Stage 15 - Stone Crossing Station to Dartford Station (6.75 miles)
Start: Grid Reference TQ5743074935 Post Code DA9 9AR StreetMap
We start at
Crossing Railway Station. The first half a mile takes us to the south bank
of the River Thames. The next three miles, to Dartford Creek Flood Barrier. It's
just a matter of following the riverbank upstream. We pass under the huge Queen
Elizabeth II, then join the way-marked Darent Valley Path all the way to
Dartford. You should find it easy to follow.
This is the shortest and possibly the flattest stage on our walk. I have done this as it's also a walk in itself and it's just a few minutes to get back by train from the finish. However, you may choose to continue further into the next stage.
Stone village is just south west of the station. It is old and is very pleasant and peaceful compared to all the surrounding modern industries. 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 village is Bluewater Shopping Centre. It was opened in 1999, occupies a former chalk quarry and is even larger than Lakeside at Thurrock. 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 used as offices.
The whole area along this part of the Thames is industrial and not green belt, although the path is unbroken and pleasant.
From the station go north along Church Hill. After just 50 yards, as road turns left, turn right onto narrow path through trees. Within a few yards the path comes out onto a dual carriageway (Crossways Boulevard, A206). Turn right along the pavement, soon past Travelodge Hotel.
After 120 yards, and just after a bus stop, turn left to cross the road via pelican crossing. Once over turn right along the pavement past a bus stop.
NOTE: If you have come over the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge via the X80 bus, then this would have been the bus stop you should have got off.
On reaching roundabout, cross over service road (Claire Causeway). Once over follow path (by right of Barnes Roffe sign) away from road, past four large boulders and across narrow car park to fingerpost, signed "Footpath". Turn left and follow the path around two sides of a lake for 225 yards. Turn left through wooden kissing gate and stay straight on along grass verge between a metal fence and a road (Quadrant Court).
After 175 yards follow gap through concrete bollards and go through a metal kissing gate. Stay straight on soon up grass embankment via steps. Then straight on down steps and up a third set of steps onto a second embankment. Turn left along the well-defined path with the River Thames to your RHS.
The two embankments form flood defences from the River Thames. A grass path leads along the first embankment which is slightly higher, but the official path is along the most northern embankment - the one beside the river - which has a better surface and is more defined.
The River Thames is about 0.7 miles wide at this point. On clear days there are great views across the river. Slightly to the east and sticking out from the opposite bank is the Stone Ness Lighthouse. Behind the lighthouse and towering above it is one of the two tallest electricity pylons in the UK. The other, seen to the right of this, is on the south bank of the Thames near Swanscombe. They are both 190 m (623 ft) and support overhead power lines named the 400 kV Thames Crossing. The span is 1372 m (4501 ft) and the minimum height of the wires over the river is 76 m (249 ft).
To the left the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge towers over everything around it. It carries the M25 (named A282 over the bridge) south and over the Thames to Kent. The bridge is almost 2 miles long and in the centre is 200 feet above the river to allow large ships to pass under. When opened, by The Queen in 1991, it was the longest cable-stayed bridge in Europe. This is still the only bridge over the River Thames downstream of Tower Bridge.
After 550 yards the path passes under a road bridge
at Thames Europort.
This is a roll-on/roll-off port with a large pontoon-type berth for up to two
ships to the right .
Half a mile later as you pass under the QE II Bridge you'll get to see the sheer scale of it. Just a few yards upstream two tunnels also cross under the Thames. The west tunnel opened in 1963 and the east one in 1980. They take the traffic north from Kent to Essex. However, when the bridge has to be closed, because of high winds or other reasons, southbound traffic is diverted through one of the tunnels.
If you are on a push-bike and wish to cross the river, then there is a free cycle service. For details see the LINK.
There are many videos of the QE II Bridge on the Internet, I've chosen a three to link to. The first is by drone and lasts for over 15 minutes. This shows the bridge, many of the things I've been writing about on here, our path and much more. However, apologies if you dislike Simon & Garfunkel. The second is by Institution of Civil Engineers and gives a history and some facts about the bridge and the two tunnels. The third is a drive over the bridge in what seems to be a rattly lorry, but it does have good views. As an extra thought, it was the opening of the bridge that first sparked off this project of a run and a walk around London's green belt. However, by 2027, there should be a Lower Thames Crossing a few miles downstream of here. We already have: the Capital Ring, 78 miles, around Inner London; the London LOOP, 150 miles around Outer London; our own London Green Belt Way, 238 miles around London's green necklace, and maybe an even longer walk taking using the Lower Thames Crossing. Who knows? Yet, it would be great if we had more paths to discourage the Government from concreting over all of the South East of England.
