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Stage 15 - QE II Bridge Viewpoint to Lullingstone Park (9.9 miles)

 

The route goes south from the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge Viewpoint at Stone. A few years ago this was a beautiful place to start from, but thanks to vandals it has now been sealed off by the local council. Maybe there will be some hope again in the future.

 

The route passes through the outskirts of Dartford to join the Darent Valley Path south, through the villages of Darenth, Farningham and Eynsford. Then past the Roman Villa remains and the castle at Lullingstone, along the bank of the River Darent behind the Visitor’s Centre at Lullingstone Park and finish near the entrance to the car park of Lullingstone Park. 

 

The car park on Cotton Lane at Stone is isolated and can prove tricky to find. If coming by road over the QE II Bridge, stay in the left hand lane and take the first exit after the toll booths. On reaching a large roundabout take the third exit (B2228) and possibly still signed as “Bridge Viewpoint”. The start is just 450 yards further along on the left.

 

The area around the start was until recently a picnic site with parking, toilets, benches, tables, walks and a beacon. The local council has now closed it off permanently. This is such a shame as the view of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, the Thames and surrounding industry, the towns lined along the north bank of the Thames and the docks at Tilbury is magnificent. It is just a solitary, unspoilt area where one can relax and watch the cogs of the busy world in motion; yet only hear the silent hum of it pass by, whilst feeling at peace with the immediate surroundings. It’s possibly the opening of the bridge and completing the M25 route around London which was ultimately to cause the closure of this leisure area, due to activities that went on after dark. Why the local council did not foresee these problems and close the car park at dusk each night is a mystery. 

 

Looking across the river Purfleet is to the left of the bridge. Immediately to the right is Thurrock and further right of this is the Port of Tilbury.

 

Carfax” at Purfleet was where Bram Stoker’s creation of Dracula (published in 1897) “lived” whilst he carried out his vampire campaign on the unexpecting local community. He was most likely inspired whilst looking across the Thames to the lunatic asylums at Dartford. These huge Victorian creations were filled not only by the insane of the day, but also by people with disabilities which were not understood at the time, by many who disagreed with the establishment, writers and artists who were thought to not conform to the normal and by young girls who got pregnant before marriage. Today the writers and artists would win prizes. Their artwork would be displayed in the Tate Modern and most of the rest would be treated as disadvantaged and given support to get on with their lives, allowing them to become a worthwhile and contributing member of society.

 

Recent evidence shows Thurrock was inhabited by Mammoths in prehistoric times. Later it was farmed by the Romans and Anglo-Saxons. Today it has many new housing developments and is home to Lakeside – one of Europe’s largest shopping centres. This has over a half a million visitors each week and with today’s fashions prehistoric mammals, Roman soldiers and ancient Britons could possibly walk through the place without being given a second look.

 

Tilbury Docks was where in August 1588 Queen Elizabeth I came ashore to deliver her famous speech to her troops on expectation of an invasion from the Spanish Armada. This has been reproduced so many times in plays and films throughout the years. There are several versions of this speech – the one below is from www.wikipedia.com

 

“My loving people, We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

 

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

 

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”

 

Tilbury is famous for its fort overlooking the Thames. Originally built in the 16th Century by Henry VIII, it has protected the approach to London along the Thames Estuary right up to and through World War II, although it has never seen battle. The present fort was begun in 1672 under Charles II. Today the Tilbury Fort is a museum owned by English Heritage and open to the public. It is said to be the best of its type in the country. 

 

Half a mile to the east of the viewpoint, over green belt land is Stone. This is a very pleasant and peaceful village. The interior of the 13th Century St Mary’s Church, at the centre of the village, is one of the architectural splendors of Kent. It is believed the work was done by the same masons who were responsible for Westminster Abbey. For hundreds of years the church was known as the “Lantern of Kent” as the light of its beacon could be seen by sailors from the Thames. Just south of Stone is Bluewater Shopping Centre. It was opened in 1999, occupies a former chalk quarry and is even larger and busier as Lakeside. Bluewater is looked over to its north east by Stone Castle, originally dating from the 12th Century and said to be built on the site where William the Conqueror signed a treaty with the men of Kent in 1067. The castle has changed much over the years and is now offices of Blue Square Cement.

 

From the start, on exiting the car park, turn left along Cotton Lane staying on pavement on the left hand side.

 

After 350 yards on the left are the Stone Lodge Indoor Bowls and Social Club plus Dartford Judo Club. From 1987 to 1996 this was the home of the North Downs Steam Railway but due to vandalism and the societies’ willingness to expand, the rolling stock and track were moved to the Spa Valley Railway at Tunbridge Wells.

 

Just after the bowls club, to the right, is the gothic Stone House Hospital, also known as the City of London Asylum. Opened in 1866, it accommodated both male and female patients. Its most famous resident was composer and poet Ivor Gurney (1890 – 1937) who was incarcerated here for the last 15 years of his life. The hospital was closed in 2005 and will soon be redeveloped as private dwellings.

 

After 0.4 miles, on reaching the T-junction go left for just a few yards to cross over London Road using the pelican crossing. Once over turn right staying on the LHS pavement for 650 yards to cross over the M25 (but officially known as the A282 for the 3 miles from here to the other side of the QE II Bridge).

