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Hike through 3,000 years of heavenly history — North Downs Way

Aled Moses (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Hike through 3,000 years of heavenly history — North Downs Way

Hiking Collection by Kit P

13

Tours

70:00 h

164 mi

12,550 ft

The North Downs Way follows an ancient pilgrim trail through rolling countryside and wild woodlands, over breathtaking escarpments and past 3,000-year-old ruins to finish below the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, gazing over the twinkling English Channel.

The inspirational 153-mile (245 km) journey begins in Farnham and passes through the Surrey Hills and the Kent Downs Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the coast. The Way explores an enchanting landscape that's rich in beauty, heritage, wildlife and folklore. As you hike along this spectacular route, you follow in the footsteps of pilgrims dating back almost 1,000 years. However, many of these trails have been used for more than 3,000 years and the evidence of past civilisations is everywhere.

Along the way, you can see Bronze Age burial sites, Roman fortresses, churches dating back to the 11th century and beyond, Second World War bunkers, plus more. You also pass through internationally-important nature reserves and woodlands, all filled with rare wildlife and plantlife.

At Boughton Lees, the North Downs Way splits in two. The most direct route goes through Wye, over the Downs to Folkestone and along the cliffs to Dover. The alternative follows the hills to the historic city of Canterbury, along the Barham Downs, through Shepherdswell and Waldershare Park to Dover. Both options are shown in this itinerary and the Canterbury Loop is marked as such.

Every stage finishes close to accommodation, even if there are only a few options nearby. However, places to stay are not always abundant so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling any rest days accordingly.

In this itinerary, we break the North Downs Way into 10 stages (11 stages for the Canterbury Loop). Of course, you can split up each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or a couple of stages, in isolation. Almost all of the trail is within easy access of London and has good transport links. Some stages are quite rural, so if you want to leave in the middle, local buses will be your friends.

On some of the lengthier stages, there's a suggestion on the best way to split the route into a more manageable distance.

If you're planning to arrive by public transport, you can catch a train to Farnham Railway Station, which is served by direct trains from London and has connecting services around the country. To get home, Dover Priory railway station has direct trains to London and connections around the UK.

As with all long-distance hikes, arriving by car is not the easiest option. However, if you do decide to, your best bet is to negotiate with a hotel or B&B a rate to stay for a night either side of your hike in Farnham and leave your car for the duration. You can then catch a train from Dover back to Farnham, via London. Alternatively, there are long stay car parks in Dover that you could park at.

You can hike this route throughout the year but the downs really come alive from late spring to early autumn. Walking in the warmer months means you can make the most of longer daylight hours as well. There are some steep sections and rugged terrain but nothing technical. Comfortable walking boots, good stamina and a love for the countryside will serve you well.

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North Downs Way

158 mi

12,225 ft

12,250 ft

Last updated: November 17, 2021

Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Farnham to Guildford – North Downs Way

    Difficult
    05:19
    12.4 mi
    2.3 mph
    700 ft
    775 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first stage of the North Downs Way makes for a leisurely introduction to the trail. A sculpture marks the spot where the 153-mile (245 km) trail begins its journey from Farnham to Dover.

    

    Before you set off in earnest, it's worth making a brief detour to explore the ruins of Farnham Castle. The castle

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:38
    12.9 mi
    2.3 mph
    950 ft
    925 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage starts by following the Pilgrim's Way, a historical route from Winchester to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury.

    

    From Guildford, you cross the River Wey (north branch) and ascend through Chantry Wood and up St Martha’s Hill, where you find a beautiful church perched on the top of the

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    07:51
    17.3 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,975 ft
    1,425 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This challenging stage will test your fitness and endurance.

    

    With 17 miles (27 km) of distance and nearly 2,000 feet (610 m) of ascent and descent, it certainly is a tough hike. However, the views will take your breath away. (For details on how to split the hike see the end).

    

    From Westhumble, you cross

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    06:00
    13.7 mi
    2.3 mph
    850 ft
    1,375 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage takes you across county lines from Surrey into Kent through serene and bucolic landscapes.

    

    From Oxted, the trail descends to Oxted Quarry and then climbs through the Titsey Plantation. Once you emerge from the woodland, you soon pass St Mary's church. Built in the 11th century, the tranquil

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    07:15
    16.2 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,475 ft
    1,650 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    With a sizeable distance and a tough terrain, this stage will really test your mettle. The enchanting beauty, rich history, and abundant wildlife should serve as a reward for your effort, though.

    

    From Otford, it's a steep climb over Otford Mount before the trail dips into Kemsing Down Nature Reserve

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:25
    12.2 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,225 ft
    900 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    You hike deeper into Kent along this stage on a journey filled with history and nature.

    

    After skirting along the southern edge of Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve, you soon cross the River Medway.

    

    The impressive sights of Rochester Castle and Cathedral can be seen from the trail. You might even be able to

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:20
    9.82 mi
    2.3 mph
    875 ft
    750 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    You see some very historical buildings on this stage, including a castle that's been described as ‘the loveliest in England’.

    

    Before you leave Detling, it's worth having a look around St Martin of Tours church, a stunning Grade I-listed church that was built in the 12th century.

    

    A mile-or-so later, you

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:55
    11.7 mi
    2.4 mph
    325 ft
    675 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    With flat terrain and a more-than-manageable distance, you'll find this to be a very leisurely stage.

    

    From Lenham, you soon arrive at Lenham Cross, a chalk cross set into the landscape as a memorial to the casualties of the two world wars. From above the cross, you have a fine view over the landscape

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:01
    11.3 mi
    2.8 mph
    1,125 ft
    850 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    If you're skipping the Canterbury Loop, you leave from Wye and head to the village of Etchinghill. The route begins with an ascent up to the Wye Crown, a hill carving celebrating the Millennium.

    

    You stay high for a good few miles, passing the Devil's Kneeding Trough – a dry valley – and eventually descending

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:24
    12.3 mi
    2.8 mph
    1,025 ft
    1,425 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This final stage of the North Downs Way leads you on an undulating hike to the coast and along the clifftops to the port town of Dover, famous for its white cliffs and ferry links to France.

    

    This is a hike of fantastic views, particularly if you get a clear day. Beginning in Etchinghill, you get a strong

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    06:08
    14.1 mi
    2.3 mph
    975 ft
    1,050 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    As you begin your journey along the Canterbury Loop, you'll be joining a rich history of ancient pilgrimage.

    

    Travellers have walked this trail for hundreds of years to pay their respects to the grave of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170.

    

    Becket is venerated

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:35
    10.8 mi
    2.4 mph
    575 ft
    350 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Canterbury is one of the most popular tourist destinations in England and is a wonderful place to explore at any time of year.

    

    With a rich history, beautiful architecture, a strong religious presence, and year-round festivities, the streets are always bursting with life and activity.

    

    This relatively short

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:09
    9.67 mi
    2.3 mph
    475 ft
    750 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The final stage of the North Downs Way on the Canterbury Loop is another leisurely hike, allowing plenty of time to explore Dover.

    

    Whilst it's around 9 miles (14 km) to the official end point, you can keep strolling beyond this finish line to explore Dover Castle, the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, and

    by Kit P

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    13
  • Distance
    164 mi
  • Duration
    70:00 h
  • Elevation
    12,550 ft

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