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Walk the North Downs Way National Trail with a Cicerone guidebook - Introduction

Cover of The North Downs Way
7 Jul 2017
17.2 x 11.6 x 0.9cm
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The North Downs Way

by Kev Reynolds
Book published by Cicerone Press

Guidebook to walking the North Downs Way National Trail, a 130 mile (208km) trail between Farnham and Dover, with an optional visit to Canterbury. Following the ancient Pilgrim's Way for much of the way, through pleasant countryside, this is one of the easier National Trails and the walk is described over 11 stages. With 1:25K OS map booklet.

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Cover: Paperback - Laminated
Size: 17.2 x 11.6 x 0.9cm
Weight: 310g

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A guidebook to walking the North Downs Way National Trail, a 130 mile (208km) walk between the high downland of Farnham and the historic city of Dover on the Kent coast, with an optional visit to Canterbury. The route is described in 11 stages, and is fully illustrated with colour photographs and OS map extracts. The North Downs Way is one of the easier national trails with a modest number of steep (but short) ascents and descents and long sections with no noticeable height gain or loss. Several historic sites including Neolithic burial chambers, Roman roads and Norman churches are passed and much of the route follows The Pilgrims' Way. The area also boasts many literary connections with some of the most celebrated voices in English literature. A separate pocket-sized map booklet is included and shows the full route on 1:25,000 scale OS maps.

  • Activities
    Walking, long distance hiking
  • Seasons
    The North Downs Way can be walked at any time of the year, but is seen at its best between April and October
  • Centres
    Beginning in Farnham, the North Downs Way passes close-to or through Guildford, Otford, Wrotham, Detling, Charing, Wye, Chilham, Canterbury, Patrixbourne and ends in Dover
  • Difficulty
    Despite some reasonably short steep ascents and descents, the North Downs Way is one of the more gentle of National Trails and is suitable for first-time long distance walkers.
  • Must See
    Passing through the Surrey and Kent Downs Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the North Downs Way crosses Box Hill, visits Neolithic sites like the Coldrum Stones and Kits Coty House; passes below the remains of Thurnham Castle, visits Canterbury Cathedral, Dover Castle, and across Shakespeare Cliff, one of the White Cliffs of Dover.
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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.

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