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A handy pocked sized guidebook for anyone planning to walk the North Downs Way National Trail. At 130 miles the route follows the ancient Pilgrim's Way for much of the trail through surprisingly peaceful and often wooded countryside. The North Downs Way is one of the easier national trails, and the walk is described over 11 stages.
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The North Downs Way is a celebrated 130-mile national trail that stretches from the high downland of Farnham to the historic city of Dover on the Kent coast.
Exploring every aspect of the Surrey Hills and the Kent Downs Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the North Downs Way National Trail offers walkers a very different experience from that on the South Downs Way. The North Downs Way is much more gentle with fewer climbs, and where these are made, the gradients are generally much less demanding.
Divided into 11 sections that cover the national trail, as well as a further three routes for its northern spur via Canterbury, it's a fantastic companion to a peaceful, green and beautiful landscape.
Several historic sites including Neolithic burial chambers, Roman roads and Norman churches are passed and much of the route follows The Pilgrims Way, allowing the guide to unravel some of the region's rich history. The area also boasts many literary connections with some of the most celebrated voices in English literature.
|The North Downs Way|
|Walking west to east|
|Where to stay|
|Waymarking and accessibility|
|When to go|
|Getting there – and back|
|Using this guide|
|Along the way|
|The North Downs Way|
|Stage 1 Farnham to Guildford|
|Stage 2 Guildford to the Mole Valley (A24)|
|Stage 3 Mole Valley to Merstham|
|Stage 4 Merstham to Westerham Hill|
|Stage 5 Westerham Hill to Wrotham|
|Stage 6 Wrotham to the Medway|
|Stage 7 The Medway to Detling|
|Stage 8 Detling to Harrietsham|
|Stage 9 Harrietsham to Boughton Lees|
|Direct Route to Dover via Wye|
|Stage 10 Boughton Lees to Etchinghill|
|Stage 11 Etchinghill to Dover|
|The Canterbury Loop|
|Stage 10a Boughton Lees to Canterbury|
|Stage 11a Canterbury to Shepherdswell|
|Stage 12a Shepherdswell to Dover|
|Appendix A Useful contacts|
|Appendix B Recommended reading|
|Appendix C Route summary table|
The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do just as one pleases… Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me, and a three hours’ march to dinner – and then to thinking!
William Hazlitt (1778–1830)
I'm one with Hazlitt, when it comes to long-distance walks. Except, perhaps, my preference would be for an eight or nine-hour march to dinner, rather than just three. Spread the day thinly, I say; set out soon after breakfast with a cheese roll and an apple in the rucksack, dismiss from mind any thought of the next night's rest – and simply wander. Let the trail ahead guide your feet, leaving each of the senses free to absorb whatever the countryside has in store.
Walking the North Downs Way provides ample scope for the liberty to think, feel, do just as you please. Mostly the trail is clear, waymarking adequate, the spacious Downs edging a far horizon as they make that long, generous arc round the low-lying Weald, so that there are few (if any) demands to check the map or compass, and you can free the mind to drift with the clouds. Others have done just that, for generations.
‘From the Straits of Dover to Farnham,’ said Hilaire Belloc, ‘Nature herself laid down the platform of a perfectly defined ridge, from which a man going west could hardly deviate, even if there were no path to guide him.’ And we, going east, could hardly disagree.
The North Downs have acted as a highway since before Neolithic times. Because the Wealden forest was too dense and tangled to allow easy access, the high and broad-backed downland gave an opportunity to hunt, to travel, or to drive livestock from one pasture to another, and (much later) from pasture to market. Drove roads gave way to green lanes, while some of the footpaths and trackways adopted by the North Downs Way in the 21st century may well have been stamped out long before the Romans came to these shores. Now there's food for thought…
Today the line of the downland scarp is traced here and there by motorways and a high speed railway, and nothing can better underscore the frenetic nature of modern living than to view in the distance the haste of wheeled traffic while you stroll across a rabbit-cropped meadow, birds singing from a nearby spinney, as you let the hours drift slowly by. Walking day after day for a hundred miles and more is the perfect antidote to the stresses of workaday life; it's the best of all exercises, a relaxation, and a means by which to get life in perspective. And along the North Downs Way you can discover something of our ancestry, learn from the past and balance those lessons with the present.
