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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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Open marshland and riverside walking in south-east London along the courses of not 1, not 2 but 3 rivers*

*comes with free scrapyards

London Loop Stage 1: Erith to Bexley

Looking eastwards along the Thames at the mouth of the Darent

Looking eastwards along the Thames at the mouth of the Darent; in the distance, the towers of the Dartford Crossing

About 18 months ago, I joined a group of friends on a walk from Bexley to Petts Wood, following the River Cray in the south-east London suburbs; at the time I was vaguely aware that this was part of a route that circumnavigates the capital. In this way, what began as a pleasant Sunday afternoon walk has now evolved, as detailed previously, into an attempt to complete the entire London Loop in a clockwise direction, of which about a third is now complete. But for the challenge to be fully met, I needed to head back to the start of the Loop and fill in some gaps. Thus it was that I took advantage of a sunny yet cold wintery day and headed for the south bank of the Thames in north Kent to walk the very first stage from Erith to Bexley. One adjective to describe this stage: industrial. Much of it concerned with dealing with the crap that people throw away. Even some parts of the route that felt ‘wild’ could not evade the detritus of modern man, ever-present either visibly or lurking beneath the surface. To be fair though, the route also includes attractive stretches following the courses of 3 separate rivers, in wide-open marshland and along backwaters, through parks and woodland. But, as I’ve mentioned before, that’s part of the attraction of the Loop: it’s London in its entirety, warts and all.

Start: Erith Station TQ511781

Finish: Bexley Station TQ493734

Length: 8½ miles/4 hours

How to get there: Both start and finish are in Travelcard Zone 6 and are on routes served by Southeastern, about half an hour from Charing Cross, Waterloo East or London Bridge.

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