….and down the Darent. That was the plan. As part of my scheme to ride to the source of all the rivers entering the Thames along its passage through London, I thought I would start at Deptford and finish at Dartford; going up one river and down another. I had already reccied both the Darent and the Ravensbourne so all I needed to do was stitch them together at the top. Surely not asking too much?
Getting to Deptford Creek, and the start of the Ravensbourne turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined. After getting the Overground to Rotherhithe, I proceeded to set off confidently in the wrong direction. It was one of the occasions when my GPS was sending me one way, and my internal sense of direction was sending me another. In the the end, my internal compass won the day. I’d loaded the wrong route and was heading in the direction of home. For some reason that set the tone for the day.
I eventually found the right route on my GPS and started my ‘ascent’ up the River Ravensbourne, a vertical ascent of 163 meters over 25 km’s (17 as the river flows). Having discovered it’s delight on a previous reccy (but on that occasion descending it), this time around there was no surprises, the wind was against me, and it was cold. My normal cycling exuberance was a little ….flat. Once past Bromley and on to the off-road sections, I realised that I should have paid more heed to the fact that it had been raining a lot in the previous days. The going was soggy, with a few unrideable sections. Nearing the top of Keston Common, I came across an information board, which previous to my blog, I would have ignored. It pointed out a large house through the trees called Ravensbourne Lodge, built in 1861, and owned, amongst others, by the Tate and Lyle family who built labs and hot houses and grew sugar-cane in the grounds of the house. Tate and Lyle reminded me of my first trip east along the Thames, 6 months ago. I like it when I can make a link! In 1967 the entire estate was bought by a Seismic Exploration Company called Seismograph Service Ltd, which although has long since been taken over, I remember from my early days in the Oil Industry. Two links from one information board!
As I past the last of the Keston ponds and Ceasars spring (the font of the Ravensbourne), I was at last back on new territory and getting my mojo back. Before I knew it, I was reading another information board, this time telling me about a conversation between William Wilberforce & the ‘then’ Prime Minister, Mr Pitt (in 1788), and it was here that Willberforce mentioned to Pitt his intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave trade. The path looked over the vale of Keston, and the conversation took place under an old oak tree, which has been replaced by a ‘sturdy sapling’. No links here, but I am constantly surprised by the number of information boards I come across, even in the back of beyond.
The path swooped down a little scarp into the valley and along the road to the village of Downe which is where Charles Darwin & Nigel Farage lived for many years. Not together of course, or at the same time, but I couldn’t help wondering what they would have made of one another? Apparently Charles Darwin suffered terribly (probably stress related) with his digestion, and I suddenly found myself wondering whether Nigel suffered with similar complaints from his pint drinking habits. I’ve given up trying to control the nonsense that passes through my head! I passed Orchis Bank where Darwin studied Orchid pollination and later published his book, Fertilisation of Orchids and experts believe this inspired his final paragraph in the Origin of Species: ” It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us …. and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
So much culture, but I found it very difficult to ‘contemplate an entangled bank’ and cycle up it at the same time. The gradients on some of the off-road sections where just too steep and rutted to ride, and I was forced to get off, which I always see as defeat. The final blow was finding a section of path blocked by a land-owner who would rather not have the inconvenience of people passing his property. By this stage I was massively behind schedule and rather than try to find a pleasant alternative I just stuck to the larger roads.
I entered the Darent valley along a chalk escarpment to the west of Shoreham, which again proved a tricky ride and actually upending me on a steeper section. Luckily for my ego, no-one was around to witness such a rarity! With bits of chalk and clay stuck to my left thigh I continued on to the Lullingstone park visitors centre, where I burnt the roof of my mouth on the last remains of their (very salty) soup of the day. Sometimes things just stack up against me!
The sun came out at Eynsford, and although there wasn’t many daylight hours left to enjoy it, it turned out to be a sign of better things to come. I made quick progress down the Darent valley and was keen to finish the ride by exploring an alternative route into Dartford as my last attempt was far from enjoyable. My planned route used the Darent Valley Path, which I picked up in the village of Darenth, at end of the Chequers Pub road. After 300 metres I was on a firm rideable path next to the Darent, rolling under the M25 and from here on (apart from a short section of A225), the path took me right into the centre of Dartford. It was a ride less ordinary; a quiet forgotten track past everything from the willow-banked river Darent to derelict mills and the local Industrial estate, ending in the Central Park Gardens. As I pootled through the park back to the station, my path took me under a bridge which was playing one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (!). Apparently it’s meant to discourage bad behavior. It seemed to aptly round off my day of unexpected cultural encounters, and made me think that perhaps the world wasn’t against me, after all.