The North Downs Way: Farnham to Oxted

Starting just an hour from the centre of London, this four-day hike explores the amazing and unexpected beauty of the rolling chalk hills south of the Capital. Explore secret valleys and rolling pastureland; discover atmospheric traditional inns and rambling vineyards, walk through shady sylvan glades and along lofty chalk ridges offering stunning views of London’s breathtakingly beautiful green belt.

Beyond the city limits, London’s leafy suburbs radiate for miles into England’s home counties, yet history is never far beneath the surface. The route follows the line of an ancient pilgrimage route connecting the cathedral cities of Winchester and Canterbury, where Thomas Becket was murdered by Henry II’s knights within the cathedral precincts – elevating its status to one of the most important shrines in Christendom. The route passes through picture postcard villages complete with historic churches and country inns, densely wooded hills and chalk downland carpeted in drifts of beautiful wild flowers. Make your own pilgrimage along the undulating ridge of the Hogsback as it winds eastwards through the Surrey Hills and out to the border with Kent. Visit vineyards, distilleries and breweries along the way and unearth a rich seam of literary connections from the brave new world of Aldous Huxley to the mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie. Follow ancient paths across greensand and chalk and marvel at the expansive views from the many viewpoints along the 200m scarp which this delightful route follows

Tour Overview

The icons below highlight the distance, difficulty and theme of this itinerary.

Distance

67.5km

Number of Days

4

Grade

Moderate

Theme

History/Food and Drink

Landscape Type

Rolling Countryside/Connecting Villages and Towns/ City

The North Downs Way: Farnham to Oxted

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Itinerary

Starting from the rail station at Farnham – just an hour from London – this four-day itinerary strikes out east through dense woodlands of Surrey to Guildford before scaling the chalk ridge of the North Downs. Passing though the huge vineyard at Denbies, it then scales iconic Box Hill and follows the lofty scarp of the Downs to Merstham before continuing along the ridge to Oxted.

Day 1 Farnham to Guildford

The North Downs Way heads east across Puttenham Common to meet the Pilgrims’ Way, threading its way through a mixture of woods and common land. The villages along your route have changed little since the days when writers and poets drew inspiration here. The quiet village of Puttenham featured in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Huxley is buried in the cemetary at Watts Chapel, an incredible terracotta chapel and part of the Watts Chapel, Gallery and Artists village, a must-do on this section, even if just for a cup of tea and scone at the tea rooms. Look out for roe deer and rare woodland birds in the peaceful glades and admire the rich flora that flourishes on the woodland floor. Linger a while among the atmospheric ruins of St Catherine’s Chapel – perched high on a sandstone outcrop beside the trail.   17.7 km/11 miles

Day 2 Guildford to Westhumble

Continuing along the Pilgrims’ Way, the route heads on to the chalk of the North Downs proper. The ridge offers fantastic views towards the High Weald and the South Downs. Not far into today’s section, the trail climbs to the enchanting hilltop church of St Martha’s. Just below the scarp at Newlands Corner lies The Silent Pool Gin Distillery and the section finishes at Denbies Vineyard – the largest in England – at the foot of Box Hill. It was here in 1926 that the crime writer Agatha Christie staged her temporary disappearance. The idyllic village of Shere is a popular film location that featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral.  21 km/13 miles

Day 3 Westhumble to Merstham

Cross the stepping stones over the River Mole and scale the steep slopes of Box Hill – the tough climb that formed the high point of the Road Cycling Race at the London 2012 Olympics. The views from the summit inspired the final 500 lines of John Keats’ epic poem Endymion and the extensive woodlands that cloak this landmark are now a Country Park. The path then descends to the valley floor to rejoin the Pilgrim’s Way and follow in the timeless footsteps of the devout along the base of the scarp. At Colley Hill the path regains the ridge for extensive views towards Inglis Tower and the restored Reigate Fort. Descend through the Capability Brown designed landscapes of Gatton Park.  16 km/10 miles

Day 4 Merstham to Oxted

Climb steadily up the ridge and continue across high farmland to the Victorian folly of Whitehill Tower. Stride through woodland, enjoying sights of wildflowers, including the number of rare orchid species spread across the North Downs. The route passes through Park Ham and Quarry Hangers Nature Reserves – where the rare chalk downland is known as “the rainforests of northern Europe” for their diversity of species and habitat. A short diversion takes in the Church of St Peter and St Paul at Chaldon to admire the 13th Century fresco depicting the Purgatorial Ladder and The Fall of Man. 12.8 km/8 miles

Accommodation

Accommodation options are many and varied to suit all budgets – from budget hostels and glamping to luxurious upmarket inns and hotels. As with many locations along the North Downs way excellent public transport connections make it feasible to walk several sections of this itinerary from a single base, although many walkers prefer a linear route. Both options are equally feasible.

Travel

1hr drive from Gatwick/ Heathrow. Eurostar to London or Ashford International. Trains from central London and Ashford approx. 1hr. By Ferry to Dover or Portsmouth, then train. 1hr drive from Brighton area/ Central London. Train stations at Guildford, Shalford, Chilworth, Gomshall, Box Hill & Westhumble & Dorking. Local bus services.

Advice

This route is moderately demanding with some short steep climbs every day. The paths are generally well maintained and way-marked and you are never far from civilisation or transport if you want to cut a section short.

Food & Drink

Expect a wide choice of food and drink along the way as this prosperous corner of the London commuter belt offers comprehensive hospitality options. You’ll walk through a number of vineyards which provide grapes for English wines with a growing worldwide reputation and will see Hop Vines and Oast Houses that nod towards this part of England’s deep historic routes with the beer brewing industry. You’re even encouraged to try the local ales by following The Ales of the Trail, hunting down local beers in the rustic country pubs as you walk. Why not stop at the Black Horse in Thurnham with its Pilgrims Hotel, or The Dirty Habit in nearby Hollingbourne, dip a toe in the Stour at the picturesque Tickled Trout in Wye or enjoy local food, drink and quirky rooms at the Five Bells Inn, Brabourne. Whilst in Canterbury pay a visit to The Foundry, home of Canterbury Brewers and Distillers where they make and sell their own wide range of beers and spirits. You could visit one of many breweries from the Hogs Back Brewery in Surrey, the Westerham Brewery at the Kent borders or Englands Oldest Brewery Shepherd Neame in Faversham who make Bishops Finger- a strong ale that takes its name from the original sign posts to Canterbury. East Kent in particular is well blessed with Micro Pubs; small and intimate little pubs that sell mainly local ales; a great place to meet and chat to the locals.

Maps, Guidebooks and Merchandise

The official guidebook and map for the Trail are available from the National Trails Shop along with a wide range of gifts and other merchandise.

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