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Hike up hill and down dale in rural South East England — Wealdway

Andrew Campbell (CC-BY 2.0)

Hike up hill and down dale in rural South East England — Wealdway

Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield

6-12

days

3-6 h

/ day

88.4 mi

5,100 ft

5,175 ft

The Wealdway is an intimate and heart-warming journey across the varied and tranquil countryside of rural South East England. Taking in two historic counties, two beautiful Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and one national park, it is a long-distance trail of high calibre.

It’s an 80-mile (127 km) adventure that effectively runs from coast to coast. Starting on the Thames Estuary at Gravesend, it journeys over the beautiful Kent Downs AONB; explores the verdant Medway Valley; crosses into East Sussex and the High Weald AONB, climbing to its spectacular high point in Ashdown Forest, before descending into the Low Weald; and finally coming to a climax on the South Downs above Eastbourne.

It is an undulating journey, with gradual inclines to escarpment viewpoints, followed by gentle descents to gorgeous river valleys thronged with colour and life. Quintessentially charming English villages dot the route, but the trail mostly seeks out serenity over settlement.

The region is rich in ancient history, from Neolithic times and the Romans, to the era of the monasteries and the boom of the industrial revolution and specifically the Wealden iron industry. The wheel of time has left its mark right across this ancient landscape.

Some choose to tackle the Wealdway from south to north, finishing in Gravesend. In this Collection, I have opted to go with the traditional bearing, starting at the Thames and heading south. This way the spectacular finale on the South Downs above Eastbourne is saved for last. I have split the route into 8 stages that vary in length between 8 and 16 miles (12.9 and 25.7 km). It is an itinerary that could be tackled any time of year, though the route is at its most colourful in late spring.

The kindness of the gradients makes this a hillwalking adventure that is suitable for all, regardless of age, experience or fitness. Better still, the route is waymarked throughout with finger posts and arrowed wooden pillars. Although the route purposefully avoids human habitation where possible, villages or towns are still visited during each section, with detours to other settlements also feasible.

There’s usually a couple of options for lunch during each stage, though advance planning and booking is recommended. This means you won’t have to carry too many provisions with you. However, some sections involve high walking on ground exposed to the elements. Warm layers and waterproofs are highly recommended, whilst the clay soil found in the Low Weald is especially boggy after rainfall, so study, waterproof boots are also a must.

Each stage ends near accommodation and, where there are fewer options, I recommend specific lodgings in the Tour descriptions. It is well worth booking in advance along the route or planning route deviations to alternatives before setting out on the trail.

Gravesend is an hour from Central London by train, whilst the A2 passes very close to the Wealdway’s official start point. Eastbourne is also accessible by train from London, with the faster services taking less than an hour and a half from Victoria. Brighton is also only a forty-minute direct train away.

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Wealdway

87.3 mi

4,900 ft

5,175 ft

Last updated: November 15, 2021

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Difficult
    06:56
    16.1 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,025 ft
    825 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first stage takes you across the gentle hills of the Kent Downs, through some absurdly pretty villages, and to the crest of the chalk escarpment. From this vantage, orchards, fields and woodland roll away to the southern horizon. After descending from the scarp, you discover Coldrum Longbarrow, before

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    05:46
    13.8 mi
    2.4 mph
    400 ft
    600 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    You leave the chalk downland of the previous stage behind and stride out into the clay and sandy soil of the Weald on this 13.8-mile (22.2 km) hike. Civilisation is sparser, so it’s a good idea to plan your meals ahead, paying attention to opening times.

    From Wrotham Heath, you head south through pretty

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:15
    9.65 mi
    2.3 mph
    875 ft
    600 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    In this stage you cross delightful Wealden countryside, ascending to an escarpment at Bidborough and rambling up and down through rolling, rural pastures. There are some interesting cottages and manors to discover and more wildlife to spot along the River Medway.

    You leave Tonbridge and head alongside

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:15
    9.80 mi
    2.3 mph
    750 ft
    500 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Glorious, open countryside awaits on this stage of the Wealdway, as you acquaint yourself with the River Medway once more, pass through the solitary village of Withyham and ascend to the heathland of the ancient Ashdown Forest. From this high ground, you discover some of the most soul-stirring views

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:04
    9.41 mi
    2.3 mph
    475 ft
    825 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage continues to shun civilisation in favour of rural pastures, as you continue your ramble in the territory of Ashdown Forest and through Buxted Deer Park. The only village on the trail is Blackboys at the stage’s end, however a detour into Fairwarp, Buxted or Uxfield is perfectly feasible for

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:26
    10.6 mi
    2.4 mph
    300 ft
    475 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Having left the High Weald behind at Ashdown Forest, you now venture across the land of the Low Weald. Whilst not as windswept and rugged, this land is still less cultivated than you might think and settlements are sparse. East Hoathly and Chiddingly are the only other villages you will come across between

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    03:24
    8.17 mi
    2.4 mph
    250 ft
    200 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The penultimate stage crosses the flat land between the Weald and the South Downs, ending at Wilmington. The surrounding countryside becomes more obviously fertile than on the previous stage, as you approach the springy chalk grasslands of the South Downs.

    From Hellingly, you follow the River Cuckmere

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:50
    10.8 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,025 ft
    1,175 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    You ascend onto the glorious South Downs for the final stage, before finishing in the seaside town of Eastbourne. There’s much of interest here, from the mysterious Long Man of Wilmington chalk figure, the ancient Neolithic remains at Combe Hill and two historic hamlets in Folkington and Jevington.

    From

    by Alex Foxfield

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Questions and Comments

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    8
  • Distance
    88.4 mi
  • Duration
    37:56 h
  • Elevation
    5,100 ft5,175 ft

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Hike up hill and down dale in rural South East England — Wealdway

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