Planning a North Downs Way walk

Last updated 3 March 2017

Kent County Council's North Downs Way markers

If you’re new to long distance walking or just fancy a walk without huge hills or being up to your waist in bog then the North Downs Way could be for you. Add in historical sites and random war related artifacts and there’s even more reason to do it.

It also has an added bonus for those living in London in that has excellent rail links to the capital meaning most of the trail can be done in day long hikes.

In this guide

  1. What is the walk like?
  2. The route
  3. Planning an itinerary
  4. Finding and booking accommodation
  5. Getting to/from the North Downs Way
  6. Guide Books and Maps
  7. And finally, and any questions

What is the walk like?

View point at the car park at Gatton Park

With its close proximity to London and cutting across the south east of England, the North Downs Way doesn’t exactly head over some the finest of Britain’s countryside. It spends a fair amount of its time near busy dual carriageways and motorways, and (especially in the Surrey section) the noise of motor vehicles can be very dominating. If you’re after absolute peace and tranquillity then this it not the walk for you.

However if you don’t mind some road noise you’ll find a walk which has some pleasant scenery, and more than a few stunning viewpoints. And Guildford as well.

It’s rarely taxing – there are no real steep hills and the walk is mostly flat – so it’s a good walk to introduce you to long distance walking. Trail conditions are good, and much of the walk is paved. The fact that it’s near London means that the North Downs Way is a great walk for those living in the capital and the South East.

Few people seem to do the North Downs Way all in one go (I didn’t do it that way and I didn’t see a single through-hiker on any of my trips) but the excellent rail connections meaning you can split it up in to day hikes or a series of short mini-breaks without having to travel hours from home.

If you’d like to know more about what to expect, read about my own North Downs Way journey. Alternatively, watch our North Downs Way video!

The route

You can see the route of the North Downs Way using the map above. Using the controls you can scroll around, zoom in and explore the route. Note that this map is a guide only, and should not be used for navigation.

You can also download the GPX file of the route.

Planning an itinerary

Old sign

Given the North Downs cuts across the densely populated South East of England you might think that you’ll never be more than five minutes from accommodation, however in reality it doesn’t go through that many villages or towns.

The ones it does pass through are generally ideally spaced to allow for a days walking. This means that generally you’re looking at 9 or 10 days to do the whole walk, although if you fancy doing some longer days it is possible to do it in less. Add on an extra two days if you want to do both north and south loops.

Most people walk the North Downs Way west to east so the guide is listed with that in mind. Each of the locations listed below has accommodation and a pub unless otherwise noted.

A ten day guide is shown below, but there are some shorter sections that can be combined together and done in one day. Locations with a railway station are marked with a *.

10 Day Itinerary
Day From To Distance Notes
Miles Km
1 Farnham * Guildford * 11 17¾  
2 Guildford * Westhumble * 13 20¾ [1]
3 Westhumble * Merstham * 11 16¼
4 Merstham * Oxted * 8 13 [2]
5 Oxted *

Otford * 11¾ 19
6 Otford * Cuxton * 15½ 25  
7 Cuxton * Hollingbourne * 17½ 28  
Southern loop (via Folkestone and the White Cliffs)
8 Hollingbourne * Wye * 15½ 25
9 Wye * Etchinghill 11½ 18½ [3]
10 Etchinghill Dover * 12 19  
Northern loop (via Canterbury)
8 Hollingbourne Boughton Lees 13 21 [4]
9 Boughton Lees Canterbury * 13 21  
10 Canterbury * Dover * 19 30½ [5]
  1. Station at Westhumble is called ‘Boxhill and Westhumble’, although sometimes called just ‘Boxhill’ for short.
  2. Oxted town and railway station is 2 miles, 3km off route
  3. Etchinghill has limited accommodation. Alternative accommodation can be found in nearby Folkestone which is a short bus ride away.
  4. Nearest railway station and accommodation is Wye, which is 2½ miles, 3¾km away. Wye can be accessed by following the southern loop.
  5. Whilst this is a long stretch, it is easy going and perfectly possible to complete in a day. However should you wish to break it up, limited accommodation and a railway station can be found after 10½ miles, 17km in the village of Shepherdswell.

Thanks to good paths and easy navigation, the North Downs Way is a good walk to do all year round.

Breaking the walk up for several trips?

To do the whole thing you’re probably going to be looking at 9 or 10 days of walking, but thanks to the railway network the North Downs Way is very easy to split up. If you’re London based you can do pretty much all of it in day long hikes – there are just that many stations on route. This means that you can do the route in almost any combination you like. All day hikes, several small trips, or a mixture of the whole lot. It’s entirely up to you.

North or south loop?

Unusually the North Downs Way has a choice of routes at its eastern end. The split happens at Boughton Lees, 99 miles from Farnham. The north loop (which is six miles longer) goes via Canterbury and is the option if you’re interested in following a similar to route to medieval pilgrims. The southern route is more direct and takes in the White Cliffs of Dover for a triumphant ending.

Both routes have their merits and having done both, I have to say it’s difficult to choose between them. Whilst most people will be happy to chose just one option, you can do both by doing them as a complete loop starting and ending at Dover or Wye. Alternatively do Wye to Dover by one section, then return to Wye to do the other.

Finding and booking accommodation

Enchanting Path

The North Downs Way passes through several towns and large villages where finding accommodation shouldn’t be too difficult, however you may be advised to book in advance if you want to find something close to the trail. Otherwise you may need to take a train or a bus to get to your bed in the evening.

As with all National Trails the North Downs Way has an excellent accommodation guide on its website.

Hostels

There are just two YHA hostels on the North Downs Way:

There is also a camping barn at Puttenham which does sleeping bag hire. However as it is only 6½ miles from the start/end at Farnham it is probably of limited use to most North Downs Way walkers.

Camping

There are few campsites on or around the North Downs Way, mostly concentrated on the more rural Kent section of the trail. The official Norths Downs Way website lists campsites in its accommodation guide.

Due to the nature of the land the North Downs Way traverses it is not generally suitable for wild camping.

Getting to/from the North Downs Way

All go at Wye station

There are many railway stations on the North Downs Way, with stations at both ends at Farnham and Dover, and at regular intervals on the route. Most stations have a direct and regular service to London, whilst others may require a simple change. Train times and connections can be found from National Rail Enquiries.

If you live in London the best way to plan your travel is to use the Traveline South East Journey Planner. This will plan your journey from your door and will show you the quickest route to take.

Guide Books and Maps

YOU ARE HERE

To be honest the signage on the North Downs Way is so good that you’ll rarely need to refer to a map, however it’s always good to have one.

Without doubt the best guide book is the official North Downs Way Trail Guide published by Aurum Press.

As with all of Aurum’s guides it excerpts of Ordnance Survey maps at the 1:25,000 scale as well as information and history about the trail. The latest version of the book is due to be published in January 2016.

If you’d prefer a strip map, there is the Harveys North Downs Way strip map. Published in September 2013, this version covers the entire of the North Downs Way – previously two maps were required to cover the whole route.

The mapping is to Harvey’s own 1:40,000 scale.

Finally if you would prefer to take Ordnance Survey maps, you will need the following:

And finally, and any questions

There's something scary in the undergrowth at No Mans Orchard

Hopefully that covers all you need to know about the North Downs Way but if you’ve any questions feel free to ask them in the comments box below.

But most of all, I hope you enjoy your walk!

Found this guide helpful? Why not say thanks by sending us £3 for a beer!

Your Comments

Charles

2 June 2013 at 9:59 pm

excellent resource – very useful. Spotted a typo – on the North Downs Way itinerary, you refer to Mertsham, rather than Merstham

Andrew Bowden

4 June 2013 at 9:36 am

Charles – Have you never been to Mertsham? It’s a lovely place!

Thanks for letting me know. I’ve now fixed it.

Andrew

31 March 2014 at 7:39 pm

Excellent resource! I’m visiting England for the first time in May from Canada, and am torn between waling the North or South Downs Way as the bulk of my vacation… As I understand it, pubs sometimes have space for pitching a tent for the night for those on a budget… Any resources you could pass along in that direction?

Andrew Bowden

6 April 2014 at 7:05 am

Hi Andrew – I’ve come across more pubs which allow camping in the north of England rather than the south, but you may find some on the South Downs Way. I’m not sure of any on the trail myself though as I wasn’t really looking. Best bet is to check out the official website as they have an accommodation list, including camping.

Andy barrett

11 April 2015 at 1:41 am

Very useful site .. Thank you

Donna Davis

8 October 2015 at 5:22 pm

can you tell if dogs are allowed on the north down trail. Any part which is a no go for dogs. Thanks.

Jeremy Sachs

26 October 2015 at 1:45 pm

Hi,

this website is very helpful thank you.

Can anyone recommend a part of the walk that goes through woodland? I only have a weekend and would really like to see some

thanks

Jeremy

Phil Levy

12 March 2017 at 9:45 pm

Hi,
Can I please tap your experience of the north downs way please.

I am looking to do the north downs over straight days in 2018 having completed the south downs in 5 days for charity in 2016.

Would it be possible to do the north in 5/6 days do you feel.

Finally what is the highest point on this route please.

Thank you
Phil Levy

Barbara Howard

2 April 2017 at 6:22 pm

Hi,
very interesting and helpful website!
I am from Austria and last summer I did the South Downs Way with my family.We really loved it, so this year we would like to do a long distance path again.Is the NDW recommendable?Is the countryside as lovely as in the SDW? I am a bit afraid because I heard/read it is so loud because of the traffic.Is that true?
Thank you
Barbara

Andrew Bowden

3 April 2017 at 9:48 am

Hello Barbara – whilst the North Downs Way has its moments, personally I would say the South Downs Way is far superior when it comes to views. The North Downs Way spends a lot of time near trees, and it does feature road noise quite a bit.

For my money, the Ridgeway is probably a better choice if you’re looking for something similar to the South Downs Way.

Barbara Howard

3 April 2017 at 10:05 am

Thank you for your quick answer Andrew!
I will read about the Ridgeway!
What do you think about the Norfolk Coast Path?

Andrew Bowden

3 April 2017 at 10:09 am

Haven’t done it yet although the Norfolk Coast Path is on my list of walks to do. Maybe this year if I’m very lucky.

Jane

18 April 2017 at 7:01 am

We are doing this trail in May and I wondered if you knew of a service that exists to take my backpack for me from pub to pub so I only need carry a small rucksack. I am new to this extended rambling but think I would enjoy it much more with a smaller load (we are walking for a week) many thanks…

Beth

2 May 2017 at 1:53 pm

Thank you so much for your wonderful website. I completed the North Downs Way on Saturday and found your blogs on the trail extremely helpful.

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