Plaxtol, Ightham Mote & Knole House
15.0km (9.3 miles), 4 hours 30 minutes. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 8 hours 30 minutes.
4 out of 10.
Explorer 147 or Landranger 188. Borough Green, map reference TQ 608 573 is in Kent, 9km east of Sevenoaks.
The walk goes south from Borough Green through woods and along streams to the old village of Plaxtol with its Cromwellian church. Then through the park of Fairlawne House to Ightham Mote, a beautiful moated medieval manor, and lunch in its National Trust restaurant. The route onwards is up a potentially muddy bridleway, through orchards and along shaded woodland paths leading to the 1,000-acre Knole Park and its 365-roomed Knole House, then up by footpaths to tea in Sevenoaks, with the station some way downhill from the centre.
You could order a taxi from Plaxtol or from Ightham Mote. There are occasional buses from Plaxtol to Borough Green Station but not at weekends.
Two short detours (both adding about 1.4km to the walk’s length) are described in case you would prefer to have lunch at a pub rather than the National Trust restaurant at Ightham Mote (which is not open every day: see below).
The Cromwellian Plaxtol Parish Church, built in 1649, has a fine seventeenth-century hammer-beam roof that was originally painted blue. Thomas Stanley of Hamptons, later beheaded for his part in the execution of Charles I, contributed money for repairing the church. There is a slab in the nave floor recording the death, within one month in 1771, of four young children of the Knowles family.
Knole House, built in the fifteenth century (and so huge that it has a room for every day of the year), was visited by Elizabeth I in 1573, who granted it to Thomas Sackville. It remained in the Sackville family and was the childhood home of Vita Sackville-West, featuring in Virginia Woolf's Orlando. The house, with its tapestries, paintings and collection of seventeenth-century furniture, is open to visitors from mid-March to the end of October, Tuesday to Sunday (plus bank holiday Mondays and August Tuesdays) with last entry at 3.30 pm. Admission (2010) is £9.50. The garden is open on Tuesdays only. The house stands in a park of 1,000 acres. There is no charge for walking in the park and in any case the route described in the walk directions follows public rights of way.
Ightham Mote (pronounced 'item') is a lovely Tudor and medieval moated manor house and garden (tel 01732 810 378); though the building can be seen clearly from the public way it is well worth a full visit. It is open 11am to 5pm from March to October, Thursday-Monday and also Wednesdays June to August with more restricted opening times November to December. Tickets (2010) cost £10.
Take the train nearest to 10am from Victoria Station to Borough Green & Wrotham. Journey time 40-45 minutes. There are frequent trains back from Sevenoaks. Journey time 35 minutes to Charing Cross, or about an hour to Victoria.
Borough Green and Sevenoaks are on different lines but a day return to Borough Green is valid for the return journey from Sevenoaks.
The suggested lunch place is the National Trust restaurant at Ightham Mote, which is open at the same times as the house and additional weekends as well so worth checking; you do not need to pay the entrance fee to use the restaurant. If you prefer a pub lunch or for times when Ightham Mote is closed there are two pubs a little way off the main route. Between Plaxtol and Ightham Mote you could divert to the Chaser Inn, Shipbourne (tel 01732 811 168), a large and elegant pub which serves inventive food all day. After Ightham Mote you could divert to the Padwell Arms, Stone Street (tel 01732 761 532), which serves food from noon to 2.15 pm Monday to Saturday and to 3.00 pm on Sundays.
The Brewhouse Tearoom (tel 01732 450 608) has an entrance in the north wall of Knole House, without the need to pay an entrance fee. It has the same opening hours as Knole House (see above) and serves cream teas. There are various options in the centre of Sevenoaks including Caffè Nero at 112 High Street (tel 01732 779 050) and Costa Coffee at 2 Blighs Rd (01732 462 159). Close to Sevenoaks Station is another possibility, Alpinia Patisserie at 1 Tubs Hill Parade (tel 01732 454 669) open till 6 pm Monday to Saturday.
New lunch pub [Pre 2010 editions] Lunch now at Igtham Mote (NT) or The Padworth Arms [details]
Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
Start: TN15 8BG at 4pm
Finish: TN13 1DP at 10am
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Introduction: Dec-13. Directions: Dec-13. This walk has been revised since the current 2011 edition. The latest walking directions are below. The map is only in the book.
