50 Walks in Kent

Churchill's hideaway at Westerham

Try this sample walk from the latest edition of 50 Walks in Kent.

About 50 Walks in Kent

Walking is one of Britain's favourite leisure activities, and this guide to Kent features 50 mapped walks from 2 to 10 miles, to suit all abilities.

The book features all the practical detail you need, including:

  • fascinating background reading on the history and wildlife of the area,
  • clear OS-based mapping for ease of use,
  • every route has been colour coded according to difficulty,
  • annotations for local points of interest and places to stop for refreshments,
  • summary of distance, time, gradient, level of difficulty, type of surface and access, landscape, dog friendliness, parking and public toilets.

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Sample walk: Churchill's hideaway at Westerham

  • Distance: 5 miles (8km)
  • Minimum Time: 2hrs
  • Ascent: 560 feet (170m)
  • Gradient: 2
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Paths: Mainly well-signposted woodland paths and bridleways, can be very muddy, short sections on roads
  • Landscape: Well-wooded commons and some meadows, excellent on crisp autumn days
  • Suggested Map: OS Explorer 147 Sevenoaks & Tonbridge
  • Start Grid Reference: TQ447540
  • Dog Friendliness: Some sections on lead; likely to see horses and grazing animals
  • Parking: Car park or on-street parking in Westerham village centre
  • Public Toilet: Along Fuller's Hill in Westerham
Background reading

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. 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.

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. After the war Churchill returned to Chartwell and spent his last years here, writing in the study, painting and pottering in the garden.

  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 to a kissing gate. Continue into a second meadow and, about half-way across, turn left and go through a squeeze stile that is well hidden in the hedge.
  2. Walk down a narrow fenced path to a road, turn right and continue to a patch of common on the left-hand side. Turn left up a metalled lane, signed to French Street, and follow the tarmac lane through the trees to this sleepy hamlet.
  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 forks take the left-hand path, then follow the Greensand Way as it winds through the woods, crossing a minor road. Eventually come 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 turn sharp right at a bench, following the Greensand Way left back into woods. Cross a track, then at the next junction, turn right to pass an isolated cottage. Go through a gate and keep left with the Greensand Way at the fork of paths.
  5. Eventually the landscape opens out. Go through a gate, and then keep going straight ahead through two more gates. There are lovely views of Westerham ahead. Go through the metal gate, head downhill and bear left to pass a house and a pond. In a few paces, fork right along a track, which narrows to a tarmac path, and turn left at the road to reach the main street. Turn right and walk back to the starting point.
While you're there

Quebec House is the childhood home of General James Wolfe, who was born here in 1727. He became a national hero when he died in battle capturing Quebec for the British in 1759. The house retains its period features and there is an exhibition on the Battle of Quebec, as well as an attractive 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. Traditional tea shops include Food for Thought and the Tudor Rose, both on the green, and there are several contemporary coffee shops too, notably Quadri on the main street.

What to look out 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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