The North Downs Way: Oxted to Wye

Follow an ancient pilgrimage route as it passes along 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 civilizations as you ramble through the hop fields that provide the distinctive flavors 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 periphery behind 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 southeastern England, where the docklands and shipbuilding industry that forged an empire are located. 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, offering 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 give traditional English ales their characteristic flavor 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

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

Distance

96km

Number of Days

5

Grade

Moderate

Theme

History/Pilgrimage

Landscape Type

Rolling Countryside

The North Downs Way: Oxted to Wye

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Itinerary

This five-day itinerary breaks down into manageable 10-15 mile 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.

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 across to the Weald and the magnificent parkland of the Chevening Estate, before descending into Darent Valley and the old village of Otford. Try to arrive in time to finish off your first day with a truly stellar journey through space at the fascinating Otford Solar System – a scale model of our nearest celestial neighbors 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 Kemsing Down Nature Reserve, littered with over nine species of orchids 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 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 slope.
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 to visit Leeds Castle from – 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 Pilgrims branch to Canterbury before picking up the Via Francigena route to Dover. On the southern mainline you’ll cross farmland and orchards to Perry Court Farm and the market town of Wye, as well as the epic Devils Kneading Trough Nature Reserve. Emerge onto the coast and wander along the chalk cliffs and through ancient villages before reaching Dover. The northern route passes through Kings Wood – one of Henry XIII’s hunting grounds – and passes Godmersham Park, which inspired Jane Austen, before visiting Chilham, a picturesque postcard Kentish Village before winding through orchards to 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.

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 marked and you are never far from civilization 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 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 roots 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. While you’re in Canterbury you should visit The Foundry, home of Canterbury Brewers and Distillers and where they make and sell their own wide range of beers and spirits. You could visit one of many breweries including the Hogs Back Brewery in Surrey, the Westerham Brewery at the Kent borders or England’s Oldest Brewery Shepherd Neame in Faversham which makes 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 mainly sell local ales. They are a great place to meet and chat with the locals.

 

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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