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Posts Tagged ‘church’

Along the Darent Valley to a site of Roman domestic bliss

Sutton-at-Hone to Otford, Kent

The 'bridge' - probably a cattle screen - on the Darent at Farningham

The 'bridge' - probably a cattle screen - on the Darent at Farningham

I recently treated myself to annual membership of English Heritage which for the reasonable sum of £46 gives 12 months’ free access to over 400 of the country’s most fascinating historic sites (although when I signed up on a recent visit to Pevensey Castle, I took advantage of a 15-months-for-the-price-of-12 offer – which was just as well, as many of the most tantalising properties I found when leafing through the guide book seemed to shut for the winter just as I’d joined). Along with the grand honeypot sites such as Stonehenge, the site of the Battle of Hastings, Audley End House or Dover Castle, there are hundreds of lesser-known properties giving a fascinating insight into how Britons lived their daily lives, a visit to any of which brings history to life far more vividly than dull words on the pages of a history book. Lullingstone Roman Villa, in Kent, is one such site, its stunningly well-preserved remains giving a remarkable glimpse into Romano-British life over 3 centuries. Like many of English Heritage’s properties, Lullingstone is a little way from reliable public transport links, and for the car-less involves a walk from the nearest station. But what better reason could there be for heading out into the countryside on foot? Especially as the way to Lullingstone is along the very pleasant Darent Valley Path which follows the course of the Darent (or Darenth) River along a gap in the North Downs through beautiful landscape and picturesque villages.

Start: Farningham Road Station TQ556693

Finish: Eynsford Station TQ532593

Length: 9½ miles/6 hours (including 1½-2 hours to explore Lullingstone Roman Villa)

How to get there: Both stations are served regularly by trains to and from London Victoria: timetables can found on the Southeastern website.

Note: entrance to the Roman Villa costs £5.30 for adults & £3.50 for children (at the time of writing), but is free for English Heritage members. For more information go to the English Heritage website.

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Giving a warm but windy welcome to Britain’s newest National Park

Polegate to Southease, Sussex

On the South Downs Way

On the South Downs Way

The last time I visited the South Downs, the area was still only designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (I say ‘only’ but being an AONB is impressive in itself of course) and was yet to attain full National Park status. Although the creation of the South Downs National Park was announced in March 2009, and the Authority set up to administer affairs began interim operations in April 2010, it was only in April 2011 that the SDNPA became fully active as Planning Authority for the area. So it seemed appropriate to head back to the chalk hills and steep woodlands to celebrate the culmination of a campaign for National Park status that began in the 1920s. The stunning landscape is defined by the area’s geology: as in the North Downs but in a mirror image, the hills consist of a steep scarp slope facing north and a shallower (but still quite steep!) dip slope facing south towards the sea. In fact the South Downs are part of same geological system as the Chilterns and North Downs, the Weald-Artois anticline that also gives rise to the Weald. The dramatic topography results in steep climbs and stunning views which is why I return again and again. And, of course, for the social history: a plethora of prehistoric remains and some of the most beautiful churches to be found anywhere.

Start: Polegate Station TQ582047

Finish: Southease Station TQ430054

Length: 12¾ miles/6 hours

How to get there: Both stations are on Southern’s network. Polegate is between Lewes and Eastbourne and is around 90 minutes from London; Southease, on the Seaford branch, has an hourly service and requires a change from Lewes to return towards London.

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Along the wild & windy north Kent coast

Herne Bay to Birchington-on-Sea, Kent

The towers at Reculver

The towers of the church of St Mary the Virgin at Reculver

The day after completing Stage 1 of the London Loop, I headed further east beyond the Thames estuary into Kent proper for a stroll along the coast, following, as I had before, the Saxon Shore Way. ‘Bracing’ is, I think, the usual term for such an expedition, as there was a bitterly cold biting wind whipping up the sea into white-crested waves. But then the main reason for my visit was to explore Reculver, somewhere enigmatically isolated; the tempestuous weather could only add to the atmosphere.

Start: Herne Bay Station TR171674

Finish: Birchington-on-Sea Station TR297694

Length: 10¾ miles/4½ hours

How to get there: Start and finish are both served by Southeastern services from London Victoria to Ramsgate via the Medway Towns, an hour and a half or so from London. It’s also possible to travel from St Pancras International on the whizzy High Speed train, changing at Faversham, but the journey time is roughly the same.

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