Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Darent Valley Walk - Part 1 Farningham to Lullingstone

The tranquil River Darent flows from the hills near Sevenoaks down to the River Thames at Dartford.

I was fortunate enough to have been brought up in this part of Kent and, having done some research on the family tree, it would appear that many of my ancestors were too!

A 19 mile waymarked route called the Darent Valley Path links the towns of Dartford and Sevenoaks and it is my intention to walk the whole route, eventually, as time permits.

To date I have managed to walk two stages. Namely from Horton Kirby through to Farningham and then from Farningham through to Lullingstone. Most people would start from one end or the other but I chose to start in the middle....

In this post I will tell you about the walk I did recently from Farningham to Lullingstone (and back again via a very circuitous route!).

My walk started from the Lion Hotel at Farningham on the banks of the river.

I walked out of Farningham village along the quaintly named Spare Penny Lane. This narrow country lane runs parallel to the river which flows through the valley below. Even on a weekday it was very quiet with only a handful of cars. A nice change from the usual daily hustle and bustle.

On one side of the lane are orchards and fields. On the other, some very nice (and expensive) houses. As you can see, we have very environmentally friendly lawn mowers here in Kent.

A short way along the lane I stumbled across a poignant memorial to New Zealander Flight Lieutenant James Paterson M.B.E. of 92 Squadron R.A.F. who died when his Spitfire X4422 was shot down and crashed nearby on 27th September 1940.

One of Churchill's "few" many thousands of miles from home but not forgotten.

The memorial was erected by the Shoreham Aircraft Museum which I wrote about last year (see The White Cross of Shoreham at the foot of this post). Their aim is to place a memorial for each and every Battle of Britain pilot that lost their life within a ten mile radius of their museum.

Continuing along Spare Penny Lane and approaching the outskirts of the next village, Eynsford, I came across the ruined castle.

Eynsford Castle was built around 1085 shortly after the Norman Conquest. Following a fire in the 1200's it eventually fell into disrepair and was later even used as a kennels for hunting dogs. The castle is now under the care of English Heritage and open to the public (admission free - at time of writing at least).

The waymarked Darent Valley Path directs you away from Eynsford but I would strongly recommend you make a diversion away from the path and take a look at the very picturesque and historic village itself.

The ford across the River Darent from which the village takes it's name. The church of St Martin of Tours was built in the 12th century although, as is often the case in Kent, it may be on the site of an earlier Saxon structure.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I do not usually have much luck with churches. They are almost invariably locked when I try to have a look around. However, on this occasion my luck was in for a change.

A close up of the clock which was inscribed in 1903 with "Grow old along with me, The best is yet to be" taken from Robert Browning's "Rabbi Ben Ezra".

Inside, the church is very plain in comparison to many other churches I have visited in Kent.

Back on the waymarked route the path starts to climb steadily up the side of the valley across open farmland and passing the impressive nine arched red brick Eynsford railway viaduct built in 1859.

There is an unmanned crossing over the railway lines which brings you into a large open field and affords great views along the valley towards Lullingstone.

Unfortunately somewhere around about this point, there was a cock up on the map reading front Reggie! Yes, I know, I know how can anyone get lost on a simple waymarked path?...

Anyway, due to my inadvertent navigational error I somehow ended up continuing up hill and through Lullingstone Golf Course (instead of downhill towards the river). Ah hum.
The upside of this error was that I had to walk through some woodland which was absolutely carpeted with bluebells. Eventually I got back on track and found my way down the bottom of the valley to the Lullingstone Visitor Centre.

This Centre is run by Kent County Council and contains a (very expensive) cafe, toilets and a small book/gift shop. There is a pay and display car park which is very busy at weekends. (Picture by Indigoprime)

I treated myself to an extortionately priced Bakewell tart and cup of tea before setting off again along the river bank back towards Eynsford. The path leads past the Tudor gate house to Lullingstone Castle, ancestral home of the Hart-Dykes.
Continuing on I came to the site of the Lullingstone Roman Villa which is open to the public.

The remains of the villa, which were discovered accidentally by workmen digging post holes during the mid 18th century, include several very well preserved mosaic floors. Well worth a visit.
I took another country lane passing under the towering Eynsford viaduct that I'd seen from above earlier in the day and headed back into the village.

Rather than follow the Darent Valley Path back to Farningham once more, I decided to take another footpath out of Eynsford, up the side of the valley, across open farmland towards the hamlet of Maplescombe.
It was quite an uphill hike but the view was well worth the effort. After a mile or so across country, the footpath joined Maplescombe Lane and I followed this back to the Lion Hotel at Farningham just in the nick of time as the Heavens decided to open!

UPDATE - for Part 2 of My Darent Valley Walk please see here

If you have any comments about this post, please feel free to let me know. They are always welcome.

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  1. I really love Eynsford and Eynsford viaduct. I've been there twice searching for the ruined castle but still haven't found it!! So nice to see a photo of it. The Roman villa was also under repair on both occasions so I have never actually seen that either but made it up to the big house on both occasions.

    My very favourite of all of you marvellous photos above is the view of the viaduct over the yellow flowers. Do yu know what those flowers are? We see them everywhere.

  2. Hi Emm - the castle a little bit outside the main part of Eynsford village. It's on a side turning from the A225 just before you get into Eynsford (heading from the A20 at Farningham).

    The yellow flowers in the fields are rape seed. Used to make cooking oil and nowadays biofuel. They look nice but play havoc with my hayfever :-)


  3. Wow beautiful photographs and area!!! Gorgeous!

  4. Was at school nearby in 1940.3 Dorniers came down close to Farningham Station.The fuselage lay on gravel pits close to the river for several years.

    The aircraft,in formation,fell to anti-aircraft fire,one exploded

    Left in 1941,made a visit in 1943,the farm on the right towards South Darenth very hospitable,two lovely children.Final visit in 1944 before we sailed.The farmhouse in ruins from a V1,never discovered what happened to the family.Hope they got out,it was close to a barrage balloon,the final barrier before the weapons fell on London.