Walk 26 HAYES to DOWNE, WESTERHAM & CHARTWELL
HAYES to DOWNE
1 1/2 hours
DOWNE to WESTERHAM
WESTERHAM to CHARTWELL
1 1/2 hours
Routing note: This walk connects in Hayes with walk 25.
There is no train line between Hayes and Westerham although this was in planning in the 1880s. I decided to offer this walk because there is a London Transport bus serving Hayes, Westerham and Chartwell. If you wish to end the walk at Downe, please note that the buses to Downe leave from Bromley South station.
Nearly all the walk is on public footpaths in the countryside or in woods. You definitely need sturdy shoes and some sections are likely to be muddy. You may wish to take a map along in case my explanations are not clear enough. London Cycling Guide 13 is available for free and covers a very large part of the walk until near Westerham. I had no map for the rest of the walk and did not get lost but you may wish to use an Ordnance map just in case.
Important information: Buses to Westerham run hourly all year (but check first for services on Sundays). The same buses only continue to Chartwell on summer Sundays.
The train line between Elmers End and Hayes was a branch line opened in 1882. It had originally been planned to cross the North Downs towards Westerham but the local company who built the railway decided to sell it on completion to a larger operator and the expensive tunnel unter the North Downs was never built.
The station opened in 1882 as the terminal for the branch railway from Elmers End. Original plans to extend the line towards Westerham proved overambitious as the area was still little developped. The station is often named Hayes (Kent) to distinguish from Hayes & Harlington (near Heathrow Airport). Hayes is not in Kent any more but the name stuck on some documents. Public authorities proposed closing the train line in 2004 but it is very useful for several large schools and residents managed to avoid the closure.
The original station building was a rather rural wooden construction. When suburban development reached Hayes in the 1920s (helped by the electrification of the railway, which made the area cleaner and more attractive), the train company decided to integrate the platforms in a commercial parade. As a result, there is no station building to speak of.
Integrating the station entrance in a shopping mall rarely proved attractive in other locations because stations had often been built at some distance from the church and town centres in order to avoid disturbances by noise, coal steam and dangerous sparks from the locomotives. There are nonetheless some other occurrences in London like West Croydon.
Now that most suburban railways are electrified, some train stations are indeed buried under shopping malls or more frequently under office buildings (like Watford and several London terminals), but the cost is high and is not justified in residential suburbs. There are also security issues as both fee dodgers and shopping mall pickpockets could take advantage of places difficult to oversee.
Exiting the station, cross the road with the shops towards the large pub called the New Inn.
The building is rather unusual for a pub and restaurant. I expect building permission was dependant on keeping the style of the former façade which may have been a school or a religious institution while it is very “contemporary chic” inside. Most of the first floor is a venue managed by the pub and used for weddings, comedy etc. The webside says the whole complex is independently managed, but the building itself may still belong to a corporation and I have not checked whether it is stand-alone or whether there are office wings at the back. I would be surprised that independant owners could take the risk of such a huge new construction.
The editor of website http://www.urban75.org calls the style of the building amusingly “bizarre cod-baronial über-pub”.
Routing note: If you refer to ordnance maps or look for walks in the area on Internet, you will find many references to the London Loop as a well-marked trail linking Hayes station with Keston ponds. This is a viable alternative if my route as follows appears too confusing – but I think my route has more variety.
Ahead Station Hill, turns a bit R
Ahead into Hayes Common.
This is one of the largest commons in London and most of it is wood with some patches of heath or open grass. When the owner of the area began to sell large tracts of land to developpers in the 1860s, concerned residents managed to convince Parliament in 1866 to allow local authorities to use their tax income to manage commons (before then, they could only manage land they owned outright). Hayes Common was the very first common in the London area to be taken over by a local Borough.
There is a fork with three paths into the common. Take the L-hand path uphill. On reaching the wood, turn around to check whether you get the view on my picture.
Ahead into the wood, cross Prestons Road. The back fences for a hospital should be visible just on your left where you cross the road. Continue ahead in the wood along this fence or parallel to it.
Continue ahead on the path, ignoring an access road on your left. You are now walking along the back fence of Hayes Court. This is a mansion built in 1776 but it is completely hidden behind the trees and I think it is now used by a trade union.
Where the fence of Hayes Court turns L, turn L as well, soon reaching West Common Road.
