Exploring four quaint, picturesque villages, discovering local ancient history, and a paddle in a ford
What I loved about this mini road trip in Kent was just how much there was to explore in the Darent Valley, all within a loop of around 16 miles. Added to the fact that it is just a stone’s throw from the M25 and M20, it could easily be enjoyed at the weekend.
Just as a little bit of contention, I have named this road trip the ‘Darent Valley’ road trip. However, there appears to be a divided opinion as to whether it should be the ‘Darenth Valley’ road trip, as this small region of Kent is also referred to as the Darenth Valley.
But I’m sticking to my guns and keeping with Darent as it is the River Darent that meanders through this delightful Kent valley.
This may be a short road trip; however, there’s so much to squeeze in. Not only will you be visiting four picture-postcard villages, but there’s also Eynsford Castle, Lullingstone Castle and World Gardens, Lullingstone Roman Villa and Eagle Heights Wildlife Foundation.
Okay, so let’s stop wasting time and “hit the road, Jack”
The start of our Darent Valley road trip is to the charming and picturesque village of Farningham. Farningham holds many childhood memories for me, especially when my brother and I used to swing back and forth on the ancient Cattle Screen that straddles the River Darent.
And yes, I did regularly end up in the river below.
The cattle screen, next to Farningham’s old medieval bridge, and the historic Lion Hotel are quite an iconic sight in the village. Built around the mid-1700s, the cattle screen was erected to stop livestock wandering up or downstream of the River Darent.
It could have been built on a much simpler scale. However, the wealthy Hanger family who lived in Farningham wanted to convey their affluence and had it erected out of local Kent flint and stone. You’d almost believe it was another bridge.
Farningham is full of so much history, from the Neolithic era and onto the existence of Roman settlements. It has even seen one of its Norman landowners who fought side by side with William the Conqueror on the Bayeux Tapestry.
All through Farningham High Street are immaculately kept cosy cottages with wispy and beautifully fragrant front gardens. The architecture in the village is a mixture of white weatherboarded homes and charming flint and stone cottages.
The other striking building to be found in Farningham is the historic three-storey watermill. The surviving mill dates from the late 18th-century; however, the presence of a watermill was first noted in the Domesday book in 1086.
Where to visit near Farningham
Hiking the Kent Countryside
It’s now time to explore the picture-postcard village of Eynsford. All through Eynsford village are the most delightful cottages, some made of local flint and others surrounded by white weatherboarding. It’s such a charming village.
However, once you stroll around the corner into Riverside, your face will light up. The idyllic scene of a narrow medieval hump-backed bridge straddling the River Darent and children giggling and laughing while playing in the adjacent ford really does bring a smile to your face.
Enjoying Eynsford Ford
It’s such an enchanting location with the timber-framed cottages beyond, and the urge to throw off your shoes and socks and go for a paddle is hard to resist. I’m not too sure if you’ll catch much in the river, but that doesn’t stop the local kids from bringing along their fishing nets to try,
Take a stroll to the other end of Eynsford village towards Norman’s family butchers and Rafferty’s local general store, and you’ll spot the signs to Eynsford Castle. Wander down by the village hall, and you’ll discover the ruins of a rare surviving early Norman ‘enclosure castle’ constructed in the late 1080s by William de Eynsford.
Where to stay in Eynsford
Where to visit near Eynsford
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So, let’s jump back onto the A225, and we’re heading south for 4.6 miles (7.3km). The next village we are visiting is Otford, further down the Darent Valley. There’s a central carpark in the village, which is free for the first hour, and then there is a tiered tariff.
It’s incredible how many beautiful villages are to explore just on a short stretch of the road. When you enter Otford, you’ll undoubtedly stumble across the village duck pond as it also doubles as a roundabout.
However, this is not just any old duck pond; this is the only listed duck pond in the country and was granted this listed status in January 1975. The pond is believed to date back to Anglo Saxon times when it was probably used as a drinking hole for local livestock.
Like Eynsford, Otford is a bustling little place with some delightful boutiques and antique shops to rummage around. Take a stroll along the entire length of the High Street, and you’ll see some striking cottages and manor houses hidden behind high walls and gates.
Otford is nestled along the Pilgrims Way, the route pilgrims would embark upon from Winchester to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.
Otford has some incredible history dating back to the Iron Age, although it was Otford Palace, also known as the Archbishop’s Palace, that raised Otford’s profile with Royalty, bishops and noblemen.
Unfortunately, today only its gatehouse and tower remain from what was once one of England’s largest palaces, covering 4 acres of land. The Palace was comparable in size with Hampton Court Palace. After the death of Henry VIII, Otford Palace slowly fell into decline and ruin.
Where to stay near Otford
Where to visit near Otford
Inspired into creating your own adventure?The planning starts here
Hopping back in the trusty steed, our next destination is the tranquil and delightful village of Shoreham, only 3 miles (5km) north.
Journey west from Otford, continuing along the High Street, which then transitions into Pilgrims Way W. When you reach Filston Lane turn right and head along this lane until you reach Shoreham. As you enter Shoreham village, there is a free car park on your right-hand side.
In one of the white weatherboarded cottages along the peaceful High Street is Shoreham Aircraft Museum, which is run by local enthusiasts. We were slightly surprised to see this fascinating little museum in such a remote location. Apparently, Shoreham was the most bombed village in the UK during WWII, as the Army moved into several manor houses in the area.
Prior to us embarking on this Darent Valley road trip, I never realised that this region in Kent was renowned for its flint. It is used to build of so many homes in this area and gives so much character to the cottages.
Escape for a few days
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More adventures on your Darent Valley road tripLullingstone Castle and the Eagle has landed
Hopping back in the car, we are winding our way back across the Darent Valley countryside towards Farningham.
We continue north through Shoreham High Street and, at the V junction, turn right along Castle Farm Road towards Lullingstone. Turn right onto Redman's Lane at the T junction and continue onto Castle Road, passing Castle Farm and its lavender fields. If you’re visiting during the lavender season, you’ll spot rows and rows of striking purple lavender fields. Along this road, you’ll also be able to visit Lullingstone Country Park.
Continue along Castle Road, and when you reach the final junction, turn left onto Shoreham Road (A225). It will look familiar as this is the road into Eynsford from the south. We’re proceeding part of the way through Eynsford until you reach St Martins Church on your right. At this point, turn left directly opposite the church along Riverside and onto Lullingstone Lane. You’ll be venturing over the little stone bridge next to Eynsford ford.
Weaving your way along Lullingstone Lane, you’ll pass under the eye-catching Eynsford Viaduct. Eagle Heights Wildlife Foundation is on your right, where you can watch graceful birds of prey soaring through the skies.
Just a little further, you can visit Lullingstone Roman Villa, run by English Heritage. The final stop of the Darent Valley road trip is Lullingstone Castle & The World Garden.
Lullingstone Lane is a bit narrow, so you’ll need to be considerate to pedestrians and fellow drivers.
After visiting the castle, you will need to retrace your steps back under Eynsford Viaduct; a little further along, turn left into Sparepenny Lane. You are now heading back towards Farningham, where we started, passing through the Darent Valley countryside.
At the end of Sparepenny Lane, turn left, and you are now just a short hop away from the M25 and the M20.
Have a delightful time on your Darent Valley road trip, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to let us know how you enjoyed your adventures.
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