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Escape from Bluewater shopping Centre

 

Summary

A walk of wonders symbolising the diversity of modern life.  Sometimes you will wonder why never came here before.  Sometimes you  will wonder why you are doing the walk at all. Mega-malls and secluded woodlands, motorways and ancient sites,  Places of delicious intimacy and places that are nowhere.

Distance, Terrain and Time

 14.44 Km / 8.97 Miles  It is possible to do the walk in two parts, Ebbsfleet to Bluewater or Bluewater to Ebbsfleet and return to the start by bus or to stop at Bean or Swanscombe and get on a bus.

 Obstacles

In summer long trousers are needed as some of the paths around Ebbsfleet can become overgrown with nettles and other vegetation.

Start and finish points 

Bluewater Shopping Centre bus station or Ebbsfleet International  railway station.

 Getting there

Ebbsfleet station has trains to and from London St Pancras, Stratford, Ashford, many other parts of Kent, Paris, Brussels

Frequent buses run to Bluewater from all over the local area, including Ebbsfleet Station, Dartford and Gravesend

 The journey time between Ebbsfleet and Bluewater is between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on the route. 

If you decide that you do not want to walk up the hill out of Bluewater by the side of the road you can take bus B and get off at Darenth Park Hospital, the first stop and then walk back to the traffic lights, starting at waypoint 2. 

It is also possible to use buses to cut the route short at other points.  For example, buses run from Bean to Bluewater and from Swanscombe to both Bluewater and Ebbsfleet, although there are varying routes of varying frequencies and destinations through Swanscomble.

 For bus and train times see Traveline South East

 Date researched

9/5/2014

 Ordnance Survey maps

 Explorer series  162

 Refreshments

Numerous in Bluewater

At least one pub in Bean

Café at Ebbsfleet Station

Rising Sun pub at Swanscombe 01322 384 814

Café and bar at Swanscombe leisure centre.

Shops in Swanscombe

Public toilets

Bluewater

Ebbsfleet Railway Station

 Route instructions

 1). We start at the Bluewater bus station.  Walk to the end of the station furthest away from the shopping centre and then out of the end.  Pass a small car park. (You will need to walk in the road) to come to a roundabout.  Take the second turning, which has “no entry signs”.  Walk on the right hand side.

 At first this is a bit unnerving.  You must walk in the road next to crash barriers.  But this road is only used by the occasional bus and, after about 100 metres, you will find that there is a narrow path running alongside the edge of the road on which you can walk.  As you climb, a panorama over Bluewater and the surrounding area opens out.  There are some quite rare plants by the side of the road and at one point the chalk has been opened out to reveal embedded flints.  Our road now runs alongside the busy Roman Road of Watling Street and joins it just before some traffic lights.

 2). Cross Watling Street at the lights.  Turn left and walk alongside Watling Street on a wide grass verge.  The proximity of the road can be annoying for about 600 metres, but be patient.  There are great pleasures ahead!

 3). Pass a rough layby and then reach a point where there are a large number of wooden tree stumps painted white.  These, and a metal gate, mark the entrance to Wood Lane. Walk down this. You are now in Darenth Wood. You will see a large number of private signs making various threats. The Kent County Council rights of way team has reassured me that these are intended to deter trail riders and 4x4 drivers, who have been a problem.  In fact the lane is legally a public highway although there is a traffic regulation order on it. Walkers are allowed.  You will see that the gate across the lane has been designed to allow access on foot even when closed and that there are many signs of pedestrian use. The police tell me that they are not aware of any shooting in the wood other than in a strictly enclosed section south of the A2 used by clay pigeon shooters (which you may hear). .  .

 4) Cross the A2 on a bridge.  The lane bends to the right and passes the entrance to a clay pigeon shoot.  Immediately after this you must walk round another metal gate designed to deter vehicles.

 Shortly after this an unsigned footpath goes off to the left.  Take this and then turn left at its end. You are now in Ladies Wood

 (You may wish to take some time to explore Darenth and Ladies Wood, which have a large number of paths.  Take care though; it is easy to get lost!)

 5). Emerge from Ladies Wood to see a panorama over northern Kent on your right.  If the weather is good this is a good point for a picnic.  The next bit of navigation across open grassland needs some concentration.  You can probably see two tracks in the grass ahead of you.  Take the one to the left. Ahead of you is Lords Wood.  A spur of the wood reaches out towards you.  Walk along to the right of this spur until you come to a corner.  You can see the path heading into the wood. (Ignore two slightly more obvious entrances to the wood on the right)

 The path emerges from the wood and then continues alongside trees on a field edge to Bean Farm.

