I fell in love. Seriously, the whole of the North Downs Way is nice, but this last section to Dover is simply SPECTACULAR! If you live in London, or anywhere in the South East then it is so easy to get to this amazing walk. You HAVE to jump on a train and try it. We actually walked it several weeks ago on a perfect sunny Sunday in May. But since then I have been crazily busy getting ready to move to Canada so I just didn’t have a chance to choose photos and actually write about it.
I took too many photos (over 500 in one day!) so I’m afraid this post will have to be a little photo heavy. I’ll add them as small sizes, but just click on each one if you’d like to see more detail.
North Downs Way – Etchinghill to Dover Map
Stage 11: Etchinghill to Dover – the basics
How to get there: Sandling (start), Dover (end)
Elevation gain: 680m
Our walk to Dover started at Sandling station, which is pretty easy to reach from London. Marc and I took the high speed train from St Pancras and met Mathias and Ashwini at Ashford International as they travelled from South London. From there it is about an hours walk to the official start of this section. You can take a taxi up to Etchinghill, but it is SUCH a lovely walk, I wouldn’t recommend that! Once you’ve made it up the hill to the ugly Tolsford Hill BT Tower, you’re near the start!
From here the walk is pleasant right from the start. Our last walk from Wye to Etchinghill was the first time I had seen (and smelled!) so many wild garlic flowers. This time, we didn’t actually see many of the flowers, but they must have been close as there was an amazing smell of garlic in the air for a while! You need to stay near the path through the first few fields as the area is an army training ground so you have to keep out of the way just in case soldiers are training nearby. There were no gunshots of soldiers while we walked past.
It was just a lovely walk past the pretty village of Etchinghill. It looked like the posh part of the village is up at the top of the hill, and then there is a modern housing estate lower down. Just past the village we met a super friendly ram who ran over to the edge of his fence to pose and make friends. We called him Derek.
After the village (and Derek the ram-dude) you walk down through some pretty meadows, through woodland and then under a dismantled trainline. After that you slowly climb up to the top of the Downs. In May, the bushes were covered in teeny white flowers and the grass was covered with various wild flowers.
Near the top of the combe it is pretty steep, but you are quickly rewarded by some amazing views. You can even see the sea, which we probably should have seen on our previous walk if it had not been so grey and misty.
The next part of the walk is through gorgeous green countryside. We went past some cows that had excellent resting-bitch-faces. Then as you stay on top of the Downs, it is a leisurely walk though fields and along hedgerows. The only problem is the nettles. The North Downs way does have some funding to maintain the paths and cut down the weeds to keep the paths clear BUT this years warm weather meant that the nettles had grown far higher than normal. Marc and I both had bare legs, so we had to be quite careful not to get stung. If I did this walk again in May, I think I’d wear jeans for some extra nettle protection.
We found a way marker showing we have walked 186km, with only another 15km to Dover! There are some pretty good views from the Peen Quarry. I climbed to the top of the hill to snap a photo over the Channel Tunnel terminal, Folkstone and out to sea.
Quite soon after the Quarry, we got to see out first pill box of the day. This part of Kent had thousands of these bunkers for soldiers to hide in during WWII. On the North Downs way, we saw a loads of them on the walk between Guildford and Dorking, but not so many after that. This walk to Dover includes plenty more WWII related sights.
The next fun thing to see was people throwing themselves off the cliffs above the Folkstone White Horse at Cheriton Hill. This might sound a little mad, but they had gliders! As we went past the White Horse there were two people already in the air with another three getting ready to jump! It looks like an amaaazing way to spend a sunny Sunday! You can’t see much of the White Horse from the North Downs, so it doesn’t really look like a horse! You see some of the white chalk lines in the photos below. I suppose you need to go down to Folkstone to see it properly.
We continued along the top of the downs looking down at the massive channel tunnel terminal. It seems to go on for miles! It is not particularly picturesque but I quite liked watching the vehicles line up as they load them onto le shuttle.
We walked along fields of wheat and barley. The barley looks lovely on sunny days as each green blade seemed to sparkle. The path wound around to Castle Hill and Caesar’s Camp. Our guide said this is an iron age fort, so nothing to do with the Romans; I’m not sure why it has Caesar in its name! The fort does offer some good views of the surrounding area. Folkstone looks pretty industrial from up here, but it was still a nice view under such a blue sky. We had to climb down a little and head towards sugar loaf hill. You can see the A20 disappearing into a tunnel, which takes the cars under the Folkstone Downs to Dover.
