Follow an ancient route of pilgrimage as it follows a chalk ridge over the rolling downland of Kent: the Garden of England. Visit stately homes, bishop’s palaces, fairytale castles and historic shipyards along this ancient route trodden by thousands of pilgrims through the centuries. Listen for echoes of even earlier civilisations as you ramble through the hop fields that provide the distinctive flavours of traditional English ales and discover fine wines to rival some of the best in Europe.
The central section of the North Downs Way leaves suburban Surrey for the Kentish Downland, passing a string of stately homes, castles and palaces as it follows the chalk ridge of the North Downs into the river-lands of southeastern England, where the ship-building industry upon which an empire was forged are now all but dormant. Whispers of the religious devotees who originally carved this route through the downs become more abundant – from the imposing edifice of Rochester Cathedral to the medieval magnificence of the Archbishop’s Palace at Charing – offer fascinating diversions along the way. Take a detour along the Via Francigena – the ancient pilgrim’s route between Canterbury and Rome, or travel at light speed from the earth to the surface of the sun at a unique scale model of the solar system. And between these historic way-points, revel in the pristine downland, forests and fertile pastureland of the Garden of England. Discover the ingredient that gives traditional English ales their characteristic flavour and sample some of the finest wine you’ll taste in Britain – produced from vines on the sun-kissed slopes beneath a Neolithic burial chamber.
This five-day itinerary breaks down into manageable 15-25km sections which leave time for exploring some of the fascinating historical sites along the route. Accommodation options are varied, with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the hospitality at a series of charming old English pubs and inns.
Accommodation options are many and varied to suit all budgets – from budget hostels and glamping to luxurious upmarket inns and hotels.
Alternatively, excellent public transport connections make it feasible to walk this itinerary from a single base. It’s less suitable for back-packing.
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. Trains at Otford; Dunton Green; Rochester; Cuxton; Bearsted (for Leeds Castle); Charing & Wye. Local bus services to/ from Maidstone & surrounding area.
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. This itinerary can be walked year-round, although some of the paths may become muddy and/or waterlogged in winter. Spring or autumn sees wild flowers and woodlands at their best.
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 Chapel Down’s Kit’s Coty Vineyard, where this respected winemaker grows grapes for a single vineyard chardonnay. There are a wide range of pubs serving good food along the route with the Black Horse at Thurnham highly recommended. The Dirty Habit at Hollingbourne; and the Wife of Bath at Wye also offer excellent hospitality. Chatham Docks are home to Nelson’s Brewery and Copper Rivet Distillery.
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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