Walking the North Downs Way is an opportunity to explore some of the finest English countryside, with stunning views of the rolling hills of North Down, East Kent and picturesque villages, while experiencing a range of historical and cultural sites that offer a unique insight into the area’s rich heritage.
Everything You Need To Know About the North Downs Way
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The North Down Trail takes you across the South East of England, introducing you to the stunning scenery and beautiful villages.
The route starts in the town of Farnam and takes you 153 miles (246 km) across the country to the White Cliffs of Dover.
Along the way, you’ll pass through some iconic areas, including Surrey Hills, Kent Downs, and the Pilgrims Way, an ancient pilgrimage route which runs from Winchester to Canterbury.
And that’s not all:
You’ll also pass by some of the most prominent stately homes, castles, archbishop’s palaces, and so much more.
Of course, the true highlight of the walk comes right at the end when you’re greeted with the infamous White Cliffs of Dover.
While the terrain is fairly easy, some long daily distances make it challenging.
Highlights of the North Downs Way
1. Guildford Cathedral – A stunning cathedral located in the town of Guildford, which marks the start of the North Downs Way.
2. The Devil’s Punch Bowl – A large hollow on the North Downs that offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
3. Box Hill – A National Trust property with breathtaking views over the Surrey countryside.
4. Reigate Fort – A historic fortification built in the 1890s as part of the London Defence Scheme.
5. Canterbury Cathedral – One of the UK’s most famous cathedrals and a UNESCO World Heritage site, located at the end of the North Downs Way.
6. White Cliffs of Dover – A world-famous natural landmark that marks the point where the North Downs Way meets the English Channel.
7. Wye National Nature Reserve – A nature reserve located near the town of Wye that offers some of the best scenery on the North Downs Way.
8. Farnham Castle – A historic castle that dates back to the 12th century, located near the end of the North Downs Way.
The North Downs Way National Trail is one of 16 national trails found in the UK.
Here’s a list of all the national trails in the UK: Cleveland Way, Cotswold Way, Glyndwr’s Way, Hadrian’s Wall Path, North Downs Way, Offa’s Dyke Path, Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path, Pennine Bridleway, Pennine Way, Pembrokeshire Coast Path, The Ridgeway, South Downs Way, South West Coast Path, Thames Path, The West Highland Way, Yorkshire Wolds Way.
There’s so much history and culture to explore on this walk, and this article is going to introduce you to the best of the North Downs Way, including a 7-day itinerary.
Your 7-Day By-Day Guide To North Downs Way
I’ve hiked in the UK for 20 years, have experience in teaching outdoor education and have walked the North Downs Way, so you’re in good hands. I’ll share the highlights, point out tricky or technical sections if there are any, and share my favorite accommodations for walkers each day. Let’s get started!
Day 1: Walk From Farnham To Gomshall
- Start Point: Farnham
- Distance: 18 miles (28 km)
- Total Ascent: 291 m (995 ft)
- Finish Point: Gomshall
The North Downs Way starts in Farnham, a beautiful town in Surrey. You’ll want to arrive the day before and spend the night in Farnham to get an early start, as the first day of walking is long.
You begin by following the River Wye before heading to Woodland on the infamous Pilgrim’s Way.
Eventually, you’ll break through the woods into an open field where you’ll get great views of the hilly ridge of Hogs Back.
You’ll also pass by the beautiful Loseley Estate, where you can get a guided tour if you wish. From there, you’ll pass through the town of Guildford, which has an attractive high street and castle.
From Guildford, you’ll hike up the 175-meter St Martha’s Hill. Once at the top, you’ll find the beautiful St Martha’s Church.
Day 2: Walk From Gomshall To Merstham
- Start Point: Gomshall
- Distance: 17 miles (27 km)
- Total Ascent: 263 m (866 ft)
- Finish Point: Merstham
Today your hike starts in the pretty village of Gomshall, a short walk from Hackhurst Downs, before returning onto the North Downs Way path.
The path takes you through more beautiful woodland, where you’ll get excellent views of the hills surrounding the North Downs Way.
You’ll continue your walk through the famous Denbies Wine Estate before reaching the village of Westhumble, which lies in the shadow of Box Hill.
From there, you’ll make your way across the River Mole and up a 224-meter hike to the summit of Box Hill.
You’ll walk past several old quarries before climbing Juniper Hill (147 m), Colley Hill (220 m), and Reigate Hill (235 m), where you’ll get great views of a golf course before reaching the small town of Merstham.
While in Merstham, you can spend the night at the self-catering accommodation, Arete Accommodation Solution, or Brompton Guest House.
Day 3: Walk From Merstham To Otford
- Start Point: Merstham
- Distance: 20 miles (32 km)
- Total Ascent: 168 m (554 ft)
- Finish Point: Otford
Your walk today doesn’t start off great to be honest. It takes you through the town streets of Merstham before crossing paths with the M25 and M23. Luckily you quickly climb back through the fields and onto the North Downs Way Path.
It continues through fields before eventually reaching Caterham Viewpoint and then through a vineyard. From the vineyard, you walk through a stunning woodland before descending around the edge of Tandridge Hill.
Shortly after, you’ll walk by the beautiful country house Titsey Palace with its gorgeous gardens.
You’ll pass in and out of the woods during this section before getting to Biggin Hill Airfields and finally leaving the county of Surrey and entering Kent.
