Eynsford to Otford
Views, villages, viaducts and villas
A perennial favourite and one to which I like to introduce self-identifying ‘non-walkers’. This is the shorter, less strenuous cousin of the Eynsford to Shoreham circular walk. The only ascent – an early rise from the village with views of the viaduct and length of the Darenth Valley – is a treat; then a quick descent to Lullingstone Roman villa; then later, a Tudor gateway glimpsing a grand house and garden. Potential lunch stops at Shoreham. The walk finishes at Otford with the minimal remains of a once mediaeval palace.
Easy/Moderate / 5 out of 10
6.5 miles / 10.5 kilometres
OS Explorer Map 147
How to get here
Eat and drink
One early ascent then flat all the way.
Trains to Eynsford leave from Victoria, Charing Cross and Blackfriars approximately twice an hour and take about 56 minutes. Some are direct, some require one brief change.
Check the train route, if you are buying beforehand; use your Oyster card to the edge of the London zones, Bromley South or Swanley are both good options, and then purchase a much cheaper advance ticket from there.
See Travel Section in Tips and Resources for ways of using your Oyster/Travel Card to Zone 8 to get very cheap fares.
The walk can be ended part way at Shoreham or can be adapted to include a visit to Lullingstone Roman Villa and Lullingstone Castle.
Return trains from Shoreham to London Blackfriars are approximately every half an hour. [NB if booking a ticket to return from Shoreham – there are two Shorehams: one in the Darenth Valley in Kent in this walk and the other by the sea in Sussex – do make sure you get the right one.
Return trains from Otford go approximately every half an hour to both London Victoria and Blackfriars.
There are toilet facilities at Otford Station but not at Eynsford or Shoreham Stations.
You will find loos at Lullingstone Villa and Castle if you are visiting either of those.
Other than pubs and cafes in the villages, you will also find a basic cafe/WC by the river at Step 11.
Recommended lunch stop is The Mount Vineyard in the heart of Shoreham village. Booking currently essential; open most weekends and some weekdays. Best to check and book before arriving. Serves pizzas and pasta, produces its own pricey but good quality wine and a few interesting beers. In the summer the garden and terrace are open. Dog friendly.
There are also currently three basic village pubs with standard ‘pub food’, but all serve Kentish beer and reasonable wine.
After point 17 as you enter Shoreham, next to Samuel Palmer’s house: benches and river in small open area.
Eynsford Village & Viaduct
The trek along the busy road from Eynsford station is rewarded with, what feels to me, a portal into another world: an old stonebridge fording a lively chalk stream with, further along the lane, bucolic river meadow on the left and a gentle ascent to the glorious views of the Darenth Valley rising up on your right. All the while, the railway viaduct, over which you have just trundled, stands majestically over the valley.
The origin of the name Darenth is said to either come from its meaning as ‘clear water’ – its fresh lucidity is still evident – or from the Irish for ‘stream where the oak trees grow.’ The village’s name can be traced back to the 9th century and has been interpreted as ‘Ægen’s river meadow’.
In the 1920s composer Peter Warlock and his friend E.J Moeran lived in in the village and seemed to use their cottage as a base for ‘artistic gatherings’: parties, copious drinking and raucous merrymaking. Warlock’s love of the occult (his real name was Heseltine…) and their shared love of drinking scandalised the village. Warlock liked to ride around on his motorbike, naked; Moeran, affronted by the hymn singing coming from the congregation in the Baptist chapel next door, responded by bellowing out sea shanties. Oh, what fun neighbours they must’ve been…
Lullingstone Roman Villa
Constructed around 80 A.D. the villa is one of six along the Darenth Valley and is believed to have been occupied by a wealthy Roman Governor possibly as a country retreat.
English Heritage has done an excellent job of recovering and reimagining the villa as it once was. The large mosaics are particularly impressive. Among a wealth of intriguing finds there is the basement room which seems to have been a shrine for Pagan worship, and then later, perhaps in a wise attempt to cover their spiritual bets, was converted to a Christian chapel – one of the earliest ever in the British Isles.
As said elsewhere, if you neither have time nor energy to visit this Villa you could bookmark it for a future day out from Shoreham or Eynsford incorporating Lullingstone Castle and perhaps lunch at The Plough at Eynsford or The Mount Vineyard, Shoreham…
Lullingstone Castle and World Garden
Now far more house than a castle – the only thing castle-like about Lullingstone is the 16th century Gatehouse. Even this is impressive in its own right, being one of the first brick-built gatehouses in Britain, reminding us that there was a time in our history when brick buildings were considered suspiciously foreign and modernist.
