10 reasons to visit Dartford and Gravesend
- Credit: Archant
With a rich riverside heritage, family attractions, a famous shopping centre and a new community under construction at Ebbsfleet, this area of north Kent is well worth a second look. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque
1. World-class shopping
For 17 years now, Bluewater has been one of the country’s leading shopping destinations. Set in a former chalk quarry east of Dartford, with easy access from the M25, A2 and M20, it’s home to 330 stores and 50 restaurants and has enough parking space for more than 13,000 vehicles. There are anchor stores of John Lewis, House of Fraser and Marks and Spencer and there’s everything from women’s fashion to toyshops and homeware. But that’s not all. Its leisure offerings include an impressive Showcase Cinema De Lux - which is set to expand its 13 auditoriums later this year with another four - as well as a Pirate Cove adventure park with crazy golf and a Young Driver centre.
2. Green and pleasant
The Gravesham area is blessed with some fantastic green spaces. Shorne Woods Country Park near Gravesend is an enormous 300-acre site, once part of the pleasure grounds of the Cobham Hall Estate. One of the most popular in the county, it has a superb children’s play area, several trails, a café and visitor centre. Nearby Cobham Heritage Park comprises the peaceful Cobham Woods, with parking available at Shorne Woods or Lodge Lane. Others to try include Beacon Wood Country Park in Bean and Darenth Country Park. There’s also Dartford Heath and Northfleet Urban Country Park.
3. Cycle centre
If you have a family of keen cyclists, then Cyclopark is the place for you. A purpose-built cycling park offering a range of facilities for children learning to ride their first bikes, keen mountain bikers and even BMX adrenaline junkies, it’s set on ground reclaimed during the re-routing of the A2. You’ll also find a skate park, an under-eights scooter park and a children’s play area, plus bike shop, equipment hire and a café. Visit www.cyclopark.com
4. Holy temple
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Gravesend’s gurdwara is a place of worship for people from the local Sikh community. Thought to be one of the biggest gurdwaras in the country, and possibly one of the largest outside India, the impressive Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara was built in 2010 and has space for up to 1,200 worshippers. Open to all, respectful visitors are welcome to look inside on quiet days, if they abide by the rules by covering their heads and removing shoes.
5. Dickens lived here
Charles Dickens loved this area so much that he and his wife Catherine honeymooned in Chalk, just outside Gravesend. Having visited often throughout his life, he eventually bought a property in nearby Higham in 1856. Gad’s Hill Place was a house he’d admired since his childhood and it was where he worked on many of his successful later books, including A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. He died there in 1870. Gad’s Hill is now an independent girls’ school but regular open days are held each year. Visit www.visitgravesend.co.uk for information
6. Going underground
For a peek into something truly unusual, visit Gravesend’s Woodlands Park. The unassuming park houses a secret underground bunker dating back to the Cold War. A civil defence command post built in 1954, the 13-room bunker would have been the local command centre in the event of a nuclear war. Over the years it has been refurbished and authentically staged with a communication room, fallout room and a radiation monitoring post. You can even see the shell of a genuine nuclear bomb. Visit www.visitgravesend.co.uk for details
7. Remembering Pocahontas
Last month marked 400 years since Pocahontas was buried at Gravesend’s St George’s Church. The Native American noblewoman who married an invading Englishman, she was the toast of London society during her visit from Virginia and even socialized with King James and Queen Anne. But tragically, as they set sail to return to America in 1617, she became ill and was brought ashore at Gravesend to die aged just 22. Two of the church’s stained glass windows are dedicated to her memory and an iconic, life-size bronze statue of her in her Native American dress stands proudly outside.
8. Take in a show
The Woodville in Gravesend is a large arts complex with two theatres, an art gallery and a cinema - named after award-winning director Paul Greengrass who went to school in the town. Highlights in April include Legally Blonde: The Musical (1&2 April), The Searchers (21 April) and Elvis - Las Vegas 1969 (28&29 April). Visit www.woodville.seatlive.com for tickets. Seating nearly 1,000, Dartford’s Orchard Theatre hosts a wide range of events and a popular annual pantomime. Among the shows on offer this April are Russell Brand (9 April), Dick and Dom Live (17 April) and Shakin’ Stevens (19 April). Visit www.orchardtheatre.co.uk for tickets. And Dartford also boasts an excellent live music venue in the form of The Mick Jagger Centre. Named in honour of the town’s most famous musical hero, the venue is part of the Dartford Grammar School site and hosts all sorts of jazz, folk, rock and pop live shows. Visit www.themickjaggercentre.com
9. Riverside path
The Darent Valley Path is a 19-mile route which runs from the banks of the Rover Thames at Dartford along the route of the River Darent towards Sevenoaks. A waymarked walk through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty described as one of Kent’s greatest hidden treasures, it leads from the Dartford marshes just north of the town through a range of landscapes including riverside, woodland, downland and marshland. Following the path of the river through Dartford, Farningham, Eynsford, Shoreham and Otford, it ends at either Chipstead or Sevenoaks railway station. Visit www.explorekent.org for the route
10. National treasure
One of the National Trust’s more modest properties, Owletts in Cobham is a fine example of a red brick Kentish Yeoman’s house. Built for successful farmers Bonham and Elizabeth Hayes, part of the interior dates to 1684 and includes particularly ornate original plasterwork on the ceiling above the main staircase. In 1862 the renowned architect Sir Herbert Baker was born at the house and made numerous alterations over the years. With a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll and a recent refurbishment, the property is open on Sundays between April and September each year. And while you’re there you can visit the Trust’s other nearby attraction, Cobham Woods. Explore its restored 18th century mausoleum and enjoy a walk through pristine woodland. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk