Follow the Darent river, watching out for kingfishers, on paths across fields by vineyards, lavender and poplar plantations to Lullingstone Country Park. Have a breather then pass the famous 15th-century Lullingstone Castle and its World Garden before venturing up to a lonely tree on top of a hill with great views and then by a Roman villa before making tracks alongside water meadows to Eynsford station or to a pub in the village. Stays on paths/lanes throughout – you can’t get lost! Great if you’re on the train: start at Shoreham or Eynsford and return from either station. (Actually, since writing all this I’ve realised that the walk is better for views done from Eynsford to Shoreham. Doh!)
Access: Car not needed – regular Southeastern/Thameslink trains stop at Eynsford and Shoreham seven days a week, click here for details. Also buses from Tonbridge/Dartford/Sevenoaks. Click here for 403 bus times. Covered on Ordnance Survey Explorer 147 map
Distance from SE London: 40 min drive from Sydenham, 40 min from Peckham Rye station on train
Download and print out the route here – or use this page on your smartphone
The walk (2.5hrs/4.2 miles)
Points 1-2: Leave Shoreham station and walk under bridge down Station Rd to village
Point 2-3: War memorial, take river path. Cross bridge, look for path continuing on right from foot of Mill Lane
Point 3-5: Cross a series of fields and through a row of poplars heading north. Go past Hop Farm shop (Castle Farm)
Point 6-7: From Lullingstone visitor centre walk by river or along edge of field to Lullingstone Castle
Point 7-8: Take path opposite castle uphill to copse
Point 8-9: Walk past copse then take path on right between golf course and field. Walk up steep bank
Point 9-10: Follow path as it bends left (west), above golf course and grassland
Point 10-11: Turn right at path junction and make for lonely tree, north east across fields. Pass tree then follow path down to Roman villa (or go straight on past Eagle Heights for short cut to Eynsford village, but not quickest way to station)
Point 11-12: Follow lane under viaduct to Eynsford village pubs and ford or, for the station, cross the bridge over the river and follow a lane past a farm cottage to the main road. Turn left on main road and walk a few metres to the station
Take the road (Station Road) to the village on leaving Shoreham station (point 1 on interactive map above), walking under the railway bridge and going down towards the valley floor. Take care on this road (especially with children) because there is no pavement. Walk past the church (or turn right at the footpath by the graveyard for a shortcut) and Ye Olde George pub down to the bridge and war memorial (point 2) and turn right on the path along the river, going past the Water House, associated with important 19th-century artist Samuel Palmer (see walk 2). Continue for 150-odd metres, admiring the gardens backing onto the river, then cross a bridge over the river while admiring a lovely house in front of you that is rather at risk when the Darent really gets going (point 3). Turn right after the bridge (at the bottom of Mill Lane) and you’ll see the path continuing parallel with the river with a steep bank to your left. It can be really muddy at this point unfortunately.
After a brief squelch-athon you will emerge in fields and just follow the path now a few metres back from the river, which soon begins to meander away to the east. You will cross two fields, a small one then a much larger one. When you emerge at the corner of a third field, follow the path diagonally across it to a farm track (point 4) and row of poplars. Keep going straight through a gap in a hedgerow and there’s another large field to cross. Now you meet Castle Farm Road (point 5). Carefully cross the road and continue on the path opposite towards Lullingstone or pop into Hop Farm to buy excellent fresh produce like fruit juice, all that kind of country stuff – weird chutneys, jams, local honeys, posh crisps. They do great beef too but you’re not exactly going to lug that all the way to Eynsford station… In July and August the lavender fields beyond are spectacular, and the hop fields great too. It’s a good spot, with river frontage and a little windmill that kids might like. There’s oast houses round here too, in fact a fully blown hop field – something you don’t often see in the 21st century.
‘Ave a cup of tea, go on
Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, striding towards Lullingstone visitors centre (point 6) where there’s a decent cafe and info on yet more walks, fauna and flora. There’s more crazy chutneys too. If you want, you can just stop here, have a look around, walk up the hill for a great valley view, and then go back the way you came and go home. Lullingstone is the halfway point of this walk at two miles in. Behind the centre is the river and beyond that a large lake, glimpsed through trees. Join the footpath running next to the river. If it’s too muddy, walk parallel on the path on the edge of the field just above the river (pictured below). A lot of people walk here, it’s a popular spot and you can see why. Trout and even pike can be seen in the river, and there are some fine alder trees alongside.
