The North Downs Way: Farnham to Canterbury

With quaint villages, great viewpoints, and locally sourced food and drink along the trail, enjoy this taste of southern England. Covering long stretches of greensand and chalk grassland you will climb some of the highest ridges on the trail to encounter stunning panoramas across the valley below, before reaching the Kent downs and river valleys.

Starting in the historic market town of Farnham and the official start of the North Downs Way National Trail, 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 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.

Tour Overview

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

Distance

183 - 254

Days

12 or 16

Grade

Moderate

Theme

History & Pilgrimage

Landscape Type

Connecting Villages & Towns/Rolling Countryside

The North Downs Way: Farnham to Canterbury

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Tour Details

Walk Awhile have more than 16 years’ experience focused on Kent and the Pilgrims’ Way – with unrivalled local knowledge of the area, and its history.  The itinerary includes accommodation with breakfast in walker friendly inns, hotels and guest houses, daily luggage transfer, fully marked up maps and guidebooks, with walk essentials hamper, and daily support by phone if needed.

Itinerary

Starting in the picturesque Georgian market town of Farnham, this route follows the North Downs Way eastwards through the Surrey Hills, and then along the chalk escarpment of the Kentish Downs to the cathedral city of Canterbury.  Known to be the only continuous trackway in England that passes eight castles, three palaces, three cathedrals and more than six ancient sites, you will feel that you are walking through history.

Day 1 Arrive at Farnham

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.   A Walk Awhile Tracker will arrange to meet up to discuss the walk and leave maps and  guidebooks.

Day 2 – 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/22.5 kms to Guildford Centre

Day 3 – Guildford to Dorking

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/16 kms

Day 4 – Dorking to Reigate

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. 10 miles/16 kms

Day 5 – 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. 10 to 12 miles/16 to 19 kms

Day 6 -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. 9 miles/14 kms

Day 7 –Wrotham to Rochester

Take a short detour from the trail to the Coldrum Stones, a Neolithic site where  atmospheric scenes take the eye along the Medway gap.  Continuing along the foot of the downs towards Rochester, you will pass the Paddlesworth crossing, where it is thought that medieval pilgrims waded over a now hidden causeway.  Taking today’s safer crossing, descend into Rochester, with its cathedral, Norman castle, restaurants and accommodation for the night.   Approx. 12 miles/19 kms

Day 8 – 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/19 kms

Day 9 – Thurnham to Lenham

Old sections of the Pilgrims Way continue from Thurnham or there is  a short detour to the beautiful Leeds Castle, home of six medieval queens.  Returning to the North Downs Way, you continue to Hollingbourne, where lunch can be taken.  Accommodation for the night will be in an historic inn, at the picturesque Lenham square.  Approx.11 miles/18 kms with detour.

Day 10 – 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 III.  Crossing the village cricket green at Boughton Lees, refreshments are available at the inn, before descending to Wye. Approx. 10 miles/16 kms

Day 11 - Wye to Canterbury, or, Wye to Brabourne

Shorter itinerary: 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.

Extended itinerary: complete the entire North Downs Way/Via Francigena to Dover. From Wye continue the ‘North Downs Way & Coast’ walk.

Wye to Brabourne – Follow the North Downs Way up onto the chalk escarpment, the views opening out as you ascend to the Wye Nature Reserve, where orchids flower in season. Above the bowl-shaped valley at the Devil’s Kneading Trough, enjoy stunning views from the scarp across Romney Marsh to Dungeness and over the Channel. This is a lovely place for a picnic before ascending the chalk slopes to Brabourne village. There should be time to explore the hidden valleys of the Crundale Downs (+ 3 or +6 miles). 9 km/5.5 miles

Day 12 – Canterbury (Departure Day), or, Brabourne to Folkestone

Departure day or optional extra night in Canterbury to allow for sightseeing of the Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury Tales exhibition, 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.

Extended itinerary:

Brabourne to Folkstone: Today’s walk explores 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. The rustic Gatekeeper Inn is a good place to take lunch before continuing over the chalk downland to Folkstone. This grassland is littered with rare flora, WW2 pillboxes and earthworks from a Norman Castle. 2 km / 8.2 miles

Day 13 - Folkestone to Dover

Head back onto the North Downs Way and Saxon Shore Way. 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. 9 km / 10.5 miles

Day 14 - Dover to Shepherdswell

On your two-day return to Canterbury, follow the 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. Overnight accommodation in walker friendly B&Bs in the villages of Shepherdswell or Eythorne. 5 km / 9 miles

Day 15 - Shepherdswell to Canterbury

Head 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. Many visitor attractions are all within walking distance of your hotel. Walk Awhile has undertaken extensive research on the History of Pilgrimage and Canterbury and can provide briefing papers, audio and literature to walkers. 17 km / 10.6 miles

Day 16 - Canterbury Departure Day

Trains run frequently from both Canterbury West and Canterbury East stations back to London.

Accommodation

Accommodation is in walker friendly historic inns, hotels and guest houses, and includes cooked breakfast.  Walk Awhile uses a selection of reputable accommodation providers close to the North Downs Way.  Because we offer flexible departure dates, we confirm specific accommodation for each night when arrangements are agreed, and availability has been checked.

Travel

Air / Rail

Flights to London Gatwick, Heathrow Airports, with good train connections to London.  Farnham is on the main rail line from London Waterloo train station, 1 hour 9 minutes.  Trains from London Heathrow to Farnham, 1 hour 17 minutes, change at Woking.  National Express coaches from London Heathrow airport to Farnham 1 hour 25 minutes, change at Woking.  Eurostar to St Pancras International then train from London Waterloo.   Return from Canterbury to London Heathrow, via St Pancras by train, then change for Paddington Station. Canterbury to Gatwick by train approx. 2 hours, change trains at St Pancras.   National Express coaches from Canterbury to London Heathrow Airport 2 hrs 20 minutes

Local Taxi

A local taxi from London Heathrow to Farnham takes around 40 minutes, and London Gatwick to Farnham 55 minutes.  A taxi between Canterbury and London Heathrow takes approx. 1 hour 30 minutes, and  a taxi between Canterbury and Gatwick Airport approx. 1 hour 15 minutes.

Advice

Walking is moderate, recommended walking times are spring/summer/autumn.

Standard walking equipment is required (information will be provided) and advice given on fitness levels. The trail is open all year but the best time of year to walk this route is between spring and autumn, when the down lands are alive with wild flowers, insects and birds.

Food & Drink

Enjoy a taste of southern England, with locally sourced food and drink, as you set off through the Surrey Hlls.  The North Downs Way passes through south facing chalk slopes with geology similar to the Champagne Region of France, and close to the Vineyards of the Surrey Hills, where international award winning still and sparkling wines can be purchased.  There are breweries using locally grown hops, and a number of fine gin distilleries.  There is no shortage of cafes and ancient inns to be visited along the route.  There are artisan bakers and cheese-makers selling their wares, and home reared beef and pork to be sampled, Crossing the border in to  Kent, known as the ‘Garden of England’’, there is locally grown fruit, including apples, pears, and soft fruits. Hops are grown for the local breweries, and there are more vineyards at Chartham near Canterbury. Local cheese makers such as Canterbury Cheesemakers and farmers markets fortnightly on Saturdays in Wye.

National Trail has teamed up with local breweries in Surrey & Kent to create an “Ale Trail” for walkers to explore along the route. In collaboration with a fantastic network of country pubs, inns and farm shops, a map and beer passport for has been created for walkers to seek out the different ales and tick them off as they pass along the trail.

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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