And this is where the countryside becomes even more beautiful. You’ll get views of all the valleys to the south before reaching the charming town of Otford and the end of today’s walk.
You can spend the night at Upthedowns Bed & Breakfast to get some rest for the next leg of your hike.
Day 4: Walk From Otford To Cuxton
- Start Point: Otford
- Distance: 17 miles (27 km)
- Total Ascent: 160 m (528 ft)
- Finish Point: Cuxton
You’ll be leaving Otford today, and while there isn’t much that stands out, you get terrific views of the surrounding countryside.
The path quickly takes you to the top of the downs passing through Rowdow Wood, where you get stunning views to the south.
After leaving Rowdow Wood, you’ll shortly be in the village of Kemsing and then to the village of Wrotham, where you can stop for some lunch.
Once you’re done with lunch, the path takes you past the M20, where you can head towards Medway Towns and then onto chalk downs (Downland), where you can get views of chalk cliffs.
Head towards the River Medway and then to the town of Cuxton, where you can spend the night at the Sundial or Premier Inn Hotel.
Day 5: Walk From Cuxton To Charing
- Start Point: Cuxton
- Distance: 23 miles (37 km)
- Total Ascent: 369 m (1,211 ft)
- Finish Point: Charing
This will be your longest day of hiking; luckily, it’s also the best day. You leave the village and head over Medway Bridge, which takes you over the River Medway.
You’ll head south toward the ancient Kits Coty Megolithic Burial Chamber, which is thought to date back to 2000 BC. What’s unique about this is that it gives you a Stonehenge vibe on a smaller scale.
The next area of interest appears when you reach the town of Lenham, where you can see an old war memorial cut into the downs, which is left as a reminder of the times gone by.
You’ll then walk through the pretty village of Charing, which is very attractive. The surrounding area is beautiful, with rolling fields and woodland.
Day 6: Walk From Charing To Etchinghill
- Start Point: Charing
- Distance: 18.2 miles (29 km)
- Total Ascent: 301 m (988 ft)
- Finish Point: Etchinhill
Your second to last day of hiking will take you through the village of Charing, where the path climbs out, giving you great views of the surrounding area.
It then takes you into the open countryside and part of Eastwell Park, a massive estate in the civil parish of Eastwell.
After spending some time looking at Eastwell Park, you’ll head into the rural town of Wye, where you’ll get epic scenery of the coast.
One of the highlights is walking past the impressive Devil’s Kneading Trough, one of Kent’s largest and most famous steep-sided dry valleys.
During most of this section, the coast can be seen in the distance, marking that you’re not too far away.
The end of your day is marked when you hit the village of Etchinghill, where you can stay in one of the only accommodations in the area, Beachborough Park. If you’re tired, I suggest getting a taxi from this point; it’s a few miles out of town.
Day 7: Walk From Etchinghill To Dover
- Start Point: Etchinghill
- Distance: 12 miles (19 km)
- Total Ascent: 113 m (371 ft)
- Finish Point: Dover
Congratulations, you’ve made it to your final day of hiking before you make it to the infamous White Cliffs of Dover.
From Etchinghill, the path will take you over the busy Channel Tunnel Terminal. From here, you can see the town of Folkestone below you.
Shortly after that, the path reaches the coast, where the North Downs Way follows the breathtaking clifftop all the way to the town of Dover.
The entire section of this hike was my favorite; as you look over the Channel, you’ll see Calais in the distance. And eventually, you’ll make it to Dover Castle, which is well worth a trip.
There’s a lot to see and do in Dover so you may want to spend an additional day or two exploring.
North Downs Way Accommodation Guide
For your easy reference, here is a list of where you’ll want to book your accommodations for the 7-day itinerary:
Arrival Day: Farnham
Day 2: Merstham. Our Recommendation: Arete Accommodation Solution or Brompton Guest House
Day 4: Cuxton. Our Recommendations: The Sundial or Premier Inn Hotel
Day 6: Etchinhill. Our Recommendation: Beachborough Park
Day 7: Dover
Frequently Asked Questions About Walking the North Downs Way
Can You Wild Camp On The North Downs Way?
Unfortunately, it’s illegal to wild camp in England; that being said, if you ask the landowner and leave no trace, they are usually happy to let you stay.
Accommodation can be limited along this trail, so make sure you book in advance and make changes to your trip if necessary.
How Long Does It Take To Walk The North Downs Way?
It really depends on how far you walk in a day, but most people manage to complete the walk in between 7 to 10 days, depending on their fitness level.
What Gear Do I Need To Bring on the North Downs Way?
Here’s our list of recommended trekking gear for a multi-day walk like this. Of special note is buying clothing made from Merino wool, which is perfect for English weather, especially if you’re doing the walk in spring or fall.
I also recommend bringing an emergency thermal blanket and a blister kit. I bring these items on every hike I do.
And for the ladies who still want to look good while doing this route, check out our hiking makeup tips.
More Information on Walking the North Downs Way
Guidebooks are great sources of information, like this guidebook which includes a route planner, route maps if you’re planning on doing it by yourself.
Final Thoughts & Takeaways on the North Downs Way
cuThe North Downs Way is a long walk, but totally worth it. Throughout the hike, you get a glimpse of English history and all the stunning countryside surrounding it.
One of the best things about the way is making it into Dover and all the friendly people you meet along the way.