This is a wonderful chalk upland walk, passing through two sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) with rare flora and fauna. There are great views from Fackenden Down itself and at Romney Street. The walk passes through grassland, woods and farmland plus some interesting scrub dotted with yews. Local history abounds; some of the route was used by smugglers and the woods conceal ancient deneholes. It’s a quiet stroll; not too many people around. There are two short stretches on country lanes with little traffic. Allow 90 minutes. Can be joined up with other Shoreham walks on this site. Bird sightings on this walk include bullfinch, linnet, buzzard, kestrel, tawny owl, short-eared owl, crossbill
(If you’ve found this walk through The Guardian winter walks article (28 December 2018), the second half of the walk is my Walk 18 (also Walk 2 or Walk 3 would work). Also, Walk 14 makes a natural extension of this walk.
Getting there: train to Shoreham station from London Blackfriars (passing through south east London on the Peckham Rye line). If driving, park in the large layby by Shoreham station on the A225. Can we just clarify here, this is Shoreham, Kent, not Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex!!
Amenities: four pubs in Shoreham village just down the road from the station: the Olde George is the nearest
Dogs/pushchairs: It’d be OK to take a calm dog but they would need to be kept on a lead at several points because of grazing cattle on the downs and sheep near Magpie Bottom. Too many steep bits for pushchairs, including steps through Dunstall Woods.
Start: Shoreham (Kent) station.
Distance by road from Peckham Rye: 18 miles (allow 50 minutes’ drive; 40 minutes on train)
Point 0-1 Shoreham station-Fackenden Lane: 750 metres. Walk up the footpath just south (nearly opposite) of Shoreham station (Google map ref) on the A225. At a fork in the path keep right then after a few metres take the right-hand path that runs south along the line of the hill. This is the least obvious of the four paths you can take here. It runs through open woodland/scrub with dotted yews to Fackenden Lane.
Point 1-2 Fackenden Lane-path on to hillside: 180 metres. Pass under a metal bar (there to stop vehicles going on the path). Walk down the lane until you see a stile/gate on the left with a path beyond. Join the path.
Point 2-3 Hillside path-steep climb: 530 metres. Continue south. The path passes between hedgerows rich with berries in autumn and wild flowers in spring. Good for birdwatching. After 500 metres you’ll come across path junction and steep path leading uphill.
Point 3-4 Climb to top of Fackenden Down: 380 metres. Turn left (east) steeply uphill on a path between wire fences (protecting the SSSI) aiming for a seat near the top of the hill. Continue past the seat and past a stile/gate on the left and a memorial seat donated by Denis and Pamela Leigh. Admire the views behind you over the Darent Valley to Sevenoaks and Westerham. Pass through the next kissing gate on the left, after which the path passes uphill through a small field guarded by a lovely solitary young oak, then enters a woodland fringe through another gate.
Point 4-5 Fackenden Down-Rowdow Lane: 380 metres. Follow the path east through the woody fringe high on Fackenden Down until reaching a quiet country lane.
Point 5-6 Rowdow Lane-‘Granary’ footpath: 300 metres. Turn right (south east) on the near traffic-free lane (Rowdow Lane). Look out for footpath heading east on the left just before a farmhouse called The Granary.
Point 6-7 Granary path-Great Wood-Magpie Bottom: 620 metres. Turn up this footpath just before the Granary, passing through sheep-grazed fields with poplar trees to the left and soon entering atmospheric Great Wood with its superb beeches. Look out for what could be ancient chalk/flint mining scars in the woods on the right of the path. On leaving the wood you have arrived at another SSSI: the secluded Magpie Bottom, a highlight of this route. Look for path on the left along the valley floor (but note path ahead – steep but with great view of the valley, and beyond, an alternative route to Romney Street as covered in Walk 5).
Point 7-8 Magpie Bottom-country lane: 320 metres. Go left (north) along valley floor until reach farm buildings and quiet country lane also called Magpie Bottom.
Point 8-9 Lane-SR28 path: 90 metres. Turn right (east) uphill on country lane for short distance until path on the left in trees – the SR28.
Point 9-10 SR28 path-Romney Street: 420 metres. Follow this path uphill through woods then along a field until Romney Street hamlet where you’ll see buildings behind a wall (actually a grass airstrip, too, used by vintage light aircraft).
Point 10-11 Romney Street-foot of valley: 550 metres. At Romney Street turn left on path heading west. Emerge to a lovely view towards London. It feels high up and solitary up here. If there’s an easterly wind you’ll feel it! Follow the path across fields/grassland, down a sleep slope back into the valley that’s still Magpie Bottom really. This is an old derelict golf course. The path passes between hedges (overhead too) at the foot of the valley. Note steep uphill to come.