A glimpse of the fine building beyond gives a sense of its grandeur and historical importance. Building began in 1497 and soon drew illustrious visitors including Henry VIII and, over 200 years later, Queen Anne whose bathhouse and icehouse still remain. The house was remodeled and renamed as a castle in the early 1700s by the Hart-Dykes and, having passed through several owners since, it is now, twenty generations later, in the hands of plant hunter Tom Hart-Dyke.
It is Tom who has created the famous world garden filling the 120 acre park with plants and trees from all over the globe. Once the home of a silk farm which created wedding robes for royalty, including Princess Elizabeth and Lady Diana, the house achieved much deserved celebrity status when it hosted the exceptional talents of meerkats Sergei and Aleksandr for a Compare-the-Market ad in 2011.
A tea shop or two, three pubs and a vineyard make this a good lunch stop. The pubs are OK for beer and basic pub eating, though I recommend the ‘pizza and wine’ sensibilities of The Mount Vineyard.
This village seems destined to be associated with both World Wars of the 20th century. Descending from the hillside Cross you will emerge on the High Street adjacent to the quaint ‘Aircraft museum’ where some relics from the air battles that were fought in this area remain.
A little further on at the road junction which will take you to the river, on the corner, are Almshouses with a touching inscription to the donor written on a plaque on the door.
The Darenth Valley provided an ideal eyeline for German bombers heading for London and the village itself became a prime target because of military activity and the railway line, eventually earning its reputation as the most bombed village in Kent. Stories of aerial combat up and down this valley abound. I like the tale from September 1940 when the two surviving, and no doubt shaken, crew of a downed German Dornier were taken by their local captors to a local pub for a stiff brandy before being handed over to the local bobbies.
Listen out for the drone of one of the few remaining Spitfires – with its distinctive curved wings – sometimes seen swooping above the valley.
Shoreham White Cross
On this route, you will be looking at the ‘Shoreham White Cross’ on the hillside from below. This cross was inaugurated in May 1920 in memory of the 50 villagers who had died in the First World War. The moving story of its inception by Samuel Cheeseman and his wife Minnie is well told on the signboard above the cross, which is featured in the longer Eynsford to Shoreham Circular walk (and perhaps an incentive for going there another day).
The story of Samuel Cheeseman’s annual solo hauling of a canon to the cross on Remembrance Day is redolent with penitence and grief.
The memory of another soldier, Private Thomas Highgate, was until recently written out of Shoreham’s war memory. Just 35 days into the First World War the 17-year-old Thomas found himself caught up in the carnage of the battle of Mons. With his unit slaughtered around him he hid in a barn only to be found by his own side and arrested for cowardice. With no surviving witnesses to defend him nor any defence counsel to represent his case, the youngster was tried, found guilty and executed on the same day – September 8, 1914 – earning him the dubious distinction of becoming the first British soldier to be executed in the First World War.
In 2000 the local Parish Council, when renovating the war memorial in the centre of the village, decided not to include his name; though, in a rather ambivalent move, a space was left on the monument in case the decision might later be rescinded.
In 2006 Private Thomas Highgate received a full posthumous pardon from the MOD. When you finally make it to the village centre, and when you get to the memorial next to the stone bridge over the river, look to see if his name has now been added.
By now you might be ready to cheer yourself up with lunch or a deserved glass of something, or even both, in the village below.
In the early 1800s Samuel Palmer, visionary romantic painter and associate of William Blake, lived and painted in Shoreham in his distinctive dark and mysterious pastoral style.
Although the house in Shoreham is known as the Samuel Palmer House, in fact he initially lived in another much humbler abode which he christened, “Rat Alley”. His father rented this house in Shoreham; Samuel joined him later. It was from here that he gathered about him a group of young Romantic artists, his “Disciples”.
In his lifetime his paintings never achieved the recognition that they do now. After his death his son spent days burning the artist sketchbooks, diaries and paintings. “Knowing that no one would be able to make head or tail of what I burnt; I wished to save it from a more humiliating fate”. Despite this impressive act of filial devotion, thankfully many of Samuel Palmer’s paintings survived and went on to enjoy, in the 20th century, a revival of appreciation. On the centenary of Palmer’s death in 2005 both the British Museum and MOMA in New York staged exhibitions of his work.
Shoreham Church: St Peter & St Paul
This gem of a church, ancient in origin though much restored, is sometimes closed but in either case is well worth a visit.
The approach is guarded by sentinels of tall Irish yew trees which draw you to the beautiful front porch made of a single piece of oak timber from the 1400s. In Autumn the porch is decorated with hop vines.
If the church is closed there are sometimes leaflets inside the porch providing a guide to the graveyard ‘population’ of curious locals, including Serjeant William Seaker, veteran of Waterloo (the battle not the station).
Inside, look out for more leaflet guides. Just inside the door, there is the painting of the return of Captain Cameron to the village after his famous expedition to Africa to search for Doctor Livingstone. On finding that the explorer was dead, Cameron continued venturing on foot along the Congo-Zambezi watershed and beyond. Unusually for his time, Cameron refused to countenance either slavery or military force in the aid of his grueling and tortuous journey, eventually becoming the first European to cross Equatorial Africa from sea to sea.
On a more tranquil note, there is a beautiful stained-glass window of Joy, Creation and Love attributed to Burne-Jones. Elsewhere, carved into the rood screen, a carved pomegranate to commemorate the visit of Catherine of Aragon to nearby Otford in 1520. Remarkably, being originally from Westminster Abbey, the pulpit bore witness to Queen Victoria’s coronation sermon.
This village, a natural twin with Shoreham further down the valley, differs in that has a small historic High Street packing a powerful historic punch for such a small area. Fortunately, the street has signboards detailing some of the architecture and history.
Otford Solar System
Set in the recreation ground tucked away on your left as you enter Otford from the Millstream is the Otford Solar System. The modest concrete pillars are arranged to reflect the relative positions of the planets of the solar system at midnight on January 1 2000. To gain some sense of our solar system’s relative isolation, on the same scale our nearest stars would be in Sydney or Los Angeles.
Circling round the pond at the busy roundabout* – proudly proclaimed as the only listed duckpond in Britain – are Chantry Cottage and Bubblestone Farm, make your way to the hidden remnant, easily missed, of the once magnificent Otford Palace. The path is signposted just to the left of the elegant long redbrick abode facing you.
*2014’s Roundabout of the Year (yes, really)
Just a single tower remains but the signboards eloquently portray how this magnificent building looked in its prime in the early 1500s. Once home to the martyred Thomas a Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, it was also visited by Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon on their way to the field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.
The Great Hall could dine 200 people at a single sitting and that’s including Henry. In 1538 Henry liked the Palace so much that he took it from, a no doubt deeply miffed, Archbishop Warham.
Close by the duck pond is the church of Saint Bartholomew, with its original tower from 1175 and an interior that is worth a look if open.
Eynsford & the Darenth Valley
Bear the tedious start along the busy road from the station to be rewarded with, what feels to me, a portal into another world: an old stonebridge fording a lively chalk stream with bucolic river meadow and glorious views of the Darenth Valley and the majestic viaduct>>
Lullingstone Roman Villa
If you can, make time to include a visit to this impressively restored Roman Villa dating back to 80AD and believed to have been occupied by a wealthy Roman Governor, possibly as a country retreat. English Heritage site, so take your card if you have one>>
Lullingstone Castle & World Garden
Again well worth a visit if you have the time and energy. With its impressive 16th century Gatehouse and a fine house of grandeur and historical importance. Together with the famous 120 acre world garden bestowed the celebrity connections of the Queen, Diana Princess of Wales and two famous russian meerkats>>
A hidden gem of the Darenth Valley, take time to explore the lovely village of Shoreham with its famous hillside White Cross, beautiful church and many historic connections. Not to mention a tea shop or two, three pubs and a vineyard to make an excellent lunch stop>>
End a beautiful walk through countryside to the pretty village of Otford, with its mill-race, story-filled architecture, charming duck pond, famous ‘Solar System’ and the remains of a Tudor Palace>>
Start: Eynsford Station
Exit Eynsford station, turn left to meet a busy road after 50 metres. With care, cross the road and head right downhill for about 600 metres. You will need to cross back again to continue on reaching the church on your right. It’s a tedious beginning but pays off when you…
Cross the road again at the junction opposite the church to take the clear left turn over the rather lovely bridge and ford which is your introduction to the River Darenth and its valley. See feature below for more info about Eynsford village, viaduct and the scandalous Peter Warlock.
Follow the road and the river left passing The Plough pub on your right; cottages and a farm ribbon along the road for about 300 metres. Ignore Savepenny Lane to the right.
As you continue on you will have views over flood pasture on your left. Where the buildings on your right end you will see a footpath sign and the start of rising farmland. Take this path up as it rises diagonally across farmland to eventually reach a pedestrian railway crossing point.
Eynsford Viaduct, over which you and your train recently trundled, rises majestically up to your left.
