About the trail

The trail begins and ends at Westerham Road Car Park, only 2 miles (3.5kms) from Down House where Charles Darwin lived and worked from 1842 till his death in 1882. It leads you through the acid grassland and heath of Keston, past the valley mire of one of London’s few sphagnum bogs, wet meadows, sweet chestnut coppice and along a public footpath through the Holwood Estate. All these places were familiar and important to Darwin’s work and life, providing him with different plants and animals to study from those of the chalk and clay-with flints closer to his home. Some are indicated as you follow the trail, others are more difficult to spot or may
be anywhere along the route.

Places you'll pass

Holwood House. An earlier house than the one you will see was the home of Prime Minister William Pitt between 1785 and 1802 but when Darwin and his family first moved to Downe, Holwood House belonged to Lord Cranworth. A Whig politician and twice Lord Chancellor, he contributed to the Downe Friendly Society of which Darwin was the Treasurer and which helped support local villagers. The house was later the home of Lord Derby who wrote of Darwin that he was “the greatest scientific discoverer of our age, [yet] free from envy, jealousy or vanity in any form” and was one of the pallbearers at his funeral. Charles and Emma regularly dined at Holwood and visited the park. Holwood is also the site of an iron age settlement thought to date back to about 200BC. Built on high ground, it consists of 3 rings of ditches and banks enclosing an area of about 100 acres.

Keston Bog was an important source of the insectivorous plant, round-leaved sundew, which Darwin studied; he sampled mud from Keston Ponds as part of his experiments on the geographical distribution of seeds and he investigated the distribution of earthworms in the different heathland habitats.

How to get around

The complete trail is 31/4 miles (5 km) long, but the walk can easily be shortened in several ways (see map). There are 2 pubs at Keston which serve refreshments. The trail involves a small amount of road walking, please take great care and face oncoming traffic. Paths may be muddy and slippery at times with steps as shown on the map and some gradients of >20%. Please follow the Country Code, keep to the footpaths and remove your dog waste.

Click here to download a printable version of the trail.