Ancient villages, churches and pubs in a classic Kent landscape
Canterbury Circular 22.5km (14 miles)
Canterbury to Sturry 18.3km (11.4 miles)
Bekesbourne to Canterbury 16.3km (10.1 miles)
Bekesbourne to Sturry 12.1km (7.5 miles)
Sturry Circular 12.9km (8 miles)
Bekesbourne Circular 17.3km (10.7 miles)
Diversion to Ickham Adds 1.2km (0.7 miles)
2 out of 10: almost no hills
Landranger 179, Explorer 150
This is a beautiful walk through a quiet corner of Kent, taking in a series of ancient villages, each with a similarly ancient church and passing a series of charming rural pubs. The village of Wickhambreaux in particular is so quintessentially English that it might be a film set.
The terrain is most flat, with only a few gentle hills, but there are still some good views just after Stodmarsh. There walk has a variety of landscapes, from woods to arable fields, and from a farm growing strawberries in polytunnels to fields with grazing cattle.
Originally a Bekesbourne Circular walk, with a Sturry Circular option added later, this walk has now been extended to allow starting and finishing at Canterbury, though with the two original circular options still included. The merits of the various starts and finishes are discussed in Walk Options below
There are good displays of wood anemones in the woods before and after Fordwich in late March and early April, and these overlap mid April with plentiful quantities of bluebells, which last till early May.
This walk is also a delight for lovers of ancient churches, with no less than four passed on the main walk, and a fifth if you take the diversion to Ickham. Note the immense 13th century tithe barn next to Littlebourne church, apparently originally attached to a monastery, and in Wickhambreaux church don't miss the Tiffany-style art nouveau stained glass window. Stodmarsh church, meanwhile, has a wonderful ancient simplicity, and tiny crosses supposedly carved by knights on their way to the Crusades on the frame of its main door.
This walk originally started and finished at Bekesbourne station, but this has a slow train service from London and no refreshment options if you end the walk there. Sturry is a more convenient starting or finishing point, with good connections to high speed trains from St Pancras, but makes for a much shorter walk. The option of starting and finishing in Canterbury has therefore been added: this also includes a walk through the centre of this historic city on the way out and an exploration of its riverside area and back streets on the way back.
- Starting in Canterbury: from Canterbury West station (or Canterbury East: directions also provided for this) you walk through the historic centre of Canterbury, passing the entrance to its cathedral. You then have a short section of suburbia before you follow the North Downs Way across flat arable fields (on hard-surfaced tracks or tarmac lanes) to Patrixbourne, where you pick up the original walk route from Bekesbourne station. From this start you can either do the whole circular walk of 22.5km (14 miles) or end at Sturry, a distance of 18.3km (11.4 miles).
- Starting at Bekesbourne: this isolated rural station makes a good place to start: you get straight into the most attractive section of the walk. But it only has a slow hourly train service. From here it is 12.1km (7.5 miles) to Sturry (the prettiest section of the walk) or 16.3km (10.1 miles) to Canterbury.
- Ending in Sturry: just up the road from pretty Fordwich, which has two attractive pubs, Sturry station has hourly trains to Canterbury and convenient connections to the high speed train to London.
- Ending in Canterbury: the Stour Valley Walk from Fordwich to Canterbury is not as easy to follow as it looks on the map and passes through some rather gloomy and overgrown woodland. Towards the end it is positively confusing. This route avoids the worst section by dipping down to enter Canterbury along the banks of the River Stour. Some charming backstreets then bring you to the many tea, pub and eating options in the city centre.
- Sturry Circular: this option takes you through all the best bits of the walk in an 12.9km (8 mile) circuit. It includes further fine wood anemone woods in late March and early April which are not on the main walk.
- Bekesbourne Circular: the directions for the original Bekesbourne Circular walk of 17.2km (10.7 miles) are still preseved in this document. Like the Sturry Circular walk, whose route it follows for a distance in the afternoon, this passes through some additional wood anemone woods in late March and early April, but then turns west through a large commercial apple farm, to Bekesbourne station. There is no refreshment option on this section, the pub near Bekesbourne station having closed years ago (though you could stop off at Canterbury East on the train home and have tea there). There is also nowhere particularly nice to wait at Bekesbourne if you miss the hourly train, the station having only very basic bus stop-style shelter.