560 yards upstream from the bridge a disused deep-water jetty, to the RHS, was once used to bring coal and, more recently, oil and leads to Littlebrook Power Station. The tall chimney of this is easily visible in front. For the next 0.8 miles of the walk, as we pass the power station and a sewage works, there is a wall to the LHS. However, you still have views over the Thames and can watch the river traffic float by and unload it cargo at the many jetties on the opposite bank.
700 yards after the deep-water jetty (at 2 miles) to the LHS is what remains of Littlebrook Power Station and its 210 m high chimney. The power station was closed in 2015 and is being demolished over two years, 2018 - 20. Update, July 2020, the power station has been completely demolished (see BBC). According to News Shopper, a 200 million pounds "Mega Box", Amazon warehouse, covering 2.3 million square feet, is to be built on the 45 acre plot of land. The developer has committed to achieving a net-zero carbon building.
At 2.22 miles a set of metal steps to the left lead to a path / restricted byway which runs south-west along a stream dividing the power station from Long Reach Sewage Treatment Works.
Shortly after the sewage works a path (marked traffic free cycle route on OS maps) goes away to the left and follows the old Hospital Tramway that once led from the river to Orchard and Joyce Green Hospitals. It was at this place, by the river, stood Long Reach Hospital. For some background into these hospitals I have used information from "The Workhouse":
"Between 1867 and 1930, the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB) played a substantial and increasing role in the care of London's sick poor. During that period, institutional medical care for the poor was transformed from a system based on often squalid workhouse infirmaries, staffed by illiterate paupers, to one which included around forty general and specialist MAB establishments, many purpose-built, staffed by well-trained personnel. The institutions set up by the MAB came to be accessible by all the capital's inhabitants, not just the poor. The Board can justly claim to have provided the nation's first state hospitals, and laid the foundations of what in 1948 became the National Health Service."
In the late 19th century people in London complained about hospitals for contagious diseases being set up in their neighbourhoods. One solution was to set up hospital ships. In 1883 three connecting hospital ships were moored up here, just a short distance from the shore. They were used to treat victims of smallpox. The outer ones were used to separate males from females, whilst the central one was used for staff.
The MAB had horse-drawn ambulance service to bring patients from London, but a river ambulance was set up to serve the hospital ships and this proved much more efficient. It would dock at a pier next to the ships where patients were transferred to the ships. It was also used to bring recovering patients from other hospitals who were then transported the extra four miles south to convalescent hospital at Gore Farm, Darenth.
Hospital buildings were also built on the shore, at Long Reach, just opposite the ships. These provided accommodation for nurses and other female staff, a laundry, engines for electric lighting, stables and a mortuary. In 1897 a tramway was constructed to transfer patients between the pier and various hospital building by horse-drawn tramcars.
A serious outbreak of smallpox occurred in 1901/02 and during this time Long Reach was expanded and another temporary hospital, the Orchard Hospital, was erected nearby on the Dartford Marshes.
A permanent hospital, Joyce Green Hospital, was built south of Long Reach in 1903. In 1904 the tramway was extended to join all three hospitals. It was still a single track and covered a total distance of 3.4 miles. The hospital ships were no longer required and sold off at an auction in Dartford.
At its peak
Long Reach Hospital
could accommodate 300 beds. It was used to treat smallpox patients up to 1973
and two years later the buildings were demolished to make way for the causeway
flood barrier which now has our footpath running along.
The Orchard Hospital was larger and after 1902, when the number of smallpox cases decreased, it wasn't much used. However, from 1915 to 1919 it was lent to the War Office as a convalescent hospital for the use of overseas troops injured during World War I, mainly Australians. After the war it remained mostly empty and during World War II was mostly destroyed by bombs. It has not been used since and surviving buildings were converted to agricultural and other uses. Today, the site can still be seen on maps, but most is derelict.
Joyce Green was
the largest of the three hospitals with much more substantial and permanent
buildings. It mainly looked after other infectious cases, such as diphtheria,
scarlet fever, measles and whooping cough. In June 1918, some 1,140 refugees
from Russia, who had been exposed to smallpox were housed in isolation here. At
the start of World War II, it became a general hospital as part of the Emergency
Medical Scheme, and from 1944 to 1946, part of the site was used as a Dutch
military hospital. In 1948, Joyce Green joined the newly inaugurated
National Health Service (NHS) and continued in operation until September
2000. Since then all the buildings have been demolished and now a residential
area and school occupies the site.
As for the old
tramway. It was at
some point changed to motor vehicle drawn carriages and was used up until 1936.
It still exists as a path / cycle track from where Long Reach to Joyce Green
both stood. There are also remnants at the Orchard site.
As for Smallpox, the last known natural case was in Somalia in 1977. Since then the only know cases were caused by a laboratory accident in 1978 in Birmingham, UK. The disease was officially declared eradicated in 1979.
