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Daylight Saving in Chislehurst

The inventor of British Summer Time, Napoleon III and Zulus - Chislehurst has connections with all three.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Footpaths, field edges and bridle paths

Landscape Common and woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 162 Greenwich & Gravesend

Start/finish TQ 43970

Dog friendliness On lead near Hawkwood Estate as could be sheep in fields

Parking Pay-and-display in High Street (or Queen's Head for patrons)

Public toilets None on route


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1 Walk down Chislehurst High Street, past Prick End Pond, cross the road and turn right into Prince Imperial Road. Follow this as it passes a row of large houses and, 50yds (46m) further on, the Methodist church. Where the houses end, take the bridle path to the right, running through the trees parallel to the road. When you cross Wilderness Road look left to see the memorial to Eugene, the French Prince Imperial.

2 Just past the golf clubhouse is William Willett's Cedars (built in 1893), identified by a blue plaque. Cross the road and walk up Watts Lane to the left of the cricket ground. About 150yds (137m) further on, after a field, is a crossroads. In a few paces take the narrow, tarmac path towards St Nicholas Church. Just before the trees turn sharp right and follow a path to the right of the church, leaving by the lychgate.

3 Walk down Hawkwood Lane to the left of the Tiger's Head pub. After St Mary's Church and Coopers School the road bends to the left and joins Botany Bay Lane. Continue ahead but, when you see a National Trust sign, take the footpath on the left into the Hawkwood Estate, keeping to the right of the central fence. The path descends through woodland and along a boardwalk that skirts the edge of a pond. It then climbs steadily alongside a field (which may contain sheep). At the top is a fine view of Petts Wood.

4 At a T-junction turn left and follow the bridle path through the wood until you reach St Paul's Cray Road. Cross the road, turn left and take the path running parallel to the road. After 500yds (457m) the path emerges from the woodland by Graham Chiesman House. Note the village sign depicting Elizabeth I knighting Thomas Walsingham in 1597. Continue to the war memorial by the crossroads. Cross Bromley Lane.

5 A few paces further, take a footpath on the left, just before Kemnal Road. Continue along a wide track through the common (you can follow the pavement if this section is muddy). After a pond on the right, cross the road and follow a footpath diagonally opposite through some trees. Continue along Chislehurst High Street, back to the start.

Chislehurst is a delightful mixture of the quaint and the historic. Although the town is just 3 miles (4.8km) from the South Circular, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in the heart of the countryside during much of this walk.

The inventor of British Summer Time lived in Chislehurst. William Willett was a builder by trade. On this walk you will pass his house, Cedars, which he built himself. It was while out riding in nearby Petts Wood one day that he was inspired by an idea to increase the hours of light in the day 'to improve health and happiness'. He soon became obsessed with the concept. In 1907 he circulated a pamphlet around Parliament and town councils, which argued that the many hours of light wasted while people slept in the mornings should be transferred to the evenings. Although it was met with considerable opposition, a Daylight Saving Bill was introduced in 1909. However, it would take another seven years to pass.

Had it not been for the First World War, Willett's idea may have remained on the shelf but, in 1916, a committee was set up to investigate ways of saving fuel. Consequently Willett's suggestion was given serious consideration. Indeed, it was introduced as a wartime economy measure in many countries on both sides. Sadly, William Willett never lived to see his scheme put into effect as he died in 1915. However, his summer-time legacy lives on and today, Britain keeps Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in winter and British Summer Time (BST) in summer.

Another former Chislehurst resident played an historic role in world affairs, and the course of history in the 20th century would have been very different had Napoleon III's son, Eugene, the French Prince Imperial, married Beatrice, the daughter of Queen Victoria. The two had become friends but he chose an army career. After training at Woolwich Barracks he went to war in South Africa to fight against the Zulus - he died, it is said, from one of 17 spear wounds to his body. The golf clubhouse near the beginning of the walk was once home to Napoleon III and his wife, Eugenie. Nathaniel Strode, a local man, lent them the building, which was then a private house, when they were exiled from France in 1871. When Napoleon III died in 1873 his body was laid to rest in a chapel at the side of St Mary's Church, before being buried at Farnborough, Hampshire.

What to look for

As you walk along the tarmac path towards St Nicholas Church notice the sunken area of grass to the left. This is the remains of a cockpit, used for cock fighting - a once-popular sport that was eventually banned in England in 1834.

Where to eat and drink

The Queen's Head at the start of the walk serves a range of snacks, jacket potatoes and salads, but for a wider choice of food, hand pulled ales and wine, try the Tiger's Head half-way along the walk. The dishes are written on chalkboards and fresh fish is a speciality. Dogs are allowed in the patio area.

While you're there

Chislehurst Caves (near the railway station) runs lamp-lit tours of a labyrinth of tunnels, spanning more than 20 miles (32km), that were carved from the rocks 8,000 years ago. They have been a druidical base and a wartime air-raid shelter. During the First World War they were used as an ammunition depot. The caves have also served as a film location for Doctor Who and legendary rock guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, played to 3,000 fans here in 1967.


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