White Cliffs Country: Adventure on the Kent Coast, the Gateway to England

At Dover, the North Downs Way comes to an end: beyond the port town’s blinding White Cliffs lies the English Channel and – visible on a clear day – the coast of France. It’s a stirring spot for a mini-adventure, packed with both high natural drama and the evidence of millennia of human progression, devotion and conflict.

Exploring the south-east’s White Cliff Country, you’ll discover how this area has defended itself over the centuries; how smuggling made this corner of Kent one of the most affluent and dangerous in the world; and how, when the ‘Garden of England’ meets the sea, you’ll always eat well. Plus, there are so many great, way-marked routes – from the England Coast Path to National Cycle Route 1 – that’s it’s easy to see it all by bike and on foot.

Tour Overview

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

Days

1-4

Distance

Walks from 3km to 17km

Difficulty

Easy / Moderate

Landscape

Rolling Countryside / Connecting Villages & Towns / By Water

Theme

History / Food & Drink / Wildlife / Pilgrimage / Coastal

Activities & Experiences

Walking / Cycling / Water Fun / Heritage

White Cliffs Country: Adventure on the Kent Coast, the Gateway to England

Here’s everything you need to help you plan your very own walking and exploring break in Kent’s White Cliffs Country. Click on the blue arrow tabs below for more information. To save this itinerary to view later, use the Save to My Rucksack button at the top of the page.

Itinerary

This four-day adventure focuses on England’s most dramatic and history-soaked south-east edge. Around the port of Dover, dally with smugglers, fishermen, Tudor kings, medieval pilgrims and World War heroes. Explore on foot and by bike, and refuel on excellent Kent produce along the way.

 

Day 1 Dover & Deal: Castles Galore

In just over an hour by train from London, you can be standing on the edge of the country. Dover is where the North Downs Way ends and where Kent gives way to the English Channel, in world-famous fashion: those dramatic White Cliffs.

This frontier location means Dover has seen its fair share of history over the millennia. So start by exploring the three perfectly preserved castles that long defended these shores.

Dover Castle perches right on the cliffs. The present bastion was begun by Henry II in the 1180s, but pay a visit to see how it’s changed over the centuries: view Roman and Saxon remains, enter the medieval tunnels, walk the battlements and descend into bunkers that played a vital role in the Second World War.

A short walk, cycle or train ride north is the old smuggling town of Deal, with it’s own well-preserved fortress. Deal Castle, built by order of King Henry VIII in a Tudor Rose layout, sits right by the beach. Wander its tunnels and ramparts, and then head south to reach castle number three.

Walmer Castle began as another fine Tudor artillery fortress, but in the 18th century it was transformed into the official residence of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports – a position held by the likes of the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother. The gardens are glorious – stroll from the formal areas and peaceful Queen Mother’s garden to the flourishing veg patch, bright wildflower meadows, woodland walk and sunken glen.

Both Dover and Deal make good bases. Dover has the cliffs and bustle; Deal is quaint and quirky, with its old fisherman’s cottages and smugglers’ haunts. Both will do you a good dinner: grab great fish-and-chips from Dover Patrol or dine over the Channel at Deal Pier Kitchen.

Overnight in Dover or Deal. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 2 Deal to Sandwich

Today, take a bike ride along the ancient byway that once connected Deal and Sandwich – now part of National Cycle Route 1 (which also runs to Dover, so you can start there if you like). Hire a bike from Mikes Bikes in Deal, grab a coffee from Hut 55 and off you go…

The route to Sandwich is largely traffic-free and runs inland past world-renowned golf courses and the Sandwich Bird Observatory before entering Sandwich itself, one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England. Grab a bite in one the many cafes – the pizza at The Drill Hall is particularly good.

This afternoon, secure your bike at the Quayside storage and take a stroll past all the boats and barges, and enjoy an ice cream in the park nearby. Then cycle back to Deal or hop on a train (six minutes). Treat yourself to a classy, creative feast at the Rose Hotel or squeeze into the Just Reproach, a quirky micropub serving excellent ciders and ales.

Overnight in Dover or Deal. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 3 Along the England Coast Path

Today, hit the England Coast Path. The bracing section between Dover and Deal takes in those iconic castles but much more besides. It tops the White Cliffs (passing above the Second World War tunnels, burrowed below), heads out to South Foreland Lighthouse and rolls across the dramatic downs; on a clear day, you can see the French coast.

About midway between Dover and Deal is St Margaret’s Bay. Nestled into the cliffs, this pretty village is a delight. After a stroll around Pine Calyx Gardens, stop for cake in the traditional tea rooms or a pint at the Coastguard (allegedly the nearest pub to France); peek at the beach-side house where both Ian ‘James Bond’ Fleming and Noel Coward once lived; and look out for peregrine falcons, which nest on the cliffs.

Overnight in Dover or Deal. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

Day 4 Dover: A Mini Pilgrimage

Lots of choices today, focusing on Dover. You could head south along the England Coast Path to reach Samphire Hoe. Created from the chalk marl excavated from the Channel Tunnel, this man-made reserve at the foot of Shakespeare Cliff is a wildlife haven: some 200 species of plants, 220 species of birds and 380 species of moths have been recorded here. Follow the nature trails and stop in the little café.

Back in town, pop into Dover Museum, to browse its varied collection, including a Bronze Age boat. Nearby is handsome Maison Dieu (House of God), a Grade I-listed building due to get a major restoration in 2021. It was founded in the early 13th century to provide lodgings for pilgrims from Europe, as they made their way to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket.