Canterbury is best reached on the high speed trains from St Pancras, which take one hour and which serve Canterbury West station, the starting point for this walk. Cheaper trains run from Victoria or Charing Cross/London Bridge, taking from 1 hour 30 minutes to over 2 hours. The Charing Cross/London Bridge trains serve Canterbury West but some Victoria trains go to Canterbury East: directions are also provided to and from this station
Bekesbourne is the stop beyond Canterbury East on the railway line from Faversham to Dover, and is served by hourly trains, taking 1 hour 40 minutes.
Sturry is the stop beyond Canterbury West on the line from Ashford to Ramsgate, and is served by hourly trains from Charing Cross and London Bridge, taking 1hr 48 minutes.
However, you can also reach Sturry in 1hr 16 minutes by taking a high speed train out of St Pancras International, changing at Ashford. The same trick, alas, does not work for Bekesbourne.
If you want to start in Bekesbourne and finish in Sturry, a day return to one should be accepted from the other, as both are one stop beyond Canterbury and both served by Southeastern.
To have the best choice of lunch pubs, aim to start the walk by around 10.30 if starting from Canterbury West. If starting from Bekesbourne you will probably have no choice but a train arriving at around 11.45 and since this start is closest to the lunch pubs that is probably sufficient. For the Sturry Circular a 10.30 start to the walk gives you a bigger choice of lunch pubs, but an 11.30 start might well do..
The prettiest place for lunch is Rose Inn in Wickhambreaux (01227 721 763) which is located right on its picturesque village green, and has some outside tables. Situated 11.1km (6.9 miles) from Canterbury, 4.9km (3 miles) from Bekesbourne, or 6.5km (4 miles) into the Sturry Circular walk, it serves food all afternoon (until 9pm) Monday to Saturday and until 4pm on Sundays (with drinks served till 10.30pm). It is a small and popular pub, however, and so it is well worth ringing to book.
A nearby (and larger) alternative, with a garden overlooking fields - is the Duke William in Ickham (01227 721 308 www.dukewilliamickham.com). Reached by a diversion from the main walk route that adds 1.2km (0.7 miles) to the walk length, it is 10.9km (6.8 miles) from Canterbury, 5km (3.1 miles) from Bekesbourne and 6.4km (4 miles) into the Sturry Circular. Following a 2016 renovation it is described by walkers as "a large gastro pub, perfect for a larger group".
Last but not least, the charming Red Lion in Stodmarsh (01227 721 339 www.theredlionstodmarsh.com) is an isolated pub in an extremely tranquil spot, which "specialises in doing simple food well". It has a cosy interior and a pleasant garden full of chirping birds, and is 13.3km (8.3 miles) from Canterbury, 7.1km (4.4 miles) from Bekesbourne, and 8.7km (5.4 miles) into the Sturry Circular. Food is served 12-3pm and 6.30pm to 9.30pm Monday to Saturday, and from 12-4.30pm on Sunday. Outside food hours the pub is open in the afternoon for drinks.
The best picnic spots are probably on the green at Wickhambreaux (there is a nice bench) or in the churchyard at Stodmarsh.
Whether or not you are finishing the walk in Sturry, the two pubs in Fordwich, 17.5km (10.9 miles) from Canterbury, 11.3km (7 miles) from Bekesbourne, or 12.1km (7.5 miles) into the Sturry Circular, make excellent tea stops.
The more immediately obvious is the Fordwich Arms (01227 710 444) which has an attractive rear balcony and garden overlooking the tranquil River Stour, though it is a bit of a locals' pub. While it serves tea in proper pots, it does not do food between 2.30pm and 6pm, so you are forced back onto the usual salty bar snacks.
If you want a pudding with your tea, the George and Dragon, 100 metres down the road from the Fordwich Arms, might be a better option. It serves food all afternoon and has a pleasant garden.
Canterbury has myriad tea, pub and restaurant options, too many to list here, but the walk route brings you out next to Patisserie Valerie (open till 7pm) and the Boho Cafe (till 6pm Monday to Saturday, 5pm on Sunday).
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
The maps below, which show the route, aren't in the PDF.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk