Britain’s North Downs Way National Trail is 153 miles in length and features some of the most attractive natural beauty in the southeast of England. It’s quite an easy route to navigate since there are more than 2,500 guide signs along the way to let you know exactly where you are. Many people like to take a week’s holiday and tackle the entire hiking trail while others are more than happy to explore one of the 13 different sections.
You can reach 11 of the 13 sections by train or bus services including the starting and ending points of Farnham and Dover. If you plan on hiking the whole route or at least a good part of it there are plenty of accommodations along the way. These include dozens of hotels, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds and youth hostels. If you’re thirsty, there are also well over 250 pubs.
In addition, along the trail there is a total of 56 different attractions, which include three cathedrals, eight castles, four vineyards and breweries and six stately homes. These of course, are in addition to the picturesque villages, glorious countryside, and stunning scenery. Parts of the trail are also open for cyclists and horseback riders. There’s always something to attract your attention while traveling the North Downs Way.
Most people start the hike in Farnham, which is a small market community that borders Hampshire and Surrey. The path heads east across the North Downs close to Dorking, Reigate, and Guildford then to the Kentish border. It then passes by Rochester, over the River Medway, and follows the Downs just north of Ashford, Folkestone, and Maidstone and winds up at the port of Dover, which is home to the famous white cliffs. There’s also a loop available in the eastern end of the hike which takes you to the historic city of Canterbury and its magnificent cathedral.
A good portion of the national trail follows the popular Pilgrims Way. Years ago, pilgrims walked from Canterbury over to Winchester and prayed for St Swithun. Pilgrims also traveled the other way to reach Canterbury Cathedral where they would pray at Thomas Becket’s shrine.
The countryside is filled with secluded valleys, escarpments, woods, and lanes and the North Downs is home to two of the nations designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which are Kent downs and the Surrey Hills. There is a wide range of flora and fauna along the trails, and some especially beautiful butterflies and wild flowers.
One of the most popular castles along the route is Thurnham Castle, which was built during the reign of Henry II. There’s not much left of the ancient building now, but you’ll still see some of the ruins. It’s in direct contrast to the famous Leeds Castle, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world. Leeds Castle sits on a lake and is surrounded by immaculately kept grounds. Astonishingly, it wasn’t damaged at all during the Civil War by Oliver Cromwell.
When you reach Dover, which is known as the gateway to England, you’ll be inspired by the mighty cliffs and realize this was the departure point for many allied troops during the World Wars. It’s the closest point in England to France and over the years was always considered to be the most vulnerable for an invasion. This is why there’s been a fortress on top of the cliffs for several centuries now and you’ll find Dover Castle here.
Wherever you travel on the North Downs Way National Trail, you’ll be reminded of the fascinating history of Britain while you take in some of its most gorgeous sights.