 Just before the farm take a track to the right across a field.  This emerges at a lane.  Opposite, slightly to the right, is a stile/ Cross this and immediately take a path to the right.  You are now in Beacon Wood Country Park Emerge at a clearing with a building and a wheelchair accessible path to the left.  Take this path and follow it through the woods, past some old railway trucks that have been placed there as a heritage site and walk straight ahead at a four way junction.

 Finally you come to a junction where you must go right or left.  Go left and come to a fork in the path by a bench.  Take the right fork and climb steps to emerge in the road.

 Cross the road and turn right.  Then turn immediately left down the lane to the school.  Pass the school.  The lane turns left but our way goes straight ahead past a metal gate and then down a track.  The track bears off left, but our way continues straight ahead, following telegraph poles.

 Come to a line of trees.  Turn left in the field immediately before the trees and walk along the edge of the field to the far corner.  It looks as though there is no way out, but at the last minute you will find a way out over a stile.

 You are in the road. Cross the road and walk ahead up Claywood Lane. Our route climbs slowly up the lane to reach a covered reservoir with a little tower and a phone mast on the top. 

 6). The road then turns left and downhill, but our way goes down a path to the left here, which is not signed and easy to miss.  The entrance can be overgrown and there is no sign so you may need to poke about a bit.

 As soon as you are on the path it becomes clear, descending gently. After about ten metres, come to a junction.  Turn right.  This is a lovely little path and, if the wind is in the right direction, you will not realise that you are right next to the A2.

 Immediately before you reach the A2 the path turns right and gradually broadens.  Again, this is very attractive if the noise is muted.  Reach an improbable bridge over the A2 and cross it.  Turn right on the cycle lane at the other side. There now follows about 700 metres that most people will find displeasing- although it can be considered an experience..  The track descends to the side of the hard shoulder of the motorway.  I’m not sure that there is another path that runs so near a hard shoulder, but there is a crash barrier between you and the traffic.

 

Thankfully, just after a gantry, the route descends some concrete steps and then heads down and away from the road.  We are back on a tranquil path and the noise gradually recedes. The path emerges from woodland and there is a field before you.  Do not enter the field but keep right by the metal fence to your left with hedgerows on your right.  The path climbs gradually and you can see on your left the huge quarry hole that will become Ebbsfleet New Town.

 Weirdly, there are video cameras watching you every few metres.  This may be to catch people who have come here to jump off into the quarry, although it would be very difficult indeed to climb over the metal fence. 

 The path turns sharp right by a modern building.  This is the Observatory, a forward post established by the developers from which they can plan the development.  The next part of the path can be narrow in places and overgrown in high summer.

 The path bears left and joins a road.

 An alternative route here can take you to Ebbsfleet Station. Turn sharp right on the road and walk down to a roundabout.  Take the second exit on the left, which leads into a car park. Walk diagonally across the car park, aiming for the distant buildings of the station.  At the far side exit the car park and come to a roundabout.  Walk towards the station which can now be clearly seen. Cross the road and enter the station. 

 To join the route from the station start at the west side of the main part of the station (the right as you come out of the ticket barriers.  If you arrived on platforms 5 or 6, which are in an annexe, you must first go to the main station and then walk out of the other end.  Turn left, cross the road and walk down the pedestrian and cycle path.  Come to a roundabout. Go straight ahead and then enter a car park on the right.  Walk diagonally across this to emerge at the other end of the car park by a roundabout.  Take the second exit on the right (no footpath, but large grass verge) and walk up the hill until you come to a footpath on the left of the road, which runs at a slightly lower level.  Join the path and continue walking in the same direction.

 7). The path crosses various entrances to the vast construction site for the new town and then turns sharply left away from the road up a wonderful woodland tunnel.  You would not think that there were houses on your right and a construction site on your left.  Finally, the path turns right and you arrive in the streets of Swanscombe.