Taking care here with any canine companions, cross the stiles and railway and continue on along the broad, open valley side. Views south along the Darenth Valley into the distance begin to emerge. In summer these fields can be blanketed in poppies and ringing with skylarks. I have seen an eagle flying along the valley, a resident of the Bird of Prey sanctuary on the top of the hill to your right.
Your direction now is generally onwards for a mile or more along the valley side, so continue on this path for a few hundred metres eventually meeting a tall hedge on your right.
Then with the hedge to your right and the views on the left, 200m further along, follow the path to pass right through an obvious gap in the hedge. The path continues diagonally uphill for another hundred metres to emerge near buildings and on a small road (Bird Sanctuary).
Following the footpath sign, cross the road and continue ahead, following the obvious track along the valley side to meet another tall hedge clearly visible ahead on your right.
Keeping the hedge on your right, continue on for several hundred metres until you reach an obvious line of trees at right angles to your direction.
Your direction down towards Lullingstone Villa is left.
However, if you want a rest spot… Take the track right slightly uphill then after about 50m turn left through the trees to emerge with a continuing splendid view of the valley. Head for the ‘Lonesome Tree’ about 100m or so onward to your right. If anyone has claimed this lovely, meditative spot be nice to them – it might be me.
After retracing your steps back through the tree-gap, head on the obvious path downhill.
Lullingstone Roman Villa– for info see feature tab below, or better still, go in. It’s an English Heritage site – opening times vary through the year.
From Lullingstone Villa you are going to turn right from the path on which you have just descended to follow the valley in the same direction as before. This essentially is as much navigation as you should need for the next few miles as the path will be obvious, and sometimes signposted, all the way to Shoreham.
Below I will indicate points to look out for.
Making your way along the hard surfaced track you will pass cottages and paddocks on your left, and soon encounter Lullingstone Castle and World Garden. See feature tab below for more info on the history of the house and its extraordinary garden. Note the Tudor brick Gatehouse and the Queen Anne main house. Worth a visit if you have time and inclination.
Just past the Gatehouse the onward path continues through a gate/hedge just on your right. Lakes are visible through trees on your left, where the river now joins your route. You can either join the riverside path in trees/shade on your left, or if you prefer to stay in the open, stay on the open ground just outside the tree line, parallel to the river and path.
You will soon briefly enter the woods by the river and pass a basic café/WC by a road. Cross the road to continue on passing through the gate/stile opposite. Don’t follow the road.
On the footpath, passing under a line of pylons, you will soon encounter the entrance to Castle Farm Shop. This is a working lavender farm and popular shop selling bijou gifty things and local produce. To enter the shop you will have to cross the road.
To continue, head onward noting the lavender fields on your right. There are bigger lavender fields behind Castle Farm on the hillside to your left. In June there is a lavender festival and, later in the year, the harvest when the valley fills with lavender scent.
The lavender fields end at a gap and gate/stile in the hedge emerging on to a country lane – take care at this bend, it’s sometimes busy in summer – crossover to pick up the path again on your left to continue onwards.
Now on your left you’ll see rows of hop poles – these are for the hop vines which historically have made Kent the brewing centre of England. This one here is reputed to be one of the smallest hop farms in Kent. Gardens backing onto railway lines in south London sometimes have hop vines growing over their back fence, the seeds having drifted to our capital by many years of being blown along by the passing trains just beyond.
Continue on towards a line of tall poplar trees, passing through to emerge onto open farmland where your path continues on for c250metres towards the trees lining the river ahead and over to your left. From here on, look over to your right to see if you can catch sight of the large white chalk cross inserted into the hill above Shoreham.
Follow this path until you reach cottages, a lane end, and houses with a slight dogleg left in your path over a small weir. Ignore the footpath heading hard left and down towards the railway line in the distance, but instead continue as you were, pulling the line of the river, passing a rather lovely row of cottages, with a neat terrace outside, which will be on the other side of the river and to your right.
Continue on to Shoreham where you will eventually emerge with benches at open ground by the river and Samuel Palmer’s House directly on your left.
See features tabs below for notes and tales on Shoreham village, the beautiful church and Samuel Palmer.
Shoreham village: if you want to explore the village, cross over the river at the bridge. There is a pub on your left and at the end by the T-junction a modest collection of alms houses. Going right there is a teashop and an even more modest aircraft museum. Continuing right down the road a few hundred metres is another pub The Crown.
Staying on the war memorial side of the River, the walk follows the road onward and immediately round to your left passing The Mount vineyard and further up another pub (where the road swings right).
Enter through the gate of St Peter and St Paul Church and its avenue of Irish Yew. If it’s open and you have time, the church is worth a visit.
