The River Cray rises in Orpington, making its way across SE London before joining the River Darent near Dartford, and then the Thames. The river’s waters, filtered by chalk, run clear until they reach Crayford Creek, where silty tides rise and retreat each day.
We started this walk from Dartford rail station, following Victoria Road as far as Sandpit Road, which leads into an industrial estate. At the end of Sandpit Road, the aroma of a small sewage treatment works provides an aromatic welcome to a fenced footpath. The path is bordered on one side by a large Asda depot, and on the other by wet grazing pasture, home to edgeland ponies.
Deptford Creek & dirt bikes
This path ends with a steep scramble up to the banks of Dartford Creek. Here, a concrete structure reveals the presence of the West Kent Main Sewer, which dips below the Creek before continuing to Longreach Sewage Treatment Works, next to the Thames. During heavy rainfall, the sewage can back up and overflow here, spilling into the tidal waterway. We visited on a dry day.
The embankment path follows the Creek north, towards the busy bridge of the A206. This is dirt biker country, where locked gates are seldom a barrier to illegal access. The noise is disruptive, but the bikers are usually friendly.
Crayford Creek meets Dartford Creek, offering views across the Dartford Marshes.
Following the raised bank of Crayford Creek, the path traces a low, wet landscape before encountering recycling and haulage works. Amid the industry, a beautiful Thames sailing barge is moored. The Decima was launched in 1899, taking her last cargo in 1977. For the last few years, her owner has made a home in this unique location.
This is the limit of the tides. A weir separates Crayford Creek from the Cray itself. Above the weir, an extensive mill pond once stored the water to power mills here, with mills recorded as far back as the 1600s. The ruined bulk of an old flour mill still stands, visible but off limits. It was still operating into the 1980s, although no longer powered by the Cray.
The River Cray
The path crosses Thames Road and continues to follow the Cray. There is a noticeable slope down to the scrub and marshland below the path. This embankment once held back a considerable body of water, feeding the mills, and shown on old maps.
At Maiden Lane, the path leaves the river and follows Barnes Cray Road before dipping back towards the Cray. The river passes between back gardens and an industrial estate, and into the heart of Crayford. After Cray Gardens, access is again lost. Following London Road and then Bourne Road, the path returns to the river across the playing fields.
Hall Place Gardens
The river becomes more sinuous, its tree-lined course flowing between recreation fields. At Hall Place, the path is again diverted, but the river can be accessed from Hall Place Gardens. Access is free to all and recommended; the gardens are beautiful and worth exploring.
The Queen’s Beasts at Hall Place. These cuddly, Moomin-like characters are heraldic topiary, dating back to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. They represent ten huge, fierce beasts, but time has softened their bite.
At Hall Place a path heads south, following the line of the Gardens, before apparently crossing the railway line, below the A2. We didn’t find this crossing, and there’s no way to cross the busy main road. Retreating, we took the A223 into Bexley, returning to the river at the old Mill. Here, looking down into the clear waters, we watched a young pike, perhaps 35cm long, waiting in an eddy for smaller prey to pass by.
Aiming to catch a train back to London from Bexley, we had time to kill, so ventured a little further. We took the path below the railway tracks and past the cricket club to a wilder horizon of rough grassland.
We finished our walk here, but a good path continues alongside the river to Foots Cray. Beyond, access gets trickier in places, but the river can be roughly followed as far as Orpington, birthplace of the River Cray.
Thank you to Kirsten D for company on this walk.
Oyster cards can be used at both Dartford and Bexley railway stations.
Exploring Dartford and Crayford Creeks by kayak on the Canoe London website