Brook's Path at Loose
Strange as it may seem, the picturesque Loose Valley in Kent has a long history as an industrial area, stretching back to medieval times. The valley once had thirteen watermills working beside the Loose stream, the majority of which began life as fulling mills. Fulling was the process of beating raw cloth with water and fullers earth to clean, degrease and compact the cloth. Water power was used to drive the action of huge wooden mallets used in this process. Small villages grew up around the mills, the largest of which was Loose. By 1800 most of the mills had switched to paper making or corn milling. In Loose, however, there is evidence of continuing activity in the cloth trade, where a Wool House was built around 1850. The Wool House is now owned by The National Trust but does not seem to be open to visitors. The last mill in Loose Valley closed in 1987.
A walk along the valley path is an interesting journey through a formative period of industrial history. You can start a walk at either end of the valley. From the Loose end start at the the Walnut Tree pub on the Loose Road. Walk along to the end of Walnut Tree Lane, and then turn right down a footpath into the valley at Heron Pond, and then simply follow the stream. Or you could start at the other end, at the bottom of Tovil Hill, accessing the valley via Woodbridge Drive which leads you to the beginning of the path at the remains of Lower Crisbrook Mill.
Personally I would start at the Tovil end. The following is a short guided tour along the walk from this starting point:
From the bus stop on Tovil Hill, walk along Woodbridge Drive until you reach a green area beside a stream. Follow the footpath along the stream, and you will see a large pond in front of you. Turn left here and start to follow the path up hill.
Upper Crisbrook Mill
The path will go steeply up hill. Close to the top of the rise is a house called Mount Ararat. This was once home of the Green family who owned Hayle Mill. Walk on a further two and three hundred yards, and you will come to a point where a path turns right down hill through the woods. Turning right here, coming down hill, the remains of Lower Crisbrook Mill will be visible beside the path. There are outlines of walls in the undergrowth, along with a large mill pond at the bottom of the slope. Follow the path beside the pond until it brings you to the road.
Joining the road, Upper Crisbrook Mill is in front of you. Upper Crisbrook Mill is a private residence, but it retains its huge mill wheel, which can sometimes be seen turning. Follow the road beyond Upper Crisbrook Mill, and you will pass Hayle Mill, the last Loose Valley mill to close. Hayle Mill has been converted into apartments, which nevertheless still give the idea of a large mill building. Note there is no pavement on this section of the walk, so take care.
Beyond Hayle Mill you will pass a row of former mill cottages. Turn right at the end of the row of cottages into Bockingford Lane. You will now see Bockingford Mill, which appears to have been a fulling mill, dating from the seventeenth century. Opposite the mill is a tall building called Bockingford Steps, a former pub where mill workers used to drink. Turn left at Bockingford Steps and follow the path out into the fields.
The path will bring you to the entrance to Great Ivy Mill, where the mill house survives, but is largely obscured behind a fence. Bear left here and follow the path alongside the stream, climb over a stile, and then continue out through a field. Beyond the field, after climbing a stile, you will come to Little Ivy, a collection of buildings surrounding a mill pond. There's a small gate here on your right. Go through the gate and you'll have a much better view. You will see on the right the miller's house, and the mill itself, now converted into a house. A mill has worked here since at least the 1650s.
Returning to the path, continue on for about a quarter of a mile to a crossroads at Bridge Street, named after little bridges which cross the stream at this point. Turn left at the crossroads.
The path now continues as a causeway that runs between a divided stream. The wider stream represents the mill pond which once served the village mill. Brooks Path, as it is known, is one of the most beautiful and striking parts of the walk, and is shown in the photo at the top of this page. A seventeenth century pub called the Chequers lies at the end of Brooks Path and is a good place to take a break.
Follow the path on beyond the Chequers. You will pass under Loose Viaduct, and then see Gurney's Mill on your left. The Old Mill House was the mill owner's residence, and the waterfall in the garden shows where the waterwheel used to be. Beyond Gurney's Mill is Springhead Pond, where the miller's house survives - known as Watermill House. The walk finishes as you pass Leg o' Mutton Pond , and then Heron Pond. This walk would take about an hour out and an hour back. In winter, or on wet days, boots are advisable as there are areas that can be muddy underfoot.
Upper Crisbrook Mill in the snow
You will have just travelled through an essentially industrial landscape. Much is made of conservation in the valley, but this conservation is not primarily one of protecting a natural environment from the depredations of man. The former owners of parts of the lower Loose Valley, the Green family considered the valley in its modern guide as a natural landscape, and simply left it alone. But of course being very much a man made area, parts of this special site began to fall into ruin. All the mill ponds are created by artificial dams and sluices which require maintenance. Today Loose Valley as a whole is managed by the Loose Valley Conservation Area Partnership, a group of land owners, the Loose Amenities Association, and the Valley Conservation Society, who are committed to maintaining the industrial and natural heritage of the area.
Along the course of the walk there are information boards giving information about notable buildings, famous past residents of Loose Valley, and local wildlife.
Directions: If you are taking the walk as described above you could park in Maidstone town centre and take a bus to Tovil Hill from the Mall bus station. Alternatively there is some parking in side roads in the Tovil Hill area. Parking is very difficult in the village of Loose, so it is advisable not to drive in. If approaching Loose on the A229, it may be best to find parking along here. Click here for an interactive road and satellite map centred over the village of Loose.
Contact: View the Loose Amenities Association website, or the Valley Conservation Society websites for events in the valley, and for volunteering opportunities: