This extraordinary part of West Kent is blessed with not one but two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Kent Downs and the High Weald), dozens of unique nature reserves, huge parks, nationally important gardens, vast lakes, chalk rivers (the Darent, Eden and Medway), and acres of ancient woodlands and rare habitat commons.
With at least four of our ‘Kent Alps’ featuring among many cycling groups’ top ten in the Southeast, and with at least five major walking routes passing through, there is more than enough to occupy residents and visitors for weeks on end. We’ll be adding to this section of the website over time (and do let us know of any more insider information) so that our newfound love of nature can be celebrated and enjoyed by all, much of it for free.
For more sustainable travel, check nationalrail.co.uk, darentvalleycrp.org and southeastcrp.org for tips on how benefit from the six railways lines running through or near the area and trails/links to and from the fourteen train stations in the area. Bicycles can be dropped off at stations by bike hire companies such as Countrybike and Country Hire and Go (also a taxi company) and group buses can be summoned or joined from stations using the Go2 App in the immediate Sevenoaks area and the Darent Valley.
To find out more about the activities featured here click on the following: cycling, fishing/angling, outdoor water sports, bird-watching, exploring and golfing, with more to come
West Kent is renowned for its golf courses, with beautiful sweeping landscapes and extensive views providing the perfect context for golf heaven. While a lot of the clubs are private, there are quite a few which offer pay and play options, or if you’re lucky enough to know a fellow golfer, then most have visitor days each week. With Kent having hosted the 149th Open (delayed from 2020) and with the English Open at our District’s fabulous London Golf Club in August, we hope, this year, there’s plenty to celebrate and a few competition tournaments to enjoy as a spectator too.
Pay and play: Lullingstone Park Golf Course and The Darenth are both situated in the stunning landscape of the Darent Valley, with the clear chalk stream Darent River running nearby and the North Downs rising in the distance. The Darenth has the added bonus of being a golf club reachable by train (Shoreham, Kent), although Corinthians might qualify too (from Longfield station)! Pedham Place Golf Course is also a pay and play, a short taxi ride from Swanley station.
Do always check each club’s website for up-to-date details, but to give a sense of the range of golf courses available in the area, here’s an insider’s guide (coming soon). Check golfinkent.co.uk for information too (we’re pleased to see that Hever and London golf clubs feature among the top clubs recommended in the whole of Kent):
A familiar sight on most West Kent roads, cyclists cite two of our highest hills as among their top ten routes in the country – Ide Hill and Toy’s Hill – picturesque wooded lanes climbing up several hundred metres on either side with wonderful views across the Weald of Kent if you take time to pause, ideally at Ide Hill Community Shop, for a look. There is also the wonderful Tudor Trail which runs between Tonbridge and Penshurst (with navigable extensions to Edenbridge), made even more possible by the power to summon hired bikes to your arrival point by phoning companies such as Countrybike or CountryHireandGo who will drop off the required amount of bicycles and of course pick them up when you’ve finished for the day (or weekend). So catch the train to Tonbridge, Leigh, Penshurst (actually in Chiddingstone Hoath) or Edenbridge Town to start the adventure.
Further north, work is being done to upgrade the North Downs Way for cyclists so keep an eye on their website – the path passes through the lively village of Otford, on both Southeastern and Thameslink routes, so take a break for a delicious culinary stop or a wander round the many small shops.
OK it’s not the Tour de France or even the Tour of England, but the Circuit of Kent Cycle Sportive should still be a date in the diary – 5 September 2021 specifically – a multi-length event which starts and ends in Godden Green to the east of Sevenoaks.
“The route of the Sportive follows the countryside of the Darling Buds of May, of oast houses, orchards and hop fields, and of some imagined rural idyll of the early 1950s. Although close to London, the “Garden of England” is, once you get south of Maidstone and the M20, a rural paradise of tiny lanes meandering between sleepy villages.”
To find out more check the Kent Cyclo Sportive dedicated website.
Also coming up is the 4th Wolfe of Westerham sportive, starting and finishing at the glorious Westerham Brewery. Velo Barn is nearby to help with repairs and a pitstop for energy-enhancing coffee.
Look out as well for a number of competitive events at Hever Castle, part of the Castle Race Series involving a lot of different disciplines.
Other events to watch out for (there are so many) include the Caterham to Canterbury Cycle Ride (one element of which starts in Otford); the Tour of Weald Sportive (August); Team Connor Sportive (starts in Tonbridge and goes through the Eden Valley); the Kent Classic Sportive and the Kent Climber (which both start in Lingfield passing through the District) in late summer/autumn.
We will be adding routes over time, but there are a lot of local experts who enjoy nothing better than a day’s cycling in the region. Sevenoaks TriClub have regular meets and recommend a lot of well-tried routes around the District (and beyond), with the benefit of virtual rides to look at and TT events to consider. Kent Velo Girls are another group based locally. Also check komoot or routeyou for more general suggestions.
Outdoor water sports
For a land-bound area of Kent, this area has quite a few options for water sports. Longford Lake in Chipstead near Sevenoaks has open water swimming and stand-up paddle boarding options through the club TriSwim, with set times for long-distance swims (a 1.9km loop is possible) in this truly picturesque setting, with plenty of coaching available if you aren’t yet confident.
