Countryside walks on your doorstep that you never knew existed

Credit: James Pavlou

James Pavlou found himself at a loss during the first lockdown, so he dug out an old Ordnance Survey map and started plotting some new adventures straight from his front door. Here he walks us through his aptly titled The Castle On The Hill journey which takes in Tudor history and rural tranquillity around Chiddingstone.

“During the first lock down of 2020 my holiday plans were cancelled and I found myself digging out an old OS map, plotting new adventures that began from my front door.

Despite living in and around Tonbridge most of my life there were places on the map that were as alien to me as Wuhan. Little green dashes weaved in and out of quirkily named woods and farms that I had never heard of, yet were so close to home.

Armed with a camera phone, an old pair of trainers, and plenty of time I began tramping round the local countryside. Some of the sights I saw left me open mouthed and secretly ashamed that I had never taken the opportunity to explore these before.

I’ve rambled for miles now and have got to know some of these walks quite well. Now’s the time to share them with you…

Prior to the first lockdown I had never considered myself to be a walker. My experience of walking was pretty much limited to the annual festive stroll around Knole Park.

When my holiday plans were cancelled along with all other non-essential travel, it was the beginning of something. I dusted off an old map and then over the next couple of weeks, I walked and walked, leaving my home behind, and exploring the miles and miles of footpaths that surround it.

As I connected with the countryside, I also began to investigate the places and objects I was encountering on my travels. Pillboxes, country houses and of course the landscape itself – were just some of the things I had previously taken for granted without ever really questioning – yet each had a story of their own to tell.

Credit: James Pavlou

What began as an Instagram account, morphed into a website and with 18 walks and counting Walk Tonbridge has become a much-valued tool in our community. Each walk I write takes the reader on a narrative journey through the landscape, recapping the stories and facts that I have discovered along the way.

One of my favourite walks that I have a discovered is a scenic ramble through Chiddingstone, part of the Sevenoaks district.

The walk begins at The Little Brown Jug, a popular local pub that in draws visitors from all directions.

Upon leaving the pub, cross through Penshurst railway station via the footbridge, tucked away in the platform shelter you will find a pop-up art gallery, show casing the work of Jessops Farm Studios a collective of local Sevenoaks artists.

Having crossed the tracks, the walk leads you through a series of fields and farms, as you look across to rolling hills and distant oast houses, showcasing the best of the Weald.

Credit: James Pavlou

After a mile or half into the route you will come to Somerden Green, a remote hamlet enveloped by its rural surroundings.  The row of beautiful cottages that you will find here were once the village ‘poor house’.

Life in the workhouse was grim. Husbands and wives would be separated, as would children from their parents. Younger residents would be four to a bed and even the adults would need to double up. Sharing a bed with your workmates would be bad enough at the best of times, but even more so when you are washing outside in cold water!

Leaving Somerton Green behind, the walk continues over the pretty River Eden, where you will see a pillbox guarding the bridge. This is just one of thousands that were hastily constructed in the summer of 1940, forming a series of defensive lines around London and the length of the country, in response to military intelligence suggested that a Nazi invasion was imminent.

As the walk approaches the village of Chiddingstone you will spot a beautiful lake belonging to Chiddingstone Castle. For many years the castle was owned by the Streatfields, a prominent Chiddingstone family whose connection with the village can be dated back hundreds of years.

The castles most recent owner was Denys Bowyer, an eccentric gentleman whose own story is as fascinating as the exotic antique collections that he kept in this wonderful stately home. The castle grounds make a beautiful extension to this walk and can be enjoyed for a small donation.

Credit: James Pavlou

Continuing from the castle the walk takes you through the National Trust owned village of Chiddingstone. Its gorgeous cobbled High Street and Tudor buildings are home to both a pub and a tearoom as well as the village stores, which claims to be the oldest working shop in Britain.

Upon leaving the village the route detours slightly to the mysterious Chiding Stone, a huge sandstone boulder that dates to the time of the dinosaurs. The stone is steeped in myths and legends. It is said that Parishioners would gather here to scold witches and nagging wives – hence its name the chiding stone!

 Walk on, leaving the village behind you and after passing the very Kentish Triangle oast and Larkins Farm, you will pass across the top of Hampkin Hill. This lofty ridge offers stunning views in all directions as you gaze across to Ide Hill, Bough Beech and Sevenoaks.

As you drop back down into the Eden Valley, you pass over the river once more, as you cross Vexour Bridge and make your through the surrounding pasture. These fields were once grazed by Garth, a world record breaking bull that smashed his price tag at auction as buyers clamoured to secure his stud credentials.

Having traversed through these fields you will eventually re-join the first section of the walk, where you can retrace your steps back to the Little Brown Jug, rewarding yourself with a well-earned takeaway!”

• Some of James’ walks will be well known and well loved by locals, but if you are not familiar with them or new to the area, then have a read through and pick one that you like the look of. He has tried to include local history and photography where relevant to bring the places en-route to life.

You can visit James’ website at www.walktonbridge.co.uk for more information.