Article by Ruth Bloomfield
From medieval pilgrims making the long march from London to Canterbury, to modern buyers looking for good-value new homes and an easy commute back to the capital, the medieval town of Dartford in Kent has been a popular stopping-off point for centuries.
With fast train services, a lively centre, the top performing schools the county is famous for and easy access to countryside and coast, there is far more to this Thames-side town than its bridge and tunnel.
Dartford is set in the Darent Valley, with the eerily beautiful Dartford Marshes in one direction and the lush expanses of the Kent Downs in the other.
In town, Central Park adds 26 acres of waterside parkland to the mix, with formal gardens, football pitches and a skatepark, along with a running track used by the Dartford Harriers athletics club. In summer the park hosts the Dartford Festival, featuring live music, street food and fairground rides. For a more peaceful option, nearby Brooklands Lake is a lovely spot for a waterside stroll.
For a town so close to Bluewater – one of Europe’s biggest shopping malls – Dartford stands up well to the competition, with two shopping centres of its own, a choice of supermarkets and, for bargain food and fashion, there are street markets on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Hythe Street has a great selection of independent restaurants, from Le Tre Sorelle (Italian), to the Dartford Dosa House (Sri Lankan) and tasty pub grub at The Stage Door.
Grammar schools are the family jewels…
Schools entice many buyers to Kent and the jewels in Dartford’s educational crown are Dartford Grammar School and Dartford Grammar School for Girls, both rated “outstanding” by the Ofsted education watchdog. Local primary schools are also of a very high standard, the vast majority rated either “good” or “outstanding”.
At the heart of Dartford’s lively cultural scene is The Orchard Theatre, staging a busy programme of drama, music, dance and comedy shows and boasting a restaurant where you can graze on pre-show nibbles or enjoy dinner and drinks.
The Mick Jagger Centre, a performing arts venue at Dartford Grammar School, is named in honour of the Rolling Stones frontman – the school’s most famous former pupil and the town’s best known son. The centre is home to Dartford Music School and Dartford Symphony Orchestra, and also stages classes and concerts.
In summer the open-air theatre in Central Park adds alfresco drama and film screenings to the local entertainment mix.
A fast commute, superb shopping – and new Weston Homes apartments
Commuter links into central London are swift, with trains into Charing Cross or London Bridge taking from around 40 minutes.
By car you can take the A2 into south London or out to the Kent coast, while the M25 is on the doorstep and the Kent Downs are about six miles south of town.
Closer to home, retail fanatics will be in their element at Bluewater, less than three miles east of Dartford. As well as a comprehensive roll call of chain stores, Bluewater also has a cinema, plenty of restaurants, Europe’s longest zip wire, a nature trail and a boating lake.
For a step back in time, Hall Place and Gardens is a Grade I-listed Tudor country house built in 1537. The house and its garden are open for tours, and regular events there include Christmas markets, farmers’ markets and art exhibitions.
Dartford is also a good jumping-off point for exploring Kent’s historic towns, from smart Sevenoaks to Charles Dickens’s old stomping ground, Rochester.
The final phase of two-bedroom apartments from Weston Homes at the developer’s landmark Langley Square scheme, conveniently located right by Dartford station and a five-minute walk from the town centre, has just gone on sale, with prices from £385,000 to £399,500.