Try a walk on this valley's wilder side
WHEN you think of the English countryside, you probably imagine the Darent Valley without ever having been there.
Its gently rolling hills, meandering river lined with weeping willows and fields of wheat, barley and bright red poppies are a quintessentially rural scene. Landscape artist Samuel Palmer, who lived and painted in Shoreham village, described it as an 'earthly paradise' and he wasn't wrong.
And yet, like all landscapes, natural or man-made, there is much more to this area than meets the eye.
Beyond its beautiful vistas, the Darent Valley has a unique story to tell.
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The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) has recently created a new five-mile walk along the Darent Valley path from Shoreham to Eynsford which reveals the stories behind this picturesque landscape.
In just a few miles you can see a variety of diverse landscapes.
Walking along the banks of the river you pass by water meadows grazed by cattle and sheep, up on slightly higher ground are arable cornfields, as well as hop gardens, apple orchards and vineyards.
Cresting the scarp slopes are woodlands planted out with chestnut trees for fencing, and poles for the local hop growing industry.
On the valley's chalk grasslands you might be lucky enough to see rare orchids, butterflies and reptiles. These fields up on the valley sides are too steep for modern tractors to plough and have reverted from farmland to native chalk grass, supporting rare ecosystems unique to the North Downs.
'From Hops to Lavender' tells the story of the Darent Valley as a working landscape.
The walk was created in partnership with local farmer William Alexander, of Castle Farm, Shoreham, who was born and grew up here and has a special affection for the place.
He hopes that while enjoying the glorious countryside, the walk will encourage people to see beyond its beauty to discover a working landscape that produces much of the food we put on the table and the timber we might be sitting on or living in.
As you stroll beneath golden, crisping trees, accompanied by the sound of woodpeckers or the bleat of grazing sheep, it's hard to believe you're just 19 miles from the bustle of Westminster Bridge.
Visit www.discoveringbritain.org to find out more about the free self-guided walk.