Cross the road and continue ahead. Just before reaching a busy main road (Baston Road) turn R on a large track parallel to the road, passing near a four-way junction between Baston Road, Five Elms Road and Barnet Wood Road. Shortly after this crossroads, cross Baston Road and continue parallel to (but not crossing) Five Elms Road.
You will soon reach a dangerous main road, Croydon Road. Cross with utmost care and continue ahead due South into the wood until you reach a side track where you can turn L (due East). This track is the marked Ravensbourne Trail, but signposts may be missing or difficult to see because you are using the trail in the reverse of the usual direction.
The trail crosses a patch of heath and soon turns L again towards the Northeast. It then goes down to a road called Commonside near its merger with Croydon Road. Cross Commonside (not Croydon Road) and pass the stile on the other side. The trail now runs towards the Southeast and forks. The main trail runs ahead and is a bit faster but it is much more interesting to take the small path L down to a brook.
Cross two brooks and follow the path as it meanders upstream along the second brook. You cannot get lost here because the wood is extremely thick and dark with no side paths. The wood is named Padmall Wood nased on an old English word for a water mill.
The brook is the River Ravensbourne, which should be familiar if you have been on my walk 24. It is one of the main rivers joining the Thames in London on the south bank but the valley was not used for travelling because it was very muddy and prone to flooding. Southbound travellers kept to higher ground.
Following the stream, you will finally reach a pond, the lower of the three Keston ponds. The path crosses the brook at the outlet of the lower pond and then leads along the pond towards a parking lot. You will find here the markings for the London Loop, the long-distance trail all around London. It is very well marked with green roundels showing the outline of the kestrel and you can follow these signposts from now on along the upper ponds and for a bit longer.
The ponds are obviously artificial. They were dug in 1827 to supply water to a large mansion set nearby. Because the mansion is on the top of a hill, the water had additionally to be pumped from the ponds and this pump was also hydraulic.
The middle pond in particular was also very popular for swimming in summer and for skating in winter, but this is confusing as other reports mention swimming on New Year’s Day in the 1910s. I suppose swimming in freezing water helped sportsmen overcome the effects of intoxicating beverages…
Finally, the pond is most probably the one mentioned in an important experiment by well-known naturalist Charles Darwin whose house my route passes later on outside of Downe. Mr Darwin checked that mud taken at the bottom of a pond was unexpectedly rich in seeds probably brought in by birds as he managed to grow 527 plants from a small teacup of mud.
If you like, you could pay attention to the very elaborate chute leading the water from the upper pond into the middle pond. There is not enough water to pretend that it enables fish to migrate although the ponds have been known to deliver rather large fish to local anglers.
Just above the upper pond, a very neat brick construction marks the source of the Ravensbourne River. It is popularly called Caesar’s Well, possibly because enthusiastic intellectuals liked to see antique references in the 18th century. Caesar would have camped nearby and this well would have been shown him by a raven when he was looking for water for the troops. The real background for Caesar legends is that the area, being off the Thames floodplain, was indeed used by a Roman villa.
Continue following the London Loop marks (my picture shows such a signpost), crossing uphill a small area of heath with prickly gorse. The London Loop runs first parallel to Westerham Road and crosses the road a bit later. Near your present location, you can find a bus stop for the Westerham to Hayes bus if you need to end the walk.
Continue on the London Loop using a lovely public footpath. This passes Wilberforce Oak, marked by a stone bank behind a fence on your left. The view from the bank would be obscured by trees but an opening is kept because it is an important historical place: Mr Wilberforce sat on this bank when he decided together with leading statesman William Pitt jr. in 1788 to propose abolition of the slave trade in Parliament. Mr Pitt lived in a mansion a bit further uphill called Holwood.
The public footpath crosses later on the minor access road for Holwood. The mansion where Mr Pitt lived burnt down and was rebuilt in a palatial Greek Revival style in 1826. Unfortunately, this is a strictly private property. It belonged to a commercial company at a time but is now owned by an individual. The website http://www.hidden-london.com adds cheekily “with some very ostentatious furnishings”. Do not hesitate to peek at the furnishings on http://www.quintondesign.com (look under “Portfolio” at the heading “Holwood House”).
The London Loop and my route bypass Holwood and exit the wood for pastures. The footpath finally ends in a hollow at the crossroads of three country lanes, Downe Road, Shire Lane and New Road Hill.This is where you leave the London Loop.
Take ahead New Road Hill for a few yards until you find the public footpath into the paddock ahead and R
Follow the footpath across paddocks and fields. It forks at one point shortly before reaching a golf course with one footpath continuing straight ahead and the other one veering off L to the village of Downe. You need the L-hand one.
