Sole Street Circular
Chalk hills, vineyards and villages in Kent’s ‘hidden’ valleys
Continuously undulating chalk hills and farmland welcome you with vineyards and gorgeous valley views and welcome rest stopes at Meopham and Harvel villages. Featuring the secluded Luddesdown valley and glimpses of Luddesdown Court, one of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in England; the splendid sight of vineyards draping the valley sides; an ancient long forgotten lane; the tiny, rediscovered, ancient chapel of the ‘lost village of Dode’; and a splendid Kentish scene of a windmill and pub overlooking the local cricket pitch.
Moderate / 7 out of 10
8.8 miles / 14.2 kilometres
OS Explorer Map 163
How to get here
Eat and drink
Continuously undulating chalk hills and farmland, so worth taking a rest on the pre-lunch stretch (see Eat and Drink).
The shorter post-lunch stretch includes a brief climb near the end which can feel long on weary legs.
Trains to and from Sole Street usually run at one or two an hour from London Victoria (approx 50 mins). Most trains are direct but some involve a brief change at Bromley south.
You can also take the fast train from/to St Pancras International to/from Chatham and change to retrace a little to Sole Street (1 hour 6mins).
Low-cost fare: Consider buying a return ticket in advance between Bromley South and Sole Street and using your travel/Oyster card for the London section.
See Travel Section in Tips and Resources for ways of using your Oyster/Travel Card to Zone 8 to get very cheap fares.
There are toilet facilities at Sole Street Station.
Apart from the pubs, there are public loos at Meopham Green #24.
Meopham is the recommended base for a late lunch, about two thirds of the way around the circular route. The Cricketers Inn opposite the village green is our recommended stop. The Kings Arms is also alongside the Green.
It’s worth taking a rest on the longer pre-lunch stretch. Harvel village green has benches (Point 18) and just beyond the village itself at Point 22 there is a viewpoint and potential picnic spot.
Recommended picnic spots are at point 22 before Meopham or point 26 just beyond the Green. Note if having lunch at Meopham Green, and booking a one of the pubs, this is about two thirds of the way round the route and in terms of walking distance from Sole Street station allow up to 3 hours.
On leaving Sole Street Station, there is also a small grocery store 100m or so to your left along the road if needed for emergency snacks.
Beloved by locals as an extensive organic farm, this beautiful little valley – and Wrangling Lane next in the walk – is full of secrets and stories.
The lack of ‘agro-chemicals’ is part of the explanation why the valley contains so many varieties of wildflowers; in early summer it is flecked with blue chicory and scarlet-robed in poppies. It wasn’t always like this. In the late ’70s the valley was threatened with becoming a firing range by the Ministry of Defence. A local story has it that the planning application was overturned on the basis of the area being the habitat of a very rare snail, Cernuella Neglecta. More recently it has been rumoured that the ‘endangered snail’ story was a ruse created by a prominent local figure (and coincidently, ex-naval commander) to keep the area protected. The snail has not been seen there since – or perhaps ever…
Soon after, the valley was made safer with the establishment of the Luddesdown organic farm which has recently been sold and is now being converted into an extensive vineyard. The proposition of a monocultural landscape complete with a bottling plant has created anxiety amongst locals fearing for the valley’s intrinsic beauty. However, the new owners are reported to be sympathetic to the organic farming ethos of the area and have plans to create field margins and other factors to keep the valley ‘close to nature’. Local concerns remain, however; the fate of this precious valley, poppies, chicory and all, is being closely watched.
This beautiful little valley is full of secrets and stories, not to mention its beauty. The lack of ‘agro-chemicals’ is part of the explanation why the valley contains so many varieties of wildflowers; in early summer it is flecked with blue chicory and scarlet-robed in poppies>>
Dating back to the 13th century, this church, on the rare occasions when it’s open (currently Saturdays and Sundays 2pm to 4:30pm from July to September), reveals its unique Victorian wall paintings>>
One of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in England, this characterful property of 26 acres is said to have been lived in by Odo, the brother of William the Conqueror, in the 11th century and Welsh Prince Owain Glyndwr in the 13th>>
The apparent sparsity of any habitation around here can be explained in part by the area being ravaged by the black death in 1349 which effectively wiped Dode off the map. All that remains is the tiny chapel which dates back even further to the 1100s>>
This village green speaks for itself. In summer the cricket on the green and the backdrop of pubs and windmill make a very welcome site for the leg weary walker after the long morning stretch from the station>>
Start: Sole Street Station
Leave Sole Street station. At the road cross straight over to pick up the signed footpath between hedges. (There is also a small grocery store 100m or so to your left along the road if needed for emergency snacks).
