This walk takes you to some of the most ancient sites in England.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 230ft (70m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Field paths and ancient trackways, some road, 12 stiles
Landscape Mix of ancient and industrial landscapes, superb viewpoint
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 148 Maidstone & the Medway Towns
Start/finish TQ 729590
Dog friendliness Very few off lead sections plus proximity to very busy roads means this is not too dog friendly.
Parking Aylesford Friary
Public toilets Aylesford Friary
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1 From the car park in Aylesford turn right towards the village, cross the road and join a raised pathway. Walk up some steps and go round by the graveyard, then follow the track to a tarmac road. Go left here, then left again to follow the Centenary Walk.
2 At the marker post take the left-hand track and walk left around the field until you come to some scrub. Walk through this, turn right and walk ahead to a patch of woodland. Keep this on your right and continue ahead, ignoring any tracks on the right. Eventually the path bends left into Eccles.
3 Turn left along a residential street then take the public footpath opposite No 48. Pop over a stile and take the left-hand track around the edge of the field. Go over a stile and bear right, then cross another stile just to the left of an electricity pylon. Now keep ahead across the fields, going over five more stiles until you reach Bull Lane.
4 Turn right on to the Pilgrims' Way - here a very un-medieval main road - and then left until you reach some cottages. Cross over and walk up the Centenary Walk footpath. Follow this as it winds up to Blue Bell Hill, where there's a final steep ascent. After crossing a stile at the top, the route goes right along the North Downs Way. (However, do take a detour left to enjoy the eye catching views from Blue Bell Hill car park.)
5 Keep following the North Downs Way until you join a road. Don't cross the bridge, but continue along the road. A sign on the right directs you to Kit's Coty House, an incongruous site in this busy landscape. Walk down to a busy road junction, turn left and join the Pilgrims' Way - it's on the corner, by the M20 sign. (Little Kit's Coty House is on the main road further down to the right.)
6 Follow the lane, then take the first track you come to on the right. This brings you to a road which you follow ahead. Just past a farmhouse take a stile on the right and walk diagonally across the field. Cross another stile and bear right towards a patch of woodland. Continue over another stile and find a gate in the bottom right-hand corner. Go through this and turn right along the road. Turn left at the junction, then right to return to the start.
You will never be alone on this walk, no matter what time of year you do it. Everywhere you go, you will be surrounded by the spirits of the past. For although it is entwined in busy roads and peppered with warehouses and factories, Aylesford is not the modern place it appears to be; in fact it is one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in England.
Thousands of years ago, neolithic people made this area their home. The North Downs offered safety, as well as a plentiful supply of flint for tools, and the river could be easily forded at low tide. Aylesford was settled by the Romans and was the site of an important battle in which the Jutes, Hengist and Horsa, defeated native Britons in ad 455. Alfred defeated the Danes here in ad 893 and Normans built the village church.
Neolithic people were surprisingly sophisticated - certainly not the savages that we once believed. Not only did they use tools, but they also farmed the land and herded animals. They created trackways, such as the route we call the Pilgrims' Way today, and traded with one another, not just within Britain but overseas too. Neolithic people also had religious beliefs and they built elaborate tombs, probably for the most important members of their community. You pass one of these tombs on this walk, built, as was the tradition then, on high ground. It is known as Kit's Coty House, the name meaning the house ('coty') of Kit, or Catigern, an Iron-Age leader who was once thought to have been buried there. However, this site is far older than that. Often called Kent's Stonehenge, it dates back 5,000 years. It consists of three enormous upright stones with another huge stone resting on top. It's almost impossible to imagine just how they got the stones up here, let alone got them into place. This stone portal would once have been buried under a mound of earth and was a communal burial site, probably for religious leaders.
Close by, is Little Kit's Coty House, the remains of another neolithic burial chamber that is possibly even older than Kit's Coty House. All you can see now are a mass of half buried stones. They are sometimes called the Countless Stones, because each time you count them you are said to arrive at a different number. We will probably never fully understand the significance of these sites to early humans, but they're a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the people that once walked the same tracks that you're following today.
Aylesford Friary, the first Carmelite friary in Britain, dates back to the 13th century. The property was taken from the friars in the Reformation and for many years was used as a fine country house. Pepys once visited and described it as 'very handsome'. In 1930 the building was almost destroyed by a fire and it wasn't until after the war that the Carmelites returned and restored the building.
The bridge at Aylesford was built around 1390 and is a listed structure. There's a new bridge very close to it and this is the place to stand if you want a good photograph with the river, old bridge and church all together.
The Friary has a restaurant/tea room where you can get teas, coffees and snacks. Or try the Little Gem pub in the High Street, which is said to date back to 1170 and is the smallest pub in Kent.