 

Immediately over the motorway turn left onto an enclosed footpath. This leads to Watling Street, the old Roman road from Canterbury to St Albans via London. Turn right along Watling Street past a small church, then almost immediately cross over to go left into Pilgrims Way. Just before the first house (at 1 mile into the stage) turn half right and follow the narrow road / path between houses to Canterbury Close. Cross straight over onto a footpath between houses and follow the path through Hesketh Park.

 

Hesketh Park is the home of Dartford Cricket Club and Hesketh Park Bowls Club. There is an interesting sundial dated 1794 above the clubhouse.

 

Exit the park onto Park Street. Cross straight over and turn right past Downs Avenue. After another 30 yards turn left onto a footpath between houses. Follow the footpath straight on, and after 175 yards cross over Brent Lane and back onto the path. Follow the path straight for a quarter of a mile, eventually downhill, to the junction of Darenth Road and the busy Princes Road (A225). Turn left to a pelican crossing. Cross over Princes Road using the pelican crossing then turn right to cross over Darenth Road. Next to the junction of both roads turn south for just 4 yards along a metalled path, and when next to the traffic lights, turn sharp right onto another footpath downhill through the woods, going west and almost parallel to the main road (A225) – DO NOT follow the metalled footpath south. The path eventually leads to Brooklands Lake.

 

On approaching Brooklands Lakes, just a few yards to the right, is the Princes Tunnel. It was one of two tunnels built in 1923 which allowed both streams of the River Darent to flow under the busy Princes Road. By diverting the river away from this tunnel and just through the other enabled the building of a cycle / footpath joining up Brooklands Lakes with Central Park and giving easy access to the centre of the town. It was a project financed by Sustrans and the Local Council and was opened in March 2009. Maybe some day we can incorporate the park and the tunnel into our Long Distance Path around London.

 

At the lake turn left and after a short distance, at a Y-junction of paths, stay left keeping the lake to your RHS. Follow the path along the edge of the lake for 300 yards to a lane (Powder Mill Lane) next to an industrial estate (at 2 miles into stage). Turn left along the lane and over the river. Immediately over the bridge, turn right onto a path signed Darent Valley Path.

 

Dartford was one of the places most bombed by the Germans during World War II. Power Mill Lane was important as it was home to the Vickers armaments factory. To disguise the area from the air all of Brooklands Lake was covered with camouflaged. You can read this and more about “Dartford at War” on the Dartford Town Archive website. It was in Dartford during the latter half of the war where Mick Jagger, lead singer with “The Rolling Stones”, was born at Livingstone Hospital in East Hill on 26th July 1943.

 

The Darent Valley Path is a 19 mile long waymarked footpath, stretching from the River Thames at Dartford to the Greenland Hills above Sevenoaks. Our route joins the Darent Valley Path at Brooklands Lake and follows it for most of the next 8 miles to the finish of the stage at Lullingstone Visitor’s Centre. Then again on the following stage for another 5 miles to Dutton Green, with the exception of a slight diversion before Otford. The Darent Valley Path is a bit of a gem and by far the obvious route to take around this part of London. It follows the river as it meanders through the valley, sometimes going short distances away so as to take the best route and bring in points of interest. The path crosses the river many times and demonstrates the diversity and history of the area. It shows: how the Romans were attracted by the fertile soils and constant source of water of this rolling valley to grow their crops and graze their animals, and why they built so many villas here; how the valley behaved as a natural communications corridor for thousands of years; how Saxons settled here, lived off the land, built their churches and buried their dead; how the Norman invaders built their castles to protect their lords, divided the arable lands amongst themselves and as a legacy built churches, many of which still stand today; how during Tudor Times, palaces and country mansions were constructed in abundance and how they used the river as a navigable waterway; how as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution mills were built, which brought employment to the valley and swelled the population; how huge viaducts were built over the valley to carry trains from Victorian Times and later more modern bridges to carry roads; how the industries were adopted to help with the war effort and measures were put in place to keep German bombs away; how the fertile soil lead to the growing of hops for beer making and the construction of oust houses to dry them, and why so many artists and writers found inspiration from the beauty of the countryside.

 

Luckily today much of this historical past has survived and can still be seen. Apart from Dartford Town most of the Darent Valley remains rural and will hopefully continue to be, as much of the open spaces are designated as Green Belt. Old picturesque villages lie scattered along the valley with green fields, forests and nature reserves surrounding them. Many tourist attractions and visitors centres have opened. Gravel pits have become lakes used for fishing and other sports. Farms have diversified to attract trade by opening shops to sell local produce. Much of the countryside has been made accessible to the public and stately homes have opened their door so people can enjoy their architecture and history.

 

An illustrated guide book to the path, entitled “Along and Around the Darent Valley Path”, was published by Kent County Council in 1997 and is still available on e-books. To get a feel for the walk you can also visit www.bertuchi.co.uk/darent.php - he does go in the opposite direction to Green Belt Way. However, the website is really worth a visit.

 

Follow the Darent Valley Path through the woods. To the right, just across the river is Dartford Trade Park industrial estate – luckily most is hidden by trees. Soon the path seems to be blocked by broken old mill stones and to their right are the remains of an old mill, with the walls which held the mill wheel still partly standing. However, stay straight on, keeping the river to the right. On exiting the woods the path goes between the river, to your RHS, and large open fields, through a fence to your LHS. At the end of the fields stay straight on through a small wood, then turn right to cross a footbridge over the river and diagonally across a field to a lay-by next to the A225 (Hawley Road).

