The Saxon Shore Way explores some of Britain’s most beautiful and wildlife-rich coastline on a historic journey through the ages.
From the bustling port of Gravesend, on the Thames Estuary, the Way winds 160 miles (278 km) around the south east coast of Britain to finish at the seaside town of Hastings, in East Sussex.
The trail affords some of the finest coastal walking in Britain. Expect sublime birdlife displays along the marshes of the Thames and Medway estuaries, breathtaking views atop the White Cliffs of Dover, panoramas over Romney Marsh from ancient coastline escarpment, medieval towns, golden beaches, ancient woodlands, and lots more.
The Saxon Shore Way follows the line of fortifications that defended Roman Britain from Saxon invaders. Interestingly, this means the trail follows the coast as it would have been in the 5th century AD, often many miles from today’s coastline.
The trail tells the story of Roman rule in Britain, the subsequent rise of the Anglo-Saxons up until the Norman Conquest of 1066—defined by the Battle of Hastings—which laid the foundations for modern British culture.
The Saxon Shore Way explores two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as well as many Sites of Special Scientific Interest and nature reserves, including the North Kent Marshes, one of the most important bird habitats in the UK.
The trail is waymarked throughout and follows well-maintained paths. The hiking is generally quite leisurely but there are some challenging sections, making it a good choice for experienced and intermediate hikers alike.
In this Collection, we split the route into 12 stages, each averaging 14 miles (23 km). 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 couple of stages, in isolation.
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.
If you are planning to arrive by public transport, Gravesend has excellent links, including regular bus and train services direct from London. Hastings, at the end, also has great public transport links around the country, including direct trains to London and Brighton.
If you plan to drive, your best bet is to negotiate with a hotel or B&B owner in Gravesend to stay for a night either side and leave your car for the duration. To get back from to Gravesend, you can catch a train from Hastings, typically with a transfer at London Bridge.
For more information about the Saxon Shore Way, visit: visitkent.co.uk/attractions/saxon-shore-way-2474.
For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com.
Taking you to a 12th-century castle, a 16th-century fort, and a nature reserve that is a haven for birdlife, this first stage is a wonderful introduction to the Saxon Shore Way.To make the itinerary work, this stage is short at 9.1 miles (14.6 km). With almost no ascent or descent, it is a leisurely start.If you fancy an extension, consider catching a ferry from Gravesend Pier across the Thames to Tilbury Fort, which was built in the 16th century to protect London from seaward attackers.From the pier, follow the south bank of the Thames until Cliffe Fort, which was built in the 1860s. Here, you head inland to explore RSPB Cliffe Pools Nature Reserve, a great place for spotting birds.The trail continues through the village of Cliffe and cuts through farmland to Cooling, where this stage finishes.On the outskirts of the village you find Cooling Castle, which was built in the 1380s to guard against French raids.There is not much in Cooling. However, the village pub has rooms available and serves food. For ferry timetables and prices, visit: thurrock.gov.uk/ferry-services/tilbury-to-gravesend-ferry-service.
This stage crosses the heart of the Hoo Peninsula and introduces the majestic River Medway as it rolls towards the Thames.You start by following county lanes out of Cooling, after which you pass through a farm and step straight into RSPB Northward Hill Nature Reserve, a haven for birds overlooking the Thames Marshes.The trail climbs through woodland on Northward Hill and then descends gradually through farmland to the north bank of the River Medway.You follow the river west through Hoo Marina Park and continue through woodland and urban areas to Strood, where you cross the Medway via Rochester Bridge.Once in Rochester, it is worth taking some time to explore. Notable highlights include the 12th-century castle, as well as Rochester Cathedral, which was founded in 604 AD.You follow the south bank of the Medway out of Rochester to Brompton and then head inland to the town of Gillingham, where this stage finishes.Gillingham has an excellent range of accommodation, places for food and drink, shops, and other attractions.
