostly mud-free, has two good pubs waiting for you, and up on the hill by Eagle Heights you’ll feel the elements alright. It’s also a great choice of walk if car-less; it starts from Eynsford station.
I won’t bother with a picture; grey, rainy days aren’t very photogenic. They’re all about feeling it.
A few hours later… went to Knole Park in awful conditions, but got an OK shot with the iphone
– had to brighten it a bit so a bit pixelly but still…
Stag at Knole, November 2016 (Point 1 on the Knole Walk)
Knole Park is great for an autumn walk. Fantastic beeches and oaks, with the odd yew and pine plantations, make for a colourful spectacle. Encounters with deer, interesting birdlife such as green woodpeckers, redstarts, and weird fungi and so on, add to the interest. Oh, and a great National Trust maintained tudor mansion (Knole House). A lot of the park counts as rare lowland dry acid grassland, if you’re in to topographic categories.
My walk takes in the more remote-feeling eastern side of the park, starting in woodland on the park’s southern perimeter. I’m afraid that’s not the most convenient place to start the walk if you’re travelling to Sevenoaks on the train, but you can still do the walk by starting closer to the station at the park gate behind the leisure centre (half a mile walk from the station) – and then joining the route by Knole House (ie point 4 to 5 when you see the map – click link below).