The next three miles of our walk are very exposed, but also very easy to follow. On a calm, sunny day it is beautiful, but on a cold, breezy day it can be bleak. If I was you I would plan for the better weather.
After another 0.75 miles we turn left to join the Darent Valley Path and soon past the large Darent Creek Flood Barrier. Across the River Thames from here is Purfleet.
"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 outside 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.
One such asylum was the gothic Stone House Hospital, also known as the City of London Asylum. Opened in 1866 as the "City of London Pauper Lunatic Asylum", on a hill, above where the QE II Bridge now sits, overlooking the River Thames. The asylum 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 has been redeveloped as private dwellings.
To the left of the path, before and after the flood barrier are the Dartford Salt Marshes. You may hear gun fire coming from there, but don't get too worried as it's just the Dartford Clay Shooting Club.
It was also on this area of land, bordered by the Thames and the Darent, sat Joyce Green Airfield. It was first used by Hiram Maxim in 1910 to test his biplane. The following year Vickers Ltd established the airfield and testing ground here on farmland and next to an old riverside pub, The Long Reach Tavern. The airfield closed in 1919 and by 1939 all the hangers were dismantled. The pub closed in 1957 and was later demolished.
A short video at YouTube entitled, "Dartford Creek to The Dartford Crossing: The Kent Coast Cycling Challenge" covers most of the path, along the Thames, we have just walked along. It's filmed from a bicycle, goes in the opposite direction, and is a bit shaky, but I enjoy it.
Another video, this time by a walker, but again in the opposite direction, covers the route along Darent Creek to the north of Dartford.
Stay straight on past the Dartford Creek Flood Barrier (at 3.5 miles) and along the Darent Valley Path.
The path twists and turns as it runs along the top of the flood defences next to the River Darent. To the left are the wide-open salt marshes and, to the right, across the river is firstly an industrial estate, soon followed by more wide-open marshland. The river is tidal for the first couple of miles. The tidal part of the Darent is often referred to as Dartford Creek and is navigable for small boats between mid and high tide.
This area can often be very bleak and lonely. There
isn't a lot to keep you company. You may encounter cattle grazing, hear the odd
bird singing and if lucky enough, may even spot a "Dartford
Warbler" who takes its name from this area. Apart from the bleakness of the
marsh and the river, the only things to keep you company all the way are the
tall chimney of Littlebrook Power Station and the electricity pylons towering
above the flat barren landscape.
At 5 miles the River Cray joins the Darent from the RHS. The Cray is followed by another long-distance path, the London Loop, which we encounter at a few other stages on our walk around London's green necklace.
As the path approaches a busy road (A206 at 5.4 miles) there are two options. The official path crosses the busy dual-carriageway, which is dangerous. However, as long as the river is not high, turn right and follow the path to the river and under the road. Then continue south along the Darent Valley Path.
At 6 miles go through a metal gate and straight on behind industrial units
keeping the river to your RHS.
After another 400 yards turn right to cross a long footbridge over the river. Then along an enclosed path and out onto a road (Hythe Street). Turn left along the road.
On the RHS, near the end of Hythe Street, is The Hufflers Arms pub. It takes its name from a type of river pilot taken on-board to help guide barges up to the wharfs.
At the end of Hythe Street turn left, soon past the entrance to Langley Square, to your LHS and a roundabout to your RHS, and into Mill Pond Road. After just a few yards turn right to cross Mill Pond Road, finger-posted Darent Valley Walk.
You can now look out for tiles on the ground which are also direction markers for the Darent Valley Path.
Once across Mill Pond Road, turn right along the pavement and over the River Darent. Immediately over, turn left onto a footpath next to the river and under the railway. Soon to a footbridge over the river.
Just past the footbridge, climb the
steps and turn left
along a path which leads to Station Approach and continue straight on to
Dartford Station at the end of the stage.
Dartford Train Station is then straight in front of you. From here it is just one stop to get back to Stone Crossing where we started this stage, or you can get a train straight into Central London.
If you chose not to
finish here and wish to continue along our route, just continue to follow the
path next to the River Darent and see instructions for the next stage.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were both born at Dartford's Livingstone Hospital in 1943. They knew each other during their school days but went separate ways. However, during a chance meeting at Dartford Station in 1961 they would go on to form The Rolling Stones. A blue plaque on platform 2 commemorates the occasion.
In 2008 during the building of new housing on the
site of the Joyce Green Hospital, Dartford Council decided to name many of the
after Rolling Stones songs. Hence, we now have Ruby Tuesday Drive, Angie Mews,
Tumbling Dice Mews, Lady Jane Walk, Stones Avenue and many more.
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