Wednesday, August 04, 2010

My Darent Valley Walk Part 2 - Lullingstone to Otford

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am gradually walking the 19 mile Darent Valley path from the hills near Sevenoaks down to Dartford on the River Thames in bite sized sections.

Following on from the first part of my walk I wrote about a few weeks ago, here is the story of my most recent walk from Lullingstone to Otford....

I started my latest walk from Kent County Council's Lullingstone Visitor Centre. From there I followed the waymarked path out of the Centre passing around the back of Castle Farm. The farmers had been busy cutting and baling hay ready for next Winter.

The path follows the bottom of the valley and eventually the bank of the River Darent itself into the historic village of Shoreham.

Just outside the village there is a large cross cut into the hillside to commemorate the men lost during the Great War (I wrote about this in a post last year).

The river flows through the centre of the village.

I have traced my family tree back to the late 1700's and at that time my ancestors all worked as labourers on the local farms.

The village church dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, was where they would have all been Christened, married and eventually buried!

The church, originally built by the Normans, has been much modified over the ensuing centuries. The striking tower was built in 1775. There are some beautiful stained glass windows inside the church.

The Millennium Window installed in May 2000.

A window depicting St George dedicated to the memory of Nigel Benjamin Cohen and Captain Stephen Behrens Cohen, only children of Sir Herbert and Lady Cohen.

Nigel was killed in a flying accident on 18th September 1931 aged only 23 and Stephen died on 10th February 1943 whilst on active service with the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment. He is buried in Karachi war cemetery in Pakistan.

Leaving Shoreham the path continues through a golf course and open farmland.

I made a new beast friend on the way! (groan) I gave her some nice fresh green grass from my side of the fence and she then decided to follow me for the next half a mile.

In a recreation ground just outside the village of Otford, I came across a 1:5 billion scale model of the solar system. This was put in place as part of the village's Millennium celebrations in 2000 and is said to be the only one of it's kind in the world.

Each of the white plinths represents a different planet and the one with the chrome ball (to the right of the picture) represents the sun. Due to the scale, several of the "planets" are to be found on the other side of the village.

The path leads into the centre of Otford village where you will find the only listed duck pond in the country (in the middle of a roundabout). Up until Victorian times the villagers drew their drinking water supplies from the pond which was fed by a small stream.

Across from the duck pond is the church of St Bartholomew which dates back to the mid 11th century. The war memorial commemorates the dead of two World Wars.

Inside the church are several impressive monuments to various members of the Polhill family. The Polhills were direct descendants of Oliver Cromwell.

Detail from the memorial to David Polhill (died 1754), MP for Rochester and Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London.

Memorial to his brother Charles Polhill (died 1755) a merchant tailor in Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey) who later became a Commissioner of Excise in London. Both memorials were the work of the eminent sculptor Sir Henry Cheere.

Just around the corner from the church are the ruins of Otford Palace built around 1518 by Archbishop Wareham on the site of an earlier fortified manor house (the site had been used as a residence by the Archbishops of Canterbury as far back as Saxon times). In it's heyday the Palace covered an area of four acres.

In 1537 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was "persuaded" to cede the Palace to King Henry VIII. In 1601 Queen Elizabeth I sold the Palace to Sir Robert Sidney. Eventually the buildings fell into disrepair and the estate was split up and sold off as farm land.

I retraced my steps past St Bartholemews and the duck pond and headed out of Otford past the railway station. At this point, I joined the North Downs way for a long slog up Rowdow Hill.

I had noticed on the map there was a triangulation point at 204 metres and wanted to investigate. Whilst 204 metres may not be on the scale of Mount Everest or even Mount Snowdon, it is quite a big hill for Kent!

Although it was quite hard work getting to the top in the hot weather, the views on the way up were worth the effort. The triangulation point itself was in the middle of a newly cut grass field surrounded by trees.

Passing by the triangulation point I joined a narrow country lane heading back in the general direction of Shoreham. Someone had been overzealous when trimming the roadside hedges as I came across some BT men up a telegraph pole trying to repair the telephone cables which had also been liberally trimmed....

