A pretty walk on the Hucking Estate
PUBLISHED: 17:30 29 July 2019
Enjoy a gentle walk through the Hucking Estate exploring stunning flora and fauna supported by ancient woodland and chalk grassland
Where: Hucking, near Maidstone
Why: Explore a slice of England's remaining ancient woodland
Start and end: Woodland Trust car park, Church Road, Hucking ME17 1QT
OS map: Explorer 148 Maidstone and the Medway Towns
Length: Four miles
Just outside Maidstone lies the Hucking Estate, a peaceful oasis of woodland and grassland, with sweeping views across the North Downs.
The Estate is managed by the Woodland Trust, and not only is it one of the Trust's 'top 10 woods for bluebells', it's also the perfect place to explore a slice of ancient woodland and discover the wildlife and livelihoods it has supported over the centuries.
Enjoy the walk by following the text and directions below alongside the accompanying map.
1. Start of the walk
From the car park, walk into the woodland marked as Stubs Wood.
- Stop 1 - Stubs Wood
Stubs Wood is area of ancient woodland (woods that have existed continuously since 1600 or before). A vast wildwood once covered most of the UK after the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago, but now only two per cent of the UK's land is ancient woodland. While Kent is lucky enough to have more than any other county, much of the county has been deforested and broken up to meet the demands of a growing population. Between 1870 and 1997 the Hucking Estate alone lost approximately 46.2ha of woodland as technology improved and farming became more industrialised, allowing more land to be converted to arable.
This sliver of ancient woodland creates a rich habitat for wildlife and gives us insight into past land uses and ways of life.
Pause to enjoy the atmosphere of tranquillity provided by trees such as oak and ash that have stood here for hundreds of years.
Follow the clear path through the woods. At the major path crossroads with a bench on your right continue straight on to reach the wooden log sculpture.
- Stop 2 - the Living Log
While no longer part of a living tree, this gently decaying artwork has become its own microhabitat and reminds us of the huge variety of flora and fauna that our woods support. In the UK at least 2000 species of invertebrates rely on rotting wood for food and shelter, including the rhinoceros beetle. Such beetles in turn provide food for birds, snakes and small mammals, meaning these trees (alive or dead) are the basis for an entire ecosystem.
Take the path to your left, down to the old droveway. Turn right on the droveway and continue through the woods. Look out for a fenced-off area on your left.
- Stop 3 - Droveway/Denehole
This well-worn path running through the trees is the remains of a droveway, a track created by pig farmers or 'drovers' taking their animals to and from pasture.
The pastures here were known as 'dens' and were often simply small clearings in the woods where pigs could graze. They are the origin of local village names including Biddenden, Smarden and Tenterden.
The fenced-off area to your left is a 'denehole'. Here chalk was dug out by hand and spread on surrounding fields to improve drainage and soil fertility.
Today they make ideal homes for bats, as they are cool, dark and offer protection from predators.
Continue along the path. Turn right at the signpost 'viewpoint' through a gate and across a field. Keep left across the grass path until you reach the shepherd sculpture.
- Stop 4 - Shepherd Statue
The shepherd reminds us of another very special landscape found around Hucking: the chalk grassland, where sheep have long been grazed. This field is a typical chalk grassland habitat. It supports a treasure trove of beauties including bee orchids, yellow wort and the rare purple hairstreak butterfly.
Such ecosystems are sadly under threat due to years of overgrazing and the use of pesticides and fertilisers.
Fortunately, since 1999 the Woodland Trust has helped manage the land, banning pesticides, sowing native grass seed mixtures and planting trees to help the grassland regenerate.
Take the path to your right leading away from the shepherd statue. Pass through the kissing gate in the top corner of the field. Walk between the tree ahead and the fence towards the wild boar statues.
- Stop 5 - Wild boar
Wild boar used to roam the woods and grasslands of Britain until they were hunted to extinction in the 17th century. They are not the only animals now absent from this landscape. Five species of butterfly have disappeared from Kent in the last 50 years. Modern farming methods are chiefly to blame, but today many farmers are taking the lead in protecting habitats for insects and plants to maintain biodiversity on their land.
This gentle walk has explored some of the stunning flora and fauna supported by ancient woodland and chalk grassland.
It provides a rare glimpse into the past giving us insights into how our ancestors have lived and worked these beautiful landscapes over the centuries.
Continue ahead for 300 metres. Leave the field through a kissing gate on the right and turn immediately left onto a path parallel with the field for a further 275 metres. Before the gate at the end of this path, take the path to your right and walk into the woodland uphill. At the next crossroads, go straight on and pass through a gate onto the bridleway. Walk straight ahead down the slope and within 100 metres take the path to your right and follow it back to the car park. u
Find out more
Discovering Britain is a series of geographically themed walks and views, created by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), designed to tell the stories behind Britain's diverse landscapes. With thanks to Raymond Molony FRGS for researching and writing the original walk. The full walk text and images can be read, listened to and downloaded for free at: www.discoveringbritain.org