Discover

Located in north-west Kent, the Darent is a chalk river that runs from its source near Westerham on the Kent-Surrey border to its outlet into the Thames Estuary on the Dartford Marshes.

The river is a defining feature of the Darent Valley – among the loveliest in England – which is part of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Just 21 miles long, it rises from a line of springs that form where water soaking through the permeable Greensand meets the resistant Weald clay in the Greensand hills south of Westerham.

Flowing eastwards towards Sevenoaks, the river then turns north through a wide valley before joining the Thames.

It has a catchment of around 130 square miles, most of which is on permeable chalk. Rainwater across this area drains into the ground and is filtered through the chalk to collect in underground aquifers. These then supply crystal clear water into the river along its path.

Demand for water puts pressure on the river

The underground aquifers are also the source of much of the water used in homes and businesses in London and the South East. Development, changing climate and significant abstraction from the river’s water table has led the river flow to dwindle.

During periods of drought in the 1980s, parts of the river dried up completely and the Darent was identified as one of the 10 UK rivers most likely to disappear. 

The river has shaped the geography and history of the area over millennia.

It carved a dramatic valley through the chalk cliffs of the North Downs. It helped to attract the original settlers to the area thousands of years ago. It has created fertile land for farming, once provided transport into London, and powered as many as 30 mills along its length.

As the current guardians of the river, we need to safeguard its future and improve its condition for future generations.

Did you know?

Early inhabitants gave the river its name – Derva, the ‘oak river’.

This was enlarged by the Romans to Derventio, the ‘river of oak trees’.

What makes the Darent special?

Every river is special, but the Darent’s status as a chalk river marks it out further. Chalk streams – of which only around 200 exist – are unique to England and north-west Europe. They derive most of their flow from underground aquifers which, together with the chalk landscape, give these rivers a gentle quality with their own aesthetic and ecological characteristics.

Like many chalk rivers, the Darent faces a range of threats that are causing significant damage to the river and its precious habitat. As stewards of what is a globally scarce ecosystem, we have a responsibility to restore this unique river and the landscapes that support it to good ecological health.

Rivers are found all over the world, but chalk streams are very largely English. They should be our pride and joy.

Did you know?

The stable, cool, nutrient-rich waters allow an exceptionally high number of species to be supported – so much so that these habitats are sometimes described as ‘England’s rainforests’.

Planning a visit – Where to go?

Following the Darent on its journey through North Kent provides pleasures aplenty.

There are 14 lovely villages along the course of the Darent, not to mention a rich history of Roman remains, majestic viaducts, historic houses and old mills. Landscapes vary too – from riverside fringed with oaks and ancient willows to hop gardens and corn fields, as well as stretches of woodland, downland and marshland.

A great way to explore the river is via the Darent Valley Path. The formal path, shown by the dotted yellow line on the map below, is 19 miles and runs from either Chipstead or Sevenoaks to the Dartford Marshes where the river meets the Thames. One of our ambitions is to extend the footpath to start in the wooded Greensand Hills above Westerham and on through Brasted and Sundridge.

You don’t need to drive to the river. Stations at Dunton Green, Otford, Shoreham, Eynsford and Dartford are all within easy reach of the path and river.

We guarantee that wherever you go, you’ll find multiple attractions.

Popular visiting spots include:

Lullingstone:

The 460-acre Country Park, managed by Kent County Council, was historically part of the private estate of Lullingstone Castle. There is a visitor centre and car park, from where you can access the footpath running along the riverbank to Lullingstone Castle and the World Garden. The river is broad and shallow here, making it very popular for dogs and children.

Otford Village

A small bridge crosses the river at the north of the village, beyond the village car park and recreation ground. Turn right before the bridge and follow the river past houses and fields before it bends away and you continue along the path to Shoreham.

Shoreham Village

One of the best ways to enjoy this section of the river and its valley is through a walk described by local farmer (and DRiPS President) William Alexander. Click here to access more details, including written and audio guides.

Eynsford:

The village of Eynsford with its ford and wide grass riverbanks is a magnet for visitors on fine summer days.

Farningham:

Another beautiful village along the river route, Farningham is the gateway to what is one of the most picturesque stretches of the river. Join the footpath below the Lion Hotel and take a moment to puzzle over the purpose of the historic structure you pass. Probably built in the mid-eighteenth century, this ornamental folly resembles a bridge but has no means of crossing! The timber gates were put in place supposedly to stop inquisitive cattle from wandering downstream into the gardens of the manor house.

Horton Kirby:

Picnic areas and shallow banks attract children with nets and jam jars for river exploration in fine weather. Passing into the village from the river path, look back at the bubbling Westminster Weir, one of the structures that was restored as part of the Darent Action Plan.

