Hidden gems of the UK's South East: Nature
The South East is packed with nature reserves, trails and lush gardens ripe for exploring, and many of them are easily reached by rail thanks to Southeastern. Here are a few of our favourite hidden gems
Do the Medway Canoe Trail, Tonbridge
Nearest station: Tonbridge
What to do: If you thought epic canoeing trips were reserved for canyons in the US or France, think again: there's a trail in leafy Tonbridge that'll guarantee you some serious river action. You can join the Medway Canoe Trail from a few points along the river, but the best way to start is at Tonbridge Canoe Club. There are plenty of rest stops on the way, and a nice mix of calm waters and something a little more pacy – if you're going all-in, go the full 31km through Maidstone all the way to Allington.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains from London Bridge, London Charing Cross and take from 32 minutes. From there, it's a 10-minute walk from the station.
For more info: medwaycanoetrail.co.uk
Fish, cycle and walk at Bewl Water, Tunbridge Wells
Nearest station: Frant
What to do: Keen fishermen might be interested to know that Bewl Water is actually the largest reservoir in the South East of England. The water is teeming with fish, from pike to perch and trout – so whether you're a seasoned fisherman or a relative novice, there'll be plenty to keep you occupied, with 54 boats available to take out. If you'd prefer to explore the area on solid ground, there's a 12½ mile route around the reservoir that takes in forest paths, country lanes and riverbanks, plus a bike hire shop.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from, London Bridge, London Charing Cross and take from 50 minutes. From there, it's a 15-minute taxi
For more info: bewlwater.co.uk
Shop at Haeckels, Margate
Nearest station: Margate
What to do: OK, shopping might not sound like the best way to get your nature fix, but bear with us: Haeckels sells a range of handcrafted cosmetics made with the area's natural bounty. What started with a bar of soap made out of seaweed foraged on Margate Beach took off, and now the brand makes products for skin and body, as well as perfumes and home fragrances.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge, St Pancras International and London Victoria and take from 1h30. From there, it's a 20-minute walk.
For more info: haeckels.co.uk
Walk in Petts Wood, Chislehurst
Nearest station: Chislehurst
What to do: Finding truly unspoilt wilderness a stone's throw from Central London isn't always straightforward. Petts Wood and Hawkwood's 150 acres, though, form an oasis of ancient British woodland just an hour from the city centre, near Orpington. It's gorgeous any time of year, but especially so in summer, when the trees are in bloom, and when the leaves turn their sumptuous red hues come autumn.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge and take from 19 minutes. From there, it's an eight-minute walk from the station.
For more info: nationaltrust.org.uk
Explore Hastings Country Park Local Nature Reserve, Ore
Nearest station: Ore
What to do: You've explored Hastings' seafront, but a few miles down the coast – nearer Ore – is Hastings Country Park Local Nature Reserve, where you'll be greeted with biodiverse foliage more reminiscent of Central America than Sussex, stretching all the way to the cliffs. The area's been hugely important for UK paleontology, with many fossils having been discovered underneath its rich soil.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge, London Victoria and St Pancras International and take from 1h26. From there, it's a half-hour walk from the station.
For more info: hastings.gov.uk
Hike in the High Weald, Flimwell
Nearest station: Wadhurst
What to do: No, 2,395km isn't the total distance you'll have to walk if you go to the High Weald for a hike, but it is the total length of its footpaths, meaning there's enough for you to come here 100 times over. For expert hikers, it's great for a self-guided walk, or you can follow the High Weald Landscape Trail's 145km of paths.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge and take from 55 minutes. You can start your walk.
For more info: highweald.org
Explore Pashley Manor Gardens, Wadhurst
Nearest station: Etchingham
What to do: Want a taste of what it'd be like to live in a period drama? Keen horticulturist? Whatever the reason, you'll fall in love with Pashley Manor Gardens, whether it's the generous grounds or flowers in bloom as far as the eye can see. There's a cute café, too, where you can rest and relax.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from from London Bridge and take from 1h04. Then it's a 10-minute taxi.
