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Posts Tagged ‘kent’

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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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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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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Superb views and wonderful woodlands on the North Downs

Wye to Chilham, Kent

All Saints Church, Boughton Aluph

The southwest elevation of All Saints Church, Boughton Aluph

New boots to try out, and a beautiful azure autumn sky – what more reason could I need to head out into the country? This was actually my second attempt at this walk – back in August, I got halfway to Wye on the train before the rain started to pour down and I made the decision to abandon any foolish plans I may have had for a 10 mile walk with no bail-out point or shelter along the way. This time, I managed to stay dry. Well, mostly dry; after hours of sunshine, the English weather decided to remind me that it is autumn, with a brief but tempestuous downpour of rain and hail just as I reached my destination. Not to worry though, it had been a great day featuring glorious views, extensive stretches through beautiful autumnal woodland, and a real gem of a country church. And the added danger of aggressive wildlife!

Start: Wye Station TR048470

Finish: Chilham Station TR078536

Length: 10½ miles/5 hours

How to get there: Both stations are about 90 minutes from London Charing Cross or London Bridge with Southeastern, either direct or by changing at Ashford International. A quicker (and more exciting) route from north of the Thames is provided by the High Speed service that whisks you at up to 140mph from St Pancras International to, less than 40 minutes later, Ashford International, from where a more sedate service reaches Wye in 6 minutes.

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Woodlands, meadows, picturesque villages, historic churches, a stately home, and one of 50 Great British Trees – quintessential British countryside

Cowden to Chiddingstone Causeway, Kent

Church of St. John The Baptist, Penshurst

Church of St. John The Baptist, Penshurst

A return to the Weald, one of my favourite parts of south east England. As described in a previous post, it’s an area of beautiful woodlands and undulating hills, gentle slopes dropping into steep-sided sandstone ravines, and full of fascinating industrial and social history. Today’s walk encompasses all of these, together with history of a more aristocratic type, passing through the grounds of Penshurst Place, seat of the Sidney Family.

Start: Cowden Station TQ476416

Finish: Penshurst Station TQ519464

Length: 7¾ miles/4 hours

How to get there: Cowden is on the Uckfield Branch, served by Southern services from London Bridge; on a Sunday however, services run only between Uckfield and Oxted, so take a train from London Bridge or Victoria to Oxted or Hurst Green and change there. Penshurst station, which is not actually in Penshurst but in the village of Chiddingstone Causeway, is on the line between Tonbridge and Redhill and is also served by Southern; direct trains run via Redhill and East Croydon to London Bridge, or change at Tonbridge for Southeastern services to Charing Cross.

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Meandering through the marshes

Following the Saxon Shore from Faversham to Teynham, Kent

View east from Uplees Marshes

Looking east along the Swale from the Saxon Shore Way, Uplees Marshes

In need of solitude I decided to visit the remoteness of the North Kent Marshes, and wasn’t disappointed. An isolated area of windswept beauty with much of interest to ornithologists in particular, I followed the Saxon Shore Way from Faversham, along the banks of the Swale, passing much of historical and wildlife interest on the way to Conyer before heading south to Teynham and the train home.

Start: Faversham Station TR015609

Finish: Teynham Station TQ956631

Length: 12 miles/5 hours

How to get there: Both stations are served by Southeastern services from London Victoria to Dover Priory and Ramsgate taking roughly 75 minutes. Alternatively, the new High Speed services from St Pancras International reach Faversham in slightly over an hour.

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A lesson in landscape history

Ashurst to Eridge, Kent/Sussex border

I love the Weald, this being the area of sandstone hills between the chalk of the North Downs and the South Downs exposed by erosion of the overlying chalk and greensand layers. Here’s a quick geology lesson, pay attention at the back:

Got that? Good. There’s a history lesson later too, as there are three landscape features in particular that crop up regularly on this walk, each of which helps to tell the history of this part of southern England.

Beautiful woodlands, stunning views from rolling hills that drop into steep-sided sandstone ravines, only an hour from the centre of London, yet you can walk for miles without seeing another person. Not entirely sure why this should be, given that this is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, possibly because the two ridges either side have National Trails running along them that attract the tourists?

Start: Ashurst (Kent) Station TQ507387

Finish: Eridge Station TQ542345

Length: 5 miles/2½-3 hours

How to get there: Dr Beeching made this area quite difficult to access by railway, but there are still direct services from London, and a number of heritage steam railways locally too. Both stations are on the Uckfield line, served by an hourly Southern service from London Bridge via East Croydon. Alternatively, travel from London Victoria on the service to East Grinstead and change at Hurst Green or Oxted. NB: There’s an Ashurst station in the New Forest. Don’t go there. At least, not if you want to do this walk.

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