The Greensand Way is a spectacular long-distance walking route across two counties that encompasses some of the most beautiful viewpoints, historic sites, and quintessentially-English scenery the south has to offer.
Starting in the vibrant market town of Haslemere in Surrey, the trail follows a ridge of greensand rock east for its entire 108-mile (174-km) duration and finishes at Hamstreet in Kent, just south of Ashford and not far from the coastline.
As the route explores two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), as well as many nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, the countryside is stunning and the wildlife is abundant throughout. Picnic spots and photo opportunities are everywhere on this trail.
The stretch from Hindhead to Leith Hill traverses the Surrey Hills AONB, and the Sevenoaks Ridge, from the county border to Borough Green, explores the Kent Downs AONB. Both afford breathtaking scenery and traditional villages, including England’s most haunted village, Pluckely.
There is a lot more than beautiful countryside to this route, though. You pass some historic places along the way, including: the 12th-century Reigate Castle; Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill and his family from 1922 until shortly before his death in 1965; Kent’s last medieval deer park, Knole; the 14th-century Ightham Mote, hailed as one of the most beautiful country houses in England; Sutton Valence Castle, a 12th-century Norman keep; and many Grade I-listed churches from the 13th century and beyond.
The walking is generally easy and the trail never strays too far from civilisation, making it a good choice for beginners and seasoned long-distance hikers alike. The route is waymarked throughout but it can be patchy in places.
In this Collection, I split the route into eight stages, each averaging 15 miles (24 km). Any stage that creeps above this average has a suggestion on how it can be split or, where possible, shortened. Public transport links are great along this trail, so you can conveniently tailor the itinerary, or walk single days and segments.
Every stop is relatively well-served with accommodation. However, places to stay can be limited so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling your rest days accordingly.
Both Haslemere and Hamstreet have train stations and good public transport links, making it super-easy to get to the start and finish of the trail.
The first stage winds through the northern tip of the South Downs National Park, exploring historic spots and epic viewpoints. To ease you in gently, Stage 1 is the most-leisurely of the Collection at 13 miles (20.9 km) long and with an equal 1,050 feet (320 m) of ascent/descent.The trail begins from the charming market town of Haslemere and rises steadily over 2 miles (3.2 km) to Hindhead Common. Here, you find the two historic sites — the Sailor’s Stone and the Temple of the Four Winds — with spectacular views.You descend gradually through woodland before emerging into farmland. At Smallbrook, you make a sharp right past Thursley, which has a good pub that serves food if you fancy a pitstop.The trail crosses underneath the busy A3 a short time later and continues through fields and patches of woodland into Wormley.You then cross Hambledon Common, a place that is rich in flora and fauna with a history stretching back to the Neolithic era.This stage finishes in the village of Hambledon, which has a few accommodation options, a pub that serves food, and a shop.
You climb to one of the highest points in Surrey on this stage and admire a viewpoint that inspired a famous Beatles’ song.This hike takes it up a notch from the previous stage with 13.4 miles (21.6 km) of distance and 1,325 feet (404 m) of uphill, the most of any stage in the Collection.You begin with a leisurely saunter through farmland before rising over Hurtwood and descending into Hascombe, which has a unique Victorian church.You ascend through the tree-covered Juniper Hill and continue through patchwork countryside to Shamley Green, where you find two good pubs, a cafe and a shop.After crossing the B2128 you enter Cucknells Wood Nature Reserve and begin a long ascent through woodland over Winterfold Hill and Reynards Hill.The next summit you reach is Pitch Hill, which affords a spellbinding view that is said to have inspired George Harrison to write the Beatles’ hit, ‘Here Comes the Sun’. After dipping briefly into pastures, the trail rises through trees once again to another epic summit, Holmbury Hill, which affords breathtaking views from an Iron Age fort.It is then a short descent to finish in the village of Holmbury St Mary. There are a few options for accommodation and food and drink in the area.
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Expect views that stretch as far as the South Downs and a slice of quintessential-Englishness on this hike. With 15.6 miles (25.1 km) of distance and 1,150 feet (350.5 m) of uphill, this is a challenging hike. However, with a general downhill-trajectory, it might not be as tough as expected. (For a suggestion on how to split the hike, read on).From Holmbury St Mary, you rise gradually through Pasture Wood and eventually reach the summit of Leith Hill, the highest point in the southeast of England. Here, you find an 18th-century tower and can enjoy views that stretch to the South Downs. After the summit, the trail makes a 90-degree left turn through the National Trust-owned Duke’s Warren before bending east past Westcott.A short time later you reach the market town of Dorking, which has plenty of pubs, cafes, shops, and restaurants, and is conveniently just over the halfway point. If you would like to split the stage, there is accommodation here too. The trail then cuts through arable land to the traditional English village of Brockham, crosses the River Mole into Poland Wood, and continues past Betchworth and Park Pit Lake to finish on the outskirts of Reigate.Within the adjoining towns of Reigate and Redhill you find an excellent range of accommodation, plenty of places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This historic hike visits a 12th-century castle, an 11th-century church, and a village that featured in the Domesday Book of 1086.At 15.8 miles (25.4 km) long and with 1,100 feet (335 m) of uphill, this is another tough stage but should be manageable. (For suggestions on how to split the hike, see below). Before leaving Reigate, it is worth paying a visit to the now-ruined Reigate Castle, which was built in 1150 and was an important stronghold in the town.The trail weaves out of the urban landscape past Upper Earlswood Lake and crosses the Reigate and Banstead Millennium Trail. You then wind through patchwork countryside past South Nutfield, cross underneath the M23, and continue to the village of Bletchingley. Here, you find the stunning and Grade I-listed Church of St Mary, which dates to the 11th century.A short step later, it is worth a detour into the historic village of Godstone, which features in the Domesday Book as ‘Wachelstede’. The village retains many interesting buildings, including the Alms Houses, built in 1872, and a 16th-century pub, should you fancy a pitstop.From there, the trail takes you through gentle countryside to finish in the town of Oxted, where you find some accommodation, bars, restaurants, cafes, and shops.If you would like to split the stage, Bletchingley has some accommodation and places for food and drink and more-or-less marks the halfway point. Godstone also has options.