 

Turn left along the pavement, staying on the left hand side and under the A2 road bridge, then past the entrance to an industrial site and Hawley Mill to the left. Soon after Hawley Mill and 320 yards after the A2 road bridge, turn left through a wooden gate and onto a footpath signed Darent Valley Path. The path leads to a footbridge over the River Darent (at 3 miles) and then right along the side of the river (to your RHS) and soon under the M25 road bridge. A few yards after the M25 there is a choice of three paths - one to the left, one which goes right through the trees and one which veers left across a field. Follow the last option, it is the most obvious and crosses the field diagonally (going almost directly east).

 

There are some interesting paintings on the pillars supporting the motorway, but only up as far as the artist could reach. Just after the motorway, on the left, is an apple tree. A strange place to grow this, but on reflection it most likely originated from a disguarded apple core thrown from the window of a car as it sped along the M25 above.

 

At the opposite corner of the field the path goes through a kissing gate and out onto a road. This is the same Darenth Road we passed earlier, however since the building of the M25 both parts no longer join up and is named Darenth Road South. Turn right along the road past the entrance to Beechcare Nursing Home to your LHS and soon the inviting 15th Century Chequers public house to your RHS (at 3.5 miles). At the end of Darenth Road cross straight over Darenth Hill and onto a very narrow path next to the entrance of a distribution depot and to the left of a lane which leads to a fishing area called The Alders. Be careful as the narrow path is difficult to spot and this makes it is easy to go wrong here and end up at The Alders fishing area with its small intimate restaurant for the anglers.

 

St Margaret’s Church is just a few yards to the left on the right side of Darenth Hill. The church is described as the “gem of the Darent Valley” and is built mainly of bricks and tiles from the remains of a nearby Roman villa. The nave is Saxon and dates from 940 AD. Additions were made by the Normans in the 12th Century. The font contains a carving of a harpist believed to be the oldest in the UK and dates from 1140. The church is a Grade 1 listed building and is well worth the short detour from the route.

 

The path soon becomes enclosed in on both sides and leads to a flight of steps. Climb the steps and then follow the path as it turns right, eventually leading to the corner of a large field. Stay straight on along the bottom (RHS) edge of the field.

 

To the left the field climbs upwards to Roman Villa Road at its far side. The name of the road gives a clue to some of the history of the area. All along the valley are the remains of many Roman villas, some on the route and some just off it.

 

At the far bottom edge of the field follow the path through a wood, with the river once again to the right for a short distance. The path emerges from the wood into a car park in the corner of a large field.

 

On the left, running along the edge of the field, is a lane leading to Roman Villa Road. It is used as an access route by Concord Model Flying Club to get here by car and fly their models over the field (see YouTube video). Nearby are the remains of Darenth Court Roman Villa (this is either in the woods behind, or near the far end of the lane in the north east corner of the field, or possibly both as there are two parts to the villa’s buildings). The main part of the villa was discovered at the end of the 19th Century, a second site containing the bath house and an adjacent building was discovered in 1969. The villa is one of the largest ever found in the UK and is believed to have been the centre of a large agricultural estate. After excavations were completed, both sites were filled in again in order to preserve them. However, it is still possible to see the villa outline on Google Earth, or on Bing Maps “Bird’s Eye View”, the bath house is more difficult to see from the air as it is hidden by trees.

 

A path to the right, along the edge of the field, soon turns right to cross a footbridge over the river and within a few hundred yards leads to St John's Jerusalem. This is a pretty 17th Century house, parts of which date back to 13th Century.  It is set in peaceful, secluded gardens and moated by the Darent. The site from 1199 was a Commandery of the Knights Hospitaller, where newly joined knights were trained for the Crusades. The property was confiscated by Henry VIII during the “Dissolution of the Monasteries”. The flint chapel is all that remains of the original buildings. Today the buildings are in the care of the National Trust, but the house is occupied as a private residence. Only the chapel and gardens are open to the public.

 

Follow the well defined path straight on across the large field (going directly south) and directly towards a tall chimney in the distance. At the other end of the field the path again goes straight on onto an enclosed path between a fence and a hedge. After 100 yards stay straight on along a lane which soon leads to a T-junction with a road (Holmesdale Hill) and in the village of South Darenth.

 

Turn right along the pavement (soon Holmesdale Road) and through the village. When the river rejoins to the right, stay left on Horton Road, keeping the river to the right. The road soon veers right to a junction with East Hill going off to the left. Stay right along Horton Road and soon past what until recently was the site of a large paper mill – the chimney is still standing. Stay straight on under a high viaduct, immediately past which is The Bridges public house.

 

At the pub turn right onto Station Road. Follow the road for a short distance to just over the river, then turn left and down onto the footpath next to the river, signed Darent Valley Path (at 5.1 miles). The path follows the right bank of the river for half a mile to Westminster Playing Fields at Horton Kirby. Be careful to follow the main path (signed “Darent Valley Path”) through here as there are lakes to the right with paths going off between them and around them and at one point a footbridge to the left over the river leads to a parking area.

