Spotlight on: Gravesend and Dartford
PUBLISHED: 07:19 21 September 2014 | UPDATED: 07:19 21 September 2014
Superb shopping at Bluewater, excellent rail links to Europe and London, a rich river heritage and an AONB all add to the appeal of this vibrant part of Kent
1Down by the river
Gravesend’s Town Pier is the oldest cast-iron pier in the world, and is occupied by Riva Waterside Restaurant and Bar (01474 364694, DA11 0BJ). Beside it is Elizabeth Gardens and the Gravesend Passenger Ferry; here you can get a ferry across to Tilbury, where there are the docks and Tilbury Fort. If you follow the road alongside the river you’ll come to St Andrew’s Gardens, St Andrew’s Art Centre and peaceful Anchor Cove, and you’ll eventually reach Royal Terrace Pier.
Beyond Gravesend’s Royal Terrace
Pier is the Riverside Leisure Area, a scenic expanse encompassing Riverside Walkways and Fort Gardens, Gordon Gardens and the New Tavern Fort, the remains of an 18th-century fort that was rebuilt by General Gordon. It has a large underground magazine complex, re-armed in 1904, and guns representing that era on display. Don’t miss Chantry Heritage Centre in ancient Milton Chantry (closed in October).
3Native American Princess
St George’s church was built in 1731 and has a beautiful spire and clock and fine stone corner quoining. This is where the Native American Princess Pocahontas is buried and there is a bronze statue of her in the churchyard, a gift from the State of Virginia. Inside the church there is more memorabilia about Pocahontas, including fine stained-glass windows donated by the Society of Colonial Dames of America.
4Shopping in Gravesend
Halfway between the lower-lying part of town beside the river and the town, which is built on higher ground, is the convenient Towncentric Visitor and Information Centre (01474 337600, DA11 0TB). The town centre is pedestrianised and there are two main shopping centres: St George’s Shopping centre and the Thamesgate Centre. In all there are more than 250 shops of all sizes, many independents and chain stores, plus Gravesend Market.
5The wonder of Bluewater
Set in a valley among high chalk cliffs, this is a massive and exciting shopping complex, formed as a triangle, with anchor stores John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser at each corner, these connected by shop-packed malls, with everything on two storeys. There’s also a cinema, boating lake, parkland and trees. There are more than 330 stores, plenty related to fashion, many restaurants and three distinct enclaves of shops, described as leisure ‘villages.’ With 13,000 free parking spaces, it’s a motorist’s heaven.
6Motor racing heaven
Brands Hatch (01474 872331, DA3 8NG) is one of the world’s favourite racing circuits, due to its combination of dips, cambers and corners. There are two layouts: the shorter ‘Indy’ located within a natural amphitheatre, offering spectators good views of the action from wherever they watch, while the longer Grand Prix layout has been used for Formula One racing. Race meetings are held on most weekends during the motorsport season.
Dartford’s historic town centre is comprised of Spital Street, High Street and Market Street, with One Bell Corner notable for the large public millennium mural depicting the town’s industrial heritage. Ancient Holy Trinity Church has a 1485 wall painting of St George and the Dragon and Dartford is proud of its grand library and museum building (01322 224739, DA1 1EU), housing around 20,000 items.
8Wide open spaces
Central Park (DA1 1EU) is one of the best country parks in the south east, with formal gardens, ornamental displays and a skatepark, while Dartford Heath (DA1 2TN) has been designated as an area of Local Landscape Importance and a Site of Nature Conservation Interest. Dartford also has Hesketh Park (DA1 1QA) and Darenth Country park (DA2 6LZ), which has footpaths, cycle ways and bridle paths.
Fairfield Pool and Leisure Centre (01322 224400, DA1 1JB) has a pool, squash courts, saunas and crèche, while the impressive Princes Park Stadium is home to both the prestigious Dartford Football Club and Princes Golf Course (01322 299991, DA1 1RT.) In Gravesend, Cascades Leisure Centre (01474 337471, DA12 4LG) has a pool, a sports hall and many other facilities.
10Food and drink
Fine restaurants include the historic Three Daws (01474 566869, DA11 0BJ), Bloomers Restaurant (at the Overcliffe Hotel) (01474 322131, DA11 0EF), Woodlands Restaurant (01474 533556, DA11 7LF), the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel (01322 224415, DA1 1DU) and The Leather Bottle (01474 814327, DA12 3BZ) (Cobham). Good pubs: The Ship Inn (01474 814326, DA12 3BN) (Cobham), the Ship and Lobster (01474 324571, DA12 2QB), The Malt Shovel (01322 224381, DA1 1LP) and The Paper Moon (01322 281127, DA1 1DS). Or choose the country house restaurant, hotel and spa at Rowhill Grange (01322 615136, DA2 7QH).