The Darent Valley is one of the loveliest in England. Samuel Palmer, one of the greatest English landscape painters, described it as a ‘Valley of Vision’; in his paintings the valley becomes an ‘earthly paradise’. No wonder that this little known area of the Kentish countryside has so captured the affection of Rod Shelton that he has spent several years of research and investigation to reveal some of the secrets and stories of this wonderful place.

The Darent Valley most deservedly forms part of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; a piece of landscape so important that successive governments have determined that it is in the nation’s interest to protect, conserve and enhance it. The Areas of Natural Beauty in Britain are landscapes recognised to also be of international value and together form part of the family of National Parks and Protected Areas.

‘Landscape’ is a commonly used word yet a surprisingly complicated idea. Landscape is much more than what you see, it is also how you understand what you see. The Darent Valley is enchanting on the eye but when you begin to understand the extraordinary role this place has had in history, so much more is revealed: the collection of Roman villas which have shaped the early landscape; the Palace at Otford; the farms and estates – all expose thousands of years of influence by human hand. Now a natural and cultural scene of immense but understated importance has been revealed.

Rod’s individual and passionate approach to this extraordinary place has covered a broad canvas, all interwoven with the histories of the villages and market towns. It is, though, always the stories of the people themselves which continue to enliven this wonderful exploration of place.

Visit and enjoy this wonderful landscape; walk, cycle, use the trains – there are many ways to explore and enjoy it without harming the qualities of this special location. Finally, let me encourage you to engage in the conservation and enhancement of the Darent Valley. There are many options through the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Unit or other local organisations such as the Countryside Partnership or Wildlife Trust. I have no doubt that this book, Darent, will both inspire and inform you. Now enjoy this landscape for yourself.

Nick Johannsen
Director, Kent Downs AONB
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty