Exploring East Kent
Series 1: Walking
The great thing about East Kent is being bordered on three sides by the sea. This adds a whole lot of diverse levels of interest connected to the seaside shores and towns.
Furthermore there are many sociological features connected with the East Kent countryside such as the now redundant coal mines and their history, the fruit growing areas, the seat of the Anglican Church at Canterbury, and the influences of the ports.
Having lived and worked in and around Canterbury all of my life, East Kent to me is very much everything East of a line drawn from Faversham on the north coast southwards through Wye and finishing at Hythe on the South coast.
To get your bearings, Canterbury, the main administrative town, sits in the middle of East Kent. To the West and South the land is mainly chalk downland, with arable and livestock farming. To the East of Canterbury the rivers Stour and Little Stour drain themselves into the lowland and marshy areas around the Wantsum Channel, which used to separate Kent from The Isle of Thanet. Thanet itself is a chalky ridge with Margate at its Eastern extremity.
This area is covered in rich chalky soils that supported intensive vegetable growing (mainly cauliflowers) due to it’s frost free sea air. In the middle around canterbury we have the fruit growing areas – mostly from Wingham through to Faversham.
The North Kent coast is mostly estuary mud, whereas in complete contrast the south coast terminates in spectacular chalk cliffs.
Walks around Woolton Farm
If you are staying at one of Woolton Farm’s holiday cottages, then there are easily accessible walks - quick wake up ones before breakfast or longer treks to the pub for lunch and back.
From The Oast and Old Tannery in Littlebourne just go out of the front doors turn left and head out into the fields. You can see from the map that there are plenty of circular routes to choose from. From Ellens Cottage, which is on the farm, just check with Mark or Rosie about which routes you can take.
Two recommended walks to the pub from Woolton Farm.
The first one takes you to Fordwich where there are two pubs/restaurants - The Fordwich Arms and The George and Dragon - allow an hour. From the farm head out past Ponds Oast and Cottages up to the A257 main road. Cross over and follow the straight path through Pine Wood (CB 151A & CB151). From Littlebourne head over into Nargate Street and then left onto the footpath CB147, which the path from Woolton Farm joins takes you all the way up to Swanton Lane. Cross over Swanton Lane and down through the woods. The path actually splits here which means you can take a different route on the way back.
The second walk to the pub takes you to Wickhambreaux (The Rose Inn) and also to Ickham (The Duke William), both serve food - allow 45 minutes to an hour minutes to get to Wickhambreaux. From the farm I suggest that you start off heading up to Pine Wood. Instead of going all the way through the wood turn right half way through and down into Littlebourne until you get to the recreation ground when you turn left heading towards the church. Then leave the village through Church Meadow (CB1438) heading towards Wickhambreaux along the Little Stour river. Visitors staying at The Oast or Tannery should head over to Nargate Street then left onto CB147, then quickly right to join the same path (CB1438) heading for Wickhambreaux. From The Rose you can turn left into The Street and then right into Seaton Road to Seaton (just a few houses). From there take the path (CB180) to Ickham, and from The Duke William there is a path (CB175) at the back of the pub that takes you to Littlebourne. If going back to Woolton Farm cross straight over the main A257 heading for Garrington Farm, and from there back to Woolton Farm (ask Mark or Rosie the best route to take).
Woodland walks (great for dogs too)
North and Northwest of Canterbury there is an extensive area of wood which is excellent for walks. There are three distinct blocks; First up to the West is Joan Beech Wood Streetmap ref: TR076567, which has fabulous views to the south down over the Stour Valley. Parking is not that great - possibly best in Chartham Hatch, or ask at the Chapter Arms. Blean Woods is the most extensive block Streetmap ref: TR107599, it is Forestry Commission, but with a good mix of woodland types and wildlife. Park in Blean or Rough Common. The third block which is to the east of the area includes Clowes Wood and Thornden Wood Streetmap ref: TR132631. There is parking in the woods shown on the map. The added advantage of these woods is their proximity to Whitstable, so you can have a walk before lunch and then have a stroll along the seafront after lunch!
West and Southwest of Canterbury: The other two areas of woodland that we always gravitate to are King’s Wood between Chilham and Challock Streetmap ref: TR035506, and Denge Wood Streetmap ref: TR101518. The Pilgrim’s Way runs through King’s Wood and on a good day the Bell Harry tower of Canterbury Cathedral can be seen just rising up between the valley sides, and you can imagine the tired pilgrims thinking ‘there it is at last - not far to go now’.
National routes crossing East Kent
Pilgrims Way and North Downs Way
Basically The Pilgrims Way originates both from Southwark in London and Winchester in Hampshire, then once the two branches join, the route goes on to Canterbury via Rochester Cathedral.
Much of the route is shared by the North Downs Way.
From an East Kent point of view the North Downs Way splits at the village of Boughton Lees near Wye into two sections, both ending up in Dover. One section follows the Pilgrims Way to Canterbury and then on to Dover, the other goes south through Wye and over some spectacular chalk downs on to Folkestone and then Dover. Why Dover? Well that’s the way the pilgrims came - along the via Francigena from Rome to Canterbury or the other way round. A good blog about this is can be found here Francigena (warning - It’s 2000 km!).
If you want to ditch the car and visit East Kent by train, then walking the Pilgrims Way starting off at Wye or even Chilham would be a great idea - the train line here goes via Ashford to Canterbury West.
For the North Downs Way section Canterbury to Dover you are spoilt for choice for stations - starting at Canterbury East, then Bekesbourne, Snowdon, Shepherdswell and on to Dover Priory. From any of these you can plan your route in either direction.
I have to say though that the section from Wye to Dover via Folkestone is the bees knees as far as spectacular countryside and seascapes are concerned. You can easily hook up with the trail if you get off the train at either Wye or Folkestone.
The Saxon Shore Way
The Saxon Shore Way starts in Gravesend in North Kent, and tracks southwards tracing the original coastline of East Kent as it was in Saxon times. It actually goes all the way to Hastings if you fancy it.
For me the interesting bit is where it follows the Wantsum Channel from Reculver on the north coast through the marshes to Pegwell Bay, and then past the Roman fortress of Richborough before entering the cinque port of Sandwich. A distance of about 18 miles, rich in imaginings of the first landings of the Vikings in their famous Long Boats, and the later occupation by the Romans, who would have sailed up the Wantsum Channel in their Galleys armed to the teeth with the renowned and ferocious legionaries. If you are coming by train then stop at either Herne Bay - which is on the Faversham to Margate line, or Sandwich - which is on the Canterbury West to Sandwich, Deal, Dover route.
The Stour Valley Walk is a 58 mile (93 km) route from Lenham in the West all along the River Stour to where it enters the sea at Pegwell Bay Sandwich. For East Kent visitors I’d start at Wye.
But actually I’d suggest that you don’t do that at all…...for the ultimate East Kent journey I suggest you do the Elham Valley Way instead, which goes from Hythe to Canterbury through some of the most stunning scenery in the area. If you are up for more, then Just before Canterbury in the village of Bridge, turn off and follow the Nailbourne Valley which turns into the Little Stour river at Wells Chapel. You can follow this all the way until it joins the larger Stour at Plucks Gutter, and then on to Sandwich. This to me would be the ultimate East Kent journey.
Lesser known walks introduced and described by The East Kent Ramblers Group
For a full history of the establishment of The Pilgrims and North Downs Way.
For the official trail guide visit National Trails Guide.
Useful maps and guides from GPS Cycle and Walking routes.
For excellent photos and descriptions of every section of the North Downs Way.