Searching around for a project to follow on from research for my Essex book, I soon thought about the National Trail closest to London, the North Downs Way. Despite its easy proximity, it would give me a chance to discover a part of the world that I didn’t know all that well.

Much of the route is based on the famous Pilgrim’s Way from London (or Winchester) to Canterbury, immortalised by Chaucer. It’s principally a traverse of the chalk escarpment of the North Downs, much as the South Downs Way does for its equivalent. However there is a somewhat anomalous first day on greensand west (and a little east) of the River Wey.

There are many long tranquil stretches across its 150-plus miles, including a crossing of the splendid Surrey Hills and many glorious miles through Kent, the Garden of England; the clifftop stretch around Folkestone will have you looking across to France.

Pilgrim's Way

Pilgrim’s Way north of Lenham

Forward to Walking the North Downs Way. The page details my walk of 2013-14, all stages being undertaken by public transport from my then east London home.

One cavil. Busy roads like the M25 and A2 intrude too often; not the planners’ fault, they either weren’t there, or were much quieter, when the route was first developed.

Transport and logistics

Boxhill & Westhumble station

Boxhill & Westhumble station

Along the Way, there is a good variety of accommodation (including campsites) for those who want to stay on route. I only had one overnight, in Canterbury, though it wasn’t strictly necessary – just a chance to have a night away with my loved one as we walked the inland loop together.

Every stage apart from Chilworth (once), Borstal and Folkestone ended at a rail station. Rail times are easy to check from National Rail. For bus times I use Traveline but rather than rely on the sometimes clunky ‘plan a journey’ I use the ‘find a timetable’ link for the village.

Chilworth: the return to Chilworth worked out better to me by the hourly bus 32 from Guildford rather than the more sporadic train.

Borstal: half-hourly bus 155 to Rochester, or an extra two miles’ walk.

Folkestone: frequent bus 16/16A/73/91 from Alkham Valley Corner, or an extra two miles’ walk.