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North Downs Way

Following the ancient Pilgrim's Way for much of its route, the North Downs Way National Trail offers a journey through rolling countryside steeped in history and rich with natural attractions.

The trail starts in Surrey at Farnham and runs mainly through official Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Oast Houses on the North Downs Way
Oast Houses © Andrew Bowden via Flickr

It will take you over chalk downs, along lanes and through wooded hilltops before delivering you to the White Cliffs of Dover, some 153 miles away.

View from North Downs Way towards Kemsing, Kent
View towards Kemsing, Kent © Glen via Flickr

20% of the route is also available for cyclists and horse riders.

For the nature lover there's an abundance of flora and fauna to see, with many rare species of plants and butterflies.

Pilgrim's Way to Wrotham
Pilgrim's Way to Wrotham © Andrew Bowden via Flickr

The chalk landscape supports many of these rare species, and this is partly why the area finds itself partially within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and partially within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Approaching Guildford
Guildford © Andrew Bowden via Flickr

The North Downs have much history behind them, and many famous-name associations. These include:

In light of all the writers and free thinkers that have drawn motivation from the area, the North Downs Way National Trail is rightly justified in taking as its tagline the phrase 'An Inspirational Journey'.

Narrow boats on the River Wey
The River Wey © Andrew Bowden via Flickr

As with other National Trails, this trail is comprised of a series of shorter sections from which you can choose an itinerary to best suit the trip you're planning.

Were you to walk the entire North Downs Way National Trail in one go, it would take between 12 and 14 days to complete.

There is much accommodation to be found on, or close to, the route but due to the popularity of the trail and the area you're advised to book in advance.

Pavillion on Colley Hill
Pavillion on Colley Hill © Andrew Bowden via Flickr

The trail does not tend to have one hard and fast set of sub sections defined.

We've taken the most popular splits and highlighted those below in order to give a flavour of the kind of walking you're likely to encounter and the kind of sights there will be to see.

Valley between Guildford and Dorking
Valley between Guildford and Dorking © Fiomaha via Flickr

For further information, there is a North Downs Way National Trail Officer, whose office can be contacted on: +44 (0) 1622 221 525.

There's more detail on each of the trail sections below:





The start point of the North Downs Way National Trail.

Things to do near Farnham

Farnham - Dorking

This section starts out quietly, following the River Wey for much of the route as you pass through fields and woods, but becomes busier after Guildford when you start to enter the North Downs proper.

There are picturesque sights along the trail including the Hog's Back and St. Martha's Hill. This section closely follows the route of the Pilgrim's Way and is said to have provided inspiration for many writers, Lewis Carrol among them.

Things to do near Dorking

Dorking - Westerham

Jane Austen and Keates are amongst those who have frequented this area of the North Downs Way National Trail.

The walking starts with a climb up the 965ft Box Hill and the start of a series of great views to be enjoyed en-route. After Box Hill, you have Juniper, Colley and Reigate Hills, all affording panoramic views over the area.

While the route passes over arterial motorways, the chalk scarp and picturesque scenes of the North Downs are quickly restored thereafter.

Things to do near Westerham

Westerham - Trosley

Nature and history are the themes for this section of the trail. The chalk grasslands of much of this section are home to many rare species of butterfly, indeed Charles Darwin lived and worked close to this section in Biggin Hill, also famous for its pivotal role in the World War II Battle of Britain. Appropriately, Winston Churchill also lived in the area.

Things to do near Trosley

Trosley - Detling

Traversing the green belt of Kent's Medway Estuary, the North Downs Way National Trail mixes the hubbub of modern travel with picturesque country parks and peaceful features from early history. The Neolithic age is well represented on this section with standing stones and a burial chamber to be found close to Kits Coty.

The route passes through Rochester which was the home of Charles Dickens.

Things to do near Detling

Detling - Boughton Lees

This section of the trail tends to switch between following the Pilgrims' Way across lower hills and valleys, and climbing up onto chalk scarp from where great views are afforded. There is much to be seen here with grand architecture being a feature.

You'll find the magnificent Leeds Castle on this section, dating from around 1120 and widely held to be one of the most beautiful, romantic castles in Britain. It was one of Henry VIII's favourite places.

Things to do near Boughton Lees

Boughton Lees - Dover

Here, the North Downs Way National Trail splits into two. This option offers spectacular scarp-top views across Romney Marsh and Rye to the coast and on to France. It follows a more direct route to Dover. It starts with an early climb onto the scarp top at Wye Crown from where the striking views begin. The path stays on the scarp top the entire way and passes by various picturesque little villages on its way to the white cliffs.

The alternative route is the Canterbury Loop which follows the Pilgrims' Way once more to Canterbury before then making its way to Dover and the White Cliffs.

Things to do near Dover

Boughton Lees - Dover (via Canterbury)

This is The North Downs Way National Trail's Canterbury Loop. This section doesn't offer the same spectacular vistas as the one described above, but it does offer a more varied range of things to do and see, with much history, culture and nature to take in.

You'll pass through various charming and engaging places on your way, with woods and orchards making recurring appearances.

The ancient religious town of Canterbury offers a great deal to see and do both within and outside its Medieval walls. There's the Cathedral with the shrine to Thomas Beckett.

St. Augustine's Abbey is where the English branch of the Roman Catholic Church was started, while St. Martin's church is held to be the oldest continually used church in England. You'll also find the grave of Rupert the Bear's creator, Mary Tourtel in its graveyard.

Literary influence of a more traditional kind can also be found before you reach Canterbury, within Godmersham Park - the mansion house where Jane Austen would visit to look after her brother Edward after his wife died.

After Canterbury, the trail follows easy walking through more open land before reaching the famous White Cliffs of Dover and the end of the North Downs Way National Trail.

Things to do near Canterbury

You can continue reading about other National Trails and Long Distance Walks using the links at the bottom of the page.

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