 

South Darenth village has 5.2 hectares designated a conservation area. The area was greatly changed in the latter half of the 19th Century with the coming of the railway and the expansion of the paper mills. Horton Kirby Mill, at South Darenth, was built in the 1820s by Henry Hall and replaced an older corn mill. The 1987 a storm caused havoc in the Horton Kirby Paper Mill Industrial Estate, resulting in the destruction of at least two business premises. The three-storied West Mill was reduced to rubble and the falling roof tumbled into nearby buildings. In 2008 most the paper mill was demolished to make way for a housing development, only the tall chimney and a two story building were left standing as both are historically listed. In front, just past the mill, and towering over the valley is the South Darenth Railway Viaduct. It was built in 1858 and carries the London Victoria to Chatham line. Next to the viaduct is The Bridges public house. The proprietor is Wayne Bridges, the former World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion – I’m not sure if the pub’s name comes from the wrestler or the two adjoining bridges of the railway and the river. Station Road, next to the pub, is named so as it leads to Farningham Road Station at Sutton at Hone. The station has a reputation for crime. According to the British Transport Police in 2007/8 it was the second most vandalised station in the country. On Wednesday, 6th August 2008 the station was in the national press for another crime. This time, during the morning rush hour, a woman was pushed off the platform and onto the railway tracks after she asked two men to stop smoking. The woman suffered a broken wrist and bruises to her legs, but was lucky to just miss the live rail by inches. A man was later charged with grievous bodily harm over the incident and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.

 

On reaching Westminster Playing Fields follow the path south and along the LHS of the fields to a pavilion. Stay left of the pavilion on the grass, keeping the car park to your LHS. At the far end of the car park, veer left towards a kissing gate at the corner of the field. Go through the kissing gate and follow a well worn path diagonally across the field to the opposite corner. On entering the next field follow the path along the left hand edge and back to river. For the next 400 yards the path continues through a narrow wood adjacent to the river. This area is very picturesque, but at points is uneven underfoot and can be slippery when wet.

 

Horton Kirby was recorded in the Domesday Book as “Hortune” meaning “muddy place by a river”. It was divided into four manors, Court Lodge, Reynolds Place are both within the village. Franks Hall is to the south and South Darent to the north. William the Conqueror gave the manor to his half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. The manor was occupied by Anschitillus de Ros and stayed with the de Ros family until 1291 when the last heiress Lora de Ros (called the “Lady of Horton”), married Roger de Kirkby from Lancashire. The village was renamed Horton Kirkby and some time later changed to Horton Kirby. Soon after the Norman Invasion, de Ros built Horton Castle on the banks of the river. The site is now occupied by Church Lodge Farm and parts of the castle ruins are believed to be incorporated in the manorial farmhouse.

 

The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin is on the Horton Road and near Church Lodge. It dates from 1225, but an earlier church at Horton is mentioned in the Domesday Book and this was most likely of Saxon origin. Parts of St Mary’s have been rebuilt on many occasions. The church website describes “two periods of major mutilation”.

 

“The first was rebuilding of the nave in about the late 1300s/early 1400s, obviously in hurry, without arcades and out of alignment with the rest of the edifice. A possible reason for this is damage by the Great Kentish Earthquake of 1382, which created havoc throughout the county. The second period saw the rebuilding of the tower (which then had a spire) with modern brickwork in 1816, and the chancel being halved in length in 1821.”

 

The website also goes on to compliment another period when improvements were made.

 

“In the late 19th century the church was genuinely `improved', even by Victorian standards, by Ewen Christian, architect. Windows were unblocked and an organ purchased which is still in use today. The three stained glass windows in the chancel date from 1863.”

 

Horton Kirby has many links with early settlers and can trace this back thousands of years to Neolithic Times. In 1972 during construction work for a new sewer, at Westminster Playing Fields a previously undiscovered Roman villa and granary were unearthed. This find filled in a gap in a line of villas along the valley. Luckily whilst digging took place there was a 24 hour watch on the site by interested archaeologists who spotted the early uncovering of Roman artifacts. As a consequence the sewer was diverted and this historical site was saved. It also may explain why there are hundreds of fragments of Roman tiles embedded in the flint walls of St Mary’s Church.

 

Other major finds show that Horton Kirby was an important settlement during Saxon Times. In 1866 a Saxon cemetery was discovered by workmen digging foundations for the “Home for Little Boys” at the top end of New Road, South Darenth. This led to the discovery of between 60 and 70 graves. A second was discovered by council workers in 1937 preparing land for the building of new houses at Saxon Place just opposite the eastern end of Franks Lane. Named the Riseley Cemetery, it was one of the most important historical discoveries ever in Kent. It was excavated by the Dartford Historical and Antiquarian Society, (funnily now based at the Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford), between 1937 and 1938 and located five cremations and 110 burials dating from the 5th to the 7th Centuries. Many of the graves contained goods which provided much information about daily life in Saxon Times.

 

Just across the bridge on The Street at the entrance to Westminster Playing Fields was the site of Westminster Mill. This was the biggest influence of the Industrial Revolution on the village. It also brought jobs and more people to the area. The mill was originally used for making flour and owned by Thomas Millhouse, a church warden at St Marys in 1894 who lived at Mill House. It was damaged by lightening in 1908. By 1914 it was rented by Walter Millen and used to make shoelaces. In March 1918 Millen bought the mill, the mead, the bridge and the weir. Between 1926 and 1936 the mill expanded with extra floors and extensions being added. It ventured into cork insoles for shoes. Millen was regarded as a kind and generous man by his workers and friends. The story quoted below from the Horton Kirby & South Darenth Website is by a young lady who worked at the mill tells of his generosity.

