The North Downs Way: Oxted to Wye

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.

Tour Overview

Distance

96km

Number of Days

5

Grade

Moderate

Theme

History/Pilgrimage

Landscape Type

Rolling Countryside

The North Downs Way: Oxted to Wye

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.

Choose a Category

Day 1 Oxted to Otford

As the route leaves Surrey and heads into Kent, look out for the Meridian Plaque near the start of the trail as it climbs up onto the ridge and heads into the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, providing splendid vistas cross to the Weald and the magnificent parkland of the Chevening Estate, before descending into the Darent Valley and the old village of Otford. Try to arrive in time to round off your first day with a truly stellar journey through space at the fascinating Otford Solar System – a scale model of our nearest celestial neighbours where the journey from the sun to Uranus takes just 40 minutes. 18.9 km / 11.8 miles

Day 2 Otford to Cuxton

Continue along the trail, switching between the historic Pilgrims’ Way and the top of the Downs ridge. Along this stretch, you’ll be treated to the rich landscape of the Kemsing Down Nature Reserve, littered with over nine species of orchid and a number of butterfly species. The chalk grassland of Trosley Country Park is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, offering sightings of butterflies and the rare musk orchid. After an exhilarating day on the ridge, the trail descends into the Medway Valley and the riverside town of Cuxton.  24.1 km / 15 miles

Day 3 Cuxton to Detling

Where the trail crosses the Medway, the magnificent sights of Rochester Castle and Cathedral lie to your left. An extra half day might be required at this point to explore the castle and cathedral at Rochester and the dockyards at Chatham. Heading south, the trail reaches Kit’s Coty – a Neolithic burial chamber marked by a distinctive dolmen below which the vines of Chapel Down Winery cascade down a sunny southwest-facing slope. After Kit’s Coty, the trail follows the lip of the ridge all the way into the pretty village of Detling. 20.1 km / 12.5 miles

Day 4 Detling to Lenham

The route circles the ancient ramparts of Thurnham Castle – the remains of a Norman Motte and Bailey castle perched high atop the scarp. This ancient castle sits within White Horse Wood Country Park, an extensive area of rolling grassland and secluded woodland with evidence of Iron Age settlement. Today’s section spends several miles following the Pilgrim’s Way, passing the Pilgrim’s Rest sculpture – a wooden Brother Percival resting on the way to Canterbury. Your overnight base in Lenham is the best place from which to visit Leeds Castle – reputedly the loveliest in the world. 14.9 km / 9.3 miles

Day 5 Lenham to Wye

Today, the trail splits at Boughton Lees: keep to the southern ‘mainline’ route towards Dover or take the northern branch to Canterbury before picking up the Via Francigena route to Dover. Wander along the chalk cliffs and through ancient villages before crossing farmland and orchards to Perry Court Farm and the market town of Wye. Make a quick stop off at Charing and you will find a charming village, lined with historic buildings, including the crumbling remains of the Archbishop’s Palace, once an overnight resting place for archbishops travelling between London and Canterbury. 17.9 km / 11.1 miles

Accommodation

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.

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. Trains at Otford; Dunton Green; Rochester; Cuxton; Bearsted (for Leeds Castle); Charing & Wye. Local bus services to/ from Maidstone & surrounding area.

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. 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.

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 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.

 

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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