Continue in the same direction.  Arrive at Swanscombe church and turn right into its grounds.  Note the memorial to the men of Kent and Kentish Men and their confrontation with William the Conquerer.  Pass to the left of the church and leave by the gate opposite the cemetery.  Cross the road and enter the cemetery.  Walk down the tarmac path ahead. The cemetery seems to have been laid out as an arboretum at some time and there are some interesting trees on the route.  About half way down the cemetery you will see the exit on your left.  Walk diagonally over to this, walking on grass and around graves.

 Leave the cemetery. Cross a small car park and bear left to reach the road. Turn right and then take the next left (Ames Road)  At the next junction bear right.  Come to a cross roads with shops.  Keep straight ahead  Come to a pub on your right and Swanscombe Leisure Centre on your left. Immediately after this follow a path to your left signposted “Swanscombe Heritage Park.

 8). Ahead of you is a large silver sculpture of a flint.

 To the left of this is a path which leads you to the heritage park of the Swanscombe Skull. See below.  You should certainly visit this if you have the time. A map of the diversion can be found at the start

 The main route is through the gate to the far right (to the right of a metal fence with metal sculptures of ivy.)  The path goes straight ahead and cross atmospheric Craylands Gorge.

 The gorge is the site of an old tramway to the chalk quarries.  It is an important site for wildlife, being home to many rare species including Sactopleurus Abutilon, a ground bug that was thought to be extinct before it was found here in 2001.  It says something about contemporary life that urban sites like this can be teeming with life whilst much of the countryside is species-poor because of modern farming methods.

 The route emerges at the road next to a park.  Enter the park and aim for the backs of the houses to the right of the park.  Walk along by the backs of the houses to the far right corner of the park where, in some rough ground, you will find a short footpath that takes you back to the road.

 Turn left at the road and walk down it past some rather distinguished Victorian houses to reach a T junction.  Turn left here and then right at the next T junction.  Walk towards a main road, with houses on your right and vegetation on your left.

 9).  Just before you reach the main road you will see Bean Road to your right.  Turn left here along the remains of what was once the continuation of Bean Road, now a track.  This track comes to an end and continues as a footpath, passing some bushes and then descending on a ledge to the main road. There is a steep section of about 0.5 metres at the end.

 You have joined a pedestrian and cycle way which runs parallel to the main road.  But our route does not follow this.  Instead it follows another pedestrian route that turns sharply right and follows a slip road under a flyover.  After the flyover you will see a wildflower meadow that has been planted on the bank on the right.  My mate Bob says that this is typical of modern development.  To gain environmental credentials developers plant native plants that are not native to the area.

  Turn left at a pedestrian crossing and cross the road. Now it is simply just a matter of following the pedestrian and cycle route as it snakes round and across various roads.  The crossings are protected by lights.

 Come to the edge of a pirate’s putting course.  Turn left following the signs to Marks and Spencer.  On your right you will see the entrance to the pirates’ recreation area, where you may care to finish your walk with a go on a pirate’s paddle boat.  You will also see the winter garden, which is a food court.

 The route passes all these and passes across the front of Marks and Spencer to regain the bus station.

 POINTS OF INTEREST

A). BLUEWATER SHOPPING CENTRE

 In 2014 this was the fourth largest out of town shopping centre in the United Kingdom and typical of its type.  It is built in the impressive environment of a disused chalk quarry and features a pirates adventure where would be pirates can practice on an 18 hole putting course, climbing wall and paddle boats.

 In May 2009, Bluewater introduced a code of conduct to ban swearing, clothing that obscures the face (including hoods and baseball caps), and groups of more than five without the intention to shop.  Notionally this could cause problems for groups of walkers, although it may only apply inside the buildings.  It would be interesting to see it policed outside.

 To satisfy the planners, various nods to the environment have been made, including the planting of meadows of non-native native wildflowers and a sedum roof on one building (which you can see as you climb out of the pit.)  More interesting are the wild flowers and plants (some of them rare) which have seeded themselves on the roadside on your climb up to Watling Street.

 B). WATLING STREET

 This is one of the most important ancient ways in Britain. As Wikepedia puts it: “Watling Street is the name given to an ancient trackway in England and Wales that was first used by the Britons mainly between the modern cities of Canterbury and St Alans The Romans later paved the route, part of which is identified on the Antoine Itinerary as Iter III: "Item a Londinio ad portum Dubris" – from London to the port of Dover. Its route is now covered by the A2 road from Dover to London, and the A5 road from London to Wroxeter

 The name derives from the Old English Wæcelinga Stræt. Originally the word "street" simply meant a paved road (from Latin: "via strata"), and did not have the modern English-language association with populated areas.”