Sugarloaf Hill is a nice name for a hill. Apparently before granular sugar was available, people bought mounds of sugar called sugarloaf – so this pointy hill must have been named due to its shape.
We had to cross a busy road, and then walk up another road to reach the top of the cliffs. As we wandered up the (pretty steep) road, and old lady zoomed past on her push-bike. I was really, really impressed. I thought she must have thighs of steel to be able to whoosh up such a steep road and make it look so easy. It turns out she had an electric motor on her bike(!)
There was also a friendly horse who came over to our side of his field so we could make friends.
There are excellent views down to Folkstone from here. We were really lucky with the weather as the sea was a beautiful azure blue. I don’t remember it looking this tropical whenever I have taken the ferry to France!!
You turn off the road when you reach a pub called the Valiant Sailor. Then you have to fight your way through an overgrown path full of nettles to reach the next gorgeous viewing point on Dover Hill.
And you also get your first pretty views of the White Cliffs of Dover! Isn’t the channel a beautiful colour!
From here, the walk just gets better! I love walking on top of these pretty cliffs.
We stopped for ice-cream and a bite to eat at the Battle of Britain Memorial. There is a spitfire and a hurricane on show as well as a large memorial made to look like the propeller of one of these planes. This was the busiest place along the whole walk. It seems people in Kent are still very interested in the history of WWII.
After the memorial, the path continues along the cliff. In May, all the white flowers on the bushes had just started to drop their petals so it looked a little like snow.
I took far too many photos along the top of the cliffs. Rape-seed plants have grown in some areas creating a gorgeous golden glow. The sun also really shines through the grass whenever I looked back towards Folkstone so I had to keep taking pictures in that direction too. It is all just perfect on a sunny day.
There is quite a lot of war-related ruins along these cliffs. We saw quite a few pill boxes, look out posts and even a huge concrete acoustic mirror. The acoustic mirror was used to listen out for enemy airplanes up until radar was invented. Some of the look out posts had amazing views as they are build right into the cliffs. It is a shame they are all starting to fall apart. I have a feeling the soldiers that were stationed near here would be shocked to see how many include graffiti swastikas these days.
As you walk at the top of the cliffs, the A20 emerges on your left, and Samphire Hoe, an area built up out of the sea from the soil removed from the Channel Tunnel, is on the right. The cliffs are quite pointy and pretty here. Although they don’t seem very safe so we didn’t stray very close to the edge!
You continue along Shakespeares Cliff, and then the path slowly drops down to one of the beaches on the edge of Dover.
This is pretty close to the end of the walk, but there is a little more climbing! We walked through a housing estate, past some cats and up another hill to walk over to the Western Heights. You can see the remains of a Knights Templar church on the way. Then there are some good views of Dover from the Heights.
The best part of Dover’s Western Heights is the the Drop Redoubt. It is a large fortification built in 1805 when people were sure France would invade. None of this was ever tested by the French, but it was used by commandos during WWII.
The North Downs way leads walkers right around the Drop Redoubt. Once you reach the other side, there are some lovely aerial views of Dover Castle, the town and the harbour. Dover castle looks amazing! We didn’t have a chance to explore it, so we might have to come back another day.
Banksy has added a mural about Brexit on the side of a dilapidated house. You have a pretty good view of it from above, and it has already turned into a bit of a tourist attraction. It is pretty sad that this district that acts as a gateway to Europe, voted with two thirds to leave the EU.
Once you walk down from Dover’s Western Heights, it is just a hop, skip, and a jump down to the seafront. There is a line to show where the North Downs Way finishes officially.
We had planned to stay in Dover for a while to reward ourselves with yummy dinner and drinks. But unfortunately there really didn’t seem to be much open. We found a cool pub, the White Horse, that hosts swimmers after their attempts swimming the channel from France. The beers and cider were delicious and the the walls were covered with names, swim times and messages from athletes. They don’t serve food on Sunday evenings though; so we jumped back on the train, to zoom back to North London. This was probably our speediest journey as we made it back to St Pancras in just oven an hour!
We did it!! This walk took us 10 days over 5 months. We were soaked by rain and mud quite a few times near the start, but as we got closer to Dover, the weather and the views just keep getting better and better! I really hope this blog helps inspire some of you to walk some of the sections as well.