This easy and enjoyable walk takes you past a preserved Roman villa.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 197ft (60m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Woodland, riverside and field paths, mostly firm underfoot
Landscape River valley and rolling parkland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 147 Sevenoaks & Tonbridge; 162 Greenwich & Gravesend
Start/finish TQ 540655 (on Explorer 162)
Dog friendliness Great, several sections where they can run free. Popular local dog walking route
Parking Car park in Eynsford
Public toilets At car park
1 From the car park by the post office on Eynsford's main street, turn right to walk down Riverside, the road opposite the church. Go over the bridge by the ford from which the village takes its name. This has been an important crossing point on the Darent since Roman times. Walk up past the Plough Inn, then past Sparepenny Lane. You'll often see this name on country lanes. It dates back to the days when you had to pay a toll if you wanted to travel on a turnpike road. Sparepenny Lane would probably have been a private road that was cheaper than the main turnpike.
2 At the last house on the right, bear right and go through a gate into a field. Cut across this to cross a stile at the top, then walk - carefully - across the railway line. Pop over another stile then walk straight across the next field to go through a gap in the fence. Cross the lane and follow the path across the next field, taking time to enjoy some great views across the valley. When you reach the post at the top, go to the right of the hedge, then walk ahead keeping the hedge on your left-hand side. Cross a stile, turn right up the enclosed path and where it bends go left, through a gap in the hedge. Your path now continues across the top of a field, dips slightly, then takes you between some trees, where you'll see part of a golf course on your left. Where the path forks, go left through a horse barrier and up some steps into the woods. Come out of the woods after another barrier, go a few paces right, then left again to continue over the top of the field. Turn left to go through another barrier, go back into the woods and walk ahead, keeping the golf course on your left. Reach a broad track, go a few paces left then continue ahead, keeping the fairways to either side of you. Soon reach a tarmac track, turn right and walk up towards the clubhouse.
3 At the wooden fingerpost turn left and walk across the fairway to go down into the woods (take care you don't get hit by a golf ball here). Walk ahead until you come to a metal fence and turn left. Pass a ladder stile on your right-hand side and keep walking ahead, following the signs to the visitor centre. Maintain your direction until you see a marker post. Turn right here, go through a barrier and walk downhill to the visitor centre. There are lovely views on the way down of Eynsford Viaduct, an elegant red brick structure built for the railway in the 19th century. Your route now goes past the visitor centre, then bears left just before the road, along the Darent Valley Path.
4 Keep walking by the river until you pass the lake and weir and emerge by the entrance of Lullingstone Castle. Keep the villa on your left and walk straight ahead, past signs for a bird of prey centre, and underneath the viaduct. Your way now takes you close to the River Darent again and back, over the ford, into Eynsford.
This walk takes you into the heart of the Darent Valley, an area that has been settled for thousands of years. Although close to London, the area still retains a rural feel and and offers glorious views over the surrounding countryside.
Your walk takes on a restful quality along the banks of the Darent. There is a good chance of seeing dragonflies, coots and moorhens along here - if it's quiet you could even catch a glimpse of a kingfisher. Plants that grow in the river include water crowfoot, while meadowsweet, marsh marigolds and willow trees line its banks.
This is a Tudor manor house, dating back to the reign of Henry VIII, with an 18th-century façade. Lullingstone frequently played host to royal visitors, including Queen Anne, for whom an outdoor bathhouse was built. Walk past the gateway of the castle and along the road to the green corrugated iron shed that protects the remains of Lullingstone Roman Villa. Built in the 1st century ad on the site of an Iron-Age farm, this superbly preserved villa was built by Roman settlers and occupied by several different families. You can see the bathhouse, exquisite mosaic flooring and the system of under floor heating. Worth looking out for is the paw print of a small dog, embedded in a tile which had just been made.
Eynsford Castle was built by the Normans and was originally surrounded by a moat but was more of a fortified house than a defensive structure. It was destroyed by fire in the 13th century and today you can see the remains of its walls and part of the empty moat.
You've got plenty of choice along this route. There's a tea room at Lullingstone Park Visitor Centre and several picnic tables outside. In Eynsford there's the Plough Inn, a large, modernised pub by the riverside, and the more traditional Malt Shovel.
I saw a couple of green woodpeckers last time I did this walk. They'd given their presence away by their distinctive tapping sound. Woodpeckers don't only make their nests in the trunks of trees but also feed on insects that they find in the bark. They have very long tongues that allow them to seek them out.