For more info: pashleymanorgardens.com
Explore Downe House, Downe
Nearest station: Chelsfield
What to do: If you love exotic plants and botanic history on a huge scale, Down House is a must-visit. Not only do its grounds contain hothouses full of orchids and carnivorous plants and acres of flowers, but it was the home of the godfather of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin. It's said the grounds were his 'outdoor laboratory', where he'd go to pontificate on new ideas. And if all its biodiversity has you curious, the house itself has a first-floor exhibition all about Darwin's early life.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge take from 18 minutes. From there, it's a 13-minute taxi or a 30-minute bus journey.
For more info: english-heritage.org.uk
Walk around Knole Park, Sevenoaks
Nearest station: Sevenoaks
What to do: As National Trust sites go, Knole's got a bit of everything, from acres of British parkland (1,000 of them, to be exact) to wild deer and private gardens. For history buffs, its showrooms have just reopened with paintings, furniture and artefacts gathered over the last 400 years.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Charing Cross take from 32 minutes. From there, it's a nine-minute taxi from the station.
For more info: nationaltrust.org.uk
Take in the views at the White Cliffs of Dover
Nearest station: Dover Priory
What to do: The iconic sight of the White Cliffs of Dover might be familiar to those travelling from Calais back to the UK, but the views from the top are pretty impressive, too. Its all-weather paths range from shorter winding tracks up to the top of the cliffs to longer paths that'll take a few hours. As well as a visitor centre with a viewing platform, there are sights all over the cliffs, from shipwrecks to the northern tip of France, which can be seen on a clear day.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge, London Victoria and St Pancras International take from 1h04. From there, it's a scenic 40-minute walk or a 10-minute taxi.
For more info: nationaltrust.org.uk
Go birdwatching at Oare Marshes Nature Reserve
Nearest station: Faversham
What to do: You don't have to be an ornithologist to go here, but it helps. At Oare Marshes, a wetland that forms part of The Swale Site of Special Scientific Interest, you'll find hundreds or thousands of migratory and breeding birds, all of whom have made a temporary or permanent home in its rich marshland. Whether you're a keen birdwatcher or you're just looking for a less trodden path in the north-east of Kent, Oare Marshes is a beautiful spot to have a wander.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge, St Pancras International and London Victoria and take from 1h06. From there, it's an 11-minute taxi.
For more info: kentwildlifetrust.org.uk
Follow the Acorn Trail at Scadbury Park Nature Reserve
Nearest station: Sidcup
What to do: There's plenty of birdwatching on offer at the green expanse of Scadbury Par, too – which is close enough to get to within half an hour or so of Central London, but which will still make the hustle and bustle of the city feel a world away – but our advice is to follow its Acorn Trail. The 2.5km path takes in much of the park's diverse flora and fauna, helpfully guiding you with numbered posts that also alert your attention to the many ancient trees that have been growing there for centuries.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge and take from 17 minutes. From there, it's a 27-minute walk or a 25-minute bus journey.
For more info: scadbury-park.org.uk
Explore Dulwich Wood, West Dulwich
Nearest station: West Dulwich
What to do: In Dulwich Woods and the neighbouring Sydenham Woods (which were separated after the Crystal Palace relocation in 1854), you'll find more than 200 species of trees and flowering plants, as well as countless species of wild birds, from nuthatches to kestrels and sparrowhawks. It's another green space that feels miles from the city when you're inside – and if you're lucky, you'll stumble upon one of the small crops of castle-wall ruins while you're wandering through the ancient forest.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Victoria take 12 minutes. From there, it's a 20-minute walk.
Romantic walks in Otford, Kent
Nearest station: Otford
What to do: If you're feeling energetic, you can follow the walk alongside the River Darent all the way to the charming town of Shoreham. But, really, any part of the Darent Valley Path takes in some beautiful scenery and views of the historic Archbishop's Palace, as well as other beautiful Tudor buildings. On your return to Otford, grab a coffee and a slice of cake to recharge after a couple of hours' walking.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Victoria and take from 33 minutes. From there, it's a five-minute walk from the station.
For more info: explorekent.org