 C). DARENTH WOOD

 Darenth Wood is a spectacularly beautiful wood, unfortunately bisected by the A2.  The woods are a grade 1 site of special scientific interest (SSSI)

 According to Dartford Council, who manage much of it in the public interest: “Darenth Woods is an area of approximately 300 acres of ancient coppiced woodland.

 The wood is a nationally important site for a number of semi-natural ancient woodland types which has been developed on the range of different soils associated with the area.

 The chalk soils at the base of the slopes support sessile oak and hornbeam coppice woodland, which occurring on chalk is very rare in Britain of which Darenth Woods is the largest example in North Kent.

 More acidic woodland occurs on the clay and sandy soils overlaying the chalk plateau, and this is an unusual example, containing a wide range of chalk-loving shrubs such as dogwood, wayfaring tree and midland hawthorn, which root into the chalk below the acidic surface soil.

 The insect fauna has been exceptionally well studied and the wood has long been famous as a site supporting many rarities. Many of these insects are associated with dead wood and include two nationally rare beetles living in dead or dying oak timber.

 Numerous bugs, beetles and moths associated with the more open conditions found along the edges of glades. About one quarter of the woodland is oak dominant high forest, which, judging from the density and uniform age in some areas may have been planted seventy to ninety years ago.

 Another important feature of the high forest in particular is standing and fallen dead timber, which is used by hole-nesting birds and a wide range of dead-wood insects and fungi.

The diversity of plant and animal life that we treasure in this woodland is, at least in part, the result of management over many generations.

 Much of Darenth Wood has been managed as coppice-with-standards, and it is this traditional management that has given rise to the broad-leaved woodland and glades that we see today.”

 You can read more about the importance of the wood and its species here

 The woods also contain a number of “deneholes” – ancient subterranean workings whose purpose is much debated.  More information here

 D). BEACON WOOD COUNTRY PARK

 This is the third delightful woodland on the walk, but it has a different history. It was formerly a clay pit, but since 1991 it has been a country park with a chequered history.  The site was originally leased from the owners by Kent County Council and laid out by Groundwork UK.  However funding cuts have meant that many of the original participants have pulled out and the future of the park is uncertain. 

 E). EBBSFLEET NEW TOWN

 This planned new town, in the old chalk quarry to the east of Bluewater, is planned to have a population of 40,000 but, by 2013, development had stalled.  In 2014 the government decided that development would be placed in the hands of a development corporation.  This often means that normal rules can be by-passed.  For example it is rumoured that no housing for rent at prices that ordinary people can afford will be required, maximising the number of houses and flats for sale, and therefore profits.  There have been suggestions that the site is a flood trap.  But it must also be said that it is one of the largest potential sites for new housing near London.

 F). EBBSFLEET INTERNATIONAL RAILWAY STATION

 A station on the high speed rail link (HS1).  It caused something of a scandal when built because a large number of Eurostar trains that had formerly stopped at Ashford now no longer did so.  The London to Paris high speed line has been notable for stations being built to appease local communities which get few or no trains.  Examples include Calais, Haut Picardie and now Ashford.  Eurostar refuses to stop trains at Stratford International at all.

 In order to justify subsidy to HS1 the government diverted a number of commuter trains from Kent on it.  These now reach London much quicker than before but commuters end up at St Pancras, which is some way from many work places.  Fares have also been hiked because the trains are faster.  Frequent trains run from London St Pancras, Stratford and stations in Kent.

 Unlike Bluewater, which has quite a few post-modern touches, the station is built in a strict modernist style which makes few concessions to human scale.  Getting to bus stops and car parks can be unpleasant in bad weather and, although nearby Northfleet station, on the ordinary lines, is only 400 metres away, there is no direct pedestrian link.

 G). CHURCH OF ST PETER AND ST PAUL, SWANSCOMBE

 According to the churches web site “Part of the main alter is the remains of a Saxon alter on which one can find some consecration crosses carved there by Saxon Bishops.

 The present building was built during the early English period of the 12th and 13th centuries with the first stones being laid in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066AD).

 The south wall of the tower is all that remains of the original Saxon church built around the year 1050. The tower may have been central. The south facing tower window is a fine example of late Saxon workmanship. The surrounding wall is built of Roman tile, probably taken from the rubble of a disused Roman building.”