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-  Turn right uphill (eastwards) out of Borough Green Station to a T-junction (Wrotham Road) and turn right to go over the railway bridge, your direction 205° initially.
- In 60 metres you come to the main Western Road turn-off to the right; cross it carefully. Carry straight on, soon passing the driveway to the village hall and public toilets on your left. In 150 metres cross over the A25 (there is a pedestrian crossing to your left) and carry straight on, now on Quarry Hill Road, your direction 220°.
-  In 50 metres, opposite the church on your right-hand side, go left into The Landway, following the public footpath sign onto a tarmac car road , downhill, your direction due south.
- In 175 metres you come to a car road and cross it to continue straight on along a public footpath, now a path between fences, soon going gently uphill. In 280 metres cross a car road to carry straight on between wooden fences. In 275 metres the path bends left, going steeply downhill for 160 metres to cross a stream by a brick-and-concrete bridge.
-  80 metres further on you come up onto a car road. Go on this road, leftwards (due south initially) with a wide grassy bank and then a lake on your left. Next there is a residential development on the left where the pavement starts. After 120 metres the pavement ends but go straight on (along Basted Mill), ignoring the Mill Lane right turn opposite. Instead, continue on past a grassy area and then Bridge House on your left; in another 20 metres [!] turn right on to Mill Lane at the junction with Plough Hill, your direction 205° .
- Pass Orchard Cottage on your right with the stream on your left. In a further 80 metres you pass Basted Cottage on your right. Another 130 metres brings you past Woodruff Cottage, also on your right, after which the earth road becomes a potentially muddy path.
- In 350 metres you come to a concrete public footpath marker with an arrow to the right and a tiny stream behind it but keep on your path as it bends left.
- In 325 metres ignore a fork left (which crosses the stream) to come to a T-junction with a car road where you go right uphill, your direction 275° .
- In 115 metres, once over the steepest part of the hill, turn left over a stile with a concrete public footpath marker, your direction due south, to go through the orchard.
- In 150 metres, at the end of the orchard, continue ahead. In 30 metres, at the corner of the field, you enter a wood downhill, your direction 140°. In 25 metres cross a stream and a wooden bridge with wooden rails, then go over a stile and up the other side to emerge from the wood in 50 metres.
- Go ahead on the enclosed path, your direction 220°. You then continue in more or less the same direction for 1.3km till you come to the church in Plaxtol.
- But in more detail: After 180 metres go through a gap to the left of a wooden fieldgate and pass a bungalow on your right. In 600 metres ignore a footpath to the left. In a further 200 metres your earth car track meets a tarmac car road . Continue in the same direction, due south initially. In 40 metres pass an oasthouse on your right. In another 100 metres ignore a car road to the left called Grange Hill to continue on your road, now called Tree Lane. After a further 150 metres you come to Plaxtol Church on the right .
- Here turn right up Church Hill, also known as Plaxtol Lane, your direction due west. 300 metres up this hill and with the strange, disused, isolated gateways of Fairlawne Estate 150 metres off to your left, turn left over a stile on a signposted footpath, your direction 170°.
- Continue on a faint path to go past the large gateways on your right. You can now see a yellow post ahead which you soon reach. Continue ahead, passing a second yellow post after 100 metres and after a further 50 metres a third yellow post by a stile, which you cross. Head towards a fourth yellow post some 150 metres away. Impressive Fairlawne House can be seen on your right-hand side.
-  At the fourth post you have a choice: continue directly to Ightham Mote on the main route, or detour to Shipbourne and the Chaser Inn.
- To continue on the main route: [!] Turn right on the bridleway, westwards (ignore the yellow arrow pointing ahead). Follow the bridleway as it curves right and in 200 metres go through a wooden swing gate. Turn right down a tarmac lane towards a pond and buildings but in 20 metres turn left on a tarmac lane away from the houses, your direction 205° with a garden on your left-hand side.
- In 70 metres by the wooden bridge on your left, turn right uphill on a tarmac lane, your direction 290 degrees. In 225 metres exit by a wooden swing gate (a wooden fieldgate to its left) and cross the A227 with care to keep straight on, along the earth road opposite, your direction 290°.
