The River Stour Walk is a long-distance trail that winds through Kent's finest scenery and most spellbinding natural and historic sites to the coastline.
Following the course of the River Stour, the trail takes you from Lenham village, through the Low Weald and North Downs to the wildlife-rich Sandwich Bay. The official route is 58 miles (93 km). However, with a few detours to some worthy sites, this Collection is 61 miles (98 km).
The landscapes you encounter on this hike are delightfully diverse. Expect rolling grasslands, heathlands, woodlands, marshes, peat bogs, orchards, vineyards, picturesque villages, historic towns, and charming coastline. You explore plenty of nature reserves too, each affording wonderful wildlife displays.
Highlights along the way include: Hothfield Heathlands Nature Reserve, one of the last heathlands in Kent; Wye Crown Millennium Stone, which affords breathtaking views; Canterbury, a historic city and UNESCO World Heritage Site; Canterbury Cathedral, the most famous Christian structure in England; Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve; Richborough Castle, one of the most symbolic Roman sites in Britain; Sandwich, a pretty town where the sandwich was invented; and Sandwich and Pegwell Bay, Kent’s largest nature reserve.
In this Collection, I split the trail into four stages; 17.7 miles (28.5 km), 14.2 miles (22.6 km), 15.8 miles (25.4 km), and 13 miles (21 km). As Stage 1 is considerably longer than the others, I have made suggestions on how you can shorten/split the hike. Of course, you can divide the Collection into as many days as you are comfortable with or walk any single stage.
With minimal hills and following a downhill trajectory throughout, the trail is fairly leisurely throughout. Following waymarked paths and never straying too far from civilisation, the Stour Valley Walk is suitable for walkers of all abilities.
You are relatively well-served by accommodation along the route. However, places to stay are limited at times so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling your rest days accordingly.
Getting to the start and finish of this trail is very easy as both Lenham and Sandwich have railway stations with direct links to London and connecting services around Britain.
The first stage explores crumbling ruins, a Jacobean manor, one of the last remaining heathlands in Kent, and the ‘most haunted village in England’.With 17.7 miles (28.5 km) of distance, this is a long hike. However, with 425 feet (130 m) of uphill and 750 feet (229 m) of downhill, and with no climbs of any note, these are easy miles. (For suggestions on how to split/shorten the route, read on).From Lenham, you hike south into farmland and cross over two railway tracks and the M20 motorway in fairly quick succession. At Barnfield it is worth taking the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) detour shown here to visit Pluckley, hailed as England’s most haunted village. You rejoin the trail at the Grade II-listed ruins of St Mary’s Church, which was destroyed by a VI flying bomb during WWII, and hike past Mill Pond to Little Chart. Within the village there is a decent pub that serves food, the Swan.The trail then heads east through fields and woodlands and soon emerges onto Hothfield Heathlands Nature Reserve, one of the last remaining heathlands in Kent. You can observe many varieties of animals and plants here.You then make a half-loop along lanes and footpaths and pass very close to Godinton House, a Jacobean manor nestling among stunning parkland. If you skip the detour shown here, it shaves off half-a-mile (0.8 km).A short step later, you hike into the town of Ashford, where you find a good choice of accommodation, places to eat and drink, and shops. If you wish to split the stage, you can hike 0.8 miles (1.3 km) north from Hothfield Heathlands to Ram Lane, which has places to stay.
Breathtaking views, impressive architecture, pretty towns and welcoming pubs combine on this stage.By far the hilliest hike in the Collection, this 14.2-mile (22.6-km) stage has 1,075 feet (328 m) of uphill and 1,050 feet (320 m) of downhill, including some fairly tough climbs. To begin, you wind through the historic town of Ashford, cross over the M20 motorway, and then follow lanes and footpaths through pleasant countryside to Wye. Within the village, you find a few pit-stop opportunities.You leave the village to the east and, midway into the climb, it is worth pushing a little further up to the Wye Crown Millennium Stone, which is perfectly placed to highlight the incredible view over Romney Marshes to the English Channel.The trail drops into farmland, rises through Beech Wood and then descends through Warren Wood into Crundale. You follow Eggarton Lane north and then rise east over Blue Downs.A gradual and gently-undulating descent then leads into Chilham, where you find a couple of places to stay and options for food and drink. Highlights in the village include the Woolpack Inn, a pub and hotel that has been welcoming travellers since 1488, and Chilham Castle, an impressive Jacobean mansion.
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Stage 3 takes you alongside the Great Stour river through the heart of Canterbury UNESCO World Heritage Site, and into a nature reserve that is home to thousands of birds.Returning to normal Stour Valley Walk form, this level and leisurely hike is 15.8 miles (25.4 km) long with 400 feet (122 m) of uphill and 525 feet (160 m) of downhill.You leave Chilham on the road, cross the railway line and the Great Stour, head through woodland, and make a short ascent through fields. You join the Pilgrims Cycle Trail east and then head along Shalmsford Street.The trail continues east and picks-up the course of the Great Stour river, loops around Tonford Lake and the stonework ruins, and continues into Canterbury. A cathedral city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is worth taking time to explore Canterbury. Highlights include: Westgate Tower, the largest and the finest medieval gateway in England; Canterbury Cathedral, the most famous Christian structure in England; and the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey, which was founded in 598 AD as a burial place for the Anglo-Saxon kings.The trail winds through the city into a landscape of woodland and farmland and continues to Fordwich. You then hike through Trenley Park Wood and fields to Stodmarsh.A short step later, you reach Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve, a square mile of internationally-important reed beds, fens, ditches, wet grasslands and open water, which are home to thousands of birds.The stage finishes on the edge of the reserve, near Upstreet. There isn’t much accommodation here. However, the Grove Ferry Inn has rooms and serves food and drink.
The final stage takes you to the glorious Kent coastline via one the most symbolic Roman sites in Britain and the birthplace of the humble, but dearly loved, sandwich.Almost entirely level, this easygoing finale is 13 miles (21 km) long with an equal 150 feet (46 m) of uphill and downhill. However, as the trail ends away from accommodation and transport links, you have to hike an additional 3 miles (4.8 km).You begin alongside the Great Stour before peeling off through expansive arable fields to Westmarsh village. You continue southeast along quiet footpaths and soon reach Richborough Castle, which is among the most symbolic Roman sites in Britain as one of the first and last strongholds of the empire.The trail then follows the River Stour through the marshy landscape to Sandwich. Whilst the quintessentially-English town has much history, it is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of the humble sandwich. As you might expect, pit-stop and sandwich shop opportunities are plentiful here.You rejoin the River Stour outside Sandwich and follow it briefly before heading east through marsh to the coastline. You then head north along the shore into Sandwich and Pegwell Bay, Kent’s largest nature reserve.With saltmarsh, mudflats, beach, sand dunes, and ancient dune pasture, the reserve is home to diverse plants and wildlife.. Keep a look-out for seals, cuckoos, nightingales, and more.
The Stour Valley Walk finishes in the reserve, which doesn’t have any accommodation nearby. As such, your best bet is to hike back into Sandwich, which is 3 miles (4.8 km) away and has a good choice of accommodation and places for food and drink.