The Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty runs through the heart of the region, covering a mammoth 878 square kilometres, stretching from Dover and Folkestone in the south, north to the Surrey Border. The Downs are a chalk landscape – essentially a great curving arch chalk ridge which cuts through the heart of Kent. The same ridge is also found elsewhere in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire.
The highest point is Greensand ridge near Sevenoaks in Kent and several rivers feature in the area including the Darent, Great Stour, the Medway and in the east Kent Downs the Little Stour. On the Kent Channel coast the chalk is exposed – these are the great chalk cliff Heritage Coasts of Dover and Folkestone.
Tourist Information Centres
Popular main towns affording easy access into the AONB include Canterbury, Deal, Folkestone, Hythe, Maidstone, Faversham, Gravesend and Rochester. All these towns have tourist information centres with lots of guides and maps on the Downs.
The North Downs Way
A top spot for walking holidays, the North Downs Way National Trail runs right through the Downs for 153 miles (246km) from Dover and Folkestone through Kent, Surrey and into Hampshire culminating at Farnham. The trail takes in spectacular rural scenery en-route with upper grassland slopes on the Kent ridge rich in butterflies and orchids in summer!
To walk parts of the North Downs Way is to follow in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims who combined sections of the North Downs Way with the 24 mile long St Swithun’s Way, thus creating the ideal pilgrimage route from Winchester to Canterbury.
The trail is circular (splits into two) from Dover and Folkestone, with one section pushing up towards Canterbury and the other towards Wye and Ashford. All along the National Trail you will find a host of pretty rural villages with fine old inns, accommodation and amenities. This is a friendly, gentle trail easy to dip into.
Great family friendly and challenging cycling routes are here in the Kent Downs including the popular Chalk & Channel Way, a walking and cycling trail running from Dover to Folkestone, following the route of the National Cycle Route 2. A great choice of bike trails can be found in the Stour Valley area, many of which run alongside rivers.
The AONB also contains some fantastic areas for riding particularly to the east of Ashford at Covet & Covert Woods, Lyminge Forest and the Kent Downs just above Wye which boasts miles and miles of bridleways and peaceful country lanes.
Heritage, Gardens & Coast
Attractions and things to do and see in the AONB range from spectacular country manor house estates and heritage homes like Knole and Chartwell near Sevenoaks to famous Kent Gardens like Doddington Place and Beech Court Gardens. The Downs contains numerous heritage attractions including a Roman Villa at Lullingstone and several famous castles including the spectacular moated Leeds Castle on the edge of the AONB near Maidstone.
Breathtaking views are from coastal attractions and footpaths like the White Cliffs coastal path and 30 acre Samphire Hoe nature reserve at the foot of beautiful Shakespeare cliff between Dover and Folkestone. This unique new piece of land was created by Eurotunnel during the building of the Channel Tunnel.
The vast central Kent Downs area has about 40 stations both in and around the AONB so it’s easy to leave the car behind on a walking and touring holiday of the Kent Downs. Several circular walking routes are also direct from stations including Lenham, Hollingbourne, Chilham and Wye. Local bus services are excellent, provided by Stagecoach and Arriva buses, and Eurostar, Eurotunnel and Dover ferry services all bring your directly into the Downs area from the Continent.
Where to stay
Choose from numerous holiday cottages across the coast and countryside landscapes of the Kent Downs AONB, with many nestling close to the North Downs Way National Trail. Character granary and barn conversions, spacious traditional farmhouses and cosy cottage retreats with woodburning stoves are all plentiful in the AONB.
Or opt for a Grade Listed B&B at the foot of Dover Castle, a luxury coach house B&B on the edge of the Downs in Maidstone or a rural Lodge B&B in the heart of the countryside with onsite stabling. Find your perfect base in the Kent Downs online now and book with iknow.
Michelle is an experienced travel writer with iknow and has travelled extensively across the UK, Spain, Portugal and the USA. When she’s not busy writing for iknow she enjoys spending time touring museums and art galleries and seeking out the best independent shops in Manchester and Leeds.