Point 11-12 Foot of valley-Austin Spring-Dunstall Farm: 1.1km. Follow path steeply uphill through SSSI (chalk grassland) to woods called Austin Spring. Follow path out of woods then diagonally across two fields and on to a farm track leading up to Dunstall Farm.
Point 12-13 Dunstall Farm-Dunstall Wood-Shoreham station: 1km. At Dunstall Farm turn right, by a roundhouse for cattle, then immediately left, following the path over a field into Dunstall Woods. Walk down the steep steps through this stunning woods then the path levels off and you return, passing White Hill, to Shoreham station (the pubs and vineyard are beyond the station and the church). The end.
If you see any reference to the Fox and Hounds pub at Romney Street, please note that this pub is sadly no longer open. It was a great old place and during the war hosted downed German pilots on occasion, taken there for a tipple to steady their nerves after crash landing or parachuting out of their stricken aircraft.
Other reasons to visit Shoreham
There’s plenty more of interest in the village – Castle Farm and its stunning fields of lavender (en route to Lullingstone – a superb farm shop too with renowned beef, dried flowers etc), the Shoreham Aircraft Museum on the High St (so many of the villages of this area keep the memory of the Battle of Britain alive), the boutique Mount Vineyard…
Magpie Bottom was apparently on a smuggling route from the coast to Dover. The ruins of a pub, the Pig and Whistle, can still be found off the lane on the western side of the valley, a pub where smugglers would rest up before their final route into the capital. Apparently, a red light would warn of the presence of customs officials. Also, in Great Wood and Dunstall Woods there are ‘deneholes’, where chalk and maybe flint was excavated by pre-medieval peoples. More famously, the village was home for a while to the great landscape painter Samuel Palmer in the mid-19th century. He lived in a rundown shack/cottage he called Rat Abbey before joining his dad in the rather more salubrious Water House, next to the river (you’ll pass it on these walks). His friends, the Ancients (including William Blake) would often swing by.
In 1896-7 the manned-glider pioneer Percy Pilcher tested some of his gliders at Austin Lodge in the valley just east of the Darent, which is on Walk 14 (to the north of Romney Street) – there is a memorial to him between points 4-5 of that walk. There are pictures of Pilcher, who died near Market Harborough in a flying accident in 1899, at Eynsford/Austin Lodge here. Another site about him, with maps of where he flew at Austin Lodge here. Thanks to Kentwalksnearlondon user Yek for reminding me about Pilcher.
Shoreham was the birthplace of the first unfortunate soldier to be executed for desertion in the first world war. Private Thomas Highgate was shot after the Battle of Mons, on September 8, 1914. Several aircraft have crashed here too, most notably an Airspeed Courier in 1934 (during a thunderstorm) at the junction of Cockerhurst and Castle Farm Rd (very close to walks 2 and 19) and a Dornier 17 during the Battle of Britain (details and mementos of the latter in the Shoreham Aircraft Museum – this was the incident where the crew ended up in the pub). Shoreham is reputed to be the most bombed village in England. Probably should be qualified by saying ‘village not next to an airfield’. More on Shoreham here.
The great Aussie actor (Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Mulholland Drive, Flirting, The Impossible, etc) was born and spent her early years in the village. Her mum was at the time an antique dealer and set/costume designer and Dad was a roadie for Pink Floyd. I’ve no idea where she lived though… can’t imagine there’s a blue plaque in the offing.
Shoreham is well connected by rail to London Blackfriars and is on the Sevenoaks/Thameslink line. The line passes through Elephant and Castle, Denmark Hill, Peckham Rye, Nunhead, Crofton Park, Catford, Bromley South etc. It takes about 30 minutes from Catford, 40 from Denmark Hill. Live departures from Shoreham
All the Shoreham walks can be joined up to create a full-day’s hike.
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More great Shoreham walks
- Shoreham circular 3.5 miles (western side of valley)
- Shoreham to Eynsford one way train walk 4 miles (valley floor mostly)
- Otford-Romney St-Shoreham-Otford 5.5 miles (eastern side and beyond)
- Shoreham-Otford circular 5 miles (western side and valley floor)
- Mysterious eastern valleys of Shoreham 5.5 miles (eastern side and beyond)
- Shoreham mk2, the eastern rim 3.5 miles (eastern and valley floor)
- Shoreham-Polhill Bank 4 miles (western side)