A lovely walk in which you climb the Devil's Kneading Trough for impressive views across chalk downland.
Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 345ft (105m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Footpaths, wide grassy tracks and field margins, 6 stiles
Landscape Dramatic valleys and rolling downs
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 137 Ashford
Start/finish TQ 054469
Dog friendliness Can run free in places, older dogs won't like the climb
Parking Near Wye church
Public toilets Opposite Wye church
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1 From the church, walk down Church Street, turn left at the bottom, then right along Cherry Garden Lane. Keep ahead, crossing over a road and continuing along the track, past a beech hedge.
2 The road soon opens out and you continue ahead, past the imposing Withersdane Hall and along the footpath. There are flat fields to either side but don't worry, this walk's not all so monotonous - just be patient. At the road, cross over and continue ahead, crossing two stiles to a track ahead - this can get very muddy. At a crossing of tracks maintain direction, and follow a marker post diagonally across a field. Now nip over a stile and come on to the road.
3 Walk to the right and you'll soon see a footpath on the left-hand side and a sign saying 'Welcome to Wye Downs'. Walk up the steps, over a stile and continue winding your way up to the top of the hill (still complaining that it's flat?). You get wonderful panoramic views from here. Keep walking ahead to join the road, passing the dramatic gorge known as the Devil's Kneading Trough on your right.
4 Cross over, turn left along the road, then join the North Downs Way on the right-hand side. Go through the gate and follow the high ground, skirting the valley on the left. The soil here is fine and red, a complete contrast to the usual chalky, flinty soil of Kent. Keep ahead, but don't hurry - the views to the left deserve some attention. After some fine walking you'll reach a bench and observation point above the Wye Memorial Crown.
5 Take the stile on the right, signed 'North Downs Way', and walk past a wood on your left. Climb another stile, then continue walking down, following some steps to join a metalled road. Bear left and walk until the land starts dropping steeply away on your right. Turn left to follow the bridleway.
6 The route is easy to follow now. Make your way down the rather awkward steps, go through a gate and continue ahead to reach a road. Cross over and take the trackway opposite, through a nursery and greenhouses. At the road, turn left, then go straight ahead at the crossroads. Pass the New Flying Horse Inn then walk back up Church Street to the start.
As you walk along the North Downs, take a moment or two to think about the land beneath your feet - the chalk was laid down in warm, shallow seas almost 70 million years ago. Today chalk provides an ideal surface for walking, it drains well and doesn't get claggy. However, originally there was a fine mud beneath the sea, made from billions of tiny shells and the remains of small plants - a sort of gloopy, calcium rich soup. The North Downs were formed when movements of the earth's surface forced the Weald of Kent upwards, like a sheet of paper being crumpled. The top of the fold was then eroded, leaving the chalky spine of the Downs exposed.
The most dramatic feature on this walk is the deep gully of the Devil's Kneading Trough, that was formed at the end of the last Ice Age. Kent, unlike most of Britain, was never covered by thick ice sheets, however the ground was almost permanently frozen during the winter months, like parts of the Arctic or Russia today. In the spring, when the thaw set in, the meltwater would gouge deep valleys like this into the chalk.
As you stand looking across this deliciously green and varied landscape, it's hard to believe that you are looking at something that is artificial. But open chalk downlands only look the way they do because for thousands of years farmers grazed their animals here. The area around the Devil's Kneading Trough is a precious wildlife reserve and is home to wild flowers such as cowslips, violets, orchids, ox-eye daisies and the wonderfully aromatic wild thyme. Cowslips, so rare today, were once as abundant as buttercups and were strewn beneath the feet of country brides. They used to be known as 'freckled face' because of the orange spots at the base of their petals - spots which Shakespeare, rather romantically, thought gave them their delicate scent. In contrast, the fragrance of wild thyme is due to the presence of an oil called thymol, a natural antiseptic. It was traditionally used in the posy carried by monarchs when they presented Maundy money to their subjects. No, it wasn't there for decoration. It was there to give the monarch some protection from the infectious diseases carried by the poor.
Carved into the chalk is the large, creamy white memorial crown created by students of Wye College in 1902 to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII. It was illuminated with thousands of tiny lamps on the night of the coronation and also on the Silver Jubilees of George V and Elizabeth II. The crown was camouflaged with brushwood during the Second World War to prevent enemy aircraft using it as an aid to navigation.
Not far from Wye is Eastwell, one of those forgotten corners of Kent. There's a ruined church here, by a lake that is the burial place of Richard Plantaganet, the illegitimate son of Richard III. He worked as a mason at Eastwell Park after his father's defeat and death at Bosworth Field in 1485. They say his identity was discovered when he was spotted reading a book - an unlikely accomplishment for a 16th-century mason. He was said to be the last of the Plantaganets.