|Distance||11 miles (17.5km)|
|Maps||Harveys North Downs Way West 1:40,000 OS Landranger 186 Aldershot & Guildford 1:50,000 OS Explorer 145 Guildford & Farnham 1:25,000|
|Refreshments||Farnham, Compton, Guildford|
|Accommodation||Farnham, Puttenham, Guildford|
‘The soil is good; the houses are neat; the people are neat; the hills, the woods, the meadows all are beautiful.’ So said the much-travelled William Cobbett of the area covered by this stage of the North Downs Way. Cobbett (1763–1835) was born in Farnham in what is now the pub named after him, and although he walked nowhere unless it was impossible to ride, he had an unchallenged intimacy with the Downs and the Weald that adds weight to his words. Nearly two centuries on they remain largely true.
This initial stage of the long walk gives no real flavour of the Downs, but it makes a fine introduction with an abundance of wild flowers in the meadows, banks and hedgerows, and plenty of wildlife too. The walking is not too demanding, with no major ascents or descents to tackle – these will come later – and the way is mostly very well defined. In the place of open downland, this western end of the route offers a series of gentle agricultural landscapes, punctuated by woodland and one or two sandy heaths. The route passes through only one village and for long stretches there will be little habitation visible. However, study of the map will show that you are never very far from a farm, road or a group of houses, even if these are not visible from the footpath.
Close to the Surrey/Hampshire border, Farnham marks the official start of the North Downs Way with a carved post set beside a busy junction on the A31 a little west of the town's railway station. From the station walk downhill to the traffic lights (SU 844 466) and turn right. A tarmac footpath soon brings you to a narrow lane where you bear right. The lane is flanked by trees, and at a T-junction you turn right again on another metalled lane which becomes a pitted drive running alongside the River Wey, here a reedy, rather unimposing – but nonetheless pleasant – stream. At the entrance to The Kiln turn right to pass through a brick railway arch, where a footpath continues ahead between woodland and meadows. Across the meadows to the left High Mill House can be seen.
Farnham is overlooked by a 12th-century castle built by Henri de Blois. Besieged by Cromwell, it belonged to the Bishops of Winchester until 1927, then the Bishop of Guildford held it until 1956. It is now a training centre, but the Norman keep is open to the public. North of the castle stretch the 300 acres of Farnham Park, while to the south, between the castle and the river, the town has some handsome Tudor and Georgian houses. In 1763 William Cobbet, politician, journalist and author of the influential Rural Rides, was born here. The Romans settled in Farnham for something like 400 years, but the town's wealth came first through the cloth trade, then via brewing. At one time Farnham had no less than five breweries. The town has B&B and hotel accommodation, pubs, restaurants and an assortment of shops. (For further information go to www.farnham.gov.uk.)
The north branch of the River Wey is little more than a stream when first seen in Farnham, but joining the south branch in Tilford, it becomes navigable from Godalming to Weybridge via Guildford. The River Wey Navigation first connected Guildford with the Thames in 1653, bringing added prosperity to the town, and in 1763 that navigation extended to Godalming. It stretched further south in 1816 as the Wey and Arun Canal, to complete a link between the Thames and the South Coast. With the coming of the railways the Canal became obsolete and finally closed in 1868. Where the North Downs Way crosses the navigable river south of Guildford, the bankside footpath forms part of the Wey-South Path – 36 miles (58km) linking Guildford with Amberley on the South Downs Way.
At a junction of paths the North Downs Way veers left, shortly after which you go through a kissing gate on the right where you pass a specially carved NDW seat. A grass path now takes you beside a line of trees, and eventually onto a minor road (SU 858 466). Turn left, and at a junction of lanes soon after bear left once more. Cross the River Wey, and then pass the entrance to Moor Park House and continue uphill along Compton Way. At the top of the slope where the lane curves to the right, bear left on a fence-enclosed footpath beside the drive to Wey Hanger. (Hanger refers to a woodland on a steep slope, and the term is often used in regard to the Downs.)
The path leads into a field where you follow the left-hand boundary to a woodland on the far side. Maintain direction through Runfold Wood, which is a nature reserve, ignoring alternative paths until you descend a few steps to a crossing bridleway and turn right along a sandy trail. When this brings you to a fenced boundary bear left and, passing a large bungalow on the right, continue ahead alongside a drive which eventually leads to a road south of Runfold. Turn left. About 20 yards later turn right on another footpath among trees. This soon brings you to Sands Road (SU 873 471) where you turn right. About a third of a mile along this road come to Farnham Golf Club clubhouse at a junction of lanes, and bear left into Blighton Lane.
After about 500 yards, when the lane curves left, take a footpath on the right which goes alongside a wooded garden. Remain on this path until it brings you to another country road, which you cross directly ahead into a region of arable farmland with wooded hills beyond.
On coming to a group of pine trees the path forks. Veer right, and at a fenced area bear right, then left, and keep alongside a hedge beyond which, hidden by a high bank, is a sand pit – the first of many extractions on the North Downs Way. Continue along the left-hand edge of two large open fields, and eventually come onto a country road opposite Landthorne Hatch Cottage, where you briefly turn right. (Seale is a short distance along the lane to the left.) In a few paces go through a kissing gate on the left to gain a path alongside a wood. After about 300 yards cut off to the left, soon following a fence. When the fencing ends go through another kissing gate and turn right, now walking along the top edge of a sloping meadow beside pinewoods (Payn's Firs) and with views ahead through a valley, flanked on the north side by the ridge of the Hog's Back.
At the end of the meadow enter more woodland to slope gently downhill. After a while cross a track and continue ahead. The path eventually swings right then left, and descends as a sunken pathway between steep banks of bluebells in springtime, and where foxgloves stand sentry-like in summer. The path spills onto a very narrow lane. Turn left, and in a few paces bear right opposite a red-brick bungalow. Cross a minor stream which (unseen) flows south into a series of ponds, and rise up a slope on an eroded, sandy path among trees to Puttenham Common. Towards the head of the slope honeysuckle and dog roses flank the path and, on warm summer days, fill the air with perfume.
Where the path forks on the crown of the hill, take the left-hand option through bracken. This eventually curves left below a house and becomes a sunken path among more foxgloves, and with enticing views left towards the Hog's Back before coming to the head of a drive by a house. Continue directly ahead on a track which feeds onto a narrow lane, and follow this down to Puttenham, which you enter in The Street.
Puttenham is a trim village with some pleasant houses and cottages as you pass through. Keep ahead along The Street to reach The Good Intent pub, and maintain direction towards the parish church of St John the Baptist. As the road veers left around the church, note a sign on the left indicating the approach to Puttenham Camping Barn. Continue along the road as far as a T-junction (SU 934 479), cross the B3000 with care, turn right and soon draw level with a Harvester pub/restaurant. Directly opposite this turn left on a gravel drive leading to a golf course.
Puttenham Camping Barn is an attractively restored listed barn that was converted to provide simple wardened accommodation for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. With places for up to 12 people, it has self-catering facilities, and showers heated by solar panels. The Camping Barn is listed in the Independent Hostel Guide, but advanced booking is essential. (01306 877964 www.puttenhamcampingbarn.co.uk).
After passing the clubhouse continue ahead. After a while pass a barn, then the way forks. Take the main left branch (the right-hand option goes to a cricket pavilion) and shortly after this it forks again. This time take the right branch (the left branch goes to Greyfriars Vineyard), in effect continuing straight ahead along the edge of the golf course. After a while you pass houses, then the way narrows to enter woods. At a staggered crosstracks keep ahead; the track is now little more than footpathwide and it takes you out to a metalled lane which goes beneath the A3 and a second road bridge adorned with two large wooden crosses.
Turn left at a T-junction, and in a few paces leave the road by the entrance to Watts Gallery. Refreshments are available at tearooms here. The North Downs Way now journeys along a sandy track whose banks are honeycombed with rabbit warrens. After passing between barns the way narrows and rises through woodland. At a crosstracks continue ahead with the Loseley Estate's nature reserve on the right. Leaving trees behind the way cuts through deep sand, and coming to a junction of paths you briefly veer left on a track, then right on another track rising between fields and woodland. Large aerial masts can be seen on the ridge to the left.
