“ Location: Bromley Civic Centre, Stockwell Close, Bromley BR1 3UH / The nature reserve consists of 250 acres of woodland and meadows. „
I've found that owning a dog needing lots of exercise like my Labrador and having an appetite that could embarrass Homer Simpson is a match made in heaven sometimes.
Some of my favourite little cafes and pubs have been found whilst out walking our dog. I have a keen eye for books which describe good walks (not necessarily dog focussed) which feature a pub stop half way around, or a nice café somewhere nearby.
That was how I first heard about High Elms Country Park.
Not too far from home, but I probably wouldn't bother travelling there if it weren't for the opportunity to take my dog somewhere different every so often.
Situated in the London Borough of Bromley and by the North Downs, it was originally the country seat of the Lubbock family. It's now owned by Bromley Council, although it receives some assistance from the Countryside Agency, Forestry Authority and English Nature.
One of the attractions for me personally is that my usual rambles around the Park can be in woodland, which is especially important in summertime, when most parks are full of families enjoying the sunshine and having picnics. Despite our three years at dog training classes, our dog still believes that any people, or food on the ground is fair game for her. Anywhere where we are likely to encounter picnics, and food in general, are therefore off limits unless I've snapped her lead on in time. She has in the past snatched sandwiches still wrapped in their tin foil, and scoffed the lot, before the unsuspecting picnickers have even had time to react.
A woodland walk, therefore, offers up few opportunities for frayed tempers, and we usually manage to get back to the car having had a pretty enjoyable time.
Why is it worth going?
This country park is also classed as a nature reserve - one of only three in Bromley, and apparently is home to wildlife species which are otherwise rare in London. Clearly I'm not looking in the right places though, because I have yet to see any wildlife here other than the usual grey squirrels and common birds.
In my four or five visits, I can only claim to have seen a small fraction of the 250 acres that this park consists of.
From the main car park, there are formal gardens and tended lawns for those with families or children to sit or play.
We swiftly sidestep these areas and head towards the woodland area. One of my favourite walks is called the Tramper Trail, which takes us just over an hour to walk. It's named after the special all terrain wheelchairs that the Park have available for hire here to people less able-bodied.
I have yet to see a Tramper wheelchair on the walk, but I would have to say that it isn't ideal for either ordinary wheelchairs or pushchairs. The path is little more than a dirt track, and the ground can be quite uneven so you have to watch your step in places.
The trail has some gentle but long inclines although there are wooden benches every so often if you're feeling like a rest. The walks are well marked with newish wooden signposts. If you feel like venturing off on your own, I'm sure it won't be long before you find yourself on another marked walk though.
Although the woodland looks superb in Autumn with the leaves changing colour, my preferred time is the summer months, when my dog can't disgrace us all.
The park advertise as having special days, such as family rambling days, and an occasional craft fair turns up too, but I've not seen any special events laid on here.
The park is the home of BEECHE (Bromley Environmental Education Centre at High Elms) which is a newly-built sustainable education and visitor centre. It also houses two large multi-functional rooms for use by community groups, local businesses and schools although we've never ventured inside.
My favourite part though has to be the attached café. Called the Green Roof café, we invariably stop here after our walk. The café gets its name from the eco-friendly sedum growing on the roof. There are a few tables housed inside the café, but far nicer is the decked terrace area outside the café with plenty of seating around individual tables, for those like us with pets. It's popular with everyone from large family groups with small children, to elderly couples and we invariably get chatting to other dog owners too.
The times I've eaten here the food has been very nice, and arrived quickly, chilli con carne and a hamburger with chips being two of the choices I've had more recently. There are also a choice of sandwiches for those wanting something lighter, and a separate childrens menu. It's always been a very popular place for people to eat when I've been there, with most of the outside tables being taken.
According to the little menus on the tables, the park keeps it's own bees nearby, though quite how much honey the café need for their meals is debatable. They also claim to attempt to source some of their food from local people, although how many jams with interesting ingredients have been sold here I wouldn't know.
Access around the café and visitor centre is not a problem for those needing wheelchair or pushchair access as there is a separate ramp access leading up to it.
A separate public golf course of 150 acres also runs alongside the park. Unfortunately, we've noticed to our embarrassment that the course isn't separated by fencing all the way around, which means, naturally, our dog fancies saying hello to whoever happens to be playing at the nearest holes when she gets the opportunity. Luckily, most of the golfers seem to be easy going fellas.
I can't advise how to get there using public transport, only ever having used my car, but there is plenty of parking in the main car park, with several disabled spaces too.
High Elms Country Park, Shire Lane, Farnborough, BR6 7JH