- In 150 metres turn right on a car-wide earth road, your direction 15° and 30 metres further on go through a wooden swing gate (a wooden fieldgate to its right) into a field where you continue straight on. In 150 metres go left over a stile with a stone step (next to a wooden fieldgate on its left) to go on a bridleway, your direction 280°.
- In 650 metres you come to a tarmac road and the entrance on your right to Ightham Mote, the suggested lunch stop (but see the note on opening hours in the introduction). Follow the signs to the restaurant.
- After lunch, return to the entrance and turn right up the lane, your direction 250°, passing alongside the manor. Follow the lane as it turns left away from the house. In 60 metres go out through its brick-pillared gateway and turn right onto a road.
- Continue from point [8a] below.
- To detour to Shipbourne: keep straight on at the fourth post, aiming for the corner of the open space. When you get there pass through a gate. Ignore a tarmac drive to the left shortly after this, but take the tarmac drive half-left, past a pond.
- In 80 metres, when you are level with the end of the pond and some buildings on the right, keep straight on to a wooden gate to the left of a fieldgate. Continue down the edge of a field, across a footbridge at its far end, then up across an arable field.
- At the top of the field ignore a path along its top edge to your right, but instead go straight on along a path between hedges. This leads onto a road, and you go straight on down this for 60 metres or so to emerge onto the large village green of Shipbourne. Turn right down the length of the green to reach the Chaser Inn, immediately to the left of the church, in about 500 metres.
- After lunch, go up the track to enter the churchyard. Fork right around the church on a sandy gravel path and leave the churchyard at the far end through a kissing gate. [!] Just after the gate, turn right over a stile hidden in the hedge, ignoring a path straight on and to the left.
- Keep to the right-hand edge of the green space beyond, heading downhill between newly planted trees. In 150 metres, in the far corner of the green space, cross a pair of stiles and carry on between fences.
- In 250 metres cross a stile in the far corner of the field and veer left across a track to carry on up a broad grassy strip on the left-hand edge of a field, with a wire fence to your right. Ignore a private path slanting left in 50 metres to keep on along the line of trees.
- In 150 metres more, at a field corner marked by a yellow post, turn right uphill with the fence towards a stile into the woods, also marked with a yellow post. In 80 metres cross this stile and carry on up a fenced path into the woods. This takes you up over the hill and down the other side.
- In 300 metres leave the woods via a stile and keep to the right-hand edge of the field beyond. In 80 metres carry on into the next field and go up its left-hand edge. In 120 metres cross a stile and keep uphill on a road. In 100 metres you come to the brick-pillared gateway to Ightham Mote on your right.
- The walk route continues along the road, but the view of the house across the moat merits a look: fork right into its driveway, which in 60 metres brings you to the moat in front of the house. If you want to stop for refreshments, the National Trust restaurant is further round to the right, beyond the shop. Afterwards, retrace your steps to the gateway and turn right onto the road.
- [8A] Both routes continue: Go along the road for 450 metres, your initial direction 300 degrees, soon passing Mote Farm on your left and then a row of cottages on your right. [!] Just before an isolated cottage on your right-hand side, turn left on a signposted potentially muddy public bridleway, your direction 285 degrees.
-  After 600 metres, with a wooden barrier ahead and a pond to the left, ignore the permissive path next to the barrier and turn right following a Greensand Way blue arrow up a what becomes a steep and potentially muddy, slippery path, your direction 330 degrees; as you go uphill a way can be found parallel to the bridleway, a metre or so above it to the right which may be slightly less muddy.
- After following the narrow path through an intermittently wooded area for 250 metres your way becomes more open and you continue ahead, your direction 350°, on a wide track passing to the left of orchards, ignoring all ways off. In 900 metres you come out on to a car road junction. Cross both roads to a gap opposite with a metal fieldgate on its left.
- If you want to detour to the Padwell Arms, go ahead down the wide track - formerly signposted as a bridleway but the words have been greened out - your direction 330°. In 650 metres the track leads out onto a road with the pub opposite. Afterwards, retrace your steps all the way back along the track.
- To continue on the main route, take the path that leads diagonally across the field, your direction due west. At the corner of the field, continue on a narrow path next to a field with a fence to the left and a hedge to your right. In 150 metres you go over a stile and cross a car road .