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This stage explores the diverse habitats of the Medway Marshes, where stunning wildlife displays are never far away. You start outside St Mary Magdalene Church, which dates to the 13th century, and hike northeast to Gillingham Marshes, on the Medway. You take the footpath east past Cinque Port Marshes and Copperhouse Marshes and eventually reach Riverside Country Park.With a variety of habitats, including mudflats, salt marsh, ponds, reed-beds, grassland, and scrub, the county park is a great place for wildlife.The trail winds around Motney Hill and Otterham Creek and skirts inland to the village of Upchurch, where you find St Mary’s, a stunning Grade I-listed church that was founded in 1187.You continue along country lanes north to rejoin the Medway and then hike along some superb riverside to Lower Halstow.The trail follows the rough course of the Medway until Chetney Hill, heads inland to miss a huge meander, and rejoins the river to Sheppey Crossing.There is no accommodation at Sheppey Crossing. However, it is a ten-minute train ride from Swale Station (right at the crossing) to Sittingbourne, which has an excellent range of accommodation and places for food and drink.
Atmospheric shipwrecks, lonely marshes, and excellent bird watching opportunities combine on this spellbinding stage.Start by following the Swale, a tidal channel of the Thames Estuary, to Milton Creek. You then make a full loop of the creek, passing through Sittingbourne.You rejoin the Swale and follow it west with wildlife-rich, shipwreck-scattered marsh on one side and drained farmland on the other.The trail loops around Conyer Creek and continues to Oare Marshes Nature Reserve. With diverse habitats including grazing marsh, freshwater dykes, open water scrapes, reedbed, saltmarsh, and seawall, Oare Marshes is a fantastic place for birdwatching.It is then a short step to the village of Oare, where this stage finishes. Whilst there is nothing here, it is less than a mile to Davington, on the outskirts of Faversham, where there is a good range of accommodation, places for food and drink, and shops.Whilst this stage is almost entirely level, 17.3 miles (27.8 km) is a challenging distance. If you want to split the hike, Sittingbourne is the best option.
From tidal marsh to golden coastline, this stage takes you to the seaside via a historic church with celebrity connections.Start by walking northeast along Oare Creek to Faversham Creek, which you follow right back to Davington (less than a mile from where you started). Here, you find the Church of St Mary Magdalene and St Lawrence. This church is notable for a handful of reasons. It is 12th-century, Grade I-listed, the oldest in the Faversham area, is unusually dedicated to two saints — and is right next door to Bob Geldof’s home.You cross Faversham Creek via New Bridge and hike along its eastern bank, around Nagden Marshes and onto the coastline. You continue along the stunning shoreline of Whitstable Bay to the town of Whitstable. Expect sweeping views, lots of wildlife, and plenty of freshly-caught fish and chips. Whitstable has an excellent range of accommodation, places for food and drink, shops, and other attractions.
This hike-of-two halves takes you from bustling British seaside into a serene patchwork of marsh and farmland.From Whitstable, you simply follow the coastline east for the first 8 miles (12.9 km), where you experience lovely views.Along the way, you pass the classic seaside town of Herne Bay, which has an impressive pier and one of the earliest examples of a free-standing clock tower in the UK.You continue over the Downs, cross Bishopstone Glen, and emerge into Reculver Country Park, where you find one of the earliest Roman forts in England and the stunning remains of a 12th-century Anglo Saxon monastery.At this point, you hike south with farmland on one side and marshland on the other to the village of Upstreet, where this stage finishes.Although Upstreet is small, you will find a few options for accommodation and food and drink in the area.
This stage explores one of the most symbolic Roman sites in Britain, visits the historic town of Sandwich, and brings you back to the coastline.For the most part, this hike follows the course of the River Stour through farmland intersected with dykes. With almost no ascent or descent, you should find this a leisurely stage.From Upstreet, you follow the Stour for a short time before peeling away over farmland and rejoining the river at the village of Plucks Gutter.You continue along the river for another 6 miles (9.6 km) and pass Richborough Port, which was a secret ‘Q’ port during the First World War.A short time later, you reach Richborough Castle. One of the first and last strongholds of Roman rule in Britain, the symbolic site has mighty walls and ramparts to explore.As you step into the historic town of Sandwich, where this stage finishes, stunning medieval architecture awaits. A particularly fine example is St Clement's Church, a 12th-century rebuild of a Saxon church close to the medieval town walls.Sandwich has an excellent range of accommodation, places for food and drink, shops, and other attractions.
