Cray riverway - introduction
The Cray Riverway is a signposted walk along the River Cray.
The route for walkers is described in three sections, starting at Foots Cray Meadows and, travelling northwards through the Borough of Bexley, it follows the river through North Cray to Hall Place at Bexley where the Cray is joined by its smaller tributary, the Shuttle. From Hall Place the combined rivers flow down through Crayford until just east of the town where they run into the River Darent and subsequently the Thames.
The entire walk covers a distance of approximately 10 miles but it is possible to start and finish this walk at various points along its length. Where possible, the route follows riverside walks but also uses parks, rights of way and some linking roads. The walk is signposted with metal signs and wooden waymark posts, which can be identified by the logo shown on the left.
Besides its visual attractions there is also much of historical interest along the walk. Many great houses and estates have been situated in the area, some still exist, others sadly are gone. Strangely, in such an attractive setting, industry also holds a conspicuous place. Over the past four hundred years it has flourished in the locality bringing wealth and providing a welcome diversity to the hitherto mainly agricultural economy.
Throughout its length the banks of the River Cray and the adjoining land contain a rich variety of flora and fauna which add to the interest of the river walk.
The River Cray and its surroundings have a wealth of history. A large Iron Age settlement was located at Crayford, as was the Noviomagus, a sizeable Roman fortification. The Domesday Book of 1086AD contains references to the Crays, Crayford and Bexley.
In its early days the area around the River Cray was devoted almost entirely to agriculture. As time passed some large estates came into being, and grand houses were built for their owners. Some of these estates and their houses are gone, but happily some remain. Foots Cray Place and North Cray Place are no longer with us, but Loring Hall, High Street House and Hall Place are among those still in existence.
The occupants of these houses add colour to the history of the area. Names like Lord Castlereagh architect of the defeat of Napoleon, John Thorpe the antiquarian and many others further enrich the already rich tapestry. No historical account of the Cray Valley area would be complete without mentioning the part that local industries had to play in the development of the local area.
In the 16th century water provided by the River Cray furnished the power to drive "a mill whereof armour is fashioned". The Cray was instrumental in the arrival of the next industrial development - the linen bleaching industry. Its clear running water was also ideal for dyeing and printing. In time there were flour mills, brick-making at Crayford, tiles at Bexley, barge-building, tanneries and chemical manufacture. The arms industry was to become one of the biggest sources of employment in the area. This started with the development and manufacture of the famous Maxim gun, and the founding of the Vickers factory, which also produced planes and motor cars. Parts for the bouncing bombs that the Dambusters used were made in Crayford.
The alder woods along the banks of the Rivers Cray and Shuttle are amongst the best in London. Alder prefer to live in wet places and their fine root systems penetrate well below the water level preventing bank erosion by holding the soil together.
Much of the bankside vegetation along the Cray consists of nettles, brambles and coarse grasses. These plants provide cover and shelter for invertebrates and small mammals, and also food for a variety of insect species. For instance, nettles are the food-plant for caterpillars of several butterfly species, including the small tortoiseshell, red admiral and peacock, all of which can be seen in this area.
As the vegetation along the banks of the river is almost continuous it provides an ideal routeway for many species. This is especially important where suitable habitats for a particular species are separated by areas of housing or industrial development. Such a river corridor also provides a route by which a new species may gradually colonise a new area.
For the majority of the route, there is no even surface. For this reason and the presence of stiles and other barriers, this walk is unsuitable for wheelchairs and buggies.
Please follow the Country Code
Guard against all risk of fire, keep dogs under close control, keep to the right of way across private land, leave no litter, help keep all water clean, protect wildlife, plants and trees, cross roads carefully.