Cray Riverway walking leaflet - Bexley Council

Cray Riverway walking leaflet - Bexley Council

Cray Riverway

Walking leaflet

Listening to you, working for you

Plumstead tead

Abbey Wood Belvedere



Eltham E






Park k

Sidcup S



R i v e r T h a m e s









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Cray Riverway Walk


by Train: Regular service available to Bexley, Crayford & Slade Green.

by Bus: Bexley Village: B15 (not Sun), 132, 492. Crayford: 96, 428,

492. Foots Cray: R11, N21, 233, 321, 492.

North Cray: 492. Slade Green: 89, 469.

Transport for London: 020 7222 1234

If you would like to know more about the

services the Council provides, or would like

either a translation of this document or the

information in a different format, please call our

Customer Contact Centre on 020 8303 7777

and press 0, quoting reference: 602521/7.07

Listening to you, working for you

Wildlife on the river bank

Many different types of plants and animals live in the

margins and deeper water of the River Cray.


A challenge for plants living in open water is to avoid

being swept away in the flow. Water Starworts anchor

their roots firmly in the bed of the river. Water Crowfoot

have very flexible streamlined stems and leaves, to

lessen the chance of water flow breaking them off.

The Cray is said to have some of the best Alder Carr

woods in London. The Alder’s fine root structure helps

stop soil from being eroded by the river. Willow can be

seen in many forms, from shrubby Osiers to large trees

such as Crack Willow.

Other more scarce plants are only found in old meadows

such as at Foots Cray. One such plant is Creeping Restharrow,

so called because in the past its tough roots

would get caught in farm machinery and cause farmers

to ‘rest’ their ‘harrows’.

With its striking blue-purple flowers, Devil’s Bit Scabious

grows well in the damper parts of the meadows, but is

scarce elsewhere. Herbalists have long believed the

plant to cure many illnesses and legend has it the Devil

bit away part of the root to reduce its curing powers.


Kingfishers can be spotted on the Cray. Though they are

small, they are brightly coloured, so look out for a blur of

blue and orange darting low over the river. As their name

suggests they catch and eat fish. They hover over the

water briefly, before plunging in to catch their

unsuspecting prey.

Grey Heron can be seen too, near the riverbank

amongst the emergent vegetation. They also hunt for

fish, watching for prey before attacking by stabbing it

with their bill and swallowing it whole.

The Mute Swan has pure white plumage and a bright

orange bill. They build large nests using riverbank

vegetation. They are not shy animals, and will aggressively

defend their nests if approached.


The two most common mammals on the Cray live in

burrows on the riverbank. Usually where one occurs, the

other does not. One is rare, and protected in the UK:

the Water Vole. It feeds mainly on grasses and makes a

distinctive ‘plopping’ sounds when it drops into the

water. The other is the Brown Rat, which is widespread

along the river, particularly in urban areas.

Rats will feed on anything, but gravitate to food waste

dropped by humans. To the untrained eye, the two

animals are similar, but when you look more closely at

water voles you will see that the tail, ears and muzzle

are shorter than a rat’s.

The Grass Snake is Britain’s largest snake and can be

found hunting for frogs and toads on the river margins.

Although Grass Snakes have venom that is poisonous

to small mammals, it is harmless to humans.


Dace are among the most common fish in the Cray,

although they are normally found in shallow, cold and fast

flowing rivers. Their name derives from the Old English

word for darting movement. Dace eat insects, and in the

summer, shoals of Dace can be seen leaping to catch

insects close to or landing on the waters’ surface.

Pike live in most UK waters, and are a voracious

predator. They hunt fish, amphibians, and waterfowl,

normally ambushing their prey in a short, sharp strike.

Pike prefer the slower moving stretches of the river, at

Foots Cray, Hall Place and around Barnes Cray.

The Eel is a mysterious fish. It spawns in the Sargasso

Sea in the western Atlantic, and once hatched, its larvae

spend three years crossing the ocean to reach UK

waters. As elvers, they make their way into fresh waters,

including the Cray, where they will live for up to twenty

years before making the journey back to the Sargasso

Sea to spawn and die.


The River Cray supports a huge number of small

creatures collectively known as invertebrates (without a

backbone), who provide food for fish and other animals.

Mayflies spend most of their life as nymphs in the silts

and sands of the riverbed. In the spring and early

summer they float to the water’s surface and the adult

Wildlife in the water

winged insects emerge from the river in vast numbers.

They normally do not live for more than a few hours or

days, surviving just long enough to mate and for the

females to lay eggs.

Many different types of Caddis fly live in the river. Each

species constructs a particular type of protecting or

camouflaging structure, incorporating sand grains and

plant debris, held together in its own silk.

