North Downs Way
The 153 mile (245 Km) North Downs Way offers spectacular views and a fascinating heritage, passing through the Surrey Hills and the Kent Downs Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty from Farnham to Dover.
Along the trail you’ll find peaceful villages, a range of wildlife and the iconic Pilgrims Way.
Section 1 Farnham – Guildford 11 miles (17.7 Km)
Stride past the landmarks and villages which inspired many writers as the North Downs Way travels eastwards from Farnham, meeting the infamous track of the Pilgrims Way.
Runfold Wood Nature Reserve provides a fantastic place to spot an abundance of wildlife, from roe deer and dormice, to woodpeckers, nuthatches and blackcaps, while a range of flora flourishes on the woodland floor.
The villages along your route will have changed little since the days when many writers drew inspiration here. The quiet village of Puttenham was featured in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in 1932.
Section 2 Guildford to Dorking 13 miles (21 Km)
Along the Pilgrims Way, you will soon leave this renowned track, heading on to the chalk of the North Downs. Sites of Scientific Interest pepper the trail along with fantastic views towards the Greensand Ridge, the High Weald and the South Downs.
Not far into your walk and you see the lovely St Martha’s Church. A little way along and you pass through Netley Park, following in the footsteps of the Canadian Army who were based here from 1943.
Section 3 Dorking to Merstham 10 miles (16 Km)
Cross the stepping stones over the River Mole and scale the steep scarp of Box Hill, taking in views which inspired the final 500 lines of John Keats’ Edymion, before plunging down to rejoin the Pilgrim’s Way and follow in the footsteps of historic travellers.
You’ll soon be brought back up to the ridge of Colley Hill, catching a flash of stunning views through the woodland. Pause at the viewing platforms of Box Hill, Colley Hill and Reigate Hill and savour magnificent views across a landscape rich in fauna and flora and towards the sight of the restored Reigate Fort.
Section 4 Merstham to Oxted 8 miles (12.8 Km)
From Merstham, take a steady climb up the ridge and continue across high farmland and to the rewarding sight of the Victorian folly, Whitehill Tower.
Stride through a trail of woodland, enjoying sights of wildflowers, including the number of rare orchid species spread across the North Downs.
Section 5 Oxted to Otford 11.8 miles (18.9 Km)
Steep climbs greet you along this stretch of the trail, bringing with them the relief of views across the countryside and down towards the Pilgrims Way. Look out for the Meridian Plaque near the start of the trail, a marker of the millennium and the cross of the Greenwich Meridian by the North Downs Way and the Vanguard Way.
This section brings you into Kent, passing the first North Downs Way ‘milestone’. From here, the route travels on through the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Charles Darwin’s Down House lies along the North Downs, and it was here that he made observations of fauna and flora, having already made his famous trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Section 6 Otford to Cuxton 15 miles (24.1 Km)
Follow the trail, switching between the historic Pilgrims Way and the heights of the top of the Downs.
Along this stretch, you’ll be treated to the rich landscape of the Kemsing Down Nature Reserve, littered with over nine species of orchid 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.
Section 7 Cuxton to Detling 12.5 miles (20.1 Km)
Your trail will soon lead you across a river which divides the county of Kent in more ways than one; the River Medway marks those born to the East of it as Men and Maids of Kent and those born to the west of it as Kentish Men and Maidens.
The magnificent sights of Rochester Castle and Cathedral lie to your left. From the height of your trail, you will be able to spy the salt marshes and aquatic birds swooping above them.
The heritage of the trail continues as you reach Kit’s Coty, a Neolithic burial chamber of the Celtic Catigem. Local legend states that when counting the stones you will never arrive at the same number.
Section 8 Detling to Lenham 9.3 miles (14.9 Km)
This section traces both the ridge and the Pilgrims Way of the lower down.
Thurnham Castle lies along this route, the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle. This ancient castle sits within White Horse Wood Country Park, a stunning area of rolling grassland and secluded woodland.
While you are here it seems the perfect time to visit Leeds Castle, celebrated as the most beautiful castle in the world.
Modern day travellers will once again be reminded of the historical significance of the Pilgrim’s Way, passing the Pilgrim’s Rest sculpture, a wooden Brother Percival taking his time on the way to Canterbury.
