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Royal Passion at Hever

Memories of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn on this circular walk..

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 279ft (85m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Paths, grassy tracks and field edges, some roads, 6 stiles

Landscape Woodland and open fields

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 147 Sevenoaks & Tonbridge

Start/finish TQ 476448

Dog friendliness Plenty of sections where they can run free

Parking Car park by Hever Castle

Public toilets At car park

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1 Walk under the lychgate and go through the churchyard following the Eden Valley Walk. The path goes downhill, across a bridge and soon becomes a narrow lane parallel to the road, offering occasional glimpses of the lake at Hever Castle. It might look as if it has always been here, yet it was created by William Waldorf Astor when he bought the castle in 1903. The path now bends round, goes through woodland, across another bridge and finally opens out.

2 When you come to a house, climb a gate following the Eden Valley Walk (which you now follow all the way to Point 4). Pass another house then take the track on the right-hand side. This winds round the edge of the meadow to woodland. When you come to a tarmac road, cross it and pop over a stile.

3 Continue along this enclosed track, which can get very muddy, crossing two more stiles and gradually heading uphill. Another stile leads you past deer fencing and through a gate on to the tarmac road at Hill Hoath.

4 Now turn back to the right and go through the large gate, so that you seem to be doubling back on yourself. This takes you on to a broad, grassy track, which is lovely and bouncy to stroll along. Walk ahead (don't be tempted into crossing the stile on the left) and walk up between the trees, passing a lake down on your left-hand side. You soon enter much thicker woodland and the track becomes narrower, but is still clear to follow.

5 At a branching of footpaths, bear right. Be warned, this can be exceptionally muddy at times. Continue down this track, passing another two areas of woodland until you come to a road.

6 Turn right here and walk to Wilderness Farm, then take the road that leads to the left opposite the farm. At another road turn right and walk up, past a road that leads to the right. Continue ahead to take the footpath on the right that runs alongside the Greyhound pub.

7 When you come to a fork by two stiles turn left, then walk around the edge of the field and past a pond. Continue ahead to a lane, where you turn left then take the footpath on the right. Follow this back into Hever.

Forget Posh and Becks, Burton and Taylor, even Edward and Mrs Simpson; as celebrity couples go you really can't beat the romance and tragedy of the relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. This walk seems to remind you of them with every step, for it starts right next to Hever Castle, Anne's home and the place where the courtship took place.

Henry and Anne Bullen, as she was then, first met at court, where Anne was Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen, Catherine of Aragon. Anne was a sophisticated woman who had spent much of her life in France, and she soon caught the eye of a young nobleman Lord Henry Percy. However, the King disapproved of the match and Anne was sent home to Hever, where she was locked in her room so that she couldn't communicate with her lover. Her father sent her overseas, perhaps in the hope that she'd meet a suitable young man at a foreign court. Sadly for Anne she didn't, and when she returned to Hever in 1525 she found that her father was swamped with honours from the King, largely as recompense for the fact that both Mary, his eldest daughter, and (it was whispered) his wife had become Henry's mistresses.

Henry, desperate for a male heir and looking for a new lover, now turned his attentions to Anne, with whom he rapidly became obsessed. She was fashionable and vivacious and made other women look rather dowdy. She also had an extra finger on her left hand - which her enemies said was a sign that she was a sorceress. Henry began to visit her at Hever, turning up unannounced with a vast entourage of servants and advisers, which he expected his hosts to feed and entertain.

Some say Anne was ambitious and refused to become the King's mistress because she wanted to be queen. Others suggest it would have been extremely difficult to repel Henry's advances. He proposed in 1527 but Anne declined - he was still married. Henry became keener and, in defiance of the Pope, divorced his wife and established the Church of England. He married Anne, who was now pregnant and she changed her name to the regal sounding Boleyn. She gave birth to a daughter, later to become Elizabeth I. She suffered several miscarriages and Henry, more desperate than ever for a son, became furious and claimed Anne had bewitched him. He had her imprisoned, accusing her of adultery with five men - even her own brother. She was found guilty of treason and beheaded on 19th May 1536. Shortly afterwards Henry married Jane Seymour, Anne's Lady-in-Waiting.

What to look for

The magnificent gardens at Hever appear to date back to Tudor times, yet they were created at the beginning of the 20th century when William Waldorf Astor bought the castle. Astor entertained on a lavish scale, and as the castle was too small to house his many guests, he built the 'Tudor' village to accommodate them.

Where to eat and drink

The Henry VIII pub in Hever serves food and the castle itself has tea rooms. If you're visiting the castle, and the weather's good, you could pack a picnic to eat in a quiet spot in the grounds.

While you're there

If you're a bird lover you might want to visit the bird reserve at nearby Bough Beech reservoir. Several rare species have been spotted here over the years, including a Radde's warbler and a little crake. There's also a chance of seeing sandpipers, redstarts, terns and curlews.

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