25 places to visit in Kent’s North Downs this winter
PUBLISHED: 12:27 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:42 06 November 2020
In the final month of the 50th Anniversary of the Kent Downs AONB and 40th of the North Downs Way, we’ve chosen 25 places to visit and enjoy in the Kent Downs this winter
Throughout this extraordinary anniversary year we have engaged thousands of people who have visited the Downs, attended one of 75-plus events, taken part in setting the scene for the future of the landscape or simply read or heard more about Kent’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
At a time of momentous change in the future of farming and our countryside and while the Government is conducting a review of our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks, we would like to encourage you to join in.
This could be by visiting or enjoying the Downs, feeding into our survey to let us know what you hope for the future of the landscape or volunteering your time and skills to help.
In this amazing year we also launched the Kent Downs Trust, a new charity to work with the Kent Downs AONB Partnership to help us secure these beautiful places for the future. We will be looking for help and support for the Trust; perhaps you could take a role?
1 Royal Military Canal
The Royal Military Canal Path runs for 28 miles from Kent to East Sussex and passes through the Kent Downs AONB at Hythe. A perfect way to spend a crisp winter’s afternoon walking along the tree-lined bank looking at the wildlife. The canal banks are home to many insects such as dragonflies, amphibians, birds and small mammals.
2 Devil’s Kneading Trough
There are stunning views from this dramatic site, part of the National Nature Reserve owned and managed by Natural England. The dramatic coombe is managed for wildlife by cattle grazing, which helps to maintain the grassland in such a way as to create an ideal habitat for many different species.
3 King’s Wood
This 1500-acre forest is one of Kent’s largest woodlands, an ancient site with both broad-leaved trees and conifers. Enjoy a brisk winter’s walk here to discover a huge diversity of flora and fauna. Since 1994 artists have been commissioned to make sculptures within the forest. The use of natural materials means they gradually change throughout the seasons and will all eventually become part of the natural forest cycle of decay and regeneration.
One of the most attractive villages in the Kent Downs AONB, Chilham is perfect for a festive amble. Its historic square and small lanes are lined with Tudor and Jacobean houses. Here you will find St Mary’s Church, mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086, plus cosy and inviting pubs with crackling open fires.
Set at the heart of a magnificent 1,000 acre deer park, Knole has remained largely unchanged for 300 years. Wander through the park and discover the icehouse, listen out for the woodpeckers and admire the beauty of this timeless open space.
6 Perry Wood
A unique place with jutting mounds of sand and heathland wildlife amid the rolling chalk of the Downs, Perry Wood’s position offers great views to the coast and countryside. Look out for holly and ivy, sweet chestnut, owls, heather and ancient beech trees.
A place often visited by Jane Austen, this small village straddles the Great River Stour as it cuts through the North Downs. Catch a glimpse of Godmersham Park, once owned by Jane Austen’s brother, along the public footpath and visit St Mary’s Church, where you’ll find Edward’s memorial.
8 Cobham Wood
Cobham Wood is 165 acres of restored wood pasture within historic Cobham Park, home to Grade I-listed Darnley Mausoleum. Take a walk to see fine examples of veteran oak, hornbeam and sweet chestnut trees, many of the latter planted 200 years ago by the renowned landscape architect Humphry Repton.
9 Stelling Minnis
High on the Kent Downs plateau and close to the old Roman Road of Stone Street sits the ancient common of Stelling Minnis, a stunning area of extensive common land that largely escaped the fate of enclosure – with a great traditional pub.
10 Chalk and Channel Way
This walking and cycling route along the top of the White Cliffs of Dover links the harbours of Dover and Folkestone. Along the route artists have created landmarks designed to reflect the aspects of the passing landscape, providing stopping and resting places and encouraging people on their way.
11 Ranscombe Farm Reserve
On the North Downs and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, this 560-acre reserve has 10km of footpaths across ancient farmland, pockets of chalk grassland and coppice woods with fine views across the Medway Gap and Luddesdown valley.
12 Farmers’ Markets
Farmers’ Markets in and around the AONB not only offer local seasonal food in abundance but stallholders who can tell you where and how the products they sell were farmed or processed. By shopping there, you’re helping to maintain the viability of local farmers, and so supporting the continued management of our countryside.
13 Hucking Estate
Not just a wood, Hucking Estate is a landscape where all the habitats complement each other: chalk grassland, woodland ridges, hedges, ancient woodland, together providing a habitat diversity in which wildlife can flourish. Discover a beautiful landscape, a wealth of wildlife and fascinating heritage from chalk grassland, chalk pits, deneholes and veteran trees to droveways, rides and glades.
The historic and picturesque village of Elham is in the heart of the Kent Downs, about halfway along the valley that bears its name and links Folkestone to Canterbury. Its 43 listed buildings and unique setting make it one of the most historically interesting and picturesque villages in the Kent Downs. Follow the waymarked Elham Valley Way to explore the meandering valley and beautiful ancient woodland between Hythe and Canterbury.
15 White Cliffs of Dover
One of the UK’s most spectacular natural features, the White Cliffs of Dover have been a sign of hope and freedom for centuries and millions of people wonder at them every year as they cross the Channel. Thousands more now enjoy their special appeal through the seasons by taking the clifftop paths.
16 Ightham Mote
Ightham Mote is an outstanding 14th-century manor house set in a deep wooded valley near Sevenoaks. Surrounded by peaceful gardens with an orchard, water features, lakes and woodland walks, take in the views full of glistening frosted branches in the crisp, fresh winter air.
The medieval village of Wye nestles in the hills of the Kent Downs AONB. Take a short walk to the Wye Crown that celebrates the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. It was carved into the hillside above the village by students of the once-thriving agricultural Wye college.
Home to Winston Churchill for more than 40 years, Chartwell sits within one of the Kent Down’s fine historic parklands. Pick up one of the walks from the visitor Welcome Centre and enjoy the Chartwell gardens and the wider estate with misty views over the Weald of Kent.
19 Dover Castle
Built on a high cliff in a strategic position facing threats from Europe, Dover Castle has always been an important part of Britain’s line of defence. Closed weekdays during the winter.
20 Thurnham Castle
Easily accessible through White Horse Woods Country Park, discover the ruins of Thurnham Castle, three miles north east of Maidstone. White Horse Wood is set within the Kent Downs AONB and offers beautiful countryside, local history and panoramic views.
21 North Downs Way
Perfect for that Boxing Day Walk, grab your coat and head out to the North Downs Way. Explore sweeping dry valleys in early morning frost, take a bracing walk along the White Cliffs and warm up next to a fire in a country pub with a bowl of soup.
22 Ancient parkland
Ancient parkland is one of the favourite features of the Kent Downs; the combination of large, free-grown trees and open grazed grassland creates a timeless but tended landscape. A variety of parkland sites can be found through our website.
23 Stour Valley Walk
The Stour Valley Walk is a 58-mile route through the Low Weald and North Downs, giving you access to some the most picturesque parts of East Kent. Take in the rolling grassland, woods, marshes, peat bogs, orchards and picturesque villages along the way. The walk can be completed over a long weekend or in shorter sections.
24 Farthing Common
Farthing Common is an area of common land north west of Folkestone and is one of the highest points of the North Downs at 185 metres above sea level. There are fantastic far-reaching views across Kent and the coast on a clear winter’s day.
25 Ash to ash
While enjoying the exhilarating views from White Horse Country Park, discover two striking monolithic sculptural works by internationally renowned artists Ackroyd and Harvey. They are both a celebration of ash trees and a memorial to the devastating effects of ash dieback on the most common tree in the Kent Downs.