Meadows. I have always loved the word meadows. One of the Oxford Dictionary’s definitions is ‘a piece of low ground near a river’. That doesn’t quite do justice to Footscray Meadows but it is accurate. However it really is so much more.
I have often driven past signs to Footscray Meadows but never ventured closer. It is sandwiched between many of the large A roads of Kent including the A2 and A20 and doesn’t naturally look like the ideal destination for a wee trip with the kids. But look beyond the great carriageways of Kent, and you will find a little bit of rural tranquility!
We parked near the old stable block off Rectory Lane and venture cross country over Footscray Lawns, past Lime Avenue and towards North Cray Meadows in pursuit of the beautiful 5 Arches Bridge and the River Cray. The views do not disappoint. The meadows were originally part of the Footscray Place estate, and during the 18th century the Five Arches bridge was built. Whilst the house was destroyed in the 1940s, you can imagine that house with such impressive surroundings would have been a sight to behold. In fact on doing some research, I found this old picture below. Such a shame that these places have been lost to the archives. This manor house was built in c.1750s in the style of houses such as Syon Park and Stourhead. The estate has a link to key historic events too. It used to be the property of the Walsingham family, the most famous of whom (Francis) with his team of spies uncovered the Babington Plot in 1585 which scuppered the plans of Mary, Queen of Scots and retained Queen Elizabeth I on the throne and in turn led to the execution of Mary.
The boys are keen to show their two little girlfriends the river and we find a perfect spot on the river with a bench and another family enjoying the area with their dogs. The dogs joyously paddle through the river with their owners and the kids look on enviously as they swim furiously past. We spend about half an hour discovering our little area of the river – seeking out good stones to throw, doing some fake fishing from the bank and watching the world go by. Some people were choosing to paddle in the river but having been in touch with the River Cray Project Officer, they would recommend against this due to the risk of pollution, potential illness and injury. All that said, it makes for a great afternoon out before venturing further on to the play ground which had been much talked about. I hoped it wouldn’t disappoint.
Another 10 minutes further along the River Cray, we are at the playground. Whilst it isn’t at the standard of say Swanley or Danson Park, it is enough to keep the kids occupied. They had the normal stock of swings, climbing frame and see-saw but also a large tyre swing, rope spider web cum slide and my kids favourite, the zip wire. Kids playgrounds really have moved on since I was a kid!
At this point, the kids were shattered (they’d been up late the night before at a BBQ), so the Dads return swiftly to the car park to drive round and pick us up. This gave the kids 25 minutes of play time in the park and the Mums time to rest up on the many benches surrounding the park.
Footscray Meadows is a lovely peaceful setting along the River Cray. It is not on the scale of High Elms or some other country parks but this delivers something different. It is more sweeping, open and the lovely shallow river makes great child friendly entertainment! Apparently there is another bridge known as the Penny Farthing bridge so we will be returning to find this. We did one small section and with livelier kids we may well have done more.
There are many paths around Footscray but we found that even going cross country it was still buggy friendly. To find out more about Footscray Meadows, visit the Friends of Footcray Meadows website.
So you can fully understand the route we took, take a look at the Footscray Map. These maps are well scattered across the park also.
And for more on the history of Footscray, check out the Bexley website
For directions and details of where to park, try visiting this page.
Written by Tamsyn Clark
Photographs by Mark Grover