Wonderful winter walks in West Kent - 10 walks to blow away the January blues
January and February can be tough, long months. With Christmas over, money tight and the days short and cold, it’s tempting just to wrap up inside and go into hibernation mode.
However, one thing that always helps with the January blues is a crisp, winter walk to blow the cobwebs away – and the bonus is that they often don’t cost a penny! With ancient woodlands, historic parklands and tranquil lakes nearby, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to gorgeous free spots to explore here in West Kent during the winter months.
So grab your walking boots, camera and a flask of hot chocolate, as I share some of the most wonderful (and free!) winter walks in West Kent.
Penshurst Loop, Penshurst
Take in views of the historic Penshurst Place and stunning surrounding Kent countryside on this brilliant 4.3km circular walk around the Penshurst estate.
Though Penshurst Place & Gardens itself is closed for winter, the car park remains open, along with the wonderful Porcupine Pantry cafe where you can pick up a warm drink to accompany your walk. Start at the footpath just by the car park and head up the hill into the ancient parklands. On a clear day, you can experience some amazing panoramas from the top, before heading back around the outskirts of the estate and into the village itself. Wellies are often a must on the way down as it gets very muddy!
Treat yourself to a meal or drink at The Leicester Arms before finishing up back at the Penshurst Place car park.
Entry into the Penshurst car park and surrounding estate is free.
Broadwater Warren, Tunbridge Wells
This recently restored RSPB nature reserve is a great place to visit this winter. Bursting with wildlife, open heathland and awe-inspiring views, there’s something extra-special about this spot in the glow of the winter sun.
There are a number of trails of varying lengths to explore which take in some of the natural habitats on offer, as well as routes which showcase examples of the site’s military history. You can see a 19th century firing range, as well as the remains of a Churchill tank from World War II which is fascinating.
The paths themselves are perfect for little legs to run through, made up of a mixture of dirt tracks and boardwalks. If you keep your eyes peeled, you’re likely to see a plethora of butterflies, birds and even snakes.
Entry and parking are free.
Knole Park, Sevenoaks
As Kent’s last medieval deer park, there are endless walks to take through this 600 year old estate – and it all looks magnificent on a crisp, frosty winter’s day.
Boasting dramatic oak trees, vast panoramas across the Kent countryside and tons of wildlife, it’s easy to see why Knole Park was a firm favourite of none other than King Henry VIII. Though the estate is still family-owned, the parklands and house are cared for by the National Trust. If time, the house is fascinating and there’s a wonderful tea room (the Brewhouse Cafe) on site for some tasty treats.
Entry into the park is free for all. Parking is free for National Trust members, but charges apply for non-members. Spaces must be pre-booked via the National Trust website.
Haysden Country Park, Tonbridge
Located on the outskirts of Tonbridge, Haysden Country Park offers 65 acres of beautiful countryside to explore. Boasting a small kiosk cafe, toilets, large car park (which can be paid for via RingGo) and a number of trails, it’s a stress-free spot for a relaxing, winter walk.
At the heart of the park are two freshwater lakes (Haysden Lake and Barden Lake), which play host to an array of wildlife including geese and swans, which look particularly stunning as the sun begins to set. The Medway also runs through the park, making for some lovely (yet often muddy) riverside walks across bridges and fields.
Entry into the park itself is free, but parking charges apply.
Sissinghurst Estate, Sissinghurst
The former home of writer and poet Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat husband Harold Nicolson, Sissinghurst Castle Gardens is a Grade I listed, architectural vision.
Though the gardens themselves may not be at their full glory in the winter months, the 450-acre estate offers some fabulous walks through the gorgeous Wealden countryside. There are two lakes to meander around, as well as country lanes, sheep-filled fields and even a bird hide made by the Sissinghurst rangers.
There is an entry and parking fee, but both are free for National Trust members.
Tunbridge Wells Common, Tunbridge Wells
I’ll admit that I had explored very little of Tunbridge Wells Common before the first lockdown, but now feel like I have a well-versed familiarity!
Located right in the heart of Tunbridge Wells, the Common is brimming with geological treasures, – from incredible rock formations such as Wellington Rocks, to natural sand formations – as well as natural habitats for a range of wildlife. There are a number of routes to explore, but I particularly like taking a circular stroll through the Common from Hungershall Park up to Nevill Park to take in the views across Happy Valley and marvel at some of the incredible houses en route.
Tunbridge Wells Common is a public space and free for all. There is a free car park on Fir Tree Road (next to the cricket ground) or paid one on Major York’s Road.
Scotney Parkland, Woodland or Hop Trail, Lamberhurst
In my opinion, there are few prettier spots in Kent than Scotney, and this parkland trail around the wider estate offers fabulous views of the castle, as well as the site’s very own hop farm.
You can enter the estate from two points – either from the track by the cafe or through the gate to the right of the castle entrance and each of the three trails are moderate strolls at only approximately 2 miles each. With varying landscapes, all take in magnificent views of the Wealden countryside, veteran trees, grazing local animals and oast buildings, as well as a spectacular panorama from the top of the hill taking in both the castle and manor house.
Entry to the estate is free, but there is a parking charge for those who are not National Trust members.
Bedgebury Pinetum, Goudhurst
Proud to be home to the most complete collection of coniferous trees in the world, Bedgebury spans a sprawling 350 acres of towering trees, reflective lakes and valley paths. It looks particularly beautiful when the Autumn colours make their appearance in October, but equally stunning throughout the winter months.
With a visitor centre, cycle hire shop, cafe and children’s play area, you can easily spend the day exploring this incredible conservation site and taking in all of it’s natural wonders.
Entry into the site itself is free, but parking charges apply.
Wye Downs, Ashford
This one’s a bit more of an undertaking than the others at around 7km, but the payoff is that you will be rewarded with some jaw-dropping views across the Kent countryside!
Located just outside of Ashford, the Wye Downs Nature Reserve makes up part of the North Downs Way and is a unique stretch of chalkland and woodland. Starting in the picturesque village of Wye, explore this beautiful section of the North Downs, featuring the famous hillside chalk crown, rolling hills and wildlife en route. Arguably the best view is from the aptly named Devil’s Kneading Trough which is a dramatic coombe offering breathtaking panoramas across the Kent Downs.
Entry to the nature reserve is free but parking charges may apply.
Ashdown Forest, Forest Row
Though slightly outside of West Kent and into East Sussex, I had to include Ashdown Forest in this list as it’s such a beautiful place to walk.
It may be famous as the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh’s One Hundred Acre Wood, but Ashdown Forest actually stretches a massive 6,500 acres across the Sussex countryside. Made up of heathlands, wooded areas and vast open spaces, it is an area of outstanding natural beauty with the most spectacular views across the High Weald.
There are many walks to do through the forest, but a firm favourite is the Winne-the-Pooh trail which starts from Gills Lap and takes in ‘Eeyore’s Gloomy Place’, ‘Roo’s Sandy Pit’ and the ‘Heffalump Trap’.
Parking and entry to the forest is free.