Leaving the church porch, turn left to continue along the yew avenue to pass through the gate and emerge onto open farmland. Turn right and head towards the road.
On the road – taking care – continue left and onward away from the church (in the direction of Shoreham Station) to pick up your footpath on the opposite side of the road less than 150m further along (and before the station). If doing a shortened version of the walk the station entrance is just passed the rail bridge ahead of you.
From here you can walk directly onwards towards Otford with no turns. My route, however, will take you, after about a kilometre, on a right turn at a junction of paths to enable you to see the historic heart of this intriguing little village. It doesn’t matter which right turn you take but the one I’m suggesting below has the more open view.
So… continuing your walk along the signposted footpath, you will carry straight on for about a kilometre. After about 500m, ignoring the first footpath T-junction and right turn, continue on.
At the second footpath T-junction, take the right turn. After a few hundred metres at another footpath T-junction, turn left to continue in your original direction towards Otford.
Continue on following the obvious path which will pass through farmland and eventually emerge at a mill race at Otford. Turn left at the road and as you track down the street note the architecture on both sides of the road.
See the features tab below for tales of the buildings along the street, the Otford Solar System and the remains of a Tudor palace.
The Otford ‘Solar System’ is in the recreational ground further down the street on your left.
When you reach the roundabout and the architecturally listed millpond, cross over towards the millpond and cross again to stand in front of the attractive large redbrick house opposite. Take the brief diversion, and path, indicated on the informative signboard to the left of this house to see the remnants of a Tudor Palace. See feature tab above.
From the millpond, pass into the church yard and take the path down the right side of the church which soon becomes fenced and, in a few hundred metres, emerges into the car park of Otford station.
Browse more walks…
Lucky you. I’ve walked several thousand miles of footpaths and city streets to distil out a choice selection of rambles for everyone to enjoy. There is no way of knowing whether a walk is worth doing except by walking the route every step of the way; a lot of terrible walks, dull vistas, and frankly boring trudges have been endured and discarded. Lucky me, I love walking and being outside so it’s all been worth it. I hope you can find the time to explore a route or two.
"Everywhere is within walking distance if you create the time..."
No 1 : Princes Risborough to Wendover
ST MARYLEBONE I MODERATE I 6.8m/11km
Leaving habitation behind you, spend the day following one of Britain’s most ancient trackways dating back 5000 years, possibly much further...
No 2 : Hampton Court to Richmond
WATERLOO/VAUXHALL I EASY/MODERATE I 7.8m/12.5k
A favourite walk bookended by the imposing Hampton Court Palace and the bare remains of Richmond Palace, along the Thames path and through diverse parks and meadows...
No 3 : Three London Parks
REGENT'S PARK I EASY I 5.6m/9k
Easy walking, people-watching in the parks, and chi-chi 'villages' ending on the splendid views and rambling of Hampstead Heath...
No 4 : Newington Green to Smithfield
CANONBURY I EASY I 3m/4.8k
An idiosyncratic trail of visual and historical curiosities taking in radicals, rebels and assorted contrarians along the way...
No 5 : London Bridge to Greenwich
LONDON BRIDGE I EASY/MODERATE I 5.6m/9k
A real treat for the soul, spending an entire walk following the course of the River Thames from the heart of the old City...
No 6 : Eynsford to Otford
I EASY/MODERATE I 6.8m/11km
A perennial favourite to introduce self-identifying 'non-walkers'. Stunning views of the length of the Darenth Valley, an impressive Roman Villa, a 'castle', a 'palace' and three typically Kentish villages...
No 7 : Eynsford Circular via Shoreham
I MODERATE I 8.2 - 9.1m/13.3 - 14.8km
A longer cousin of Walk No. 6, this route follows the lovely Darenth Valley on its western slopes and returns along the valley bottom. A landscape of hills, open views and a riverine return with a choice of picnic, pub or vineyard for the lunch stop...
No 8 : Sole Street Circular
VICTORIA/ST PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL
I MODERATE I 8.8m/14.2km
Continuously undulating chalk hills and farmland welcome you with vineyards and gorgeous valley views, including a welcome and timely lunch stop at a splendid Kentish scene of a windmill and pub overlooking the local cricket pitch...
No 9 : Guildford St Martha's Church Circular
WATERLOO I MODERATE I 7.3m/11.7km
Along the meandering River Wey via an old watermill to an ascent along ancient pilgrim paths under open skies and woodland, tracking the North Downs Way and the Pilgrims' Way, including an aerobic climb to the perfectly located St Martha’s Chapel for a rest and lunch...
No 10 : Greenwich to London Bridge via Limehouse & Wapping