If you’d prefer a more active engagement with those pilgrims, talk a walk in their footsteps. The North Downs Way and Via Francigena (which links Canterbury and Rome) overlap for the 30km journey between Dover and Canterbury. Take the train to Shepherdswell, fortify yourself with an ale at the Tipsy Gardener micropub and hike north along the North Downs Way/Pilgrim’s Way to reach Canterbury. Be sure to visit the magnificent Cathedral – ideally on a guided tour – to better understand why so many made the trip here. Trains run from Canterbury back to Dover and Deal, or north to London.

Overnight in Dover or Deal. There are many options – see Accommodation, left.

 

Accommodation

The Kent coast has a variety of options, from hotels and hostels to family-run B&Bs. Some serve food too.

Dover
Deal
  • Rose Hotel – Boutique gem; eight unique rooms with luxurious beds and vintage furnishings.
  • No1 B&B – Stylish and modern accommodation with award-winning breakfasts, close to Deal’s seafront and lively town centre.
  • Channel View Guesthouse – Comfortable and affordable English seaside inn.
Beyond
  • Keepers Cottages, Sandwich – Local company specialising in coastal cottages.
  • Kings Arms Hotel, Sandwich – Traditional inn, dating to around 1580, with rooms and homecooked food.
  • The Bell Hotel, Sandwich – Historic hotel dating back to Tudor times; smart rooms.
  • Greenhill Glamping, Alkam Valley – Award-winning glamping with two restored shepherds huts.
  • Romany Dreams Gypsy Wagon B&B, Ewell Minnis – Luxuriously refurbished two-berth gypsy wagons.
  • The Plough Inn, Ripple – Friendly local pub with rooms in quaint village of Ripple.

 

Food & Drink

Many of the pubs and hotels listed under the Accommodation section also offer food, from classics to fine dining. Additionally, seek out some of the region’s characterful cafes.

Dover
  • Dover Patrol – Locally caught seafood just a few steps from the ocean.
  • La Salle Verte – Good coffee and toasted sandwiches, conveniently positioned in the town centre.
  • The Allotment – Good British classics, European favourites, Mexican spices.
Deal
  • Deal Pier Kitchen – Beach cafe on the pier, serving great breakfast, brunch and lunch.
  • Hut55 – Yoga on the beach, plus coffee and cake.
  • Rose Hotel – Cool, creative dishes created from the finest Kent produce.
  • The Frog and Scot – Lively French bistro serving fresh, simple food.
  • The Taphouse Beer Café – Informal dining with a selection of local craft ales.
  • Just Reproach – Fabulously quirky micropub on King Street.
Beyond

Activities

There’s plenty to do along the Kent coast, from historic footpaths to beach yoga.

Walks
  • White Cliffs Country walking and cycling routes – Numerous trails criss-cross the region and can be connected for longer journeys.
  • England Coast Path, Dover to Deal, around 16km – Route passes though the pretty village of St Margaret’s (which is roughly halfway). Alternatively, walk Dover-St Margaret’s (7.25km) or Deal-St Margaret’s (8.75km); buses run from St Margaret’s to both Deal and Dover.
  • Samphire Hoe Nature Reserve, 3km – Flat, traffic-free walking trails around the manmade reserve.a
  • Via Francigena, Shepherdswell to Canterbury, 17km – Follows route of pilgrimage to Rome; Dover to Shepherdswell is an additional 14km.
Other
  • Chequers Cookery School, Deal – Wide range of cookery courses and dining events.
  • Hut55, Deal – Yoga on the beach with coffee and cake.
  • Mikes Bikes, Deal – Bike hire, located on the beach just off Marine Road.
  • National Cycle Route 1 – Well-signed route taking in the three castles of Dover, Walmer and Deal, and the Roman Fort at Richborough.

For further walking inspiration visit The Outdoor Guide.

Experiences

From baking classes and beer tastings to ‘Spooky Canterbury’ boat tours, there are many different ways to experience Kent and the North Downs.

Dover

Dover Castle – Perfectly preserved bastion, rich in history; learn about the role it played in the Second World War.

Deal
Beyond
  • Battle of Britain Scramble Experience, Capel-le-Ferne – Hands-on attraction offering insight into the 1940 battle for the skies.
  • Samphire Hoe – Manmade nature reserve; guided tours available.
  • South Foreland Lighthouse, St Margaret’s Bay (National Trust) – Pioneering Victorian lighthouse; accessible on foot.
  • St Margaret’s Museum – Opposite the Pines Garden; houses a programme of changing displays on St Margaret’s during WW2, environmental themes and local history
  • Fan Bay Deep Shelter – Tunnel complex constructed in 1940/41 beneath the White Cliffs of Dover.

 

Cycling

Kent offers good cycling country. National Cycle Route 1 passes through this area.

 

Coastal England

Whitstable and the Kent Coast will be part of the England Coast Path.

For further coastal walks visit England’s Coast.

Travel

Dover is well served by public transport; Southeastern trains from London St Pancras take just over one hour. Trains also connect other towns on this itinerary.

Advice

For further information see www.whitecliffscountry.org.uk. For further Days Out ideas download this handy pdf.

We advise that you check opening times and booking restrictions before travelling.

Please check out these links for latest advice when in the countryside

Countryside Code

COVID-19 Guidance

Interactive Map

Click here to access the interactive map

Maps, Guidebooks & 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.