THE NORTH DOWNS WAY : Farnham to Canterbury
Starting in the historic market town of Farnham and the official start of the North Downs Way National Trial, you will begin by walking through the Surrey Hills Area of outstanding Natural Beauty. You will be following in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims who journeyed to Canterbury to the shrine of Archbishop Thomas Becket, and who in turn used the drovers’ trails and trackways which stretched across from Dover to the West of England, and were used as trade routes in more ancient times, Reminders of these ancestors will be encountered as you will pass several Neolithic sites of great interest. There are fine Norman castles en route, as well as literary connections including to Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Aldous Huxley, Agatha Christie and William Cobbett. Finishing in the fascinating Cathedral City of Canterbury, you will have journeyed through hop gardens, vineyards, apple orchards and the rolling landscape of the Downs (112 miles). Can be extended to include the North Downs loop from Wye to Dover and back to Wye via Canterbury through Kent's Heritage Coast and one of Lonely Planet's top regions for 2022 (153 miles total). Difficulty; Challenging 9 to 16.5 miles per day with ascents and descents. 14 day holiday with 2 additional nights 8 to 12 miles per day.
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Sign post of pilgrims way
Sign post of pilgrims way
Guildford to Dorking
Dorking to Reigate
Reigate to Westerham
Today’s route continues on to Gatton Park, one of the original ‘rotten boroughs’, with its Capability Brown landscape and richly decorated chapel, and the Millennium Stones There are several places to eat in Merstham before ascending to the Caterham viewpoint and Botley Hill, which is the highest point on the North Downs Way, and which is crossed by the Prime Meridian line. Choice of overnight accommodation in, or close to historic Westerham. Approx. 14 miles. This stage can be split with an extra night at Oxted - 12 miles
Westerham to Wrotham
The walk continues with views of the Darent Valley, and through woods full of bluebells in the spring. Connections with medieval pilgrimage continue including Chevening church which is dedicated to St. Botolph, the patron saint of travellers, and a short detour to Kemsing, known for St. Edith’s Holy Well, and a frequent stopping place for medieval pilgrims . There is a peaceful Kent Wildlife Trust nature reserve for a picnic. The overnight stay is in Wrotham associated with the journeys of medieval archbishops. Approx. 16.5 miles. This stage can be split with an extra night at Otford i.e. Oxted to Otford 10 miles, Otford to Wrotham 8.5 miles
Rochester to Thurnham
Leave the city behind through fields and woodland, seeing wild orchids in season. Perhaps calling in for morning coffee at the old Robin Hood pub in the woods, and then on to a picnic at Kits Coty, with the remains of the Neolithic chamber For the last stage of today’s walk the ridge is ascended again, reaching the ruins of Thurnham Castle which stands high above the landscape below. Overnight accommodation at a walker friendly inn, in Thurnham with a well-reviewed restaurant. Approx. 12 miles
Thurnham to Lenham
Continue from Thurnham along the ridge, and take refresments at Hollingbourne. There is an optional detour to the beautiful Leeds Castle, home of six medieval queens. Or continue along the old Pilgrims' Way directly. Accommodation for the night will be in an historic inn, at the picturesque Lenham square. Approx.9 or 12.5 miles with detour (optional taxi for shorter walking day).
Lenham to Wye
Head along the old trackway past the Lenham Chalk Cross and look out for the rare Apple snail, thought to have been introduced to England by the Romans. Take a lunchtime stop in the village of Charing, where the ruins of the Archbishops Palace can be viewed from the green. After ascending in to woodland, the way continues through the agricultural landscape towards Eastwell Manor where, in the churchyard of the ruined church, can be seen the tomb of Richard Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of Richard 111. Crossing the village cricket green at Boughton Lees, refreshments are available at the inn, before descending to Wye. Approx. 10 miles/16 kms
Wye to Canterbury
Visit Boughton Aluph church and see the Pilgrims Porch, where medieval pilgrims gathered at the church. Look out for deer in the woods, and wild bluebells in springtime. Take the footpath through Godmersham Park, where Jane Austen’s brother lived, and thought to be the inspiration for Mansfield Park. A choice of inns and a tea room, to take lunch in the medieval village of Chilham. The final stage of the journey passes through hop gardens and apple orchards to Canterbury, where accommodation is in one of several walker friendly hotels close to the Cathedral. Approx. 16 miles/26 kms. This stage can be split with an extra night at Chilham - Wye to Chilham 8 miles, Chilham to Canterbury 8 miles
Departure day or optional extra night in Canterbury to allow for sightseeing of the Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, Roman Museum, Visitor Centre. Time for shopping in this bustling city, with its many independent and well-known stores, or eating at a wide variety of restaurants and cafes.