 

“Eileen "Nippy" Filmer began work at the Mill when she was 14 putting tin tags on the bootlaces and was paid 3 /4 d a gross. One of the many works' outings she remembered as follows: "In 1938 a day trip was organised by Mr Millen for the workers. We put one shilling a week aside for 20 weeks. It was a train ride (with breakfast on the train) to Southampton. An ocean liner was in dock at the time and we were fortunate enough to be shown round. This was followed by a coach trip through the New Forest. On the return journey home high tea was served. The highlight of the day was Mr Millen giving back to each of us the money we had saved over the weeks for the trip, plus a present of a cut-glass sugar bowl.”

 

In November 1940 the mill was taken over by Vickers-Armstrong at the behest of the Ministry to produce lighting, nuts and bolts for the war effort. After the war in April 1946 normal production was resumed and continued until 1952 when the company ceased trading. The mill was then sold to the J Day Group. They continued to produce shoelaces until 1968 and then cable and harnessing for the General Post Office (now Royal Mail and BT) until 1991. During this time, in 1975 a former employee set fire to the west wing by the bridge, resulting in a complete rebuild and loss of £50, 000 worth of equipment. The mill stayed empty until 2001 when it was demolished to make way for a new residential development on the site.

 

The village has two traditional English pubs, both of which are just off the route on the opposite side of the river. The Fighting Cocks has been a pub since 1818, is on The Street south of the entrance to Westminster Playing Fields and has a garden backing onto the river. The name comes from cock fighting which was held there in the early 19th Century. The other is The Bull (for news see Twitter), north of Westminster Playing Fields on the corner of Bull Hill and Lombard Street. A short distance north of The Bull on School Lane is the Horton Kirby Environmental Centre, built for local children to experience and be educated about the local area.        

 

Across the River Darent, from the route just before Franks Lane, is Reynolds Place. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as a Saxon farm and is named after a medieval family. It had many well known and wealthy occupants including Sir John Browne, Lord Mayor of London in 1480. The original house was a large Tudor mansion built in the 16th Century, but was greatly damaged during the great storm of 1703 and had to be demolished. All that remains today is a farmhouse, but with many features going back to Tudor Times.

 

The path comes out onto a road - Franks Lane. Turn left along the lane and over the river. After 220 yards and immediately before Horton & Kirby Cricket Club, turn right through a kissing gate and onto an enclosed footpath (signed Darent Valley Path) going directly away from the road and with the cricket field to your LHS. The river is now away to the right across the field and follows the line of trees in the distance.

 

Franks Hall is just across the river on higher ground above the flood plain. This was built in 1591 by Lancelot Bathurst and replaced a much older hall which stood on this side of the river near the south east corner of the field. The older house was built in 1220 by the Frankish family from Yorkshire and from whom it takes its name. It was built on the flood plain and hence was damp and liable to flooding, for this reason it was demolished. However, by using Google Earth or Microsoft Virtual Earth you can plainly see the outline of where this older house stood (you need to scroll SE to past the hall and on the other side of the river). Bathurst was a friend of Elizabeth I, who once stayed. It is rumoured that during her visit one of her ladies in waiting earned the Queen's disapproval of her love for a local yeoman. The ladies' body was found on the banks of the river. It is not known if she drowned or was killed on the Queen's orders. Her ghost is said to rise from the river in August and walk across the lawn. Through the years the house has passed through many hands. In the late 19th Century it became home to Fredrick Power, uncle of Tyrone Power the movie star. In 1910 it became the property of Lord Bathurst, a descendent of the original owner. During World War II it was used as a maternity home for women to have babies away from the bombing of London. In 1980 the house was purchased by Findlay Publications who converted it to offices and greatly restored, but changed practically nothing of the appearance and structure of this Grade 1 listed building. In May 2005 it was sold to Transcribe Thames Group, who use it as their prestigious headquarters and have promised to maintain the building and the grounds – in July 2011 the hall and grounds are now up for sale.

 

Follow the path straight for 500 yards along the edge of two fields. On entering a third field, turns right to the river, then left along its bank, with the river to your RHS. The footpath follows the river for 350 yards then passes under the M20 motorway.

 

In the field across the river, just before the M20 road bridge, are the remains of Franks Roman Villa. Evidence found here suggests it was built on the site of a late Iron Age settlement.

 

After the M20, stay straight on for 250 yards (the river is to the right and a large open field to the left) and then under another road bridge (A20). Almost immediately after the road bridge turn right to cross a footbridge over the Darent River, then left to follow the path through woods along the opposite bank. After 250 yards this leads to and through the large riverside beer garden of the Lion Hotel and out onto the Farningham High Street.

 

Turn right along the High Street and through the village. The road soon starts to gently climb. To the right is the aptly named White House and just past this on the corner is the Chequers Pub. Across the street to the left is the Family Butchers, which during spring and summer is brightly decorated with flowers. Within a short distance cross over and turn left into Sparepenny Lane. Follow the lane for just over a mile to a T-junction at Eynsford.

