Widely known as a fantastic walking trail, thanks to British campaigning charity CyclingUK there is now a route that takes in much of the original North Downs Way. Where the access forbids cycling, they’ve found alternative, quiet back lanes to avoid busy main roads so you can now enjoy much of the same route on two wheels.
You’ll firstly enjoy the steep climbs and descents of the Surrey Hills, wooded singletrack and byways, before heading east to Kent’s less testing gravel tracks and quiet lanes. The 137 mile (220 km) route takes in some other long distance trails too, including the ancient Pilgrims Way and you’ll climb the infamous Box Hill.
Riding all three stages over a few days can make for a great bikepacking route. Alternatively each stage can be ridden as a day ride very easily, thanks to the extensive transport network in this part of the country and the fact that each stage both starts and finishes near railway stations.
You’ll find many options at the end of each stage in Oxted, Hollingbourne and Dover for your overnight stay. Choose from hotels, guesthouses, hostels or local camping grounds, but make sure you book in advance during the busy summer months.
The North Downs Way is a great mix of off road trails and quiet lanes. You’ll definitely need something more off-road orientated than a road bike; a gravel, cyclo-cross or mountain bike will be best. The trails will be in the best condition during the summer months when it’s much drier. However, if you’re happy to get a bit mucky, this route can be enjoyed year-round. Make the most of the transport links and abundant places to stay and eat to get out there, whatever the weather.
Railway stations in Farnham, Oxted, Hollingbourne and Dover mean that this route is best accessed by train. Each of these are served by lines out of London, so can make for the perfect local weekend escape! Do make sure that you check whether you need to book your bike on the train when you buy your train ticket though, as space can be limited, especially at peak times.
Check out more from CyclingUK here: cyclinguk.org/article/north-downs-way-new-gpx-route
The first stage is the most undulating, taking in the Surrey Hills over the 50.3 mile (81 km) route.From the gorgeous town of Farnham at the start of the North Downs Way you’ll head east, rumbling past Guildford before climbing up onto the hillside of the North Downs. After a drop down to cross the Mole Valley and climbing the Olympic Box Hill, the second half of the day skirts the busy M25 along a number of wooded tracks, byways and surprisingly quiet lanes. Start by leaving Farnham to the south-east over Crooksbury Common, passing the remains of Waverley Abbey and enjoying the network of singletrack by Cutmill Pond. Join the Surrey Cycleway near Compton for a short stretch, before taking the wooded trails through the centre of the Loseley Estate.As you pass the southern tip of bustling Guildford, take a diversion south to cross the River Wey near Shalford, then back up on the other side of the floodplain. Here you’ll start the long climb up onto the hills of the North Downs, up through Chantry Wood and to the Merrow Downs. Pass Newlands Corner and the Albury Downs as you continue to climb, reaching the top as you take the bridleway through Little Kings Wood. Through the gaps in the trees you’ll enjoy incredible views to the south over the agricultural landscape of rural Surrey. Rejoin the Surrey Road on Ranmore Common Road before the sharp descent to cross the Mole Valley, climbing on the other side up the famous Box Hill that was used in the 2012 Olympic road race. It’s a long climb up to 705 feet (215 metres), but thankfully not too steep and on smooth tarmac. Why not stop for a brew and something to eat in the cafe near the summit?You’ll pass over Headley Heath after Box Hill, then trace along the top of the steep sided Buckland Hills as you continue your mission east. From the top of Reigate Hill you’ll enjoy a rapid descent on a mixture of surfaces, before climbing back up to the same height soon after, near Arthur’s Seat. Passing over Gravelly Hill (what a name, eh), you’ll enjoy yet more views to the south off this embankment. It’s a wiggly approach to your stage end-point in Oxted, but some great riding to be had at the end of the day, including the quarry road and final descent to the town off of Ganger’s Hill. From this end at the station you can choose to either stay the night or catch a train home. No doubt after such a cracking first day you’ll be in the mood for more!
The shorter second stage, totalling 39.2 miles (63.1 km), largely follows the Pilgrim’s Way to Hollingbourne, once an important pilgrimage route to Canterbury Cathedral from the west. Start the stage with a tough climb, some steep gradients up from the town past Titsey Place up to Botley Hill. Challenge complete, you’ll reap the reward of a much longer and gradual descent now as you turn east again for the day. Take lanes through the woodland over Betsom’s Hill, continuing to the pretty village of Otford on lanes that skirt to the north of the M25 ring road. Continue of the road east toward Wrotham, where it transitions into the North Downs Way and Pilgrim’s Way bridleway. In parts this is a wide yet rough doubletrack, and like most of this route, affords brilliant views over the countryside. After the village of Wrotham, you’ll ride around the outskirts of Trosley Country Park and Whitehorse Wood before taking the singletrack trail past Crookhorn Wood. Rejoin the road to make your way through Halling, over the River Medway and the Burnham Marshes. Keep your eyes peeled for marshland birds and other critters here! The last leg of this second stage takes a south-easterly direction, leading past the large town of Maidstone following National Cycle Route 17 (Rochester to Ashford). Through Boxley Wood, the route leaves the original North Downs Way footpath to take the more cycle-friendly Pilgrims Way at the base of the hill. One less climb, at least! From the edge of Boxley Wood take lanes through Thurnham to Hollingbourne. The official end of this stage is at the station, but you can find a few local hotels, guesthouses and even glamping nearby!
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The third and final stage of the North Downs Way is an absolute belter, and one really for the history buffs! 47 miles (75.6 km) stand between the little village of Hollingbourne to Dover, the iconic gateway to the UK upon white chalk cliffs.Here you’ll reach the end of the Pilgrim’s Way in Canterbury, a historic town home to the most famous Christian structure in Great Britain, Canterbury Cathedral. From there the North Downs Way route links you to another important part of British Heritage, Dover Castle. This part of Kent played a crucial role in the defense of the UK in the Second World War, and now you can visit to learn all about it. Start the stage from Hollingbourne Station where you’ll rejoin the Pilgrim’s Way. This first section is completely traffic free, which is a great way to start any day! Moving onto quieter back lanes after this section, you’ll be following signs for the National Cycle Route 17 again as it runs through this county of Kent. Continue in the same direction as your route changes from lane to bridleway and back again multiple times, all traversing the same long hillside. Pass close to Charing, through Westwell, then kiss the edge of Ashford before turning north again. Take the North Downs Way now across King’s Wood to Chilham Village, a place made famous for its many TV and film appearances thanks to its old charm and many listed buildings. Ride alongside a series of lakes including Chilham, Swan and Tonford as you take the Stour Way along the Great Stour River on National Cycle Route 18. This leads you into the centre of Canterbury city, where you must stop a while to appreciate the majesty of the cathedral. The final leg of the North Downs Way links this city to the coastal port of Dover, known for its white cliffs and impressive castle. After taking the lanes of National Cycle Route 16 out of the city, turn off after Patrixbourne onto a series of bridleway tracks marking the North Downs Way. The lanes will take you through Woolage village and over the railway tracks and past Eythorne. Enjoy a return to tracks along the White Cliffs Country Trail which takes the ancient Roman road south. You’ll descend sharply into Dover town, but you can’t leave without visiting the castle. It’s a climb to get up there, but well worth it and a spectacular way to end a great multi day ride!