(Blue line on map shows best bluebells route in Meenfield Wood)
An idyllic river and valley; beautiful old village houses; places for kids to safely wade in a river; hillside views and loads of paths to explore; good pubs, and great access by public transport (it’s a pleasant 30-minute train ride from London). Remember, this is Shoreham, Kent, not Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex – a common and expensive error when buying rail tickets! As with Walk 1, it doesn’t matter which way round you do the walk…
Distance from SE London: 35 min drive from Sydenham, 40 min from Peckham Rye station on train
Access: Car not needed (parking in Station Road, at the station or Filston Lane village car park). Trains: Southeastern/Thameslink trains stop at Shoreham. Also, Arriva Kent 403 bus from Tonbridge/Dartford stops at Shoreham
Download pdf walk instructions here and/or follow my GPX map at the Ordnance Survey website (press compass icon for your current location)
The walk (1.5hrs/3.5 miles)
Points 1-2: 150m*. Leave Shoreham station and walk under bridge down Station Rd to footpath on left
Point 2-3: 550m. Follow footpath through trees, across golf fairways (take care) and by a cricket pitch to narrow lane
Point 3-4: 400m. Turn right down lane to Home Farm buildings
Point 4-5: 60m. Continue past large garden pond to little bridge over stream
Point 5-6: 800m. Walk over bridge then bear left along stream (ignore path going straight on). Enter Water Lane and pass cottages, cross Filston Lane, then take farm track opposite uphill to hillside field
Point 6-7: 100m. Steepish climb, then, half way up hill, watch out for footpath in front of scenic bench. (For bluebells, from mid-April to early May, continue to the top of the hill and then turn right on the high level path through Meenfield Wood and walk all the way to point 9.)
Point 7-8: 500m. Turn north (right) up footpath along side of valley. Walk straight on
Point 8-9: 800m. At path ‘crossroads’ (point 8) continue straight on (left takes you up to the high level woodland path if you like; right down to the aircraft museum/tea room and village). Then, after another 600m or so pass through one ‘motorbike’ barrier, then after coming up to another barrier (note cottage with blue eaves ahead to left) look for path on the right heading downhill.
Point 9-10: 800m. Take the path on the right along edge of field back towards village for 100m or so. When the path comes out on the High St, cross, then walk down Mill Lane nearly opposite. Cross river on bridge, then turn right and walk along river path to war memorial
Point 10-station: Half mile back to station or car. Turn left on Church St, past cottages to church (can cut through churchyard) and Ye Olde George pub (turn right to high st for aircraft museum and cafe)
* Distances are approximate. Covered on Ordnance Survey Explorer 147 map
On leaving Shoreham railway station (point 1 on the map above) take the road (Station Road) to the village – ie, take the side road that goes under the railway bridge, gently downhill. Take care on this road (especially with children) because there is no pavement. After about 100 metres you’ll see the Darent Valley Golf Club on your left. About 80 metres further on take the footpath on your left (point 2). Soon you will cross a couple of the fairways so watch out for errant balls and golfers preparing for their oh-so-important next shot. You’ll have to wait if they are. Try not to shout ‘In the hole!’ or ‘You’re the man!’ as they hit it. That’s for Americans – we don’t do that sort of thing. A polite, subliminal cough might suffice if things have gone awry (they often do, this is a municipal course). Look out for some beautiful conifers astride the fairways.
Pretty soon the path will take you along the edge of a small cricket ground. With so much ball-frolicking going on, the chances of being hit are still very slim, but once, out of the many many times I’ve done this walk, I did indeed spot a wayward golf ball zooming toward me from a distant tee shot. Soon after congratulating myself for some rather elegant evasive action I was narrowly missed by a hoicked six from a village cricketer, this time necessitating a more panicky manoeuvre.
Pass by the little cricket pavilion and you’ll come across a tiny lane (point 3). Straight on is Otford village, after a mile. But we’re not going there. We are going to turn right here, downhill. After about 300 metres you’ll pass a converted oast house (point 4) then a large house on the left (Home Farm and Mill Cottage). The sound of gushing water will alert you to the presence of an impressive pond fed by the Darent river. A sign warns not to lean on the fence by the pond… one can only guess what happened there! On the right there is another large house, with a fine river frontage and lovely grounds.
Down by the riverside
Now the track becomes stony, you pass a field for horses on the right then arrive at a Darent sub-stream (not sure if the Darent splits or this is a tributary) and a little iron bridge with wooden planking (point 5, 1 mile). It’s safe for children to wade here. After crossing take the left fork alongside the river, with a plantation of alder, beech, oak and maple trees on the right (this is Robin’s Wood, planted in memory of Robin Marshall Andrew of Kennel Cottage). During the wet winter of 2013/14 this stretch was entirely under the waters of the swollen Darent, in a flood that threatened several houses in the village (see picture in gallery below).
