If you are going to be a champion of this country’s heritage and the survival of all that’s best about it, Kent seems the ideal place to have as your bedrock.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Two contrasting but quintessentially English fighters for freedoms are celebrated on this walk through the Garden of England: Octavia Hill, one of the founders and pioneering visionaries of the National Trust, and Sir Winston Churchill – now, what did he ever do for us?
Octavia Hill’s large, calm eyes, generous mouth and determined chin show to advantage in the portrait that features in the National Trust’s leaflet guide to the Centenary Trail they have set up in her honour. We picked up the leaflet from the Toy’s Hill car park dispenser and set off through the bluebell woods on a misty day, with the Weald of Kent lying veiled in thick dove-grey air. Octavia Hill lived locally in Crockham Hill, and her gift of property at Toy’s Hill in 1898 was one of the first made to the infant NT. Since then a big swathe of these lovely wooded hills has been acquired by the Trust, a slice of England to be safeguarded for ever by the organisation that most of us take for granted and for whose existence all of us should thank our lucky stars.
Twisty old beech pollards, warty and knobbled, stood in the mossy banks of the bridleway, their multiple smooth-skinned arms shooting skywards. Tiny hornbeam and ash suckers grew among them, rooted in rotting tree debris still evincing the terrible destruction of 1987’s Great Storm over southern England.
On Toy’s Hill village notice board a poster in a child’s huge wobbly writing advertised ‘Purfyoom For Sale’. We followed Puddledock Lane, a deep holloway in the soft greensand with sublime misted views out across the woods and fields of the Weald, past fields of fat white lambs and a cow pasture where a fox went slinking across the grass between utterly oblivious cattle. Chartwell was a huddle of red tiled roofs and white-capped oasts sailing in a frothy pink sea of apple blossom. Here in the big red Victorian house Winston Churchill painted his depressions away, walked the gardens, lived surprisingly modestly, and looked out on a view of meadows and wooded ridges as supremely English as any call-to-arms wartime leader could desire in the way of inspiration.
Beyond Chartwell we followed a mesh of beech-shaded country lanes to Crockham Hill, where Octavia Hill lies under a yew tree in the churchyard. On through buttercup meadows to high-perched Froghole Farm, all half-timbering, red tiles and oast caps, and then a final bluebell path over Mariners Hill to descend to Toy’s Hill once more.
START & FINISH: Toy’s Hill NT car park, Chart Lane, Toy’s Hill, near Westerham, Kent TN16 1QG (OS ref TQ 469517).
M25 Jcts 6 or 5; A25 Sevenoaks-Westerham; turn off in Brasted on minor road through Brasted Chart; car park on right, just before Toy’s Hill.
WALK (6 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 147):
Go up steps behind information board; follow Olivia Hill Centenary/OHC waymarks through woods. In 300 m at junction, turn left (468514/OHC); at lawn area below (469513) bear left down tunnel of hollies to road (470513). Right past phone box along Puddledock Lane. In ⅔ mile pass foot of lane by ‘Windswept’ house (462509); in 100 m, right over stile (fingerpost, OHC) on fenced path to Chartwell. Pass oasts and Herdsman’s Cottage; up lane to road (453513). Left; in 50 m, right up Mariners drive (fingerpost). In 200 m at sharp right bend, ahead through gate (453510, OHC); in 275 m, at 3-way fingerpost, bear left down lane and on down green lane. At crossroads near Coachmans bear right (451507, OHC) on lane for ½ mile to Crockham Hill.
At B2026 (442506; Royal Oak PH on your left), turn right; in 50 m, right past school and church. Go through gate (444507, OHC); on across fields for ⅓ mile to Froghole; at top of long flight of steps, left (449509) along lane past Froghole Farm to B2026 (448513). Right here up steps (OHC) and follow OHC through woods and over Mariners Hill for ½ mile. In trees again near road at Chartwell, watch for left turn uphill (453514, OHC) on path. In ¼ mile, descend to cross road at Chartwell entrance gates (453519).
Ahead along bridleway (OHC). In ¼ mile cross road (456522, OHC) and on for ⅔ mile to French Street. At road, right (459527, OHC) along road for ½ mile past Frenchstreet Farm. At a fork, left uphill (463521, OHC) into Toy’s Hill Woods. Follow track (ignore side turns) and OHC past site of Weardale House (468518). In 100 m, fork left; in another 20 m, right (OHC) to car park.
LUNCH: Royal Oak, Crockham Hill (01732-866335, westerhambrewery.co.uk); NT Restaurant at Chartwell (01732-863087).
ACCOMMODATION: King’s Arms, Westerham, Kent TN16 1AN (01959-562990; oldenglishinns.co.uk/westerham)
Chartwell (NT): 01732-868381; nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell/
Octavia Hill Centenary Trail: Leaflets at Chartwell and Toy’s Hill car park.