 

Farningham is 7.25 miles into the stage and has many well preserved and interesting old buildings – it has to be one of my favourite villages on the route. Evidence of Neolithic and Iron Age settlements have been found in the area, some of which are now in the Dartford Museum. The next settlers were the Romans who built all along the Darent Valley. They had three villas and three farms in and around the village. In the 1930s a Saxon burial ground was found just east of the village at Charton Manor, and it is thought the centre of the present village is built over a Saxon riverside settlement. To read more about the burial ground visit the Dartford Town Archive Website. The name Farningham also derives from Saxon, meaning either, the home of Ferningas (people who live in a ferny place, or free men), or a village near a running stream. In the Domesday Book, Farningham was recorded as having four manors, two of which were Farningham and Chartons (or Farningham parva). In 1270 Ralph de Fremingham was granted the right to hold a weekly market and annual fair. These were believed to be held at Market Meadow, just off the High Street and next to the Village Hall. In 1972 excavations at Market Meadow revealed the remains of a medieval moated manor house and a later 18th Century manor house which was destroyed by fire before completion. Also uncovered was the curtain wall of a 13th / 14th Century Farningham Castle. 

 

The village grew up along the busy London to Maidstone and Dover road (A20) where it crossed the River Darent. By the 1930s the village High Street and old bridge were finding it difficult to cope with the volume of traffic so a bypass was built to the north. This allowed the village to hide tucked away and retain its character. In recent years the bypasses has helped to keep away the boy racers and the huge volumes of traffic on their way to the Brands Hatch Race Circuit just a mile to the east.

 

The bridge over the Darent replaced a much older ford, evidence of which can still be seen from the Lion Hotel beer garden. Crossing the river next to the bridge is a listed structure consisting of red brick arches, each closed off by wooden fence like structures. It is thought the arches and fences are a “cattle screen” built in the 18th Century to stop cattle from escaping. Directly across the road from the Lion Hotel is the old corn mill. It was built in the 18th Century by the Colyer Family on an expensive mechanical base. It replaced an older mill built here in 1610 by, Sir Anthony Roper and is now a private dwelling.

 

It appears Roper’s father was also Sir Anthony, who inherited Lord of the Manor of Farningham from his father in the 16th Century. The Domesday Book records a mill here as far back as 1087. A short distance to the left of the mill is the manor house. This for a number of years, in the latter part of his life, was home to William Bligh – better known as “Captain Bligh of the Bounty”. The St Peter & St Paul Church is just east of this and dates from the 13th Century - the tower was added 200 years later. Inside is a rare 15th Century font with carvings of the seven sacraments and in the graveyard to the rear of the church is the impressive 18th Century Nash mausoleum.

 

Shortly after the church, on the same side of the High Street is the Pied Bull public house. According to the pub old website it dates from 1612, however the Farningham & Eynsford Local History Society state its records go back to 1587. It is clear that by the 17th Century it was a coaching inn on the main road from London to Dover. During the 18th & 19th Centuries it was a stagecoach house with stabling for fifty horses. The pub is also thought to be haunted by the ghost of an obedient young woman who keeps quiet when she is asked too.

 

According to The Lion Hotel website the pub dates back to the 16th Century when it was the entertainment centre of the village. It was visited by writer Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) who enjoyed fishing in the river. The pub is currently owned by a company called Vintage Inns. The route around London’s green collar passes many of their public houses. I’ve visited most of them and have only praise for how they choose their settings and the good service they provide at reasonable prices.

 

Sparepenny Lane got its name because it was used by carters as an alternative route to avoid the turnpike on the main road and saved the penny toll fee. Today the turnpike has disappeared and the lane is relatively traffic free. On entering the lane there are some old houses. Two worth a mention are: “The Mount” an elegant family home built in 1820 for William Colyer; Mount Pleasant was built in 1740 and originally called Hampton Court House after Edward Hampton, its first owner.

 

There are many other historical buildings in the village and you can read more on these by following the link above to the Local History Society.

 

There are some plaques about the place – and I’m sure I have taken photos of them. I’ll put them on here when I find them.

 

For the first couple of hundred yards Sparepenny Lane climbs steeply out of the village before leveling off to follow a contour of the valley. To the right, just above the lane, is a scattering of desirable residences with good views over the valley below. These views are visible from the lane each time there is a break in the hedge to the left.

 

On the left of Sparepenny Lane, shortly after the top of the climb out of Farningham is a stile (or kissing gate) where the Darent Valley Path has recently been diverted into a field and now runs parallel to the lane along the other side of the hedge for about half a mile. This route does give great views across the valley and you can decide to use it. 

 

Half a mile along the lane the hedge is cut low to give a view of the ruins of Eynsford Castle. The 11th Century castle was the residence of a Norman knight William de Eynsford. It has been uninhabited since the 14th Century, and in later years was used as kennels for hunting dogs owned by the Hart-Dykes of Lullingstone Castle. However, the greater part of its high curtain wall and stone hall still stand and it is one of the most complete Norman castles in the country. It is now in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.  

 

On the left hand side of the lane, next to a viewpoint for the castle is a memorial to Flight Lieutenant James A. Paterson, a Battle of Britain pilot from New Zealand. It is one of a very few erected for pilots who lost their lives in battle during World War II. If you follow the link to Air Aviation Art by Geoff Nutkins you can see a wonderful painting of him flying over Sparepenny Lane in his Spitfire and scroll down to read why his memorial sits here.

