Walks on the North Downs
The North Downs is a range of chalk ridges in southern England. Running parallel to the South Downs, it crosses the counties of Surrey and Kent. The chalk grassland provides a fertile environment for assorted flowers (including orchids), animals, insects and birds. Badgers and deer make their homes here, as do skylarks and woodpeckers, so the proximity of this area to London is all the more surprising. This means, however, that the North Downs area is easily reached by public transport for those who prefer to leave their cars at home.
The North Downs Way is a National Trail starting in Farnham, Surrey, and ending in Dover or Canterbury, Kent. Including both endings, the trail stretches for 153 miles. Many stretches follow the ancient Pilgrims’ Way, one of several possible routes for medieval pilgrims between Winchester and the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Evidence of ancient habitation abounds in the form of long barrows and castles, and this is balanced by spectacular views across open countryside. The North Downs Way passes through the Surrey Hills and Kent Downs Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
A 12th-century castle is situated above the picturesque market town of Farnham. Heading east towards Dorking is Box Hill (564ft), a pretty vantage point from which to view the surrounding area. However, its height is surpassed by Botley Hill (876ft) also in Surrey, which offers views as far as London.
Numerous locations in Rochester, Kent, are captured in the novels of Charles Dickens, and the town also boasts a cathedral and castle. Not far away, Leeds Castle is a tourist hot-spot. It became a royal palace in the 13th century, and today boasts extensive grounds including gardens, lakes, streams, a maze and vineyard.