You visit Sir Winston Churchill’s much-loved family home on this stage, as well as a ruined manor and a picturesque garden with panoramic views.With 15.6 miles (25.1 km) of distance, 1,300 feet (396 m) of uphill, and 1,275 feet (389 m) of downhill, this hike will really test your fitness and endurance. (For suggestions on how to split the route, see below).From Oxted, you rise gradually over the wooded landscapes of Limpsfield Common, the High Chart, and Crockhamhill Common.When you reach Hosey Common Road, it is worth a short detour to see Chartwell House, the home of Winston Churchill and his family from 1922 until shortly before his death in 1965. You then skirt around Hosey Common, make a near-u-turn at French Street and steadily ascend Toy’s Hill. Close to the summit, you find Weardale Manor Ruins, where a 145-room mansion once stood.At this point, it is well-worth extending the detour to see Emmetts Garden, which is situated on one of Kent’s highest points and affords glorious panoramic views over the Weald. If you decide not to follow the Weardale and Emmetts detour, it shaves-off exactly 1 mile (1.6 km).After passing the village of Ide Hill, the trail stays in the trees through Windmill Point, Stubbs Wood, and Yorks Hill, before emerging into open farmland and taking a tunnel under the Sevenoaks bypass.You then rise to the Masthead and descend through woodland to finish in Sevenoaks, which has a good range of accommodation, places for food and drink, shops and other attractions. Splitting this stage is not easy, unfortunately. However, there is some accommodation close to Chartwell, as well as in Toy’s Hill.
You climb a hilltop with awe-inspiring views over the Weald and visit one of the most beautiful country houses in England on this stunning stage.At 16.3 miles (26.2 km) long and with 1,025 feet (312 m) of uphill and 1,175 feet (358 m) of downhill, this is another challenging hike. (For a suggestion on how to split the route, read on).From Sevenoaks, the trail heads through Kent’s last medieval deer park, Knole, before gradually-rising to the summit of One Tree Hill, which affords breathtaking views.You descend around Wilmot Hill and reach Ightham Mote a short-time later, which is hailed as one of the most beautiful country houses in England.The trail heads through gently-undulating countryside, crosses the River Bourne and continues to West Peckham, which is conveniently at the halfway-point and has a pub that serves food. There is accommodation in-and-around the village too, if you wish to split the stage.You leave the village via quiet lanes and footpaths, skim the northern-tip of Moat Wood and soon reach Hampstead Marina.You then follow Hampstead Lane to Teapot Island, cross the River Medway at Yalding Bridge, and hike through the Lees, over the River Beult and into Yalding itself.From there, it is a gentle ascent through open fields and woodlands to finish in Coxheath. You find some accommodation in the village and a few places to eat and drink. Maidstone, which has lots of choice, is also a 30-minute bus ride away via the hourly 89 service. For timetables, visit: bustimes.org/services/89-maidstone-loose-coxheath.
Are you afraid of ghosts? I hope not, as this hike takes you to England’s most haunted village — where you will spend the night cosying-up with no-less-than 12 different ghosts.With level walking throughout and 15 miles (24.1 km) of distance, this is one of the more-leisurely stages, leaving you plenty of time to get-to-know the ‘locals’ in Pluckley. From Coxheath, the trail heads east through open fields to Sutton Valence, where you find a ruined Norman keep that was built in the 12th century.You continue east past St Peter and Paul's Church in East Sutton, which is Grade I-listed and dates to the 13th century, and continue through an arable landscape to Boughton Malherbe.The trail heads through farmland and woodland to Egerton, which has another 13th-century and Grade I-listed church, St James'.From there, you head southeast to finish in Pluckley, which has some accommodation and a pub that serves food.In the Guinness Book of Records (1989), Pluckley earned the record for ‘Most Haunted Village in England’ as it reportedly had 12 ghosts. The village remains a hot-spot for ghost hunters. Be sure to get to the churchyard after dark for your best chance of spotting a ghost.
The final stage takes you through pretty nature reserves and quintessential English countryside.While this stage has the least amount of uphill of any in the Collection, 16.3 miles (26.2 km) is still a hefty distance. (For a suggestion on how to split the hike, see below). After saying a fond-farewell to the ghosts and ghouls of Pluckley, you hike through crop fields to East Chart and continue past Coldham Woods to Hothfield Heathlands Nature Reserve.One of the last remaining heathlands in Kent, Hothfield is home to much flora and fauna at all times of year and is a great place to spot wildlife.The trail skirts around Foxenhill Toll and passes through the village of Hothill. Here, it is worth a brief detour to see Godinton House, a Jacobean manor nestling among picturesque countryside. You then hike through the greenbelt around Ashford. If you wish to split the stage, you find plenty of accommodation and places to eat and drink in the town. Singleton has a conveniently-placed pub too. After Kingsnorth, you take footpaths and quiet lanes through pleasant countryside to the busy A2070, which you follow for a short while before crossing and continuing through farmland to Ham Street Woods Nature Reserve, a now-fragmented ancient woodland that covered the entire Weald after the last Ice Age. A short-step later, you reach the end of the trail in Hamstreet where you find a good pub and a few places to eat and drink. Unfortunately, accommodation is pretty limited here. However, there is a train station in the town which runs regular services to Ashford, less than a 10-minute ride away.