The lane continued past some farms and through glades of trees until I joined another public footpath which lead back down the valley and eventually came out on the main A225 Dartford to Sevenoaks road opposite the entrance to Shoreham railway station.

I crossed the busy road and continued past the station heading back towards Shoreham village. Just on the outskirts of the village I took a footpath which follows the rear wall of the graveyard of St Peter and St Pauls and then on through open fields.

I joined another path which lead back down to the main Darent Valley path passing by a small vineyard.

I'd noticed a mysterious monument marked on the O.S. map and once again decided to make a diversion off the Darent Valley path to take a closer look.

I walked along the very picturesque Mill Lane, named after the paper mill which operated there until the mid 1920's, up to the junction with the High Street and headed towards Lullingstone. A footpath runs along the edge of the High Street through fields and eventually joins Cockerhurst Road - the site of the mysterious monument shown on the map.

At first I couldn't find the monument but eventually I did locate it is hidden amongst the trees by the side of the road.

The stone monument stands about three feet tall.

On one face it is inscribed with a passage taken from the Bible (Hosea) - "Behold therefore I will allure her and will lead her into the wilderness and there I will speak to her heart". On another face the inscription reads "Pray for the soul of E.J.G.B" and on another "and of A.J.B".

Frustratingly I have not been able to find out anything about it so far but I would imagine it dates from at least the 1800's. If anyone out there knows who built it and/or why and who E.J.G.B and A.J.B were, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

I took Castle Farm Road passing through fragrant fields of lavender waiting to be harvested and finally found myself back at the Lullingstone visitor centre.

I wonder what my ancestors from the 1700's would have said if I'd told them that lavender and grape vines would one day be growing in their Valley?

You are welcome to leave any comments you may have about this post.

UPDATE - for Part 3 of my Darent Valley Walk please see here

UPDATE - the mystery of the memorial stone has been solved... please see here
You may also enjoy reading from the archives....

Day Trip to Rochester


  1. I have cited some of your war memorials to my students who want to trace their grandfathers' contributions to the first world war. The photo of the war memorial above, outside St Bartholomew, looks rather modest. Perhaps the good citizens wanted to allow the parents of the dead soldiers to grieve in peace and quiet, away from prying eyes.

    My Rosherville Gardens article finally got posted. Many thanks to you for the great photos and link.

  2. Hi Hels - thanks for stopping by again. The war memorial is quite basic in design but stands very prominently on the green in front of the church. I would guess it stands about 12' tall - possibly a bit more.

    The most poingnant thing is the number of names commemorated for what was at that time a small rural village.

    I will certainly be having a read of your post on Rosherville Gardens - thanks for letting me know!


  3. Hi Glen.
    KENT WALKS Pathfinder guide (Millets Waterstones)is good with good maps.
    Thanks for comment.
    We met a couple of ladies at westerham ,whose mother ran the White Hart in Brasted ,and the blackout blind which was autographed by "the Few"was said to be in the Shoreham museum
    reply also posted on our comments

  4. Hi Glen, This post has some great photographs - i really like the ones of the stained glass windows. It's one of the things I enjoy when we go away - visiting old churches.
    A few weeks ago, we were down on the East Sussex coast and drove through parts of Kent I had never previously visited. Its such a big county and a huge amount of diversity in the landscape and communities.
    We stopped and bought the most wonderful freshly picked cherries!

  5. Thank you for the lovely photographs. My ancestors lived in Shoreham and Otford and worked the land of the beautiful Darent valley. Went back there today and walked the Old Polhill Road. When I was a child it was the road we took to visit my grandparents. It was once so magical - like travelling back to another time. The narrow road twisted down under a green tunnel of trees until one reached the golden valley. The road was closed when the M25 was built and is now a concreted bridle path strewn with hideous debris. So sad, but so glad I saw it before it disappeared.

  6. Very useful and interesting - and especially good for my grandson's project for school on Shoreham church!