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 mid-section of the North Downs Way leaves the greensand tracks and wooded hillsides of Surrey and the London borders and heads to the Kentish Downland, passing a string of stately homes, castles and palaces as it follows the chalk ridge of the North Downs, crossing into the river-lands of south-eastern England, where docklands and ship-building industry upon which an empire was forged. Whispers of Pilgrims 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. Between these historic way-points, revel in the pristine chalk downland, ancient woodland and fertile pastureland of the Garden of England. Discover the ingredients 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.
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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. Trains also at Oxted (start)/ Hollingbourne/ Harrietsham
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 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.
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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