Dartford:

Water is a feature of this busy town, from the Buccaneer Bay water play area in Central Park to Brooklands Lakes, a 17-acre gravel pit complex with accessible fishing spots. The river weaves its way through the park – and has benefited from recent restoration work by South East Rivers Trust.

Wherever you choose to go, share photos of your visit by tagging us on your Facebook posts or sending images for us to share on Facebook or in our photo gallery.

Community information

Reporting pollution

If you see evidence of pollution please contact the Environment Agency 24 Hour Incident Line on 0800 807 060 as soon as possible. Please also let us know (email) – quoting the EA incident Number so we can monitor such events.

The river runs through or near my property – what are my responsibilities?

You normally own a stretch of watercourse that runs on or under your land or is on the boundary of your land, up to its centre. The deeds for your property or land will tell you if this is the case. You have responsibilities for the stretch of watercourse that you own, which include reporting incidents, letting the water flow naturally, preventing pollution, and protecting wildlife. For more information about rules to follow and permissions required, click here.

I am worried about flood risk

To check the long-term flood risk for your area, click here. Sign up to get flood warnings if your home or business is at risk of flooding here or call 0345 988 1188. Advice on what to do if you are about to be flooded is available here.

Find out if your local community has a flood warden  (via your parish council). These volunteers are trained to help and prepare people who are at risk of flooding and play an important role in preparing a community plan and putting it into practice.

I am concerned the river levels are low, what can I do?

Water levels may reduce during periods of dry weather which is why we are so concerned to limit abstraction rates to keep the river at what are considered to be ecologically acceptable levels.

Flora and fauna in and around the river suffer at such times and when there is very low flow, fish may get trapped or start to suffer. If you see this happening please contact the Environment Agency 24 Hour Incident Line on 0800 807 060 as soon as possible. Afterwards please also let us know so we can monitor such events.

I’ve seen dead fish or fish in distress. What should I do?

If you see more than one dead fish in the river, or fish gasping for air, it may be as a result of a pollution incident so please see if you can see any other signs of pollution. If you think there may have been a pollution incident, please call the Environment Agency 24 Hour Incident Line on 0800 807 060

Information for anglers

Through the questions below, DRiPS Committee members and passionate anglers Steve Crowley and Trevor Carman provide an introduction to fishing on the Darent. It’s a nice river to try out, and a good environment to teach children some river craft and how to fish a river. Lessons learned here can be taken to other more challenging chalk streams.
Tight lines!
What can you expect?

The Darent is only a small stream. It suffers from low flows and has at times dried out, but nature has recovered (along with the fishing) in places.

I’ve never heard of barbel being caught, or bleak, but here’s a general list based on what I know – fish caught by anglers and those I recall being found on Environment Agency  surveys. I don’t claim it as being comprehensive – and no doubt someone will know of a sea-trout in a net!

  • Bream (rare though I know of one caught from the lock in the tidal river and I have seen one of maybe two pounds in one pool);
  • Carp (rare);
  • Chub (common);
  • Dace (common);
  • Eel (not often caught, but present);
  • Gudgeon (common);
  • Grayling (many years ago, and rare even then);
  • Minnow (abundant);
  • Perch (common);
  • Pike (occasional, in deeper areas);
  • Roach (occasional);
  • Rudd (very rare);
  • Tench (occasional, in deeper pools);
  • Trout (common in the private reaches, occasional elsewhere. Brown and Rainbow).

Stone Loach and Miller’s Thumbs (also known as Bullhead)  exist, but are not something one would expect to catch. I’ve never seen a Stickleback.

Where can I fish?

Unfortunately for the coarse angler, the best stretches of river run through private land and are controlled by fishing syndicates and angling societies. Long gone are the days when you could wade with bait apron and float rod at Westminster Fields or stand on the bridge at South Darenth and hope for a good chub or specimen perch.

Even so the limited public access points where fishing is free can still produce the odd gem – but you will need to discover these fore yourself! The river is best fished when it is carrying a tinge of colour. A roving approach will work best. To get the best from your day, it will pay to walk the river during normal conditions and make a note of the deeper holes, and not be too worried if you don’t see any fish – they miraculously appear when the water is coloured. For the best chance of spotting fish in the river, approach the river slowly, quietly and as unobtrusively as possible, crouching down. Polaroids are not always needed.

With limited swims, there is concern about over-fishing and the river is unfortunately subject to poaching. You must follow national and local rules when freshwater fishing with a rod and line, which are aimed at protecting fish stocks. You must also have a rod licence if you are aged 13 or older. Full details are available here. All fish caught from the river should of course be returned alive and as soon as possible.