Ahead along High Street to the church
This is a small village that feels much more rural than you would expect for a London suburb. The lack of convenient access to Central London, be it by car or by public means of transportation, protects the village. The name Downe comes probably from ancient Saxon “Dun” for a hill (there are a number of locations with Dun in Southern Scotland in particular). It is said that the peculiar E at the end of Downe, which is not used for properties like Down House, was required by the Post Office in order to avoid confusion with County Down in Ireland. To call a hill a Down is obviously very confusing for foreigners who would think Upping would be a better word.
The church is of medieval origin but Victorian refurbishment left only few reminders of the original building. Instead of a special church, you can have a look at many very fine properties, particularly along Luxted Road.
From Downe church, take Luxted Road following the signs for Down House. Continue until you reach the museum at Down House.
Down House (written for some reason without the E of Downe) is an English Heritage property set in the former residence of well-known scientist Charles Darwin. I have never visited the property but friends who did told me it is not spectacular. The house itself was originally built in the 1780s but Darwin did significant extension and improvement work when he bought the house in 1842 in order to settle with his growing family (he ended up with 10 children) in healthier and more spacious surroundings than he had in London.
Darwin was aware of shortcomings that are very apparent when you look at the house: it is directly on the road with no room for a front garden and the flat landscape gets dreary in winter. Because the house was used as a school in the 1910s before being converted to the museum it is now, the living rooms are reconstructions. My friends said the visit is very interesting in terms of learning things about natural history but less in terms of sightseeing.
Opposite the house, take the public footpath towards Downe Court.
This was the original manor for Downe and there is apparently a building dating back to 1690 but you cannot see it from the public footpaths.
Just before reaching the farm, take R an other public footpath. When it forks, keep ahead and L for about 100 yards to a 5-way crossing of paths. Take now L again towards Beechwood. The path drops into a valley, crossing a small wood, and reaches a country lane near a bend in the road.
Continue along the road using a footpath conveniently provided parallel to it but inside the pastures. This footpath ends like the country lane at Cudham Church.
The church is ancient in origin. According to the excellent and very detailed comment on http://www.cudhamvillage.org.uk, there are still two small early Norman windows but the proportions of the central nave do not fit and are probably Saxon in origin. The church as it looks now dates back to the 15th century. The church is normally kept closed.
Pass the church to the rear towards a sports ground pavilion
The sports ground is one of the numerous King George Playing Fields set up after the death of King George V. They were primarily meant to create green space in cities and it is therefore less frequent to see one in such a rural location. This also explains why it does not have the usual fancy fences and ornate gates befitting to grounds named after the king.
R Access road for the pavilion
Ahead Barn Lane
After about 200 yards
R Footpath across a strip of wood and a valley
The official footpath climbs again out of the valley through the wood towards the hamlet of Restavon Park (also marked Berry’s Green on some maps).
If you can find a good unofficial path on your L keeping you at half height within the wood, you can take it until it joins an official footpath at the other end of the wood. If you cannot identify a suitable path, continue to Restavon Park as follows
Ahead Quentins Drive
L Berry’s Green Road
Shortly before reaching Warren Farm
L Public footpath through the wood to “The Manor” (New Barn Farm on other maps). The path turns R and forks. Take the L fork and exit the wood just before reaching New Barn Farm.
R on the country lane past the farm.
L Public footpath straight ahead towards Gray’s Farm. Ignore numerous other footpaths crossing yours. The path is a little overgrown at the end but is clearly marked with yellow arrows and runs in a perfectly straight line.
Gray’s Farm is reputably the southernmost dwelling in all Greater London. It is actually on the very cusp of the North Downs, an excellent example of a cuesta. This spanish word is used by geologists to describe a landscape form with one side forming a slow incline and the other side falling off sharply due usually to a river valley. Here, the slow incline leads to the Thames estuary and the sharp drop is caused by the river Darent.
Once you arrive at Gray’s Farm, cross the country lane
Ahead Public footpath downhill into the valley
Just before leaving the wood, you will meet a long-distance path coming from the left, the North Downs Way. Continue ahead downhill together with the marked path.
Follow the marked trail as it turns R along a strip of wood, but turn L again at the next public footpath in order to continue downhill along the edge of the wood (the marked path continues at half height and can now be ignored).
The footpath (a bit overgrown in places) crosses a country lane and merges into a main road (A223).
