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Stage 15 -  Stone Crossing  to  Lullingstone Park  (16.3 miles)

 

Start: Grid Reference TQ574749 Post Code DA9 9AR StreetMap

 

The stage starts from Stone Crossing Railway Station. We follow the River Thames upstream for 3.5 miles then join the Darent Valley Path through Dartford, Darenth, Farningham, Eynsford to finish at Lullingstone Park Visitor Centre. 

 

The first half a mile takes us to the south bank of the River Thames. The next three miles, to the Dartford Creek Flood Barrier, is just a matter of following the riverbank upstream. The route then joins the way-marked Darent Valley Path all the way to the finish. You should find it a simple route to follow.

 

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 owned by Blue Circle Cement.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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 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 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 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.

 

One such asylum was the gothic Stone House Hospital, also known as the City of London Asylum. Opened in 1866 on a hill, above where the QE2 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.

 

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 left along the pavement. After 280 yards turn right into Overy Street and under the railway. 35 yards later turn right onto a footpath with a car park to its LHS, signed Darent Valley Path. The path soon turns left and right around the car park and leads to a footbridge over the River Darent. Once over the river turn left, down steps and go straight on along the path next to the river.

 

At the instruction above, where it says "turn left, down steps ,,,", if instead you follow the path straight on past the steps you come out onto a road (Station Approach). 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.

 

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 new streets after Rolling Stones songs. Hence, we now have Ruby Tuesday Drive, Angie Mews, Tumbling Dice Mews, Lady Jane Walk, Stones Avenue and many more.

 

Follow the path, with a wall and the river to your LHS, for 230 yards. Turn right for a few yards at Dartford County Court, then before reaching the road (Home Gardens) turn left and follow the path down and through an underpass under the road. Once through turn left along St Saviours Walk, signed Darent Valley Path. After 100 yards the Walk comes out onto a road next to a bridge over the River Darent, turn right past Holy Trinity Church (at 7 miles).

 

Holy Trinity Church is Grade 1 Listed and sits right at the centre of the town overlooking the river. It was built by Bishop Gundulf of Rochester c1080 on the site of an earlier Saxon church. The church has been greatly modified and added to over the years.

 

Watling Street was the old Roman road from Dover to St Albans via London. The route through Dartford can easily still be seen on maps along what is now Watling Street, East Street, High Street and West Street. The road would have crossed the River Darent in the vicinity of the church via a ford. This is where the town takes its name. After the murder of Thomas Becket, in 1170 at Canterbury, many pilgrims would pass through here on their way to and from Canterbury Cathedral. During the reign of Henry IV (1399-1413) a pedestrian bridge was built, but before that the only way to cross was either the ford or a ferry. According to Dartford Town Archive, a ferry, operated by a hermit, was established in 1235. Even after a proper stone bridge was built the post of hermit continued until 1518. He would collect alms for the pilgrims and donations for the upkeep of the pedestrian bridge. The footbridge survived until the mid-18th century. One of its arches was moved to and is still on display in Dartford's Central Park. The hermit is remembered by a small window in Holy Trinity Church.

 

In 1415 Henry V held a thanksgiving ceremony here after the Battle of Agincourt. He died in 1422 in France and his body lay overnight in the church for a requiem mass before continuing the journey to Westminster Abbey. There is much to see inside the church including a 15th century magnificent fresco depicting St, George slaying the dragon. It was whitewashed over during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but was rediscovered in the 1830s. There is a monument to Sir John Spilman who, in 1588, founded England's first commercial paper-mill at Dartford on the River Darent, plus a brass plaque commemorating the work of Richard Trevithick, the pioneer of steam propulsion.

 

For further information on Holy Trinity Church visit the church website or the article at Kent Archaeology. There are also many old photos of Dartford, including the church, at Francis Frith.

 

Continue straight on along the pavement, past The Wat Tyler pub, and into the pedestrian area of the High Street.