The Watts Gallery is dedicated to the work of George Frederic Watts (1817–1904), the highly successful 19th-century painter and sculptor who came to Compton with his second wife, Mary Fraser-Tytler, who was also an artist. (His first short-lived marriage was to the actress Ellen Terry.) The gallery, designed by his friend Christopher Turnor and begun when Watts was 83, contains more than 200 of his works. South of the gallery along Down Lane, on the way to Compton, stands an extraordinary red-brick mortuary chapel built in 1896 by Mrs Watts with a local builder and a team of villagers.
Entering woods you eventually come to a T-junction of tracks and turn left. After about 30 yards the track, which has become a narrow surfaced lane, turns right and leads to Piccard's Farm, after which it reverts to a track once more. About half a mile beyond the farm come onto a road and bear left. This leads to the A3100 opposite Ye Olde Ship Inn. Bear right, then take the next turning on the left, which is Ferry Lane. The lane slopes downhill, and over a railway bridge the slope is a steep one between houses. At the foot of the slope lies the River Wey on the southern outskirts of Guildford. For overnight accommodation and all facilities, turn left and follow the towpath for about ¾ mile to the centre of town. Bear right to cross a footbridge, and on the east bank of the river turn left for about 20 yards, then bear right when the path forks. Soon enter Shalford Park and cross straight ahead to the A281 (SU 999 483) which you reach by a bus stop (where services into Guildford can be picked up).
The county town of Surrey, Guildford has a conspicuous red-brick 20th-century cathedral which overlooks the nearby University of Surrey, and the keep of a Norman castle built on the east side of the river. In the High Street stands a group of 17th-century almshouses and a very fine Guildhall with a famous clock overhanging the road, while the Angel Hotel boasts a wooden gallery and a coaching yard. In the Middle Ages Guildford prospered through the wool trade, but when that trade began to decline it was replaced by the opening of the River Wey Navigation in the 17th century. Today the town is largely divided by the A3, and spills east and west into the surrounding countryside, but its heart is graced by the River Wey which hints at a rural atmosphere. The town has all facilities, including B&B and hotel accommodation (www.guildford.gov.uk or www.guildfordcommunity.org.uk).
Maps used in this guide are taken from the Ordnance Survey Landranger series at a scale of 1:50,000 (1¼ inches to 1 mile). While they show the route of each stage of the North Downs Way, walkers are recommended to consult the sheets from which they are taken to gain a wider appreciation of the surrounding countryside, and to locate overnight accommodation or important landmarks which may not appear on the limited map samples published here. Six separate Landranger maps cover the length of the NDW, but for greater detail the eight sheets of the Explorer series at 1:25,000 (2½ inches to 1 mile) may be preferred. Details of specific map sheets are listed at the heading to each stage of the walk described.
Also available are the two Harveys Waterproof Map sheets which cover the route at a scale of 1:40,000 (a little over 1½ inches to 1 mile): North Downs Way West (Farnham to the Medway), and North Downs Way East (Dover to the Medway).
Belloc, H The Old Road (Constable)
Bignall, A The Kent Village Book (Countryside Books)
Charles, A Exploring the Pilgrims Way (Countryside Books)
Collins, M (ed) On Foot Through History (Oxford Illustrated Press)
Curtis, N & Walker, J North Downs Way (Aurum Press)
Dillon, P The National Trails (Cicerone Press)
Hall, D English Medieval Pilgrimages (Routledge)
Hudson, WH Nature in Downland (London)
Major, A Hidden Kent (Countryside Books)
Mason, O South-East England (Bartholomew)
Nicolson, A The National Trust Book of Long Walks (Pan/National Trust)
Reynolds, K Classic Walks in Southern England (Oxford Illustrated Press)
— Visitors Guide to Kent (Moorland Publishing)
— Walking in Kent (Cicerone Press)
Scholes, R Understanding the Countryside (Moorland Publishing)
Spence, K Companion Guide to Kent & Sussex (Collins)