‘There’ll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover,’ is the Vera Lynn refrain that will echo in your mind as you explore one of England’s most iconic landmarks.The trail heads east from Sandwich to join the coastline at Sandwich Bay. You then follow the England Coast Path national trail south past Deal, Walmer, Kingsdown, and St Margaret’s Bay.After South Foreland Lighthouse, you step onto the famous White Cliffs of Dover, an iconic sight for people arriving on the southern shores of England for millennia. Standing at 350 feet (107 metres) tall, the white cliffs afford stunning views out to sea and over the rolling chalk landscape. On a clear day, you can see France.This stage finishes in the port town of Dover, which has an excellent range of accommodation, places for food and drink, shops, and other attractions.
With more climbing than any other stage on the Saxon Shore Way, this challenging hike should test your mettle.From Dover, you rejoin the England Coast Path as it rises over Western Heights and then descends to Shakespeare Cliff.You continue along the cliffs and, a short time after passing Samphire Hoe Country Park below, reach the Abbot's Cliff Sound Mirror. Built in 1928 to provide early warning of enemy planes approaching Britain, the sound mirror affords a great sense of your surroundings, both aurally and visually.The trail heads over the cliffs with Warren County Park below and then skirts inland around Sugarloaf Hill and Castle Hill. You continue through farmland that is scattered with ancient cairns.After crossing the M20, it is only a short step to Saltwood, where this stage finishes. Saltwood has a good choice of accommodation, places to eat and drink, shops, and other attractions.
Roman ruins and ancient woodland filled with rare wildlife combine on this enchanting hike.From Saltwood, the trail climbs gradually through farmland and woodland past Lympne Castle (which only opens as a wedding venue unfortunately) and onto Portus Lemanis.Also known as Stutfall Castle, Portus Lemanis is a Roman fort that was built around 270 AD. Not much survives of the fort today but it is a fascinating place to explore and affords breathtaking views.You descend to the Royal Military Canal and follow it west for a short distance before climbing around the village of Bonnington.The trail descends gradually through Park Wood, Priory Wood, and Dicker's Wood before reaching Ham Street Woods Nature Reserve, which is home to lots of flora and fauna, including many protected species. When you emerge from the reserve you step straight into the village of Hamstreet, where this stage finishes. There is not much in Hamstreet but you will find a couple of accommodation options, places for food and drink, and shops.
The penultimate stage takes you to the historic town of Rye, where half-timbered medieval houses with quirky names are ten-a-penny. With a manageable distance and a near entirely flat terrain, you should find this a leisurely hike.From Hamstreet, the trail follows the rough course of the Royal Military Canal through the patchwork landscape to Appledore. You then head away from the canal, loop around the village of Stone, and pick-up the MIlitary Road by the canal.You cross the water a short time later and follow the canal to where it meets the River Rother. Here, you continue along the riverside footpath to Rye where this stage finishes. Famous for its cobbled streets, medieval houses, and for having one of the oldest inns in Britain, Rye is a fascinating place to explore. After this hike, you should have enough time and energy to see the sights.Rye has an excellent range of accommodation, places for food and drink, shops, and other attractions.
The final stage brings you back to the ocean for an epic finish along the white cliffs.A hike-of-two halves, this stage begins along level and leisurely terrain before transforming into a challenging scramble over coastal cliffs and into coves.From Rye, you emerge into pretty drained farmland and soon arrive at Camber Castle, which was built by Henry III after he divorced from his Spanish wife, Catherine of Aragon, and consequently feared invasion from Spain and its ally, France.You continue past Winchelsea and eventually reach the golden coastline. At Cliff End, a short distance later, the character of this hike changes drastically. As you rise and fall along the white cliffs of Hastings County Park, you are treated to wonderful views and breathtaking wildlife displays.Right before the end of the hike, it is worth a short detour to see Hastings Castle, the first castle to be built by William the Conqueror after invading Britain and winning the battle of Hastings in 1066. This stage and the Saxon Shore Way finishes in the historic town of Hastings, which has an excellent range of accommodation, places for food and drink, shops, and other attractions.