 

The pub takes its name from the leader of "The Peasants' Revolt" of June 1381. A board, in Bullace Lane, on the side of the pub states:

 

"Wat Tyler and the commons of Kent, came in great numbers to the Brent on Friday after Whit Sunday, 1381. There they took council, saying among themselves that there were more kings than one and they would not suffer or endure any other king but King Richard, and before proceeding to London to demand from the king, "That you make us free for ever, ourselves, our heirs and our lands and that we be called no more bond or so reputed". Wat Tyler and several of the commons called at this ancient tavern (so it is said) to quench their thirst with flagons of ale."

 

Dartford does have connection with The Peasants' Revolt, but whether or not the above statement is true is in doubt. An article by the Gravesend Reporter suggests the pub was built in 1416 and thus contradicts the claim. However, I can't ascertain what was on this site before that.

 

After 80 yards turn left into Market Place. Use RHS pavement. At end of Market Place cross straight over Market Street using pelican crossing and signed Darent Valley Path.

 

Go straight on down some steps, signed Darent Valley Path. Turn left past the war memorial then right past Dartford Library / Dartford Borough Museum and into Central Park.

 

Follow Darent Valley Path signs through Central Park, and after 0.5 miles exit the park through a tunnel under the A225 (Princes Road).

 

Central Park covers 26 acres and is owned and managed by Dartford Borough Council. It is bounded by the River Darent to its east and Princes Road to the south. The park began life as a gift of five acres of land to the people of the town by Lieutenant-Colonel CN Kidd in 1903. He was a local businessman and very involved in the local community. You can download an in-depth history of the park at the LINK.

 

There are many things to see on your way through the park. The old medieval stone footbridge that once crossed the river, a bandstand, children's play area, cafe and information centre, skatepark, running track and pavilion which is home to Dartford Harriers, river walks and lots more. There is also a two day Dartford Festival in mid-July each year, and there are future plans to extend the park east and put the river at its centre.

 

DIRECTIONS THROUGH CENTRAL PARK. Go straight on for 150 yards. At junction turn left and follow path as it bends right. At next junction turn left, soon straight on past path to RHS. At next junction take right fork and straight on for 150 yards - the River Darent will be to your LHS and soon past a skate park to your RHS. At junction take right fork past footbridge to your LHS. Almost immediately, take left fork keeping river to your LHS. At next junction stay left past running track to your RHS. Stay straight on soon through a metal gate into the Prince's Tunnel.

 

There are two tunnels under Princes Road. They were originally built in 1923 to take the busy A225 over both streams of the River Darent. However, the western stream was diverted and the tunnel was converted to a walkway / cycle track and opened as Princes Tunnel in 2009. It connects Central Park to Brooklands Lake making it safe for pedestrians and cyclists without having to cross the busy dual-carriageway and also forms part of the Darent Valley Path.

 

A few interesting points about the tunnel: classical music is played constantly; it is designed to flood if the river floods; it is floodlit, and on the southside above the arch is a plaque commemorating the opening.

 

On exiting the tunnel go through a second metal gate and then stay left past a path going off to the RHS. After just a few yards stay left past another path going off to the RHS and across the lake. Then almost immediately, at fork, turn right and along the eastern side of the lake.

 

Follow the path along the edge of the lake for 300 yards to a lane (Powder Mill Lane) next to an industrial estate. 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.

 

The Darent Valley Path is a 19 mile waymarked footpath, stretching from the River Thames at Dartford to the Greenland Hills above Sevenoaks. Our route joins the Darent Valley Path to the end of the stage. 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 (at 8 miles). 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.

 

Turn left along the edge of the field, then after 250 yards turn right along a wide path and after 120 yards cross a stile 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, directly opposite Mill Road and immediately before green metal gates, turn left onto an enclosed narrow path signed Darent Valley Path.

 

The path leads to a footbridge over the River Darent (at 9 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 along the LHS of the trees and then straight on across a field. Follow the last option, it is the most obvious and crosses the field diagonally (going almost directly east).

 

There is some interesting graffiti 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 discarded apple core thrown from the window of a car as it sped along the M25 above.

 

At the opposite side of the field the path goes through a kissing gate and out onto a road (Darenth Road South). Turn right along the road, signed Darent Valley Path and soon past the entrance to Kentwood House Care Home.