Freshwater Shrimps are crustaceans with a hard

exoskeleton (on the outside of their body), found in

large numbers in the Cray and an important part of

the food chain. Shrimps must stay in water or they

lose the moisture from their bodies.

Perhaps the most distinctive and beautiful insect

found along the river in summertime are Dragonflies.

The young dragonfly nymphs climb up the stems

of riverbank vegetation, before emerging as adults.

They are very agile, to feed on flies and other insects.


Many new species of wildlife have come to the UK

from other countries. Some invasive plants have

formed large patches along the River Cray and will

overwhelm native species if left unchecked. Giant

Hogweed, for example, can grow up to 3. 5 meters

tall with 10cm diameter stems. It has poisonous sap,

which when it comes in contact with skin and

exposed to sunlight, can cause severe blistering.

Chinese Mitten Crabs, so called for the fur forming

‘mittens’ over their claws, are thought to have arrived

recently in ships’ holds. Today they are widespread in

the Thames Estuary, and other eastern UK

waterways. They can be real problems for wildlife, and

can cause the side of riverbanks to become eroded

as they burrow extensively to make their homes.


The map overleaf shows sections of the path

which are surfaced, however even on surfaced

sections, stiles & gates may make the route

unsuitable for wheelchairs and buggies.


Please safeguard the countryside:

• Guard against risk of fire

• Keep dogs under close control

• Keep to the right of way across private land

• Leave no litter

Further Information

For further information about the Cray Riverway,

Managing the Marshes and other open spaces, routes

or initiatives in Bexley, please contact the Bexley

Regeneration Delivery Unit Tel: 020 8294 6742

or visit Bexley’s website on

The distance covered by this walk is approximately

10 miles. Where possible, the route follows riverside

walks but parks, rights of way, and roads are also

utilized. The walk is signposted with

timber waymarkers and metal signs,

identified by the Cray Riverway logo.

The Cray Riverway is a 16km (10 mile) path following

the River Cray to the Thames from Foots Cray

Meadows in the south to Erith in the north. The route

is signposted throughout, but much of it is along unsurfaced

paths and may present some difficulties for

pushchairs, wheelchairs or those with less mobility.

All Saints Church to Water Lane

The Riverway starts as you enter Foots Cray Meadows

from Rectory Lane, just south of All Saints Church.

All Saints Church and Foots Cray Meadows

All Saints Church marks the entrance to Foots Cray

Meadows, and the start of the Cray Riverway. Thought

to have been a site of worship since Norman times,

Foots Cray takes its name from Godwin Fot, a local

Saxon landowner recorded in the Domesday Book of

1086, and from the River Cray that flowed through his

land. Foots Cray Meadows were laid out as the

grounds to two 18th century estates, Foots Cray

Place and North Cray Place. The open grasslands of

Foots Cray Meadows are managed to support a wide

variety of wildflowers and grasses. This has been vital

in conserving the biodiversity we can see today.

Continue along the waymarked rough track, crossing

the river at Penny Farthing Bridge. The route follows

the southern bank of the river past Five Arch Bridge.

Five Arch Bridge

Five Arch Bridge was once in the grounds of North

Cray Place, in a parkland setting designed by

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Formal geometric

gardens favoured in the earlier Jacobean period

were swept away and replaced with the ‘naturalistic’

gardens in fashion at the time. These new ‘Arcadian’

landscapes were designed to evoke a

classical idea of perfection; with grand

sweeping lawns, tree lined vistas and

lakes. The River Cray was dammed to

create the meandering lake lying at the

end of the park, where Five Arch

Bridge still stands.

Continue walking past ‘The Alders’,

a block of woodland on the northern

bank, until the route divides into two

separate routes (A & B) at a signposted

footbridge at the end of

Water Lane.

Water Lane to Hall Place

Route A avoids built up areas, and

Route B passes through the historic

centre of Old Bexley.

Route A

Turn right at the footbridge and

continue along Water Lane to meet

North Cray Road at Loring Hall. Turn left along North

Cray Road following signs. At the roundabout follow

the metal signs back along the south side of North

Cray Road and after the Garden Centre, turn left

uphill on the rough track, and follow waymarkers,

passing Mount Mascal Stables, and beautiful views

of Joyden’s Wood. Continue along the path and cross

Vicarage Road entering Churchfield Wood.The

waymarked path follows the perimeter of Churchfield

Wood passing beneath the A2 and entering into Hall

Place Recreation Ground. Keep following waymarkers

and cross over the footbridge on the River Cray, where

Routes A & B meet.

Route B

Turn left over the footbridge and walk along the path

until you meet Riverside Road. Turn right and follow

the finger posts for the Cray Riverway, across farmland.

