Searching around for a project to follow on from research for my Essex book, I soon thought about the National Trail closest to London, the North Downs Way. Despite its easy proximity, it would give me a chance to discover a part of the world that I didn’t know all that well.
Much of the route is based on the famous Pilgrim’s Way from London (or Winchester) to Canterbury, immortalised by Chaucer. It’s principally a traverse of the chalk escarpment of the North Downs, much as the South Downs Way does for its equivalent. However there is a somewhat anomalous first day on greensand west (and a little east) of the River Wey. There are many long tranquil stretches across its 150-plus miles, including a crossing of the splendid Surrey Hills and many glorious miles through Kent, the Garden of England; the clifftop stretch around Folkestone will have you looking across to France.
One cavil. All the more pity then that busy roads like the M25 and A2 intrude too often; not the planners’ fault, they weren’t there when the route was first developed.
The notes that follow detail my walk of 2013-14, all stages being undertaken by public transport from my east London home. There was one overnight, in Canterbury, though it wasn’t strictly necessary – a chance to have a night away with my loved one. Along the Way, there is a good variety of accommodation (including campsites) for those that want to stay on route.
For a table of distances and times, go to my North Downs Way table (PDF file, Acrobat Viewer required).
Every stage apart from Chilworth (once), Borstal and Folkestone ended at a rail station. Rail times are easy to check from National Rail. For bus times I use Traveline but rather than rely on the sometimes clunky ‘plan a journey’ I use the ‘find a timetable’ link for the village. Frequencies are only a guide; fewer, or no, buses run on Sundays. These notes will not be revised after spring 2014 so do check before use.
Chilworth: the return to Chilworth worked out better to me by the hourly bus 32 from Guildford rather than the train.
Borstal: half-hourly bus 155 to Rochester, or an extra two miles’ walk.
Folkestone: frequent bus 16/16A/73/91 from Alkham Valley Corner, or an extra two miles’ walk.