Walk This Way: insideKENT’s Top Five Walks
With an extraordinary diversity of landscapes and a deliciously rich history, travel any footpath in Kent and you will see why the county is heralded as a walker’s paradise.
A multitude of scenic views can be absorbed in Kent; from the iconic White Cliffs of Dover which offer the perfect pedestal to see the vast rolling ocean to the vast rural panoramas that can be enjoyed from the crest of the downs. Kent’s rich history will lead walkers through ancient woodland and along shoreline paths once frequented by smugglers, while the marshes of Romney Marsh and the Swale have a wild and lonely beauty that has been captured in many a famous novel, from Jane Austin to Charles Dickens, who were both captivated by Kent’s allure. It is a marvel that such wonderful countryside exists and survives so close to the capital city.
Cottages, farmhouses, mediaeval churches, and oast-houses are also attributes that make the landscape unique to this part of England, and this beautiful individuality can be best explored up-close, by foot.
Hundreds of footpaths, both famous and hidden, weave their way through the county. The most celebrated of these is the 141-mile North Downs Way. This route, combined with the Pilgrims’ Way, can be extended westwards all the way to Winchester. The Greensand Way follows another geological feature, the spine of Greensand Ridge south of the downs. A third route is the Wealdway, an 80-mile footpath running from Eastbourne to Gravesend, traversing the glorious Weald. To take in the best of the ocean, the Saxon Shore Way, follows the coastline for 140 miles, from Gravesend to Rye in Sussex. The scenery in Kent is so fine that a third of the county is officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and with so many paths to take, the biggest challenge to any walker is perhaps choosing which one.
insideKENT’s Olivia Riccini has put together our favourite routes to show off the best of the county, including some great places to fuel up with food and drink, whatever sights and tastes the explorer within might be relishing.
Family Friendly Cross Country
With a short distance of just four miles, this walk is perfect for all the family and a wonderful way to discover the delights of Tenterden, The Jewel of The Weald. As well as going through countryside that is impossibly photogenic and typical of west Kent, with its ancient landscape of orchards, woodlands and valleys, this walk will take you past some foodie treasures to help you on your way. With weatherboarded cottages, duck ponds, traditional inns and sleepy churchyards, this is quintessential rural England at its best. The beautiful lake Ashenden and the lovely buildings grouped around the ponds at Forstal Farm are picturesque features of the route, and will capture the imaginations of adults and children alike.
The walk starts at the entrance to Bells Lane, an alleyway opposite the St Mildred’s church in the centre of the town. Before embarking upon your journey, stop for breakfast at Amy’s Pantry (www.facebook.com/amyspantrytenterden) for a speciality coffee and a famous Amy’s Breakfast. Follow the narrow Bells Lane that gets wider until you get to a meadow to reach the B2082. Bear left on this road, taking care of passing traffic until you reach a beautiful example of one of Kent’s iconic oast-houses at Ratsbury. Walk a few yards further to a stile in the hedge on the left leading into an orchard. Cross this orchard diagonally and then jump over another stile and a plank bridge. Turn left by the hedge and, following a waymark post, bear right along the edge of another orchard, passing to the right of a pond perfect for children to glimpse creepy crawlies and pond-life in the mud.
Carry along this path and you will reach a concrete drive at the end of the farmyard. Look ahead and a waymark will direct you to the left and through yet another Garden of England orchard. Cross the stile at the end of the orchard and cross the next meadow. Cut diagonally to the right-hand corner where it joins another right of way just above Ashenden. Descend the bank to the drive below and bear left to walk below grassy slopes. Where these end, a stunning view over a valley opens up.
Descend into the valley and take in its glassy lake. Follow the track to the bottom and then take a sharp left and cross a footbridge over a stream and walk back to the lake, climbing up its bank to the path which runs along its shore. Look out for herons stalking through the waters and long grasses or flying overhead. At the end of the lake there is a path which continues along the wooded valley, yet another wonderful place to spot wildlife such as pheasants and grey squirrels. The path soon comes to a peaceful meadow; after this cross a footbridge and turn right to climb away from the stream and reach a stile on to a track which leads steeply uphill with woods to the right.
You will reach Forstal Farm, beyond which there is a picturesque scene with an oast-house and half-timbered cottage set close together in a meadow, then bear left before a gate, walking between the ponds to a plank bridge and a stile. After climbing the stile, turn left and
walk along the edge of two fields. Cross another stile and a plank bridge, and you will spot Tenterden church ahead. Turn right after the bridge and then bear left to cross the neck of a field on a clear path. Another stile and plank bridge follow and after these climb up the right-hand side of the field towards the houses at the top.