 

The lane soon climbs back down to the valley floor and comes to a T-junction. To the left “Riverside” leads past the green on the banks of the Darent and the 16th Century Plough Inn to Eynsford village with its many old and interesting buildings. Eynsford has been an important crossing point of the Darent for thousands of years. The 15th Century hump-back bridge and adjacent much older ford cross the river to the main part of the village. Just over the bridge is the Watermark Restaurant and directly across the High Street is the Norman Church of St Martin of Tours. In the mid 12th Century the church was the focus of a dispute between William de Eynsford III and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. William was excommunicated and it led to a confrontation between Becket and King Henry II. It was one of many confrontations which would eventually lead to Becket’s assassination in Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December 1170.

 

The High Street has many old and interesting buildings. A short distance to the left, along it, is the Castle Inn and directly opposite the inn is access to Eynsford Castle. You can read more at English Heritage and Wikipedia.

 

Eynsford has connections with and has been home to many famous people. The Wesley Stone next to the bridge marks the spot where John Wesley once preached from. Percy Pilcher, a late 19th Century inventor and aviator constructed and flew some lightweight gliders near the village, but tragically crashed and died in 1899 at the age of 33 just before he was about try and become the first person to make a powered flight. In the 1920s composers Peter Warlock and EJ Moeran rented a house in the village and created some of their best works here. They were famous for their open house and drunken parties. Warlock would often wake up the local residents by going around the village late at night, on his motorcycle, whilst drunk and sometimes naked. Graham Sutherland, the 20th Century English artist, lived at Willow Cottage. Arthur Mee (1875 – 1943), writer and author of The Children’s Encyclopedia lived in a grand house which he built on Eynsford Hill.

 

On reaching the T-junction at the end of Sparepenny Lane, turn right onto Lullingstone Lane. Follow the lane as it turns left (see Note below) and under the railway viaduct – the Darent River meanders through the meadows to the left and under another arch of the viaduct.

 

(Note: Our route does not follow the marked route of the Darent Valley Path for a short distance from here. You can choose to continue with us straight along the lane or take the off-road route of the Darent Valley Path. The diversion is much tougher, adds 0.53 miles to the total distance and the route instructions are as follows. 170 yards after turning right at the T-junction and along Lullingstone Lane, the Darent Valley Path turns right onto a footpath, uphill and diagonally across a large field. After 250 yards it crosses the railway and continues straight on, uphill and across another field for 400 yards, then turns left to cross a lane next to Hulberry Farm at Eagle Heights. The path continues straight on for 300 yards across a third field, and then another 300 yards along the edge of a fourth. At the opposite side of the field the path turns sharp left and steeply downhill along the edge of the field, on an ancient track, to rejoin Lullingstone Lane just after Lullingstone Roman Villa. The views over the valley below and the railway viaduct on this diversion are stunning and you maybe lucky to see some of the birds of prey, mentioned below, in flight. However, it’s a big climb and steep descent. By following the link to Multimap you can see the well defined path along the top of the photo, Lullingstone Lane going through the centre, the River Darent just below and the railway viaduct to the left of the photo. Using the navigation arrows and the instructions above it is easy to follow the well defined route of the Darent Valley Path to just after the building containing the Roman villa. You can also download a diversion route Google Map HERE).

 

Eynsford Viaduct was completed in 1862 to link Chatham to Sevenoaks. The viaduct towers above the road and the valley, but the red brickwork blends in well with the surroundings. This is a peaceful place, only disturbed by the trains from above on the viaduct. You can watch them on YouTube, the last one in the video being an old steam train.

 

After a short distance a sign on the right giving directions to a bird of prey centre at “Eagle Heights”. Here eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and vultures from all over the world can be seen. The Romans were fond of their birds of prey and introduced many to Britain for sport. Today you can visit Eagle Heights and watch the birds being looked after somewhat better than during Roman times. You can see many beautiful photos of the birds and the surrounding area if you follow the link fiveprime.org website.

 

Continue along Lullingstone Lane to a car park (at 9 miles). Go straight on through the car park and past a modern building to the right. The building protects one of the most complete and best preserved Roman villas in Britain.

 

Lullingstone Roman Villa was first constructed in 75 AD of wood. It was rebuilt using flint and tiles by 150 AD, and greatly extended over the next 300 years. From the 4th Century there is evidence Christianity was practiced here and thus was the site of one of Britain’s first Christian churches. The villa was still occupied during part of the 5th Century after the Romans had left Britain. There is evidence of a fire around this time, though most of the walls seemed to have survived this. During Norman times materials from the wall were used in the construction of St Botolphs Church at Lullingstone Castle. The reason why most of what remained of the villa was preserved so well, is that at some point it got covered in clay by a landslide. The villa stay covered until it was rediscovered in 1939. Because of World War II, excavations didn’t commence until 10 years later, and once completed the villa had a protective building erected around and over it. In 1963 it was opened to the public. Today it is looked after by English Heritage, with visitor’s information available on their website. A painting by Alan Sorrell depicts what the villa would have looked like in 360 AD, and prints are on sale through English Heritage. To read a detailed article about Lullingstone Roman Villa, visit the BBC Website.

 

English Heritage and the local Tourist Board have produced a leaflet on the area around Eynsford and Lullingstone to give information and encourage people to get out and about and appreciate this part of the countryside.

 

Follow the lane straight on past the Roman villa for another 500 yards to a red-brick building with two towers and a central archway. This is the gatehouse and entrance to Lullingstone Castle.