 

Soon to your RHS is the inviting Chequers Inn (website) This was originally built in the 16th Century and was an old coaching inn. South Darent Road is now a dead end on its northern side. The road used to join up with Darent Road and continue north into the centre of Dartford. However, with the building of the A2 road it got cut in two. Then with the opening of the M25 in the 1980 both ends were even greater cut off. Both of these major roads meet just 400 yards directly north of here at huge M25 J2 Darenth Interchange.

 

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 Margarets Church is just a few yards to the left on the south 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. Also see Wikipedia entry.

 

In the Domesday Book of 1086 Darenth is recorded has having 59 households and thus described as "very large".

 

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 (at 10 miles), 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 path / lane leading to Roman Villa Road. It is used as an access route by Concord Model Flying Club (to be updated) to get here by car and fly their models over the field. 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 Grid Reference Finder using Grid Ref: TQ 56476 70621, 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 (after 580 yards) the path again goes straight on and is enclosed between a fence and a hedge. After 120 yards stay left 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 narrow pavement and follow Holmesdale Road as it turns left. Be careful as the pavement disappears at times.

 

Soon the river is just to the RHS of the road and 50 yards later an old flour mill straddles the river at Mallys Place. The original mill burnt down in 1879 and a new brick mill was built the following year. During much of the 20th century the mill was not used and in 1960 was converted to a woodwork factory. During the Great Storm of October 1987, the western side of the building was severely damaged. In recent years the damaged portion of the mill has been taken down, and the remaining part converted to residential use. You can see by comparing a recent photo at Geograph to the link above how the building is now smaller.

 

250 yards later follow Holmesdale Road as it passes Devon Road (and bridge) to the RHS. Then along the RHS pavement as the road veers left and later right and into the centre of South Darenth village.

 

On reaching the junction, to the left is the aptly named The Jolly Millers public house. to the right is a small fenced green with the village sign at its centre. The information below comes from the link to Geograph.

 

"The South Darenth village sign features the River Darent, St Mary's Church at Horton Kirby, Horton Kirby Viaduct and the chimney of the former Horton Kirby Paper Mill - see Link External link , Link External link , Link External link , and Link External link. Although they are separated, Horton Kirby and South Darenth seem to be regarded as the same village. They even have the same village sign - see Link External link Two of the features (the viaduct and the chimney) are actually in South Darenth, the church is in Horton Kirby while the River Darent is common to both, although less of a feature in Horton Kirby than in South Darenth."

 

Stay straight on along the RHS pavement and into Horton Road, soon past what until 2008 was the site of a large paper mill - the chimney is still standing. After 70 yards, where the pavement ends, cross over to the LHS, then turn right to cross over New Road. Stay straight on along the pavement and up steps under a high viaduct to just past The Bridges public house to your RHS.

 

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 Paper 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 storey 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 first thought the pub's name came from two adjoining bridges of the railway and the river but apparently it's from the wrestler (see link for claim).

 

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.

 

Turn right, signed Darent Valley Path, to cross Horton Road, past The Bridges pub and into Station Road. Follow the road for a short distance to just over the river (at 11 miles), then turn left to cross Station Road and down onto a narrow footpath next to the river, signed Darent Valley Path.

 

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.

 

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 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. The church is Grade 1 Listed. 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, (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 it 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 Darent Website (link unavailable December 2018, but see Archive) 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, 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 (at 12.05 miles). Turn left along the lane and across the bridge 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, the moat and associated fishpond still partly exist. By using Google Earth or Bing Maps (I've market it at the link) you can plainly see the outline of where this older house stood. 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 June 2018 the hall and grounds are now up for sale.

 

A drone video on Vimeo does show good footage of Franks Hall, the Darent Valley Path, the cricket pitch and in the field between the cricket pitch and Franks Hall you can make out the footprint of the older hall.

 

To read more about the history of Horton Kirby, just visit British History Online, or for a complete and thorough write up read the Horton Kirby & South Darenth "Villages Design Statement" published in 2005.