Section 9 Lenham to Wye 11.1 miles (17.9 Km)
If you wish to trace the footsteps of ancient travellers, you’ll need to leave the track after Boughton Lees, continuing on to Chilham and following the Canterbury Loop (14.8 miles, 23.8km).
Make a quick stop off at Charing and you will find a charming village, lined with historic buildings, including the crumbling remains of the Archbishop’s Palace, once an overnight resting place as archbishops travelled between London and Canterbury.
The Canterbury Loop – follow the trail to Dover via Canterbury
Section 10 Wye to Chilham 7 miles (11 Km)
The King’s Wood blankets much of this section of the trail, where robbers once prayed on pilgrims. Soon you’ll emerge from the thick woodland and, just as pilgrims have for centuries, will catch your first sighting of the splendid Canterbury Cathedral.
The Pilgrims Way was originally the track which served many travellers on their way to commemorate the death of Thomas Becket. However, the track later became the subject of Chaucer’s satirical Canterbury Tales. 212 years after Becket’s death, this trek had begun to be associated with leisure and sin rather than penance.
Section 11 Chilham to Canterbury 7.2 miles (11.6 Km)
Continue on from the beautiful village of Chilham and towards historic Canterbury, tracing the paths of pilgrims before you. You will travel through an expanse of orchard, finally reaching another magnificent view of the majestic cathedral.
You will pass St Dunstan’s Church where weary travellers once paused to pray before making the final approach to Canterbury. It was here that King Henry II paid his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket; clothed in a rough hair shirt and cloak, he walked barefoot to the cathedral.
You will soon reach the pinnacle of the ancient pilgrimage, Canterbury Cathedral.
Section 12 Canterbury to Shepherdswell 10.4 miles (16.7 Km) on The Via Francigena
Take the first steps towards Rome on the Via Francigena that follows the North Downs Way to Dover before crossing to mainland Europe. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Canterbury you will set off along the Elham Valley Way through a peaceful farming landscape, on through small villages and past the striking Higham Park.
Along the way you can take one final glance back towards Canterbury Cathedral, but the area’s heritage does not end in Canterbury; the once grand St Augustine’s Abbey was the burial place for Kings of Kent, built by St Augustine, a man whose mission was to convert the Kingdom of Kent to Christianity.
Section 13 Shepherdswell to Dover 8.5 miles (13.7 Km) on The Via Francigena
This final approach to Dover is a gentle amble through rolling countryside with flashes of the distant sea ahead.
Waldershare Park estate offers an impressive distraction along the route, complete with the Belvedere Tower, a grand house and mews.
You will soon meet the White Cliffs Country Trail, taking you across the iconic White Cliffs and into the final descent to your goal. Dover Castle lies in wait, another celebrated icon along this section of the coastline. Soon you will reach the end of the North Downs Way and the chance to explore this infamous harbour town with the Start/Finish line on the Dover Sea Front.
Mainline Route to Dover Following the Heritage Coast
Section 14 Wye to Folkestone 15.2 miles (24.4 Km)
You’ll find stunning views and steep ascents along this section of the walk. Your first ascent will take you to the Wye Crown and one of the most important and stunning sections of the trail. This very spot witnessed the official opening of the North Downs Way in 1978.
Along the way to Folkestone you’ll pass the striking drop of the Devil’s Kneading Trough National Nature Reserve, a great crevice which is the deepest of the dry combes in the area. The trail bursts out onto the coast above the Channel Tunnel terminal looking across Folkestone to the English Channel.
Section 15 Folkestone to Dover 8.5 miles (13.5 Km)
Spectacular views lie in wait for you along this stretch of Heritage Coast. Travel along the top of the escarpment and you’ll be treated to views over the English Channel before you’ll descending into Dover, crossing the top of the great Shakespeare Cliff, said to be the inspiration for a passage in King Lear.
Over Western Heights you will have the chance to soak up spectacular views, encompassing the vibrant harbour and the imposing stronghold of Dover Castle. The magnificent castle has held a momentous role in history as the largest castle in England and a significant point of defence.