LONDON SLANT: A COUNTRY WALK FROM LEICESTER SQUARE

Join me on a walk through fields and woods from Leicester Square. But forget mega-cinemas and heaving bars. We’re heading 80 minutes south of central London to Penshurst village, the “original” spot to sport the name.

London slant Leicester Square

Leicester Square at Penshurst, Kent: a world away from its London namesake.

Early on a spring morning we set off from this cluster of ancient houses named for the Earl of Leicester who lived in adjacent Penshurst Place. We climb the hill above this 14th-century manor house and its gorgeous gardens.

London Slant: Penshurst place

Penshurst Place: a grand English manor house with a spectacular Great Hall.

The track eventually dips down to follow the Medway River. It’s the classic English scene: yellow kingcups at its edge and moorhens building their nests. But hey, what’s that nestling beneath the trees? Astonishingly, this leafy glade was a target for invading forces during the last war. All along its banks are fortified pillboxes, too firmly embedded to be removed.

London slant Medway River

Ready to repel invaders: a pillbox lurks under trees by the Medway River.

We swing left to the cricket pitch at Leigh and skirt its edge so as not to be hit. Just ahead is the magnificent park of Hall Place, an Elizabethan house. We make a note to come back on either 26 May or 16 June, two rare occasions when its gardens open to the public.

London slant bluebells

Bluebells line our way.

We continue past towering rhododendron bushes and bluebell woods, between banks of primroses and fields bright with dandelions. May blossom foams over hedges and violets nod beside streams.

We arrive at the olde-worlde village of Chiddingstone at noon—and not a moment too soon. The Castle Inn is one of those rare gastro-haunts where the food just keeps on getting better and customers follow suit. Turn up any later and every table may be taken. What a treat to rest our feet in the garden with a glass of cider and roast lamb that falls off the bone.

London slant Castle Inn

Aaah: a seat in the garden of the 600-year-old Castle Inn.

Now comes my favourite part of the walk: the long, slow descent through the aptly-named Eden Valley with sweeping vistas across emerald countryside.

London Slant Eden Valley

The Eden Valley. The conical oast houses on the horizon were once used for drying hops but are now largely converted into homes.

Penshurst Place and its ensemble of garden rooms beckon. We stretch out under the magnolia trees, take off our boots and dream back over the day.

This 10-mile walk (Ordnance Survey map 188) is taken from the excellent 10 Adventurous Walks in West Kent by Raymond Hugh. The book was published in 1994 but, apart from the occasional instruction to walk through a long-gone hop field, is still surprisingly accurate. The book is one of a series featuring walks of 10-15 miles around London—by far my favourite set of walking guides.

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