Cross a final stile and then bear left to cross a lane and find the continuation of the path which passes behind the houses. You will reach a footbridge over a stream. Follow the narrow enclosed path then turn right on to the lane and then take a footpath which eventually crosses the road to reach your starting point, Tenterden Church. End your walk with lunch or dinner at The White Lion (www.whiteliontenterden.com) which serves up delicious, local food and crafted drinks. This is also the perfect place to stay the night, as one of their fourteen fabulous bedrooms is certain to give you a well-earned, luxurious sleep.
Rugged Cliffs and Ocean Views
Kent’s coastline is a delicate ribbon of dramatic cliffs, sandy and shingle beaches mixed in with mysterious marshlands. The cliffs at Dover, St Margaret’s and Folkestone evoke a special flavour of history and romance combined, alluding to treacherous tales of the sea and those that became entangled with it. The route that takes walkers from Sandwich through Deal and Kingsdown ending in St Margaret’s Bay, is about ten miles long in its entirety and is best walked on a dry, sunny day. This route does not take you back to your starting point unless you decide to retrace your steps back.
The first leg of the route uses part of the ancient highway which once ran from Sandwich to Deal and must have been well known to the smugglers. Today, many visitors walk this route for
the golf at Royal St Georges. The path also passes through the eye-catching houses of the Sandwich Bay Estate and St Margaret’s Bay, as well as the tops of the iconic White Cliffs and past the former Dover Coastguard Station.
Starting at the mediaeval Cinque Port town of Sandwich, have a morning coffee at The Bell Hotel (www.bellhotelsandwich.co.uk) before embarking upon your route. Start with the ancient toll bridge behind you and the River Stour with its bobbing boats on your left and follow this for quite some time until you reach the quiet road that will take you to the entrance of Sandwich Bay Estate. Follow the road through the estate and marvel at each uniquely stunning house until you hit the bay itself. Follow the sea wall to the right, and along the shoreline, you will pass the iconic St George’s Golf Club on your right and the wildlife dense, shingle beach of Sandwich Bay will eventually turn into Deal, with more seafront houses emerging on your right as you enter the town. Again, each one has its own individual character and splendour to admire on your right, while the glittering sea stays on your left. Keep walking, Deal Pier will come into view on your left. If you want to add extra miles, wander down the pier to the marvellous Deal Pier Kitchen (www.dealpierkitchen.com) or go to The Kings Head (www.kingsheaddeal.co.uk) on the seafront for a drink and a light bite.
Continue on your way, admiring Deal seafront which is one of the most picturesque to be found anywhere on the Southeast coast. Pass by Deal Castle (www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/deal-castle) on your right, and to your left keep the shingle beach festooned with fishing boats. The quiet waters just off the coast are known as The Downs, a safe natural anchorage for shipping that may otherwise run aground on the treacherous Goodwin Sands, which lie further out to sea and have been the setting for hundreds of tragic shipwrecks throughout the centuries. The sands are mentioned in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as a place where the eponymous merchant lost one of his ships. As many as 50,000 men may have perished on these Sands, and there are many tales of ghost ships having been sighted here – sometimes masts can still be seen poking out of the waters! As well as a few seals bobbing about.
You will then reach Kingsdown. Yet another lovely collection of beautifully unique homes with stunning coastal views line the entrance to Kingsdown Beach. Bask in an almost Cornish atmosphere as small, pretty whitewash houses begin to appear amongst a scattering of little beach huts. You will also come across The Zetland Arms (www.zetlandarms.co.uk), which provides a magnificent setting for alfresco drinks and divine dining. Walk towards the cliffs in front which you cannot miss and work your way up the steep path cut into the cliffside. You will then find yourself on top of what is the start of the famous White Cliffs of Dover. Take a minute to revel in the glorious panoramic views of the vast ocean to your left and rolling Kentish countryside and farmland to your right. Enjoy the ocean breeze as you walk this clifftop path and spot the rare butterfly found in this terrain, the Painted Lady if it is the right time of year – as these miraculous beauties migrate across the ocean.
You will spot the Dover Patrol Monument in the distance which commemorates the Royal Navy’s Dover Patrol of the First World War. Walk towards this imposing structure and then down into the sheltered avenue that turns into St Margaret’s. Gaze in amazement at the Grand Designs-style architecture of these cliff top houses before reaching a winding road on your left that drops down to the shingle cove of the bay itself. Here you can have a well deserved and delicious meal at The Coastguard (www.thecoastguard.co.uk), Britain’s nearest pub to France, which has kept watch on the sea-front for over 300 years. Take in awe-inspiring bay views in style while tucking into mouth watering dishes such as grilled seabass fillet with crushed new potatoes, courgette ribbons, samphire, capers and saffron lemon crème fraiche. The perfect end to a spectacular walk.