 H). SWANSCOMBE 

At Swanscombe the heavily armed men of Kent and the Kentish men met William the conquerer on his way to London.  A monument in the churchyard recalls this meeting.  He agreed to honour their freedoms and traditions and they agreed not to fight him  They therefore called themselves undefeated and Kent County’s motto today “Invicta” recalls this.

 Although this is an ancient settlement( digs have revealed the remains of Danish settlements) Swanscombe was a working community based round the cement and similar trades in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The area was badly bombed in the 1939-45 war and there was a lot of redevelopment and new building.  However the old industries have all disappeared. Unemployment is about 25% above the national average.  House prices in Knockall Road, on the route, vary from about £160-230 thousand pounds, which makes it one of the more affordable areas of the London conurbation.

 I). THE SWANSCOMBE SKULL

 As the Swanscombe  Heritage site puts it “Swanscombe is famous across the world for its spectacular finds of Early Man. Flint tools dating back 400,000 years to the early Stone Age - the Palaeolithic - litter the buried landscape under the current town.

 Alongside the flint tools, are the remains of the animals which they had been used to kill, and then carve up.

 Swanscombe is one of only two sites in Britain where actual human remains of this very early period have been found.

 Incredibly, three different pieces of the same skull - the Swanscombe Skull - were found on separate occasions 1935, 1936 and 1955.”  The skull was 400,000 years old

 These pieces of skull are the second oldest remains found in Britain.

 The heritage park is in an old gravel working.  At trail to the sites leads off the walk route just after point 8.

J). DARENTH PARK HOSPITAL

An alternative start to the walk

 SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT WHY YOU MAY LIKE THIS WALK

 Lots of people like to go out walking in the country, perhaps seeking to capture a more picturesque world than the one they live in.  Some like to do short walk round their local area.  Others like to explore historic cities and their architecture and parks.  A few of us enjoy discovering the edge lands, bits of the land that have become marginal or random.  This walk is none of these things.

 It started out as a challenge – could I devise an interesting walk between Bluewater shopping centre and Ebbsfleet railway station, two places that seemed at first sight to be as walker-hostile as you could imagine. I envisaged a rambler trapped in Bluewater for some hours and wanting a way out.  I wanted to see if I could find it.  It became more than that.

 The walk is set in the exurbs, an area something between suburbia and the countryside.  It is a walk of huge contrasts which reflect modern life. There is great beauty and stunning hideousness.  There are places steeped in up to 400,000 years of history and there are places that try to have no history at all.  There are ancient roads still fulfilling their historic function, albeit much changed.  There are places that are completely changed their function, yet still bear the marks of their former use.  There is the continuity of ancient woodland and the rapid change of big 21st century developments and the sort of tranquil rural paths that many of us dream about within metres of massive motorways.

 I found myself asking a lot of questions. Perhaps you will too.  Here are some of the questions I asked: 

  • Which is better, the unplanned desire path out of Bluewater with its wildlife, flints and narrow path, or the planned route which is used for the return, with its planted wildflower meadows and traffic lights?

  • Which has a bigger impact on the environment, a motorway or a high speed rail line?

  • Why is it that many of the species rich environments in the walk are in urban areas or country parks, whereas the bits of farmed countryside we pass are species poor monocultures?

  • What will be the impact of increased spending cuts on the country parks and sites on this walk.  If they went, what would this environment be like?

  • Isn’t the mode of transport that we use to get to a walk as significant as the actual walk?

  • Is the change that you see on the walk good, bad, or just a fact of life?

  • Is a pirate’s paddle boat a travesty of history, a postmodern statement or just a piece of fun?

  • How do we preserve our heritage and does what we do paint a true picture, or is it just an illusion? Does this matter?

  • What is it like to live in Swanscombe?  What will it be like to live in Ebbsfleet New Town?

  • How often have I been on CCTV this walk?

  • Shall I buy some new trousers in Marks and Sparks when we get back?

 We often walk to escape. This is a walk that reminds us where we are.

 © Copyright Chris Smith except where otherwise stated and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence 

 Thanks to Bob Gilbert who accompanied me in researching the walk and was very patient when I lacked understanding of the wonders of the flora and fauna of the area and also to Bill Ripper of Dartford and Gravesham Ramblers who told me about Wood Lane in Darenth Wood and also gave me valuable local information.  However responsibility for mistakes is mine alone.