Emerge into open farmland and take the path immediately in front and angled slightly right heading across the field, under a line of pylons, to the hedge c300m away (on rare occasions the path here is impassable due to high crops, in which case bear right along the field edge to meet the path’s end).
At the hedge, pass through and turn left on the track (ignoring the signed footpath opposite). Keep on, passing a house on your right, immediately followed by small wood, with fields on your left.
About 200m past the house, along this sometimes muddy path, the wood ends and your path leads you into an open pasture with a pylon in its far right corner. Continue straight on following the trees and shrubs on your left to the far left corner of the meadow. Here your path leads you briefly into trees and emerges by a gate in a field corner. You are now in the Luddesdown Vineyard.
Bear right along the field edge for about 80 metres to another stile and hedge; pass through into the splendid vista of Luddesdown.
Turn left to follow the top edge of the valley side (Henley Down on OS maps) with the hedge on your left (and an abundance of wildflowers in springtime). Ignore the first track heading downhill, to follow this high edge another 150m or so, passing a small cairn of stones where, soon after,you should now see two handily placed benches and a second clear path heading straight down. Good place to pause…
The path drops to the meet the right hand side of the quaint circular cricket pitch below. Drop down to the pitch, between vines, to continue on to emerge at a road by the village hall.
Cross the road, ignoring the signed path on your right, to pick up the driveway leading to Luddesdown Church and Court.
Passing through the Church grounds, or around the Church, Luddesdown Court is secreted away behind the gates adjacent to the church entrance. A view of the Court will be possible soon but for now continue on, with the Swiss Chalet style house to your left, along the roadway heading towards farm buildings.
Look out for the small metal gate in the fence on your left, pass through, with Farm and church behind you to head briefly down, then up into rising open pasture; keep the hedge on your left.
Track upwards pausing to look back at Luddesdown Court one of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in England dating back to the early 1100s (see feature below).
After c300m ignore the footpath and stile in the hedge to your left, instead at the top of the pasture bear right to another stile/gate leading into open fields, pass through to more vineyards and valley sloping on your left.
Continue onwards to pass over another stile/gate. Your obvious path is now directly along the side of the valley along the Wealdway with no turns off left or right.
With the hedge and tree line on your right for the first few hundred metres, your path soon gently angles away left and downhill to pass through another hedgerow. This opens out on to an obvious, long and gradually descending track across the valley bottom.
Follow this gentle open track across the farmland, angling towards the hedge and trees on the far side in the distance.
Climb over the stile to leave the valley and emerge on to a road where you bear right.
At the road fork in front of you, take the left fork into Wrangling Lane (so called as this is the site where farmers used get together to buy and sell).
Your route is now along Wrangling Lane for c1.5k. This ordinary lane was once the trackway to Dode village abandoned in a long ago plague.
After c1km keep a watchful eye out for the tiny rediscovered Dode Chapel on your right. Note the mini stone ‘henge’ past the Church towards the valley bottom.
For info on Wrangling Lane, the lost plague village of Dode and Dode Chapel see feature below.
The road now becomes gravelly and less covered and, after passing occasional houses on each side, it will eventually (after 1.5k) bring you to an obvious water works with large black pipes and fences (and a footpath) on the left. Your path is to your right through the hedge and signposted (sometimes half hidden in summer).
Emerge into a rising open field where you follow the boundary hedge on the left to go straight up to the top left corner. Here you will pick up the narrow enclosed path which now bears on a slight angle left with trees on your right and a hedge/garden on your right.
Follow this path until it swings hard right where you continue straight on to emerge on a short grassy track and fences in front of a house. Take this track to the gate/stile ahead of you to emerge onto the road.
Go straight over to follow the path through a wood (can be muddy after rain but a parallel route is possible through the trees on the right). Follow this path ahead as it bears slightly left for c200 m briefly opening out to pasture on your right.
Here the path divides, either route is fine as they re-join after another 300m. You can either take the obvious path left which then bears right alongside a farm or more simply take the less obvious path that briefly ascends into the trees to emerge onto open farmland. Head across the farmland to the far left corner by a gate and a house.
Here the paths re-join. Harvel Village Green is just ahead and being about halfway around the route, with nothing else here to detain you, it’s a good place to take a break. For timing purposes, your lunch stop at Meopham Green is about 40 minutes away.
Leave the green by the farthest corner with a duckpond on your right to enter Harvel by road. At the Amazon and Tiger Pub (seemingly tempting but trust me it’s worth continuing on to Meopham) take the small road directly opposite the pub and look for the half hidden footpath about 50m or less up the road in the hedge on your right.