The river flows through and alongside several gravel pits, some of which are stocked and owned by private companies and angling societies. Day passes and membership can be organised via their websites (links in the section below).

 

What should I take?

The river is not really suited to bivvy fishing. Ideally you just need a light rod, simple reel, small tackle bag, bait box of corn, a few worms, slices of soft bread or something similar.

Method-wise,  freelining or float fishing, or a light link-leger, maybe a fly or lure in places, is all that is needed. Lightweight and simple, suited to roving fishing. It’s only shallow, so no need to wade.

There are minnows a-plenty so I’d avoid maggots, but even so, whatever the bait, you’ll find them nibbling at it.

Most importantly, it’s a pretty river and a nice place to visit with rod in hand so please do not abuse it. There is no excuse for litter being left behind.

Quick links to local angling organisations

For coarse fishing on the river and in nearby lakes and gravel pits, look at:

Game fishing is possible with smaller clubs and syndicates. Typically membership of these is restricted and there may be long waiting lists.

 

History

The history of the Darent tells the story of our area. The width of the valley suggests that the earliest phase of the Darent – the proto Darent – involved a lot of water.

If we look back some 400,000 years, archaeological finds indicate the presence of fantastic beasts such as great woolly mammoths and woolly rhinoceros, giant hippopotami and straight-tusked elephants.

During the Stone Age, nomadic tribes who were the earliest of our hominid ancestors came to the broad River Darent to hunt and fish.

It was millennia later, after the Ice Ages, that a new wave of human visitors arrived. These were the hunters called Mesolithic Man who left many of their simple tools behind. Then came the settlers, the farming Bronze Age Beaker people who had already migrated across Europe from the Rhineland. Next, we had the Iron Age Cantiaci tribe who built great hill forts at Oldbury and Westerham and farmed in small communities along the river.

In AD43, the Romans invaded and settled in our valley for 400 years. The rich and fertile land beside the Darent had a protective oak forest running along its slopes, so it was hardly surprising that it became one of the most popular locations for homes – including villas at Darenth, Lullingstone and Otford. The Romans used the river to transport their grain to the Thames and it is said that the river was navigable in flat-bottomed boats as far upstream as Lullingstone.

In the aftermath of the Romans, settled communities evolved into riverside villages, all of which stand today. By 1086, the Domesday Book recorded 30 water mills grinding flour on the Darent and another 11 along the Cray.

As time went by, mills were developed for uses beyond corn. During the reign of Elizabeth I, an Austrian identified the river’s clear chalk waters as being ideal for a new process that had just emerged in Europe. And so it was that the first paper mill in England was set up just south of Dartford, sparking an industrial revolution for our river. For the next 300 years the clear, chalk waters of the Darent were inseparably linked with paper-making in England.

The mill at Darenth, renowned for the quality of its fine paper, supplied the Royal Mint with paper for the nation’s banknotes.

Industrialisation also brought mills manufacturing nails, gunpowder, medicines and more to the shores of the river. At its height, the 22-mile length of the Darent supported 28 working mills.

Today, the water flow through the Darent is barely sufficient to maintain the ecological health of the river, let alone power local industries. Its decline has been precipitated by the growing thirst for water by people and businesses in Kent and London.

Fascinating facts

Can you see a high-water mark on the far side of the bridge at Eynsford?
It indicates the height to which the miller was allowed to dam the water to power his mill. He held the water back at the bridge and controlled its release to drive his mill wheel. If the water raised above the mark, he was fined a penny by the parish council!

The bridge at Shoreham doesn’t actually cross the Darent at all. It crosses what is known as a leat stream which leads down to the mill. The original river, now reduced to a small brook (and known locally as ‘the drain’), is found just beyond the Kings Arms pub.

Leat streams are the key to why our river charts such an erratic course. They were dug to provide sufficient water to power breast-shot wheels for mills. The leat was built by the miller about a mile upstream from the mill enabling a water level to be maintained that was a good couple of metres higher than the nearby river flow. The resulting drop as the water returned to the main river could power a 5m diameter wheel – sometimes two. Some of these leat streams have since been adapted to carry the main flow of the river.

The abundant fish in the river supported a bouyant trade in weekend anglers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact, in 1818, Mr Colyer, the owner of Farningham Mill, caught a 9lb trout in his mill stream! A life-size replica stood until quite recently as the weather-vane above his mill.

It was not just anglers who were attracted to the area. In the early 1900s, Farningham’s Lion Hotel became so popular as the weekend retreat of many actors and literati, the village was crowded with barouches, broughams and hackneys. It even developed its own point-to-point.

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