Weekend rambles: Downe with Wilberforce and Darwin

WALKER DUNELM strides out on a local walk full of history as well as spring-time beauty

Keston Fishponds, starting point for this week's recommended ramble

This walk starts at the fishponds on Keston Common, described as “the fishponds of Reynards Common” in Young Phillip Maddison by Henry Williamson, and passes the Wilberforce Oak, where William Wilberforce informed William Pitt of his “intention to bring forward the abolishing of the slave trade”.

The route later passes Down House, home of Charles Darwin (well worth a visit) in the village of Downe which has become very popular with weekend and bank holiday visitors and can be quite crowded.

Leave the car park at the top left hand corner beside a gated barrier and waymark for the Wilberforce Oak, follow the path for 440 yards to a crossing track and another Wilberforce Oak waymark. Turn left towards the A233.

The remains of the tree where Wilberforce and Pitt had a history-changing conversation

Cross this busy road with caution to enter a footpath signposted to Downe. After 330yds the remains of the Wilberforce Oak are on the right; on the left, behind a barbed wire fence, there is a memorial seat and transcription from William Wilberforce’s diary.

After 330yds, cross a drive and follow the path down hill as far as a road junction. Cross the road with caution and follow the road opposite down hill. After 160yds, take the signposted footpath on the right over two stiles and walk along the bottom edge of fields to the end of the third field, and turn left towards a clearly visible marker post. After a second marker post bear right, then left, up hill and pass through a kissing gate on the right.

A clear, green path leads towards waymarks visible by a belt of trees ahead. At a three-way signpost, ignore the path to the left and continue ahead (signposted Cudham Circular Walk) and enter another meadow through a kissing gate. The obvious path now runs along the escarpment. At the end of the third field, go over a stile into woods; the path bends to the left uphill to a junction.

The walk can be shortened at this point by taking the path straight ahead, which leads into Downe; turn left at the road for the village centre.

For the full walk, turn right (signposted Cudham Circular Walk) for 600yds.

At a road turn left and, immediately, right through a kissing gate into part of the West Kent Golf Course Nature Reserve with an information board on the right. Charles Darwin studied orchids here.

After 600yds, at a crossing track with footpath 235 Biggin Hill to the right and Downe to the left, turn left, climb gravelled steps, cross a stile into a meadow and go left and then right along a path and over a stile in the top left-hand corner.

Turn right through a wicket gate and the kissing gate opposite. Walk half right to a wicket gate opening on to a road. Cross to the footpath opposite, make for the footpath sign on the far side and turn left. The path leads along the edge of the field, turns left, then right and passes in front of Downe Court. There is a sign “Footpath this way”.

Charles Darwin's home, Down House

At a stile by a single storey house on the right, turn left and cross a stile into a field. Ignore a diagonal path going off to the right and walk along the left hand side of the field; at the halfway point another diagonal path leads off to the right. Follow this towards a footpath sign where a kissing gate gives access to a road and Down House which, if open, may be visited.

The path continues by the hedge on the left, bends right away from the road, then turns left to a kissing gate surrounded by holly. Bear right over tussocky ground with Christmas Tree Farm on the left. At a stile turn left alongside a drive and, just before iron gates between brick pillars, cross a stile into an enclosed path which leads to a road. Turn left to reach the centre of Downe.

Walk along Downe High Street, with the Queen’s Head pub on the right, for 600yds and just after The Orchard on the right and The Old Coach House on the left, turn right into an enclosed footpath, which, after 300yds, leads into a field. Bear left towards a gap between a hedge and a tree and go half left towards a marker post.

Maintain direction aiming for a gap with a tall tree on the left and a pylon on the right. Cross a rough farm road to a field edge footpath opposite (signposted FP222c Farnborough 1¼ miles) with a hedge on the right at first and then between hedges.

At a crossing track (London Loop waymarks) turn left to reach a lane by a sign (Bogey Lane). Turn right down hill to the T junction with Shire Lane. Cross carefully to a path opposite and turn left on an enclosed field edge path. Here there is a good view of Holwood House on the hill on the right. The path bends right, then left, to pass behind the barns of Holwood Farm and through a kissing gate, where it meets the path from the Wilberforce Oak.

Turn right and walk back to the car park.

Map: Ordnance Explorer  147

Distance: 6¼ miles

Suitable for: all.

Stiles: 8

Grade: moderateTerrain: Common, woodland and fields. Excellent waymarking on clear paths. Two moderate climbs. Two short sections on country roads. The walk includes a short section of the London Loop

Start/parking: Fishponds car park on Keston Common by the A233 south of Keston Grid reference: TQ41906405

Refreshments: Pubs in Keston; two pubs and café/restaurant in Downe

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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