This is hands-down one of the prettiest London day hikes I’ve organised. Quaint Tudor villages, historic churches, forests and castles combine with a gentle ambling pace that offers a slice of quintessential English countryside.
Direct trains from London Victoria will take you to the village of Chilham. Exit the station and head east, following signs for Chilham Castle.
Little has changed over the past few centuries in Chilham (minus the fancy SUVs), and it is easy to feel as if you have stepped back in time when wandering around its narrow lanes and wonky rows of Tudor buildings.
Continue southeast down School Hill and the rather oddly-named Mountain Street. Keep an eye out for Elephant House as a marker – it’ll definitely give you house envy!
The route follows the North Downs Way along the edge of King’s Wood for several kilometres, and is well sign-posted. In spring, the area bursts into life with an abundance of bluebells, snowdrops and farm crops that makes anywhere a perfect spot for a lunchtime picnic. There are also several spots along the route where you can see Canterbury Cathedral in the distance, but if you’re vertically challenged like me, you might need a boost over the fence/long grass!
In my opinion however the best spot for lunch and a rest is the All Saints Church in Boughton Aluph. It turns out we weren’t the only ones who thought this place was ideal for picnicking:
Unfortunately the sheep were camera shy and hangry (in other words in no mood for my selfie shit) and quickly bounded off with the other sheep in the road. The church itself and its grounds are steeped in history, having been around since the 13th century. Sadly, it was closed when I visited, but curiosity got the better of me and I managed to peek through the keyhole!
Continuing from Boughton Aluph, follow the North Downs Way southeast towards Boughton Lees. Here you’ll arrive at a crossroads. Turn right towards Eastwell, where there’s a pub overlooking the cricket grounds – perfect for those that like their walks with a boozy interlude.
It’s along this section of the route that is my favourite spot of the whole trip – St Mary’s Church. Situated adjacent to Eastwell Lake, these beautiful ruins were hit by a stray bomb in WWII and the church was never repaired. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the church and nearby ruins, the Wild Ruins book offers a bit more info about this intriguing site.
With hardly any visitors and simply the call of ducks and birds on the lake for noise, St Mary’s Church is an ideal place to kick back and relax.
The North Downs Way continues along through more quiet and scenic farmland, and then along the ridge of the Westwell Downs.
Here you have two options; either follow the North Downs Way/Pilgrims Way into Charing, or you can turn left down a well-marked byway by Burnt House Farm. With this route, you can enjoy more countryside views, and these little piggies:
Plus, it takes you directly into the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Charing, as well as the ruins of the Archbishop’s Palace. King Henry VIII is said to have frequented the palace and church, along with an entourage of 5,000 – as you do.
After cooing over the frankly adorable houses in Chilham, Charing did not disappoint. Featuring a mixture of sloping Tudor cottages wedged between manor houses, it is an ideal spot to finish a day’s hike – the fact there’s a tea room and craft beer pub doesn’t hurt either.
Need to Know: The route is about 15 km long, and OS Explorer Map 149 Sittingbourne and Faversham covers the entire area. Trains depart once every hour from London Victoria station and take you directly to Charing and Chilham – to avoid the extra cost, I highly recommend booking train tickets in advance.
While there are pubs in Chilham, Boughton Lees and Charing for lunch stops, it is worth bringing a lunch or snacks from home, as well as cash, as the opening times for these places can vary.