On certain days of the week you can also swim in the serene 38 acre lake at Hever Castle with the swimming club Street & Boulder, with optional 400m or 750m courses.
There is a great sailing club at Longford Lake too, Chipstead Sailing Club, with dinghy classes, RYA Training Courses (sailing and powerboats), Junior and Youth training and racing, radio sailing and plenty of social events. Bough Beech Sailing Club also offers club sailing, regattas, radio sailing, wind surfing, paddle boarding and plenty of courses in all of this at one of the largest and most beautiful inland sailing waters in the South East. There is a sheltered boat park with easy access to the water and a clubhouse with hot meals, drinks and snacks at the weekend.
For those who fancy a more leisurely river trip up the Medway into the Eden Valley, check Tonbridge River Trips, who offer electric power launches as well as row boats (not to mention special wildlife trips, picnics, guided tours and more).
There are hundreds of ponds and lakes in the area with an incredible choice of beautiful places to enjoy fishing. Most venues need pre-booking so be sure to check with the clubs running sites in each location.
The award-winning environmentally- friendly Gabriel’s Fishing in the south of the district near Edenbridge offers a great range of spaces from which to choose (five lakes and a mile or more of river bank access), together with a tackle shop, a 24 hour bait and tackle vending machine (!), the option of camping or caravanning on site for a complete holiday, together with visiting food vans. Match and night fishing is also on offer. Longford Lake in Chipstead and nearby Montreal lake also offer a lot of choice through members-only clubs (with Guest Tickets though) like the long-established Holmesdale Angling and Conservation Society, which boasts a current carp record of over 42lbs.
There is also a fabulous choice of locations run by Edenbridge Angling Society, a club which has been around for over 60 years. The Society owns two still waters, two stretches of river and has access to eight other waters, including two reservoirs. The club caters for most types and styles of coarse fishing (pleasure and specimen). Their waters are easily accessible, and well-stocked with most species of coarse fish, including many of specimen size, with excellent fishing in safe, secluded surroundings for carp, tench, bream, pike, perch, roach, crucian carp and barbel. The club positively encourage junior anglers, serious pleasure anglers of all ages and last not least those who look to provide quiet, satisfying recreation.
For information about all the other fisheries (including day tickets at Chiddingstone Castle lake) in the area, check fish-uk.com and websites for details.
All these lakes offer particular opportunities to spot species which love open water, but perhaps the best facility is Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, one of the first examples of a gravel pit restored for the purpose of nature conservation (instigated by Jeffery Harrison, after whom the Visitor Centre is named) with five large lakes and hides dotted around the 73 hectares.
It is a spectacular site for birds and a diverse community of insects, fungi and plants. According to Kent Wildlife Trust, which runs the site, so far over two thousand species have been identified. Grey herons are resident, with kingfishers, grey wagtails often taking up residence. Waders frequent the shallow water and the trees and shrubs support breeding perching birds including treecreepers, bullfinches, siskins and redpolls. Check the website for the frequent events (walks, children’s activities). There is a fully accessibly bird hide overlooking the West Lake and accessible picnic tables and a sensory garden.
Bough Beech Reservoir, near Ide Hill, although no longer managed by Kent Wildlife Trust, still attracts a fabulous range of wildlife and there are areas near the north-east of the reservoir where viewing (and the views) is highly recommended. As many as 65 breeding species have been identified. There are also circular walking routes nearby.
For birds that offer close-up viewing, try Willows Bird of Prey Centre at Coolings Green and Pleasant Garden Centre in Knockholt – where a whole variety of experiences with raptors, owls and small mammals are on offer – or the Eagle Heights Wildlife Foundation in Eynsford, one of the UK’s largest Bird of Prey centres, where wild birds are rehabilitated, bred for release in the wild and trained to fly for demonstrations, and as a bonus, you can enjoy days out with huskies, alpacas and sit in the café watching meerkats scramble around their enclosure (residential courses also on offer).
Exploring outdoors: Woodlands, Commons and Nature Reserves
While many of the stately homes and formal gardens are well known the Sevenoaks District, there are plenty of extraordinary green spaces which rarely get a mention. Small gems like Cowden Pound Pastures near the charming village of Cowden rates a look, while Cricket Meadow near Swanley and Saxon and Rogers Wood near Longfield also deserve a mention. High View Field near Crockenhill or the fields of Henden Manor at Ide Hill are wonderful. There’s a tree house tucked away in the woods near Chartwell which is free to explore. Farningham Wood Nature Reserve is within walking distance of both Swanley and Farningham Road train stations and is an amazing example of coppiced and regenerating woodland, opened many years ago by none other than national treasure David Attenborough.
The views from better known Toys Hill and Ide Hill are definitely worth a day trip, while Hosey and Crockham Hill Commons, forming one of the great woodlands of the Greensand Ridge, is great for caves (bats!) and cycling. Goathurst Common, Knockholt Wood and Dry Hill are all wonderful places to explore. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the Kent Wildlife Trust reserves in the Darent Valley – Polhill, Fackenden Down, Magpie Bottom, Kemsing Down and Preston Hill – all with very rare chalk grassland plants and species and stunning views too.
So what are you waiting for? Check getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk for more ideas!