Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spa Valley Railway

In little more than a few hours, the first steam train since 1966, in fact the first train of any description since 1985, will run from Tunbridge Wells West in Kent via Groombridge to Eridge in Sussex.

Following many years of dedicated hard work and despite limited funds, the heritage Spa Valley Railway has re-opened the line from Groombridge to Eridge.

We visited the railway in 2009 and had an enjoyable day out although the line at that time only ran as far as Groombridge.

Tunbridge Wells West station originally opened in 1866 by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway is the headquarters for the Spa Valley Railway and location for their engine shed and workshops.

They maintain a mixed fleet of heritage steam and diesel locomotives. Engines such as the GWR liveried Pannier tank locomotive 7715 pictured above are also sometimes loaned or hired in from other heritage railways.

7715 was built in Stoke on Trent in 1930 and spent most of her early working life in Cornwall hauling china clay wagons. In 1963 she was sold to London Transport and in 1970 went for preservation.

The Lady Ingrid was built in Kilmarnock in 1951 for the South of Scotland Electricity Board and spent many years working at the Braehead Power Station before going into preservation. She is currently out of service awaiting boiler repairs.

33063 R J Mitchell, named after the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire, is an example of the more modern diesel engines at the railway. She was one of 98 British Railways Class 33 locomotives built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co between 1960 and 1962.

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

My Darent Valley Walk Part 4 - Farningham to Darenth

Regular readers of this blog will know that over the last few months I have been walking the Darent Valley Path in stages.

The Darent Valley Path runs from the Thames at Dartford to Riverhead and Chipstead (nr Sevenoaks).

For reasons unknown, I actually started my first part of the walk from Farningham which is about half way along! (see my Darent Valley Walk Part 1). This post will cover the walk I did from Farningham via Horton Kirby to Darenth (in the direction of Dartford).

My walk started from the Lion Hotel at Farningham. It was originally built in the 16th century but much modified in the early 1800's. The River Darent flows through the hotel grounds.

Straddling the river opposite the hotel is an ornamental screen which dates to the 1700's. It is thought that this screen may have been used as some kind of cattle trap.

The path closely follows the river under the busy A20 and M20 main trunk roads which transverse the valley and on, into thankfully more peaceful, open fields.

On the outskirts of the next village Horton Kirby, partly obscured by trees, is Franks Hall, a grade 1 listed building.

The Hall was built in 1591 by Lancelot Bathurst and replaced an earlier building erected in 1220 on the other bank of the river. The Hall is now used as offices by a publishing company and as a wedding venue.
A short distance from Franks Hall the path crosses the bridge at Franks Lane. The bridge was built in 1794. At this point the river starts to get wider and considerably faster flowing. The path veers slightly away from the river across open meadows eventually coming to a weir adjacent to the former Westminster Mill which has now been demolished and replaced with riverside apartments.
The first mill on the site constructed in the 18th century used a water wheel to grind corn. The mill remained operational until 1908 when it was hit by lightning and burnt down.
A replacement building on the site was used as a shoe lace factory. This closed down in 1991 and the site was derelict for many years.

The village sign depicting...
At the bottom - the River Darent (once renowned for it's abundance of trout) and reels of paper once manufactured at the Horton Kirby Paper Mills.
In the centre - the village church flanked by hops which are still grown in the village to this day.
At the top - the railway viaduct built in the 1860's and still in daily service and the imposing paper mill chimney that dominates the village skyline.

Instead of following the Darent Valley Path along the river to the railway viaduct mentioned above, I decided to follow Horton road to the village church, St Mary the Virgin, where another public footpath skirts the edge of the hop fields, crossing through farmland until it transects the London to Dover railway line.

The line runs through a very deep cutting. Amazing to think this was constructed by an army of Irish navvies in the late 1850's mainly by hand.

The footpath crosses some fine countryside and orchards before emerging on Darenth Hill at Court Lodge Farm close to the ancient St Margarets Church (of which I will write more in a future post).

Alongside the road is another fine memorial erected by the Shoreham Aircraft Museum as part of their ongoing work to honour all the Battle of Britain pilots who made the ultimate sacrifice in this part of Kent.

This one is dedicated to volunteer South African Hurricane pilot Nathaniel John Merriman Barry of RAF 501 Squadron who died on 7th October 1940 after a dog fight with German Me 109's.

The aircraft museum is well worth a visit but remember to check their web site for opening times.

Well all that remains now is to cover the last sector of the Darent Valley Path from Darenth through to the Thames at Dartford. Will have to see when I can fit that one in.

UPDATE - for Part 5 of My Darent Valley Walk please see here

In the meantime, if you have any comments, they are always very welcome.

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