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Darent Valley countryside

Explore Kentish Wildlife Reserves on foot

15 April 2021

The Darent Valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty and hosts precious chalk grassland habitats. Over the last decade, Kent Wildlife Trust has raised funds for and purchased large parcels of land to preserve these rare habitats. This walk takes in three beautiful reserves, two on either side of the valley and the third nestled in the adjacent valley to the east. They can be accessed from either Otford or Shoreham stations (OS maps recommended).

A few kilometres across the valley from Otford train station (and up), Polhill Bank Nature Reserve borders the M25 and has recently been enlarged to include new stretches of farmland lying alongside the railway line into Sevenoaks. Miniature horses graze the area from time to time to keep encroaching shrubs at bay and the reserve is beginning to boast all sorts of wildflowers, reptiles and butterflies associated with chalk soils. The views from here stretch all the way south to the Weald and beyond.

Continuing north along the valley side, the path then drops down into Filston Lane. From here traverse the valley by walking along Water Lane, over part of the Darent River, over the golf course, across the A225 and up Fackenden Lane.

Before the sharp turn left, take a right hand turn to discover Fackenden Down Nature Reserve (an amazing spot from which to watch the setting sun if you get your timings wrong). It is possible to either cross the reserve itself, or to do a circuit around its perimeter, with well-positioned benches for a rest or to savour the view.

Fackendown Nature Reserve
Fackendown Nature Reserve. Photo: Sarah Newman

If you have plenty of time, walk on towards the large aerial tower up on the brow of the hill. A path behind it emerges briefly on Kemsing Down (yes, another Kent Wildlife Trust nature reserve, again with panoramic views, but also ancient woodland) and then passes behind. When this joins a small tarmacked road, turn right. Not long after another footpath goes to the left of a house.

Magpie Bottom in the sunshine
Magpie Bottom. Photo: Sarah Newman

Follow this, cross a field, go through a wood and then find yourself in one of the most beautiful spots in Kent – Magpie Bottom.

This field belonged for nearly a hundred years to the local farmer, who barely touched it.

There are rare orchids here and an abundance of wildflowers every summer.

June is probably its most glorious time, with thigh-high buttercups glowing gold all around. This is the spot to lie down and watch the clouds glide over your head. It's far away from the traffic and rarely visited.

You can either retrace your steps and drop down to Otford station once more, or take another path back to Shoreham station (about half an hour). There are places to eat and drink in both villages (though this will entail walking into the centre of each village). You will feel utterly restored!

Suitable for: hikers, families with older children, nature enthusiasts – the walk involves several steep hills and can take two to three hours.

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