 

The gatehouse at Lullingstone Castle was built in 1497 and is believed to be one of the first buildings to be built of red-brick in Britain. Through the entrance is the “castle”, a magnificent manor house dating from the same time. However, the later Queen Anne front conceals the older part of the house. To the left on the lawn is the older St Botholp’s Church. Built in Norman times and sometimes referred to as “The Church on the Lawn”. The church is still in use and is open to the public. It was built mainly of flint and remains from the Roman villa. The red bricks visible at the top of the walls were added in the early 18th Century. The church has many interesting things to see including some of the oldest stained glass in the country. Behind the church is a walled garden. This was originally a herb garden designed by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde and has recently been converted to “The World Garden”.

 

An estate at Lullingstone is recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) although the name is believed to have earlier Saxon origins.

 

According to “The Heraldic Notices of Canterbury Cathedral; with Genealogical and Topographical Notes”, by Thomas Willement, published in 1827, “Sir John Peche bought Lullingstone in 1361, and the castle and honours were held by that family until the time of Henry VIII”. The castle mentioned in this book may have been what we now know was Shoreham Castle, situated less than a mile upstream, but still part of what was then the Lullingstone estate. The current manor house and gateway were built by one of Peche’s descendents, also called Sir John Peche. The latter John was a man of great reputation and became Sherriff of Kent and Lord Deputy of Calais. He was friends with Henry VII and later Henry VIII. Both kings often visited and would joist with John on the lawn. When John died his sister Elizabeth inherited the manor, she was married to John Hart, hence a new surname for the family. Again the manor passed through descendents of the Hart family and eventually in 1738 to Anne, daughter of Sir Percyval Hart and sole heir. Anne is believed to have been named after Queen Anne who was a family friend and often visited. The house and grounds still contains reminders of these visits – the Queen Anne bedroom and the Queen Anne boathouse on the lake.

 

Here is an earlier love story (or two) about Anne Hart from Historic-Kent.co.uk.

 

“A rather odd little story is told of his daughter Anne. It relates how, on the night of the celebration of her betrothal to Sir Thomas Dyke of Horeham, Sussex, she slipped away to her bedroom where she made a rope of knotted sheets and climbed down into the arms of a young naval officer called Bluet, who was waiting for her in a boat in the moat.

 

Together they ran away and were married. The jilted Sir Thomas swore he would never marry anyone else and, indeed, he did not. When Bluet died nine years later his widow found the faithful Sir Thomas still waiting for her and they married.”

 

It was Anne Hart’s marriage to Sir Thomas Dyke which formed the roots to the current family name and it was also Thomas who bestowed the name Lullingstone Castle on the manor house.

 

Today the castle is in the hands of Guy Hart-Dyke and his wife Sarah. It means that the manor has stayed in the ownership of the Hart-Dyke family and their ancestors for almost 650 years, and this makes them one of the oldest families in the world to have continually lived in the same house.

 

Guy & Sarah’s son Tom hit the news in March 2000 when he and his companion Paul Winder were taken hostage by rebels whilst searching for rare orchids in the Panamanian jungle. They were held captive for nine months. During this time Tom came up with the idea of the World Garden of plants.

 

To look at the manor house and the grounds it’s easy to believe a very wealthy family must live here. However, in 2006 BBC2 showed an earlier recorded series of documentaries about the family, the castle and Tom’s idea of a “World Garden” as a means of creating enough income to keep the castle in the family. In another series “Return to Lullingstone” (televised in 2007), the BBC came back to see how things were progressing. The garden opened to the public in July 2005 and in the same year won the Guild of UK Travel Writers Tourism Award for best new tourist attraction in the UK.

 

This wasn’t the only time the family had to come up with a business adventure to keep the castle in the family. In the 1930s the family were almost crippled by inheritance tax, so Zoe Hart-Dyke decided to import silk-worms from China and start a silk farm. It was the UK’s only commercial producer and turned out some 20 lbs of raw silk per week. The silk was used in garments for many royal occasions including Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding dress (1947) and her mother’s coronation robe (1937). However, when used in Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding dress the farm had re-located to Dorset. During the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the BBC had a side story where they went to Lullingstone and interviewed Guy. Kate’s dress was the first in the modern era where the silk was not produced in the UK – all others had their roots at Lullingstone. 

 

Lullingstone Castle also holds a place in “Lawn Tennis” history. In 1875, Sir William Hart-Dyke and a group of the games’ enthusiasts got together here to experiment on the lawn and debate how the game should be played. They decided the size of the court and where the lines should be placed. They drew up the original rules of what is now the modern game. It was only two years later when the first Wimbledon championship took place.

 

After passing the gatehouse go straight on through a kissing gate and along a path into the woods, with the river and lake to the left.

 

To the right on the hill is Lullingstone Park Golf Club.

 

The path follows the River Darent for just over a third of a mile to behind Lullingstone Park Visitor's Centre. Go straight on for a few yards behind the visitor’s centre and with the river still on your LHS. Go through a kissing gate and turn right along the road past the entrance to the car park. Finish on the RHS almost immediately after passing the car park entrance and next to a stile into a field.

 

On the riverbank a short distance before the visitor’s there is a beautifully carved bench, a memorial to a recently deceased teenager. Just by the centre is a footbridge over the river and close to this at a junction of paths is a tastefully engraved wooden sculpture.

 

The visitors centre has a restaurant, a shop and a small museum to keep young children entertained. There are many interesting walks from the visitor's centre through the adjacent country park. The park covers an area of 460 acres and was once part of the old deer park of Lullingstone Castle.

 

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