Suddenly it’s autumn in the Darent Valley

Two weeks ago I did the Shoreham circular in 25C heat. Now, dodging showers and sudden switches in temperature I’ve ventured out on the Shoreham-Eynsford walk ( 3), the Eynsford-Lullingstone (walk 12) and to the eastern valleys of Shoreham (walk 14).

It’s often the case that the sky can make landscape photography easy; with the weather we are having this mid-September, the clarity of air and development of interesting cloudscapes transmit atmosphere and steal the scene with drama. Enjoy this slideshow…

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New walk: Shoreham’s mystery eastern valleys

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.)

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Slow worm and autumn colours

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.

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

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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

Autumn becomes winter

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That seemed to happen very quickly. A dreamy, misty, surprisingly warm autumn has suddenly snapped into winter with a blast of Arctic air. Truth to tell, the past 10 days have become increasingly turbulent, with high winds stripping the trees of much of their leaves… all those beautiful greens, oranges and reds were too good to last. I know; this happens every year, but somehow it all seems somewhat abrupt each time, in the same way as you feel plunged into darkness when the clocks go back.

So … up for a winter walk? Of the routes on this site, the least affected by mud are usually the Shoreham circular, Shoreham/Otford circular, Shoreham to Eynsford and Downe Circular. You’ll still need boots, but the woodland walks at One Tree Hill and Ide Hill are truly squelchathons come December, although they remain great to do if you have the right footwear (and attitude!). Also excellent are Knole Park and Lullingstone Country park (where you can do a variety of walks arriving at and leaving from Eynsford station, but can also explore on the Shoreham to Eynsford walk). The latter two are great for huge skies and spectacular late afternoon sunlight. Just take a look at winter sun shining on Knole House (pictured).

I’ll soon be adding some more winter pictures on the site and maybe my routes around Knole and Lullingstone (nearly mud-free). So stick around.

Autumn colours around Shoreham and Sevenoaks, Kent

Autumn colours around Shoreham and Sevenoaks, Kent

Fine days at this time of year are fantastic for colours and light. All fine days are great of course, but there’s a surprise element when it’s nice in October and November that somehow helps you enjoy country surroundings all the more. Yet some of the finest autumn colours are to be had in London: Dulwich Park, for example, with its variety of trees (the turkey oak by the western perimeter lane is amazing) and also Burbage Rd, nearby, which has some maples of the deepest red right now, yellow-green honey locusts (I think), and wine-coloured cherry plums amid others.

Trees are such a part of the landscape in the city or out in the sticks that most of us hardly bother to stop and wonder. I’d been doing the One Tree Hill walks for years before I noticed the most amazingly tall, straight oak (picture). Great beech trees abound on all of these walks; some of the most extraordinary, again, on the One Tree Hill escarpment (picture).

The images below are from One Tree Hill, Shoreham and, most recently, Ide Hill, which was right on the borderline between foggy and sunny on 1 November.

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Darent Valley ‘cloud forest’

Darent Valley ‘cloud forest’

What an appalling bank holiday weekend for weather. I can’t remember one like it; only Saturday morning was up to scratch. And this on top of a week of heavy rain. In need of exercise though, we drove over towards Shoreham and walked for five miles on various paths in the the western Darent Valley above the village to Andrew’s Wood, then through Pilot’s Wood and Meenfield Wood back to where we’d parked (where Shacklands Rd meets Castle Farm Rd and the High St). With the humid, steamy, very damp conditions the woods had the feel of a tropical cloud forest. At the highest points we were in the clouds, draped over the tops of the North Downs. The wildlife consisted of wrens, pigeons and a robin, however; not quite up there with howler monkeys and the three-toed sloth.

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