Just a heads up that the Biggin Hill airshow is back next weekend (19-20 August). This year’s event is a bit bigger than the recent ones and features on Sunday the French air force’s display team, the Patrouille de France (and the Red Arrows). Very spectacular. There will also be three extremely noisy modern jet fighters performing as well as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancaster and various stunt and biplanes, some of first world war vintage. Worth getting tickets for, or at least taking the Downe circular walk for a peek. If you don’t like that kind of thing then take a walk a long way away!
Cyclists from all over south-east London head off for the nearby North Downs lanes on weekday evenings and at weekends, often en masse as part of clubs. A lot of popular routes (like this one) leave from Crystal Palace/Elmers End and involve Westerham, Downe, Brasted and Cudham with some testing hills, great scenery and relatively car-free lanes.
I’m partial to a good cycle too, along with various members of the fam, but we don’t think heading out on the busy ‘A’ roads is a lot of fun, so we plonk the bikes on a rack and drive to Downe, park up, shed the bikes and off we go. Here’s route one:
Go to menu (top right) and click on ‘hills’ to get a profile view of the route with terrain guide, gradients and heights above sea level. The second half of the route, after Hawley’s Corner, is remarkably traffic free but at all times, however quiet, you should anticipate a Range Rover swinging round the corner ahead of you. There are some fabulous downhill sections later in the ride (Shelley’s Lane, Knockholt and Downe Rd on leaving Cudham) where really high speeds can be built up quickly but please just imagine a car pulling out (there’s one or two driveways) or coming round a corner quickly. The final (steep) hill, back up to Downe village (Cudham Rd), is through Downe Bank, one of Charles Darwin’s research zones. Some massive history right there in those woods.
Here’s a link to a topographic view of the route; there’re more uphills than down but don’t be mislead; most of the uphills are gentle whereas the downhills are sharper.
Below is an extended version of the route, taking in quiet Chevening hamlet (you’ll never guess who sometimes sleeps over at Chevening House).
This one’s a bit longer at 16 miles (say 90 mins) and adds in one gorgeous downhill (Brasted Hill) and one strenuous uphill section (Starhill Rd). The route is easy to extend to Brasted and Ide Hill, even Hever, if you like, but those roads tend to be a bit busier. On the map it looks as if you have to double back at Chevening but in fact you can take your bike on a footpath behind the church to join the road and crack on up Starhill Rd. Oh yes, Chevening House is where Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis periodically hang out. The church and houses there are very nice though. A third Downe variation, taking in the very quiet but taxing Sundridge Hill (rather than the busier Starhill Rd) is here:https://www.plotaroute.com/embedmap/447637
This third route is very quiet traffic-wise between The Nether and Cudham and, at 14 miles, is a good little work out with a couple of steep hills.
If you don’t fancy parking on the street at Downe (sometimes awkward) there is the car park at High Elms country park a mile to the north. Or just cycle all the way from Peckham/Lewisham or wherever. Or get the train to Orpington or Hayes and cycle from there. Take care on the busy roads though.
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).
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.
I really like the meadows around Downe, especially on the hillside between points 4 and 8 on the second half of the walk. Right now the buttercups have largely gone and have been replaced by a mix of scabious, daisies, clover etc amid the long grass. The colours are not so obvious as a few weeks ago when the grassy fields were ablaze with yellow but they are more varied and seem to attract a wider variety of insect life. The Downe circular is particularly useful for south east London dwellers, being the closest and shortest of the walks on this site. I can do the whole journey in under two hours if I get a move on.
Original post: Today, Saturday June 11, there’s a small airshow at Biggin Hill airfield, so it’s a good day to do the Downe circular walk. There’ll be aerobatic teams, Spitfires, a Hurricane and Mustangs and, at 15.30, the Red Arrows who are arriving at the airport directly from the Queen’s birthday flypast. Adds a bit of spectacle to the walk if the usual birdsong, trees and wildflowers aren’t enough for you!
Update: Today, Sunday June 12: A pretty poor weekend of weather though there were a couple of windows of brightness: Saturday morning and late afternoon, and late Sunday afternoon. We set off to do the Downe walk in pouring rain on Saturday, assuming the airshow had been called off. But incredibly, the rain stopped on our arrival, the clouds lifted and we were treated to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Red Arrows, a Mustang, stunt planes and a Spitfire/Hurricane finale. I’ve supported the event for many years so not feeling too guilty about walking around it, though I certainly recommend paying to enter to get the full experience. Photographically you get some interesting shots of the aircraft from public footpaths near the airfield and to hear and see Spitfires and Hurricanes in this setting, their natural domain considering the airfield was a principal fighter base in 1940, is a wonderful thing.