One of the loveliest walks in Kent takes you through the beautiful village of Shoreham to the lavender fields at Castle Farm in the Darent Valley. The ideal month to do this walk is July when the lavender is in full bloom and there’s a sea of vivid purple in the valley.
Most people will probably arrive in Shoreham by car, but the village is very accessible by train as well. Shoreham Station is only 200 yards or so from the starting-point of this walk. The narrow lanes of Shoreham mean that it isn’t the easiest place to find parking. If you’re coming by car, my suggestion would be to park along Station Road, down the hill from Shoreham Station.
To begin the walk you have two choices –
1. Take the path that runs alongside a big wheat field, the entrance to which is about 100 yards down Station Road on the opposite side of the road from the Darent Valley Golf Club entrance. This is the Darent Valley Path – look out for the green sign. After a while, the path takes a left turn and you’re walking beside the vines of the Mount Vineyard.
2. Walk through the village until you reach the ancient brick and flint bridge over the River Darent. Here, turn right onto Darent Way and follow the path along the river.
Darent Valley Path
The path is well shaded here and offers some nice views of riverbank properties. In summer you’ll see people sitting out on their decks. As you walk here you’re likely to encounter lots of dog walkers and ramblers as the Darent Valley Path is a popular Kent walking route in the summer months. The whole path is about 19 miles long, and runs from the Greensand Hills above Sevenoaks to the River Thames at Dartford.
After some time you emerge from the shaded path and the terrain becomes more open with broad, gently sloping agricultural fields on your left. In the distance, at the top of these fields are some quite imposing houses. A few hundred yards further on, you no longer have the river next to you, as it bends to the right, and you walk through open fields for about 15 minutes. Depending on the crop rotation you might well find yourself walking through a very imposing corn field.
The Scent of Lavender in the Valley
As you leave the corn field you’re greeted by a lovely view of the valley in the direction of Eynsford, and your first glimpse of the vivid purple of the lavender fields in the distance. As you get closer, you begin to smell the scent of lavender that wafts across the valley at this time of year. It can really stop you in your tracks.
Walk on for a few more minutes and as you approach the 1,100 acre Castle Farm you’ll see lots of rows of hop bines. These are very impressive when you get up close to them and see how tall they are.
Lavender Fields at Castle Farm
Soon you arrive at Castle Farm itself and bright purple lavender is all around you. There’s more lavender grown in the Darent Valley than anywhere else in the UK. Some of the lavender fields are open to the public for picnics and for guided and self-guided walks. You’ll get some amazing photo opportunities here. In recent years, the Castle Farm lavender fields have become quite a big tourist attraction and you’re likely to see big tour buses disgorging groups of foreign tourists here.
There’s a very well stocked farm shop at Castle Farm – the Hop Shop. In the weeks around the lavender harvest, which happens in late July, there are lots of lavender-themed products and gift items on sale in the Lavender Barn and in the shop. You can also get drinks, ice creams and coffee here. A really popular activity at Castle Farm is to have a relaxing massage in one of the tents specially set up right in the middle of the lavender fields. You’ll need to book these in advance.
Back to Shoreham
When you’re ready to leave Castle Farm, you essentially retrace your steps to return to Shoreham. Once you’re back in the village, and walking along the river again, look out for Mill Lane. Walk up Mill Lane, turn left onto the High Street and proceed through the village until you reach Church Street. You’ll pass the Shoreham Aircraft Museum, which is well worth a visit, and the quaint Honey Pot café, which is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. You’ll also get a view of Shoreham’s famous Memorial Cross, which is carved into a chalk escarpment above the village, although this is actually more impressive when seen from a distance.
Time for a Glass of Wine
Walk along Church Street and when you cross the bridge over the River Darent, you’re nearing the end of the walk. If it’s a hot day, you may fancy a chilled glass of wine. If you do, you should stop by another of Shoreham’s little gems, the Mount Vineyard. This small vineyard is very visitor-friendly and has a restaurant, lots of outdoor seating with tables, a shop and a tasting-room. Not only are their wines rather good, but they also serve excellent stone-baked pizzas. It’s a very popular spot in the summer, so you may want to book a table in advance of your arrival. The entrance to the vineyard is off Church Street.
Alternatively, if pubs are more your thing, the Samuel Palmer is the place to visit in Shoreham. It’s literally a stone’s throw from the vineyard and is owned and managed by the same people who run the Mount Vineyard. It’s dog-friendly and has a good selection of ales, wines from the vineyard and bar food. The pub’s restaurant serves a la carte lunches and dinners from Thursdays to Sundays.
Samuel Palmer was one of Britain’s finest artists and he lived at the “Water House” in the village between 1828 and 1835. Palmer once described Shoreham is his “earthly paradise” and, even today, it’s not hard to see why.
Shoreham to Castle Farm and back is about a 3 mile walk. The terrain is mostly flat, with a few not very steep inclines, so it should be suitable for most people. It’s one of my favourite walks in Kent and with much to see along the way I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too. You can do this walk at any time of the year, but the Darent Valley and lavender views are at their best in July.
Here’s another walk that I highly recommend: The Kingscote Vineyard and Gravetye Circular Walk in Sussex.