Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Darent Valley Walk Part 6 - The Final Leg

Readers of this blog will know that I have been walking the long distance Darent Valley Park in handy bite sized chunks as and when time permits.

I am pleased to report that I have finally completed the last section from Dartford Central Park where my last blog post finished off through to the River Thames at the mouth of Dartford Creek.

After passing by the Dartford War Memorial I walked through the centre of Dartford to the church and then along the River Darent once more.

At this point I should warn you that this is definitely not the most scenic part of the Darent Valley.

The path passes by the delightful Wickes D.I.Y superstore and emerges at the demolition site of the former Glaxo Wellcome pharmaceutical factory.

From here I walked along to Lower Hythe Street. This dead end road once contained two pubs - the unusually named Huffler's Arms (more about that later) and the Phoenix.

Now only the Huffler's Arms remains open. The area is currently earmarked for regeneration...

The Phoenix pub was named after the Phoenix Mills which manufactured paper until 1889 on the site later occupied by Glaxo Wellcome.

The pub now appears to be used as a private residence. I took the adjacent path which leads to a footbridge across the Darent. From this point on the Darent is known as Dartford Creek.

The view looking back towards Dartford town centre and the footbridge.

In the 18th century the Creek could be navigated for 3.5 miles by barges of up to 50 tons on Spring tides. At other times cargo had to be transferred to smaller craft of only 10 to 12 tons capacity.

Where there were no tow paths suitable for horses, men known as hufflers were employed to pull the barges along the Creek up to their respective unloading wharves. Very laborious and thirsty work - hence the need for the two pubs!

Due to the increase in river traffic in the 1840's it was decided to canalise the Creek. This enabled navigation for barges of up to 150 tonnes. In 1895 a lock was built to maintain a constant water level at the top end of the Creek making it easier to unload cargo.

Barge traffic peaked in the mid 1930's but the lock is now disused and the Creek is once more tidal. The whole area has an air of dereliction and abandonment. All the riverside industry has disappeared no doubt soon to be replaced by yet more housing.

Cargoes handled on the Creek included esparto grass and wood pulp for the paper mills.

I have some old pictures of the Creek in it's heyday which I will put in a future post.

A little further along the Creek is crossed by a modern road bridge (Bob Dunn Way). Nearby I saw two bright green ring necked parakeets sitting in a tree - not really what I was expecting but they are apparently quite common in Kent nowadays.

Beyond the bridge the Creek meanders it's way slowly through the Dartford Marshes, a desolate flat landscape. Due to it's remote location the Marshes were used for the storage of ammunition during World War II.

A number of the concrete bunkers are still standing. Interestingly they have no roofs presumably to ensure that blast would be directed upwards in the event of an explosion.

A fireworks factory also operated on the Marshes for many years but has now closed.

The River Cray joins the Creek at this point. It was also navigable and barges would transport wheat transshipped from vessels in the London Docks up to the flour mill at Crayford.

Here I saw a heron doing a spot of fishing. An indication that the water must be getting less polluted.

The Marshes (and indeed Dartford itself) are dominated by the 705' chimney of Littlebrook Power Station.

It seems hard to believe now but the damp fields in the foreground were used as an airfield in the early days of aviation and during World War I. The airfield has an interesting history and I will write a separate post about that another day.

The Dartford Creek Barrier was built in 1981 and is a defence against flooding. Two steel gates each weighing over 160 tonnes can be positioned to withstand flood waters up to 6 metres above local ground level.

In 1953 there was terrible flooding along the Thames Estuary including the Dartford Marshes and many people lost their lives. The Barrier marks the official end of the Darent Valley Path.

The Thames looking downriver. Littlebrook Power Station to the right, the QEII bridge in the background and ships at Purfleet (Essex) to the left.

A bit superfluous.... since construction of the barrier effectively put paid to navigation on the Creek!
The Thames looking upriver towards London.

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  1. There aren't enough words to describe how brilliant this post is. I live in the area immediately to the west of the Darent and below Bob Dunn Way. It has been so frustrating because I could see people walking down along the river but could not figure out how I get to it. I really want to walk my dogs down there and to let them frolic in nature, not just along pavements and old disused office block carparks.

  2. Fascinating walk, thank you for posting. How extensive was the fireworks factory site, and were other structures accessible?

  3. This is a very good post. The Hufflers pub is one of the closest to where we have just moved to. I understand that this leg of your walk is due to be revamped. Can't wait. One day we will complete the whole leg of this walk.

  4. Great post. I actually cycled this route this morning (from Asda Greenhithe til I immerge by Glaxo Dartford. Great roue.

  5. Thank you very much. I'm pretty sure this is the path we took from Joyce Green to get to the Burnham Rd swimming pool. We called it "the cinder track" because the pathway was for fair distance cinders. We were kids back in the late 50's early 60's.