The path again becomes a little lane (Water Lane) as it begins to move slightly up hill past the beautiful, centuries-old (listed) Kennel Cottage on the right with a suitably cute garden, then some more recently built cottages on the left. Now we reach Filston Lane. Take care to cross, not that it’s busy, and head up the farm track opposite. This leads uphill towards a large grassy hillside with woods on the right (point 6). This hill is reasonably steep (great for sledging in winter) so take your time. Very occasionally the field is used by a small sheep herd. You will be able to hear the M25 which cuts its way through Andrews Wood about 1km further on, but it’s not loud and won’t detract from your enjoyment of this part of the walk. The views from the hill are excellent and give you a good sense of the geography of the area – you can immediately see how the Darent has cut through the chalk. Below you is the patchwork of fields and hedges you’ve just been walking through. Opposite is the eastern valley hillside, stretching from the escarpment at Kemsing north towards Dartford. It’s all a bit picture book. To the south is Otford, Sevenoaks, Knole Park and the greensand ridge.
Yew’ll love it
Take the footpath bearing right (point 7, 2 miles), just before a bench and head north, high on the valley hillside through yew, birch and beech. (Alternatively, continue to the top of the hill and turn right on the hilltop path through Meenfield wood – brilliant for late April bluebells – which lengthens the walk by about 10 minutes.) Soon, the trees are only on your left, allowing for uninterrupted views over the valley. You’ll pass above the huge chalk cross cut in to the hill side to commemorate the village’s losses in the first and second world wars. If you want to shorten the walk and head back to the station, via the village, take the footpath on the right at a footpath crossroad (point 8). If not, keep going on the valley-side path until it descends. Pass through a motorbike barrier and note large house set in trees on the left. Below, to your right, is Mill Lane, where you are headed shortly. Pass through another barrier and you’ll see a country lane ahead (Shacklands Rd) (point 9). Here, turn right, and follow the path (the one on the edge of the field, not the sunken path in the gully) to the right back into Shoreham. The path comes out at the end of the High St; cross this road and continue opposite down Mill Lane past wonderful old cottages to the river. Cross the bridge, turn right and walk along the paved footpath by the river into the centre of the village. This is a lovely path – across the river are some back gardens of small cottages who have made the most of their pieces of riverbank. To the left is the Mount Vineyard.
Soon you’ll reach the the magnificent Water House on the left, associated with the 19th century artist Samuel Palmer. He didn’t actually live there (his dad did though, some of the time), he preferred a nearby rural hovel that’s now vanished. Palmer created some of his finest pastoral, romantic paintings around the valley, eventually leaving Shoreham after becoming fed up with rural poverty and being visited less than he would have liked by his artistic associates, the Ancients. His pictures are extraordinarily beautiful and said to have inspired Tolkien to create the Shire – click here for more on Palmer. Ahead of you is Shoreham War Memorial, which happens to be another place where children can wade in the river (point 10). The memorial records the names of soldiers from the village who died in the two world wars. Shortly to be added is the name of local man Private Thomas Highgate, who at the age of just 19 became the first British soldier in the first world war to be executed for desertion. The bridge here is really attractive, but there can be a lot of cars in the summer.
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Pubs and churches
You are now just a little under half a mile from the station (so allow 15 minutes if in a rush to catch the train). There are a lot of truly lovely cottages in the village around this point and the place is very atmospheric. The pubs are friendly and unpretentious – I particularly like Ye Olde George (TripAdvisor) with its low beams and wonky exterior.
The Grade I-listed church, made of flint, brick and wood, is definitely worth a visit. It really is the quintessential English country church. There’s a very Vicar of Dibleyish YouTube vid for it here. The churchyard, with its line of yews and eroded gravestones, and aged wooden entrance is very evocative of the rural past. Here’s a beautifully written blog, paying homage to Shoreham and the valley, and Samuel Palmer.
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 – and surviving pilots sometimes visit), the boutique Mount Vineyard…
To the east of Shoreham, Magpie Bottom (on Walks 5 and 19) was on a smuggling route from the coast to Dover. The ruins of a pub, the Pig and Whistle, can still be found in the woods there. It was 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 – 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.
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). 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
There are many good walks from Shoreham on marked footpaths and seven are on this site. Some are popular, like this one; others are super quiet and remote-feeling, like the superb Walk 14. Three or four can be combined for 10-miles epics. But they can be tiring; those valleysides are steep. The same trains running to Shoreham serve Otford and Eynsford too so it’s easy to adapt routes and return points.