A Winters Walk on the North Downs Way
5th February 2017
The intrepid North Downs Way Trail manager shares one of his favourite sections of Kent’s National Trail with this winters walk from Wye to Canterbury! With Valentines day just around the corner, we think it would make the perfect walk with someone special!
Wye to Canterbury- approx. 14 miles or 5-6 hours
Options to end in Chilham (7 miles/ 2.5 hours) Chartham (11 miles/ 4 hours) or Canterbury.
Train Stations: Wye (from Ashford); Chilham; Chartham; Canterbury East; Canterbury West
One of my favourite sections of the trail is around Wye. Easily accessible by train from London, Brighton and East Kent via high speed to Ashford. The train station is located on the trail with a fingerpost on the roadside as you leave the station. The town itself has plenty of good pubs, cafes and shops to either stock up or celebrate a good day’s walk.
Heading east towards Folkestone takes in the Wye Crown where the trail was officially opened in 1978 along with honey pot sites of the Devils Kneading Trough and National Nature reserve. These sections remain one of, if not the most popular sections of trail. I think I’ll save this for another day. Today I’m heading north on “The Canterbury Loop” through Kings Wood to Chilham and beyond……….
If you need supplies turn left out of Wye train station, cross the bridge and pass the Tickled Trout pub (great in the summer for riverside drinks) and into town to pick up supplies or a coffee. If you’ve come prepared turn right and follow the road around to the left, quickly turning right into a field and through the orchards of Perry Court Farm which will be your last opportunity to stop off for local supplies for a while.
Carefully crossing the A28 Canterbury Road and across the fields to Pilgrims Way walking towards Boughton Lees. This is the point at which the North Downs Way “Loop” splits. Behind you the “mainline” runs from Boughton Lees to Etchinghill then on to Dover on the White Cliffs, to the west the trail runs through mid-Kent to Detling, over the river Medway and over the border to Surrey where the trail begins at Farnham, West of Guildford.
At this point we turn right up a slight bank into a narrow corridor of trees that leads us towards Bougton Aluph. Passing All Saints Church and proceeding towards Kings Wood via Soakham Farm where a particularly unfriendly dog used to take residence (thankfully reports of being barked at by the beast seem to have ceased). Climbing a surprisingly steep slope up into Kings Wood and onto the new byway resurfaced at great cost by Kent County Council in 2015.
At this time of year the leaves are turning and provide a crunchy carpet to kick through, the dog always loves this section. Flat, well surfaced and wide the trail winds through some of the finest ancient woodland in the South East. Cyclists and Horse riders often meander alongside walkers on this section of trail. Heading towards Chilham we get our first glimpse of the spires of Canterbury Cathedral through the trees over Godmersham Park and an old deer leap lies to the side of the trail. Dropping down onto Mountain Street follow the road into Chilham Square passing Chilham Castle grounds with its horse trialling circuit and impressive lake. From Wye you’ve covered around 7 miles and will have been walking for around 2.5 hours.
You’ve earned a rest and some refreshment. There are tea rooms and pubs in the village and a train station for those who want to call it a day here. For those with an interest in fizz Tattinger have recently purchased land around Chilham to grow their grapes to take back to the Champagne region to produce their famous sparkling French wines. The North Downs, characterised by chalky downland is becoming increasingly popular for vineyards and something of a mecca for breweries great and small. At last count I reckon we’ve got about 15 breweries and approaching 10 vineyards either on or near the trail. Now there’s a challenge!
I digress; back in Chilham we’ve made the decision to press on, passing through the churchyard and out onto the A252, again crossing carefully and heading up Long Hill, which isn’t as intimidating as the name suggests! Head right through Old Wives Lees, leaving the road and heading along one of the most photographed sections of footpath on the entire trail. An avenue of tall trees either side of a narrow path with orchards on either side. You are now passing through one of the biggest fruit growing estates in Kent. Following the trail through the crops and passing the workers village on your right turn left under the railway bridge and head right just before you reach the buildings at the end of the track. You will find yourself walking alongside rows and rows of fruit trees with views across the Stour Valley to your right. The trail spills out onto the narrow lanes leading to Chartham Hatch at Hatch Farm where the new residents encourage walkers via temporary signs to take an alternative route that doesn’t involve you walking near their buildings. The true line runs through the farm and was well established before the high value residences existed so it’s your call on which route you take. It makes very little difference to the distance or experience of the walk.
Walking up the slight hill into the village of Chartham, Canterbury is about an hour away. You’ve covered in the region of 11 miles, about 3 to go! The last hour takes you through Old Mans Orchard Nature Reserve and Bigbury Iron Aged Hill Fort which provides an unlikely but welcome final taste of the countryside before you head into Harbledown and the fringes of Canterbury City Centre. Dog walkers should be aware rare breed sheep graze these sections and dogs should be kept under close control.
From Harbledown the trail crosses the dual carriageway at the main roundabout at the top of St Dunstans Road. Heading into the City Centre passing St Dunstans Church and Roper Gate before passing over the rail tracks at the West Gate (Canterbury West) and heading up the pedestrianised St Peters Street. Beware NDW signage all but disappears in the city centre so a decent map or guide book is a good idea if you’re new to the area https://shop.nationaltrail.co.uk/collections/north-downs-way
With the Cathedral in sight you pass St Thomas Pilgrim Hospital on the bridge of the Stour before heading left down Mercery Lane and on to the Unesco World Heritage Site of Canterbury Cathedral. St Augustines Abbey and St Martins Church are a short walk from the City Centre and are part of the WHS.
Travel & Accommodation
Canterbury is served by 2 railway stations and bus routes throughout Kent. There are plenty of accommodation options including 2 hostels if you’re working on a budget.
Food & Drink
With a plethora of food and drink options available you are spoilt for choice.
As an ale fan and if I just need a refreshing drink I never miss an opportunity to visit the Thomas Tallis Alehouse , a quirky micropub on Northgate which provides a wide selection of ales, ciders and wines from the surrounding area in a unique setting.
If I need something more substantial I favour a visit to the Foundry Brew Pub on White Horse Lane where they brew their own beers including Green Chapel- a beer brewed with yeast from St Augustine’s Abbey remains- a true Pilgrims Ale! They also serve a good range of burgers/ ribs and BBQ style food at a decent price.
Information given in this blog was correct at the date of posting.