 

Follow the path straight for 600 yards to go through a wooden stile. Then turn right along on a fenced off path along the side of a field and after 40 yards turn left, with the River Darent to your RHS. The footpath follows the river for 360 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 another 250 yards the path passes through an arch under the A20 road. Once under turn right to cross a footbridge over the River Darent, then left to follow the path through woods along the opposite bank (at 13 miles). 250 yards later the path 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. Stay straight on over Dartford Road to the RHS and past The Chequers Pub. Across the street to the left is the Family Butchers, which during spring and summer is brightly decorated with flowers. After another 80 yards turn left to cross over and into Sparepenny Lane.

 

Farningham 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 bypass 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 Church of St Peter & St Paul 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 (website). 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. A full history is available at British History Online and photos and stories can be seen at Francis Firth.

 

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.

 

After 210 yards, and almost immediately after the entrance to Hampton Court Cottage, turn left through a gap in the hedgerow, signed Darent Valley Path. The path crosses a stile (or kissing gate) into a field, turn right and follow the worn permissive path along the top edge of the field and parallel to Sparepenny Lane.

 

The path continues along the top edge of fields and parallel to Sparepenny Lane for the next 0.8 miles. Originally, the Darent Valley Path was along the lane. However, a few years ago it was diverted via the permissive path through the fields and this avoids traffic and allows great views over the valley.

 

After 330 yards the path passes through a wooden kissing gate and into a second field. Continue straight on along the top edge of the field.

 

At the kissing gate take a short diversion right to the side of the lane and then retrace your steps back to the kissing gate and continue along the path. The reason for the diversion is to see a small 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 path continues for 0.6 miles - along the top edge of a second field, then through a small wood managed by the Woodland Trust (Nine Hole Wood), then along the edge of a third field.

 

At the end of the third field it exits onto the lane through a kissing gate. Turn left along the lane and past the Eynsford sign.

 

On walking along the top of the last field there are great views 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.

 

Follow Sparepenny Lane downhill, soon past Crockenhill Lane to the RHS, and eventually to a T-junction at Riverside.

 

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 Hotel and directly opposite the inn is access to Eynsford Castle.

 

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 for 110 yards staying on the RHS. The lane turns left and soon after passing a metal gate turn right onto a dirt footpath, uphill and diagonally across a large crop field.

 

As you climb take time to turn around and look at the view back towards the village of Eynsford and across the Darent Valley.

 

After 300 yards cross the railway (with great care) and continues straight on, uphill and across another large crop field for 420 yards (now going directly west).

 

Again, as you climb, look back for a great view of Eynsford Railway Viaduct, the Darent Valley and Eynsford Village. A lot of the land around here is chalk based and, with our climate getting hotter, I wouldn't be surprised to see vineyards sprouting up in the area.

 

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.

 

The path enters another field, Stay straight on for 90 yards to exit the field to a lane. Cross straight over the lane into another crop field and go straight on along a well-defined path.

 

A short distance to the right, along the lane, is a bird of prey centre "Eagle Heights" at Hulberry Farm. 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.

 

Follow the path for 300 yards to a hedge (at 15 miles) - Hulberry Farm is just up to the right. at Eagle Heights. Stay straight on, keeping the hedgerow to your RHS, then 300 yards later to the field edge. Turn left and steeply downhill along the edge of the field, and eventually down steps to rejoin Lullingstone Lane.

 

The views over the valley below and the railway viaduct can be stunning, and if lucky you might see some of the birds of prey in flight.

 

Just to the left, on reaching the lane, is Lullingstone Roman Villa. 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 stayed 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.

 

On reaching Lullingstone Lane turn right and follow for 550 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 descendants 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 contain 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. (link no working as of December 2018, but here is another)

 

"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 (died 2018) 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 side of 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 Visitors 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 visitors' 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. According to Kent County Council:

 

"Lullingstone Country Park is internationally important for its collection of ancient trees, with over 300 veteran oak, beech, ash, hornbeam and sweet chestnut, some of which are thought to be 800 years old. Find out more in Lullingstone's Veteran Trees leaflet (PDF, 795.8 KB). The park also has areas of chalk grassland that fill with spectacular displays of orchids and other wild flowers in spring and summer."

 

Download the Kent Country Parks leaflet of Lullingstone Park and visit British History Online for a full history of Lullingstone.

 

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