Walk along the main road for about 100 yards
L Force Green Lane
R (before reaching Force Green farm)
Badly kept former country lane (marked as a public footpath on maps).
The path turns R and crosses the M25 motorway. There is a good likelihood that you can pity motorists stuck in a traffic jam. It is one of the few places where my London train walks extend beyond the M25.
Ahead Beggars Lane (beware of traffic on this main road) for about 200 yards
R Footpath towards Westerham
The path ends in Hortons Way
L London Road (the main road into the village)
L Vicarage Hill
Routing note: Buses to Hayes and Bromley South stations leave hourly from the village green. Beware that buses continue beyond Westerham to Chartwell only on Summer Sundays.
Westerham is a venerable town with a number of interesting old buildings. The town dates back to Saxon times and was granted market rights in 1229. Shortly after the Norman conquest, it was called Oistreham, an interesting name as there is a harbour with a very similar name near Caen in Normandy. Both towns must therefore have been named by Vikings, a “ham” being a Saxon or Danish word for a village.
The whole town centre is full of lovely old cottages, quaint pubs (some in 19th century mock-medieval premises) and a rather nice village green. The church is mostly 14th and 15th century and is particularly worth seeing from the churchyard for the beautiful apse.
If you have an hour to spend, you can also detour a few yards down the hill along the Maidstone road to Quebec House, a small museum owned by the National Trust. It is well worth visiting if you are a member. The main value of the property is that it is the house where General Wolfe was born in 1727.
He is remembered primarily for the capture of Quebec, a major military achievement that justified orgies of British nationalism for decades afterwards. The drama was heightened by the fact that General Wolfe was mortally wounded at 27 just as he was being told that he had won the fortress and therefore Canada for the King.
You can see in the museum four period rooms from the 17th century that are particularly pleasant and interesting to visit. Details about the war in Canada are given in a modern presentation in the former barn.
R Mill Street (a short dead-end)
Ahead across the footbridge over the river
R on footpath along the river but a little bit higher, soon passes several ponds. At the last pond, you should notice markings for a long-distance path, the Greensand Way. Unfortunately, this path is not marked very well and you may need my description and/or an ordnance map.
L at the main pond on a track going steeply uphill. The track is a public footpath passing off an estate (Squerryes Court) and entering a large wood.
Unfortunately, you get no views towards the mansion. It is a beautiful property built in 1781. Owners opened the house and gardens to visitors until 2011 and the website shows magnificent interiors comparable to what you can see in some National Trust properties, but there are new owners who have yet to decide whether they will allow visits again.
At the very top of the hill, the footpath reaches a road with a few houses.
Just before joining the road, you should find signs for the Greensand Way branching off slightly to the L in order to keep in the wood. This goes uphill again.
The path again reaches a road at the very top of this second hill. Shortly before reaching the road, the Greensand Way again branches clearly off L.
If you can find the Greensand Way signs, follow them to the very top of the hill. If you cannot, avoid going downhill and take any path to your L that continues uphill.
At the very top of the hill, there is a house with some open ground in the middle of the wood. From here on, the Greensand Way goes nearly due East and should be marked. It leads downhill and crosses a country road at the edge of the wood. If you went too far R, you would exit the wood before reaching the road. In such a case, turn L along the back side of the gardens (this is a public footpath) until you reach the road at the appropriate place.
Crossing the road, the Greensand Way goes again uphill through the wood. Where it reaches the edge of the wood again, it immediately forks L into the wood again. Go ahead now first flat then downhill to the next road.
R along the road for a few yards for
If you need to travel back to London by bus, you should know that the bus departs from the rear parking lot close to the restaurant. There is no bus sign; you will obviously see the bus when it arrives. You definitely need to check times beforehand from home as there are very few services; buses just reverse at the parking lot and do not stay for any extended period of time, so that you have to be there on time.
Chartwell Manor is a National Trust property since 1947. It is set up as a memorial to Winston Churchill as he lived here a large part of his life. I found some of the decoration an acquired taste and his collection of uniforms and official gifts (among which a wealth of silver cigar boxes) is a bit special.
But there is also a magnificent, well-known garden at Chartwell (I really enjoyed the orchard and the vegetable garden) and you also get beautiful views from the croquet court.
Tickets are seriously pricey but do visit the property if you are a National Trust member. You will need about two hours. Entrance to the house is timed and it gets pretty crowded inside, but the extensive gardens are worth a visit anyway and include Churchill’s painting studio with over one hundred of his landscape paintings.