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Churchill's Hideaway at Westerham

This lovely walk across thickly wooded commons takes you to Chartwell, Winston Churchill's historic home.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 300ft (90m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Mainly well-signposted woodland paths and bridleways, can be very muddy, short sections on roads, 7 stiles

Landscape Well-wooded commons and some meadows, excellent on crisp autumn days

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 147 Sevenoaks & Tonbridge

Start/finish TQ 540447

Dog friendliness Some sections on lead. Likely to see horses and grazing animals. Loads of woodland smells to investigate

Parking Car park or on-street parking in Westerham village centre

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the church in Westerham, walk up to the village green, then cross over and head up Water Lane opposite the statue of Churchill. Go over a little stone stile, through a gate and straight ahead across the meadow. Continue into a second meadow and, about half-way across, turn left and go through a kissing gate that is well hidden in the hedge.

2 Walk down a narrow lane to a road, turn right and continue to a patch of common on the left-hand side. Turn up a metalled lane that runs to the left of a house and through the trees. Soon come to a hard track. Turn right here and follow it to French Street.

3 Walk past April Cottage and Appletree Cottage (which are as pretty as they sound) then follow the bridleway that veers to the right. Where it branches take the left hand track, then follow the Greensand Way as it winds through the woods, crossing a minor road. Eventually cross a stile on to another road, the entrance to Chartwell is on your immediate left.

4 Cross the road, go up some steps and follow the Greensand Way again. Eventually it bears to the right and comes to a main road, Mariners Hill. Cross over and follow the Greensand Way - take care not to slip, as it can be muddy. Follow the path round to the left and up to a very old brick house, called 'The Warren'. Now follow the tarmac track downhill and keep going to another, busier road. Turn right and walk along the road, then turn right again at the small sign for Kent Hatch. Walk along the bridleway, past an isolated house dated 1787, and take the track that forks to the left. Go over a stile, passing a 'Toll Riding Route' sign, and follow the Greensand Way again.

5 Eventually the landscape opens out. Cross a stile, and then keep going straight ahead over two more stiles. There are lovely views of Westerham ahead. Hop over another stile and follow the path down, past a pool and over a final stile, where you turn left and come into the village. Turn right and walk up the main street to the starting point.

It might be right in the heart of the Kentish commuter belt, but there's something timeless and deliciously rural about Westerham. It would be easy to imagine that the village has slept peacefully for centuries, undisturbed by the outside world. But during the Second World War, fighter aeroplanes frequently darkened the skies above Westerham, as pilots from nearby Biggin Hill airfield battled overhead to save Britain from invasion.

By coincidence, Winston Churchill's country retreat was in Westerham and this walk takes you right past the entrance. Churchill (1874-1965) bought Chartwell in 1922 after losing his parliamentary seat, and at a time when many thought that his political career was over. The house, which required extensive renovation, offered outstanding views over the Weald of Kent. By the time Churchill was re-elected in 1924, Chartwell was the family home.

The house was run on a lavish scale, the staff included eight or nine indoor servants, three gardeners and a chauffeur. When Churchill was made Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 his official residence was in Downing Street. However, he would return to Chartwell at weekends and would dictate budget proposals in his bath, 'wallowing, gurgling, turning the taps on and off with his toes, and surfacing with a noise like a whale blowing'.

In 1929 the Conservative government lost power and once again it looked as if Churchill's career was over. He turned his energies to writing (he had always been a prolific author) and would work for hours in his study. His daily routine at Chartwell was a fascinating mixture of hard work and hedonism. He wouldn't get up until about 11am, preferring to dictate letters and articles to his secretaries while still in bed. After bathing, he'd walk in the garden before going to his study to work until lunch - which would usually be a grand affair with champagne, brandy and cigars. Churchill would return to his study for a few hours, before going back to bed at 5pm for a nap. After dinner, (distinguished guests included Charlie Chaplin and T E Lawrence - who sat at the table dressed as an Arabian warlord) he would return to his study and work into the early hours, sometimes dictating a phenomenal 3,000 words in one session.

When war was declared, Churchill was again offered a ministerial position and in 1940 he was made Prime Minister. Chartwell was closed for the duration of the war, but once it was over Churchill returned to the house and spent his last years here, writing in the study, painting and pottering in the garden.

Where to eat and drink

There's plenty of choice in Westerham. The oldest pub is the Grasshopper, originally built to house the masons who built the village church in the 13th century. It later became a coaching inn. Traditional tea shops are Tiffins and the Tudor Rose, both on the green, and there are several contemporary coffee shops too. The White Hart in nearby Brasted was a favourite haunt with Battle of Britain pilots and the pub is full of evocative memorabilia.

While you're there

Squerryes Court is the gorgeous 17th-century manor house you can see as you're making your way back into Westerham, and it is well worth a visit. Unlike many great houses, it is not a museum but a home, belonging to the Warde family who have owned it for generations. The art collection includes works by George Stubbs, Poussin, Rubens and Van Dyck and there's plenty of fine furniture and china. It's impressive but not overwhelming, and you feel as if you could live here quite happily.

What to look for

Part of Hosey Common near Westerham is a nationally important bat reserve. Five species of bat live here: Daubenton's, Brandt's, whiskered, Natterer's and brown long-eared. It is unusual to see bats while walking during the day, but you might spot them at dusk - and no, they won't get tangled in your hair; their sonar system (a bit like radar) is far too sophisticated for that.

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