An unexpectedly superb weekend of weather; it seems to me that late summer and early autumn are now routinely drier and warmer than mid-summer but I’m too lazy to look for figures to back that up. I hope, dear readers, you’ve been able to get out and about. A small component of my family ventured forth by car and bicycle to Penshurst Place (on the Chiddingstone circular walk) yesterday. We parked at Haysden country park a mile or so from Tonbridge station, then cycled the remaining 3.5 miles to Penshurst Place, on lanes at first, then off-road alongside the river Medway.
We passed a good swimming/picnic spot in the river close to the bridge as it passes beneath Ensfield Rd, before ascending the moderate hill at Well Place Farm then freewheeling down the slope to Penshurst Place manor house itself. The gardens are always a joy and so is the cafe by the house in a large courtyard dominated by a lime (I think) tree. I wrote about the house and its interesting history for the Guardian a while back – also got more detail there on how to get there and prices. A great afternoon out if you are fancy free on the bank holiday but best done with a car/bike combination.
There are trains from Victoria (via East Croydon) and London Bridge but Penshurst station is two miles from the house. I haven’t devised a walking route from the station away from the road yet but there must be one. Hmm…
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…
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
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).
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 Hill. Keep 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.
Despite the bluebells having gone, the Kent countryside is looking fantastic, so verdant, so ancient, so colourful with green, yellow and white predominating. This is especially true on the Hever circular walk with its constant shifting between wood and meadow, long views and short, allowing distant glimpses of mysterious old homesteads and farm buildings with seemingly Tudor chimney stacks appearing between gaps between the trees. At a point on the route near the hamlet of Hill Hoath (nr Chiddingstone) there’s an old ‘holloway‘ – an absurdly venerable trail (part of the Eden Valley Path) enclosed by trees. People must have used this path since pre-Roman times, until a few 100 years ago, to move their herds between pastures. Over the centuries their herds and wagons appear to have worn the path through the sandstone, which has the roots of large beeches growing improbably from its mossy stone sides. At the western end of his section of the path, guarding over it, is an enormous yew tree, clearly 500-plus years old. This was a truly memorable afternoon’s walking. It even featured an inquisitive llama (pictured).
On the 5-mile stroll we didn’t encounter a single soul; surprising for such a great day and the fact the walks starts off next to the visitor honeypot that is Hever Castle. It’s great that you can use their car park for free to visit the wonderful St Peter’s Church – final resting place of Thomas Boleyn and Margaret Cheyne – and the starting point of the walk.
On returning to south east London we watched the very gripping Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, in which Luka Modric showed yet again that he’s the world’s best midfielder. A great day.
Download this walk as a pdf here