A Spring Woodland Walk
Almost an entirely woodland walk, this exploration of Ightham Mote and Oldbury Hill is the perfect place to admire the new growth and burgeoning wildlife that springtime brings. This is not just tranquil leafy surroundings and sunlight glinting through trees either, views towards the end of the walk from the Raspit Hill escarpment are breathtaking and definitely panoramas you will perceive in awe and remember with satisfaction and a smile.
Ightham Mote (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ightham-mote) is often acclaimed as a perfect and well-preserved example of a mediaeval English house. Dating from the 13th century, it has been extensively restored by the National Trust. From the car park, walk past the south side of the house, following a bridleway to the road. Turn right and pass quaint old cottages, then turn left to pass along a track leading into a serene wooded valley. The track soon narrows and becomes enclosed by woodland; walk a little way and bear right when it divides and climb to the top of this hill, you will find an enchanting orchard and the bridleway joins a track between the trees. Cross over the road and continue on the bridleway on the other side which goes through more fruit trees. Continue straight until you reach more of a major track which bears off to the right and eventually ends at a road.
Turn right here and walk along the road for a little way, then turn left along a drive to St Lawrence Vicarage. When the drive divides, take the enclosed footpath between the two drives and climb up behind Stone House, you will pass a sweet cottage on the left. Keep straight and climb the path that leads steadily through more trees, bear right on the track at the top to reach the road and turn right again. You will pass the quintessential village church and the school, after which take a path on the left and walk towards a sweet little gate on the left which is the entrance to a narrow bridleway leading down steeply through the trees. At the bottom is a quiet lane which reaches the main road, the A25.
Cross the road to the path opposite, which winds down through towering oak trees and lofty birches. Turn left when this meets a bridleway, following it up on the left side of a campsite. Almost at the top, turn right on to a narrow path which leads down the north side of the campsite to a lane. Turn left and just before the houses turn right on to a bridleway which climbs up to, and passes through, a ravine. At the top, the walking is through woods with glimpses of beautiful open country to the left. This is the ancient Oldbury Hill where there was once an Iron Age fort. Take a moment to appreciate the sacred history of this spot which has seen humans come and go for centuries.
The path passes a pond and soon after this a track leads to the right; keep straight on here but a few yards further the track divides, take the right path. At the next bridleway junction turn right and follow the path, which winds on through more bewitching woods, bear left when it meets with another track, walk down another ravine and you will soon emerge on to the A25. Avoid the road by turning sharply right here onto a bridleway, which leads to a quiet lane where there is a car park. Turn left down the lane to reach the main road again. Take the steep right-hand side of the track to climb up to the top of the valley. Turn left and follow a path close to the edge of the escarpment – from which you can marvel at magnificent views through clearings in the trees. Keep close to the edge to find a path which leads down the steep slope to a road. Cross the road to continue on the bridleway opposite. There is an orchard to the right and then the way becomes rocky as the path descends a hill. The bridleway reaches a road by the pretty Mote Hill Cottages. Turn right to return to Ightham Mote Cafe to enjoy tasty homemade treats, light lunches and refreshing drinks, the ideal place to relax and reward yourself at the end of a walk before exploring Ightham Mote itself. If you are craving something a little more substantial and perhaps a local beverage or two, visit The George and Dragon (www.georgeanddragon-ightham.co.uk) in the picturesque village of Ightham, which serves excellent food in a historic pub setting.
Meanders in Maidstone
With miles of countryside and rural villages surrounding Maidstone, it’s no surprise this spot has some excellent walking routes. Follow the two-and-a-half mile route along the River Medway from Wateringbury to Yalding and you’ll have two pubs to choose from, The Railway at Wateringbury which welcomes dogs and their walkers for homemade Sunday roasts, and the Boathouse (www.boathouseyalding.co.uk) at Yalding, a stylish pub with stunning riverside views, both perfect for a tipple and a bite to warm yourself up after your stroll. Along the top of the North Downs, White Horse Wood Country Park is the start of plenty of trails, with routes to Thurnham Castle, The Pilgrims Way and the Black Horse all within reach.
A Romantic Castle and Lovely Lakes in the High Weald
Circling around the beautiful estate of the 14th century, fairytale-esque Scotney Castle (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/scotney-castle) the Scotney Parkland Trail is the perfect walk to discover the little stream that feeds the moat and the beautiful woodland and panoramic views of the castle and its parkland. The total distance is just under two miles, and is therefore ideal for a shorter afternoon stroll after some scones with cream and jam at the castle’s eatery. If you still have a little energy left, head across to nearby Bewl Water (www.bewlwater.co.uk), where you can walk the total lakeside distance of three miles while admiring the birds and other wildlife near the water.