16 Day Trip
Wye to Folkestone
Alternative option to complete the entire North Downs Way (153 miles) to Dover– From Wye continue the ‘North Downs Way & Coast’ walk, exploring the most rural aspects of the Kent Downs. Catch glimpses of the sea as you cross miles of pastureland, before admiring the 360 - degree panoramic views from Tolsford Hill, and then continuing over the chalk downland towards the coast. This grassland is littered with rare flora, WW2 pillboxes and earthworks. (Downs or Town) – 12 miles/19.3 kms
Folkestone to Dover
Head back onto the North Downs Way and Saxon Shore Way to savour Kent's Heritage Coast #4 in the Lonely Planet Best in Travel award for 2022. Pass Caesar's Camp Iron-age fort and the Battle of Britain memorial and museum, where the visitor centre is part of ‘Chalk Up 21’– the first of nine buildings in an imaginative 21st century architectural series that you will pass. Follow the White Cliffs Country Trail along the top of cliffs, passing a Knights Templar church along with Napoleonic forts offering dramatic views of Dover castle and the White Cliffs of Dover. You may catch glimpses of France on the hazy horizon as you head into Dover, with plenty of options for food, drink.Approx. 10.5 miles/16 kms (see North Downs Way & Coast itinerary)
Dover to Shepherdswell
A number of trails converge as you turn towards Canterbury, the North Downs Way joins the Via Francigena pilgrimage route that has linked Europe with Canterbury since the Middle Ages. Climb out of Dover along the North Downs Way and White Cliffs Country Trail for stunning views back along the Coast behind you. Approx. 10.6 miles/17 km
Shepherdswell to Canterbury
Continue on the North Downs Way/Via Francigena through parkland and pastoral landscapes which skirt the old Kent mining villages of Snowdown and Aylesham and on the Barham Downs, pass through to the village of Patrixbourne, catching glimpses of the Cathedral in the distance during the last stages of the journey. Stay overnight in Canterbury City Centre. with a choice of restaurants, and many visitor attractions within walking distance of your Hotel. Walk Awhile has undertaken extensive research on the History of Pilgrimage and Canterbury and can provide briefing papers, and literature to walkers. Approx. 10.6 miles/17 km
Canterbury to Wye
Completing the North Downs Loop on your final day, leave Canterbury passing Bigbury Iron Age camp, and onwards through orchards above the Stour Valley. Have a refreshment stop in Chilham with its timber framed houses surrounding the square. Take the footpath through the grounds of Godmersham Park where Jane Austen often visited her brother. Visit Boughton Aluph church and see the Pilgrims Porch, where medieval pilgrims gathered for safety. Look out for deer in Kings Wood, and wild bluebells in springtime. Approx. 16 miles/26 kms
Departure day from Wye which has good rail connections back to Canterbury or onwards to London from Ashford International Station. Perhaps return for an optional extra night in Canterbury to allow for sightseeing of the Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, Roman Museum, Visitor Centre. Time for shopping in this bustling city, with its many independent and well-known stores, or eating at a wide variety of restaurants and cafes.
This itinerary includes: accommodation in B&Bs, inns and hotels with breakfasts, daily luggage transfer, fully marked up maps and guidebooks, advice on GPS link to the route for your mobile phone and tracker support.
Support and advice is available by phone from your tracker throughout the duration of your walk. After breakfast each day, your luggage will be transported to your next accommodation stop. There is an optional debrief meeting at the end of your holiday.
Walk Awhile accommodates walkers at walker friendly inns, hotels and B&Bs. There are dozens of historic pubs along the route, for you to enjoy.
Flights arrive/leave from Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow Airport, with good links to St. Pancras International rail station.
Dover Ferry Port in Kent connects to Calais by cross channel Ferry, from where train can be taken to Ashford/Wye.
Canterbury, Ashford & Dover on main train lines from St Pancras International. Ashford International Station is one stop from Wye
Eurostar from Lille, Paris and Brussels to St. Pancras, and Ashford. National Express Coach Services run regularly from London Victoria to Canterbury, Ashford and Dover.
Check in to hotel accommodation in historic Farnham, a busy town with many pubs and restaurants. Allow time to visit Castle Street and West Street, where the Farnham museum stands in an elegant Georgian Townhouse. The museum houses many artefacts including memorabilia relating to William Cobbett, the social reformer and political commentator, born in Farnham. Don’t miss the Norman Castle, which stands where King Alfred’s son Edward defeated the Danes in 893.
Farnham to Guildford
Today’s walk follows ancient holloways and greensand tracks, walking at the foot of the Hogs Back escarpment alongside farmland and passing historic sites from the medieval, Elizabethan, and Victorian periods. St. Catherine’s Hill has commanding views, and walkers leave the North Downs Way at this point to descend in to Guildford where accommodation is booked for the night, and where there is a wide choice of restaurants. Approx. 14 miles
Climbing the escarpment there are fine views across the Surrey Countryside. Stop for a break at Newlands Corner, where there are vistas across to the South Downs, and take a gentle detour to a vineyard. The trail takes you along an old Drovers Trail and through a Site of Special Scientific Interest, home to rare butterflies and wild flowers. Selection of overnight accommodation in, or close to, the bustling town of Dorking, renowned for its array of Antique shops. Approx. 10 miles
This section of the route passes through woodland and chalk grassland with wild meadow flowers in season. After crossing the stepping stones over the River Mole, the trail climbs Box Hill, used as a setting for a picnic in Jane Austen’s Emma. There is a café and tourist centre at the summit, and more panoramic views. There are tantalising glimpses of the ‘Old Road’ overhung by yews before emerging from the woods through which the North Downs Way passes to take in the sights. Approx. 9 miles
Wrotham to Rochester