- Go straight on along an earth car road signposted as a public bridleway, your direction 280°, past Lords Spring Farm Cottage on your right and in another 100 metres past Lord’s Spring Oast, also on your right.
- About 1km further on, you come to two small houses on your right and you carry straight on, going along the earth driveway of these houses. In 90 metres ignore a turning to the left (which has a concrete public footpath marker) but in a further 50 metres, opposite some wooden stables, take the footpath left into the wood (it too has a concrete public footpath marker), your direction 220° .
- Go more or less straight on for the next 500 metres. In more detail: In 160 metres cross a path and then another in a further 185 metres; continuing straight on, you have black chainlink fencing on your right for 180 metres. You come out on a tarmac driveway and follow this for 50 metres to a car road.
- Turn right on this car road, your direction 345° and in 100 metres turn left on a signposted public footpath across the playing fields of Sevenoaks Preparatory School, your direction 260°.
- Turn right at the top of the playing field and continue for 50 metres to the corner of the field with a copse on your left. Exit between the three posts to the road. Here you turn left, your direction 210°, to go gently downhill .
- In 200 metres you pass two houses on your left and then bear right with the road and when the tarmac ends you continue on a path uphill. In a further 100 metres you enter Knole Park through a fenced kissing gate.
- You have two paths forking ahead of you; take the wider one to the right, your direction 265° (not the path to the extreme right). In 75 metres leave the fence to fork left between two huge trees, your direction 245°. There is immediately a swathe of grassland on your left.
- In 85 metres, having passed a fallen tree on your right, you come to a tiny pond (winter only) on your left and then a large dead tree trunk on your right. Keep straight on, your direction still 245°. You can just see the garden wall of Knole House at 260° by the top of the far hill. Note your onwards path that leads steeply downhill from you, then uphill towards the house.
- 175 metres down from the tree trunk cross a wide avenue and continue up the other side on the wide grass path, going due west. 200 metres up from the avenue pass through a cluster of ten oak trees.
- In a further 85 metres cross a tarmac path to continue straight on, despite a ‘Danger - Golf Course’ sign on your right. In 90 metres you cross a fairway (beware golf balls coming from the right). After a further 50 metres, you see Knole House’s garden walls on your left. Carry on along these walls. You pass the entry to the Brewhouse Tearoom. At the end of the walls turn left for the Knole House entrance if you want to go inside.
- To continue the walk from the end of the high wall go straight ahead onto the grass, heading with no clear path for a clump of trees at the top of the hill, your direction 315°. You will probably need to weave your way round parked cars. Once there, following a footpath sign to the right, continue ahead, your direction 310°. In 150 metres, having passed another footpath post, you pass a crater depression on your right. You are now on a clear path that leads to a tarmac drive. Cross it, passing a footpath post on your right, to carry straight on, along a path initially downhill, your direction 300° .
- In 200 metres leave Knole Park by a fenced kissing gate to go steeply uphill, your direction 265°. In 5 metres you pass the entrance to Sevenoaks Environmental Park on your right.
- In a further 200 metres keep to the tarmac path as you pass the Sevenoaks Leisure Centre car park on your right. Continue past the end of the car park with a wall on your right and railings on your left, coming out opposite Waitrose. Cross the road and continue to the right of the toilets (Akehurst Lane) your direction 255 degrees. This leads out to Sevenoaks High Street.
- Alternatively you could cross the Sevenoaks Leisure Centre car park diagonally to the opposite corner where you turn left, following the sign for the Tourist Information Office. After 50 metres you come to a road; cross it and carry on straight ahead past the bus stops to arrive at Sevenoaks High Street.
- There are various possibilities for tea in Sevenoaks. For Caffè Nero turn right down the High Street. For Costa Coffee, cross the High Street, turn right and continue to Blighs Road on your left.
- After tea you will need to get to London Road which runs west of the High Street for the station. From Costa Coffee cross the car park to the far side where steps lead down to London Road; then turn right downhill. From Caffè Nero carry on along the High Street to the traffic light junction where you turn left along Pembroke Road; when you reach London Road, turn right.
- Continue for 800 metres (600 from Pembroke Road) down London Road to reach Sevenoaks Station on the left. Just before the station, at the beginning of a parade on the left of the road, Alpinia Patisserie is another possible tea option.