Following the waymarked track past Bexley Cricket

Club, pass under the railway and continue along Tanyard

Lane into Bexley High Street, (Bexley Station 2 mins

walk). Turn right along the High Street and cross at

the crossing. Turn left into Bourne Road, and cross

that at the crossing. Follow Bourne Road, passing the

Recreation Ground on your right. Cross over the A2

as signed and follow the road past the roundabout (look

for the view of Hall Place) to the entrance of Hall Place.

Follow signs and waymarkers to the River Cray.

Hall Place

The present Hall Place Mansion was first built during the

reign of Henry VIII, in about 1540 for Sir John Champneys,

a merchant and former Lord Mayor of London. The

gardens date from the early 20th Century featuring a

rose garden, a topiary, a grass maze, herb garden, a

formal sunken garden, a walled kitchen garden, and

sub tropical plant houses. There is a café near the car

park which serves light refreshments. The house and

its gardens were extensively restored by Bexley Council

and are open to the public. Hall Place is now managed

by Bexley Heritage Trust.

Hall Place to Thames Road

Continue beside the river until the

northern end of the recreation ground

and follow the boundary of the ground

to join Bourne Road. The route follows

Bourne Road passing Bourne Industrial

Park on the right side to join London

Road. Continue along London Road

following signs and cross over Crayford

Bridge, continuing along Crayford Way,

past Waterside Gardens.

Cray Riverway


Calico bleaching and printing industry came to the town

in the 1820’s, followed by carpet making and a tannery.

The Maxim, later Vickers factories were established in

1896, making machine guns, shells, fuses and cartridge

cases. During the First World War aircraft, including the

Vickers Gun bus and parts for the Vimy bomber were

made here. 14,000 people worked in the factories by

the end of the war. The houses along Crayford Way

were built to house workers. The Princess Theatre

was built by the company, opening in July 1916, but

was burnt down in December, reopening as a cinema

in July 1919. The building was demolished in the late

1950’s and is now the site of the 1960’s housing block

opposite Waterside Gardens. The Vicker’s factory closed

in the 1950’s, being converted into the sites of industrial

estates and the Retail Park.

At the end of Waterside Gardens, cross Crayford Way

and continue along waymarked track beside the River

Cray where it meets Barnes Cray Road. Continue along

Barnes Cray Road and turn right onto Maiden Lane.

Walk along Maiden Lane and join the path along the

south side of the river. Continue along the path beside

the River Cray and at the end of the path turn left onto

Thames Road.

The Marshes

Cross Thames Road and follow signed path

through the industrial area of Saw Mills

to Crayford Creek where the River Cray

meets the River Darent. The path then

follows perimeter of Crayford Marsh,

along the River Darent giving

extensive views across

Dartford Marsh, the

Darent Flood Barrier

and the River


The marsh path ends by Erith

Yacht Club; continue to Manor Road.

The Cray Riverway finishes at the

junction with Slade Green Road and

Manor Road (Buses) and if walkers

wish to continue to Erith they may take

the Thames Path to Erith Town Centre.

Saw Mills

This is the historic name for the industrial

area between Thames Road (A206) and

Crayford Marsh. Many local road names are

derived from the timber mills that were situated

here in the 1840s. Industry thrived here from as

early as the 16th Century when a mill for making

iron sheet and armour was set up to use the river

for power. Since the 1700s the area was also

where much of the cloth bleaching took place, a key

part of the local textiles industry. Just beyond the

Thames Road bridge was the old millpond, the site

in the 1900s of the Vitbe Flour Mill and a chemical

works. Both had water wheels to power

their machinery.

Thames Road

The inter war years were a time

of high unemployment. In 1921,

construction began on Thames Road

as part of a Government sponsored

road building programme. Many unemployed

ex–servicemen were recruited

for the work. Before Thames Road opened in

1923, Iron Mill Lane was the only land route to

Saw Mills, and it was virtually impassable in the winter.

Sailing barges transported heavy goods, coming from

the Thames down the River Darent and along Crayford

Creek. The river remained a significant corridor for

industry until recent times. Records of tolls levied in

1977 show 400 tons of grain a week was brought along

Crayford Creek for processing at Saw Mills.

Crayford Marsh

The marshes have been used

for grazing and rough pasture since

the beginning of the 15th Century.

Tenants were required to pay 6d

(half a shilling) per acre to help pay

for the upkeep of marshland walls,

dykes and fences. Other uses have

relied on the relative isolation of the

marshes and access to river transport. For example

the area where Darent Industrial Estate now stands

was the former site of ammunition works, in use from

1889 to 1962. It was an ideal place for the storage

and manufacture of explosives and armaments.

For more information on the marshes visit

Other walks in the area; The London Outer Orbital Path

(Loop) and the Shuttle Riverway.

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