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Blean's Ancient Woodlands

A chance to enjoy one of England's oldest woods.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 82ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field and woodland paths, poorly waymarked in places, 11 stiles

Landscape Farmland and tracts of ancient forest

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 150 Canterbury & the Isle of Thanet

Start/finish TR 136629

Dog friendliness Can run free except close to A290 and grazing animals

Parking Woodland car park at Gypsy Corner

Public toilets None on route

1 Start at the Clowes Wood car park at Gypsy Corner. Walk back along Hackington Road for about for about ¼ mile (400m). Do take care as it's a busy road and there is no footpath. Take the second path on the right - a public bridleway. Pass through some woodland and then go on, beside arable fields and under pylons, to Well Court. As you approach the farm, turn left at the poly tunnels and then turn right at the static caravan. Continue to follow the track through the farm, past a willow tree and on past new greenhouses on your right. Your way now takes you between arable fields, through a high hedge and on to a junction of paths. Turn left here between high hedges. Your path eventually joins a metalled cycle track. Follow the smartly fenced paddock on the left, round to the road. Cross Tyler Hill Road and make your way round right and left to pass Blean church.

2 Continue on the cycle track to a bridge across a stream. Turn right here into a field and follow the trees beside the stream to the corner of the field. Cross the stile and the wooden footbridge. Continue through woodland with the stream on your left. The path soon veers right and slightly uphill into a paddock. Go left through a kissing gate and on into the car park of the Hare and Hounds pub on the A290. Cross the main road and turn left over the stream, then right where a metal farm gate is set back from the road. Pass through the white gate and then follow the path round the woodland to the left. After 300yds (274m), at the end of the open paddock, turn right and, with the high hedge to your left, walk down to the corner. Cross a small wooden bridge, nip over a stile and through a small paddock.

3 Cross another stream and go along the edge of a field, crossing three more stiles before you come on to a concrete farm road. Turn right and immediately go through the wrought iron gates to follow the road back to the A290. Cross the road and turn left up the footpath, pass Tyler Hill Road and eventually turn right into Chapel Lane. Go left immediately after the converted chapel. The narrow path passes between gardens, then goes left at Badgers' Farm House into a field. At the end of the field turn right on to a concrete lane, then continue through the gate marked Butler's Court Farm. When you come to two stiles, cross the one on the right-hand side eventually to go over a stiled footbridge.

4 Cross the field ahead, pass to the right of the cottage garden, go over a stile and left into the tarmac lane. Walk along the lane, then fork left opposite Arbele Farm into the field. Your way now takes you across two fields and two stiles, before you turn left, back into the lane. Where the lane forks continue on the narrow path between high hedges and towards Clowes Wood. The path continues into the wood, with low branches overhead. At a crossing of tracks continue ahead and walk back to the car park.

The ancient forest of Blean once stretched across a vast expanse of countryside to the north of Canterbury. Patches of this woodland still exist, and there are plenty of paths that lead through them. This is just one walk you can follow and it gives you a great chance to observe a wide range of wildlife. Ancient woodland is that which can be traced back to around 1600, when the earliest maps were produced, and contains native trees such as birch, oak, hornbeam and hazel. A good way of identifying an ancient wood is by the presence of certain wild flowers, called indicator species. These plants don't spread easily and aren't found in great numbers in more modern woodlands. They include bluebells, anemones, wild garlic, dogs mercury, woodland orchids, butcher's broom and herb paris.

The graveyard of Blean Church is said to contain the unmarked grave of a young child called Agnes Gibbs. She never grew properly and her tiny body became something of a local curiosity. Queen Victoria's mother heard about her and had the little girl sent to London so she could see her for herself. Agnes was even examined by the Queen's doctor. Sadly she didn't live long and died at the age of two - only 18 inches (46cm) tall. Medical science was still in its infancy, and her father feared that her body might be dug up by grave robbers who often supplied surgeons with bodies to dissect, so, with the help of the vicar, he buried Agnes at night in an unmarked grave.

Where to eat and drink

The Hare and Hounds on the A290 serves breakfasts as well as main meals, snacks and hot drinks. There are also several pubs in Blean.

What to look for

If you explore Blean Woods keep your eyes peeled for herb paris, often found under beech trees and an indicator of ancient woodland. It's an unusual plant, the four leaves near the top of the stem are arranged just below the single, green star-shaped flower. It was once believed to have magical properties and although the berries are poisonous, they were eaten as protection against witchcraft or the plague (don't try this at home). For some reason, tradition dictated that an odd number of berries should be eaten.


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