After 600 metres you emerge from the trees where the river gushes into the lake. Here is the 15th-century Lullingstone Castle (point 7), a favourite haunt of Henry VIII among others. It is also the site of Tom Hart Dyke’s World Garden, containing rare specimens from all over the globe and subject to a long-running TV series. Hart Dyke’s trips are not without their dangers: in Colombia he and his companions were kidnapped and kept hostage for nine months. One night he was told he would be killed the next morning and spent what he thought would be his last hours on Earth dreaming up his perfect garden. This became the World Garden that is open to visitors now. Next to the castle is St Botolph’s Church which has Norman elements and medieval stain-glass windows.
In front of Lullingstone Castle you’ll see a broad path going slightly uphill to your left. So toddle off up there (the chain is to stop motorbikes tearing up here at night). On reaching the copse at the top (point 8) turn right alongside the mighty Lullingstone golf course – noted for its gradients and long fairways. Enjoy the view across the field on your right back to the castle then continue up the steep bank ahead. Shortly after this, the path turns left along a low, long hill, heading west (point 9). The golf course (which is much quieter these days than it used to be) is now below you to the left; on the right is a large field and you’ll be able to see the lonesome tree we’ll eventually reach. Lapwings and yellowhammers are often seen around this part of the walk, as well as birds of prey from nearby Eagle Heights which is a remarkable place to visit.
On the trail of the lonesome pine (except it’s not a pine)
After 600 metres, at a T-junction, take the right hand path and follow it uphill (point 10) (the left hand one eventually takes you back to the visitors’ centre). After a few hundred metres the path passes a lonely tree (beech I think) that’s been damaged by storms. The views up here are great; you can see down the whole valley. It’s a really good “pinch-yourself-you-are-only-30- minutes-from-Bromley” spot. Straight on is the aforementioned Eagle Heights – go past it then walk down to Eynsford from there if you like; it’s a good short cut to the village but if you want to get to the station then follow my route. At the lonely tree, on my walk, we turn right and follow the path downhill, on either side of the row of trees (you end up in the same place). The lower part of the path, between hedges, is muddy but soon there’s steps, bringing you out next to the building housing the really rather tremendous remains of a Roman villa – Lullingstone Roman Villa, with its superb mosaics and the remains of a 4th-century Christian chapel, one of the earliest in these heathen isles (point 11). Brilliant place, with great lighting and reminders that people were living here in a way we would recognise 2,000 years ago, which is quite humbling.
To walk straight to Eynsford and its two pubs (see below), walk straight down the country lane for 10 minutes, parallel with the river (there’s a highland cattle herd often kept on the water meadows next to the river by this road). There are few cars on this road. To go to the station from the Roman villa read cross the bridge over the Darent river next to the villa’s car park. There are good views at this point across water meadows to the fantastic Victorian railway viaduct. Follow the lane past a farmhouse, for 500 metres up to the main road, the A225. Unfortunately you then have to walk 400 metres (to the left) to the awkwardly sited Eynsford station (point 12), along the main road.
If you choose to head into Eynsford village there are a couple of OK pubs. The Plough is big and modern inside with nice food. I really like this place; the staff have to wear uniformed shirts but it’s got a good aura. You can stretch out a bit in there and dogs/children will feel welcome (I think dogs can feel welcome). The grassy area outside by the river is very popular in summer – partly because it’s great fun watching vehicles get stuck in the ford, leaving their owners red-faced. Over the little bridge is another pub, the family-owned Malt Shovel in an 18th-century mock tudor building. I’ve never been in that one, but its website sells it pretty well. Both pubs have log fires going in winter. From the centre of Eynsford it is again, sadly, a 400-metre walk to that damned station. For Shoreham pubs see the Shoreham circular walk.
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Places of interest en route or nearby
Another take on the above walk from the Royal Geographical Society’s Discovering Britain website
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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…
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.
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.
Eynsford was the home of Graham Sutherland, a 20th-century artist of great talent, who was influenced by Samuel Palmer at one stage of his career. He once painted a portrait of Winston Churchill that the latter hated. The composer Peter Warlock was a fascinating character who lived in the village 100 years ago and used to ride a motorbike around the village while naked. There’s the ruins of an enclosed Norman castle and, of course, the fantastic roman villa. There’s loads of other history – apparently in the 1890s the manned-glider pioneer Percy Pilcher tested some of his gliders at Austin Lodge just up the road, 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 Eysford/Austin Lodge here.