Take this path along the backs of houses to where the field widens. Your direction is now diagonally angled left across the farmland towards the corner of the field (wooded). This path should be obvious but can sometimes be vague. Just angle towards that left corner where, as you arrive, you will see buildings. The path can be scrappy where it meets the woodland and houses. Just aim to pass briefly into the trees at the field corner, with the buildings on your left, to emerge on a rough roadway. If you happen to find a footpath sign it will lead you round the back of the houses but that’s okay, you will emerge at Point 21.
Pass ahead along the front of the buildings where the road now begins to descend steeply. In a few metres going downhill, look for the path angling right through the trees. Take this to emerge after about 30m onto the side of a new valley with extensive views all round.
The woodland edge and view make this a good place to rest or even picnic before what always feels like the long stretch before you reach the pub at Meopham Green.
Descend for c200m on the path to the valley bottom where you will encounter an obvious hedged track crossing your path. Take this track right (ie not straight onwards) to follow the valley bottom. Continue on this track for 1km as it follows the valley and begins to rise. Expect to have weary legs at this point. I always do.
The path meets houses where it turns sharp left, but your direction is ahead over the stile and fences, across a mini pasture and through a gate to emerge at the backs of more houses.
Follow this path onwards which soon opens out onto the welcome relief of Meopham Green and its famous 200 years old windmill.
The Cricketers Inn is straight ahead. However, there are in fact three pubs with the additions of The George and The Kings Arms plus Meopham vineyard nearby. I have yet to try these other ones, so any reviews/info gratefully received.
Refreshed and rested: taking your bearings from the Windmill/Cricketers head left along the relatively busy village road (note loos on your left) following the cricket pitch to the small fountain and war memorial at the far end. Cricket has been played here since 1776.
Cross to the memorial – always chastening to consider the numbers of young lives lost from such a small area. Cross again to the house opposite with an oast building on its right side to take the obvious track between the buildings to head towards the gate and stile beyond.
Emerge on to more extensive views of the valley that you traversed pre-lunch. Another potential picnic spot, if you have not lunched in the pub. Head left down through the semi-circular stile to the valley bottom to meet a small road after c150m. Cross and enter farmland with paddocks.
Pass through the paddocks keeping straight ahead for a c150m to emerge through a hedge onto open farmland set in a relaxing open valley, wooded on its left more northerly side (Foxendown on OS Maps).
Be prepared to debate first, the architectural merits of the long low pale yellow house high up to your left; and second at Point 27 below, when you enter the secluded open meadow with its long quiet trail leading away from you, admire the woodland on your left, soon interrupted by a recent, brutal example of what poor planning decisions can do. Someone has a lovely view; the rest of us lose part of a precious woodland!
Amble through this wide meadow simply keeping straight ahead where the path isn’t clear. When the crop is high the path can fade away only to reappear further on or to one side. All you need to do is keep heading straight on through the centre of the meadow. Eventually you will emerge at the far end by a stile with houses nearby.
Cross the road and look for the footpath sign low down opposite, pointing to the right (and at first glance seemingly up a driveway). Take this path into an open field which currently has rugby posts and head to the far left, wooded, corner keeping the large house and its playful garden on your left.
Enter the woods and follow this track slowly rising in places for about 300m where you meet an obvious junction of footpaths. Take the gate/stile on your left. In terms of train timings you are now about 35 mins from the station.
Head directly downhill angling slightly right through an open meadow, the path can be vague here, but your direction is straight ahead and down towards the opposite side of the meadow. Look for the small gate in the hedge boundary (NB this is to the left of the large metal farm gate which is clearly in view).
Pass through to rise up into another open meadow heading towards the line of trees. Exit the meadow on to a road and cross over to follow the signed path uphill.
Continue uphill towards the wood with views across to Luddesdown to your right. This, you may be pleased to know, is your last uphill of the day.
Enter the wood following the winding track being careful to follow the meandering signed path (and not signs intended for the shooting parties who like to come here to blast holes in hapless ‘game’.) You will shortly encounter a junction of paths – ignore paths off left or right and aim to continue as near to straight on as you can. If you take a wrong turn here, it’s OK, you will still end up back on your original route from the morning (see map).
After about 150m you will emerge into the left edge of an open meadow with a pylon on your right. You may recognise this as the meadow from earlier in the day.
Follow the left edge until it meets the wide track (sometimes muddy) in the left corner.
Retrace your steps past the wood and house on your left to locate, after c100m past the house, the break in the hedge of the footpath leading back across the open field to the station.
Pass through the hedge and take the path angled slightly left (not the one straight ahead) across the field. Remember, it’s the same path that you took on the way out, now heading back to the left hand edge of the field and Sole Street station.
If in need of shelter or somewhere to wait if you miss your train, you may find the adjacent pub on the left of the station open. However Sole Street station has a quite rustic charm and, more relevantly, somewhere to sit…
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