Chilham Circular walk
A climb into the Kentish Downs and a descent to two historic houses.
15.4 km (9.6 miles)
5 out of 10, with all the climbing in the morning
OS Landranger 179; Explorer 137.
Starting from Chilham station and crossing the River Stour, this walk climbs in stages up through a pleasant area of downland and upland fields and woods to a remote country pub. Sadly this now insists on advance booking, having won awards for the best pub food in the country and gaining entry into the Michelin Guide. But if you can get a reservation there, it is a charming place to eat.
The finest section of the walk follows, taking you along a downland escarpment with panoramic views. You then descend to pass through the attractive estate of Godmersham Park, a house that was owned by the brother of writer Jane Austen, and where she stayed several times. The walk finishes along a quiet back lane which takes you to the picture postcard hilltop village of Chilham, dominated by the stately home of Chilham Castle.
All the climbing is in the morning half of the walk, with the afternoon largely downhill or flat. There are a few small bluebell woods in the central section of the walk, flowering in late April and early May, and some good displays of snowdrops towards the end of the walk in February.
Since this walk shares the same lunch pub as the Wye Circular walk, also on this website, it is possible to combine the morning of one and the afternoon of the other to do a Wye to Chilham of 17.7km (11 miles) or a Chilham to Wye walk of 16km (9.9 miles). Of the two, the Wye to Chilham walk perhaps has the best of the scenery.
Chilham is a stop just before Canterbury West on the line out of Ashford. It is served by one direct train an hour out of Charing Cross and London Bridge, with a journey time of 1 hour 50 mins.
However, you can reduce that to 1 hour 5 mins by taking a high speed train from St Pancras International (supplement payable) to connect with the direct train at Ashford.
If doing the Wye to Chilham option, Chilham is one stop beyond Wye, so you will need a day return to Chilham.
To get to lunch in Sole Street comfortably by 1pm, take a train that arrives at Chilham no later than 11am.
|Points of interest||
Godmersham Park was one of three country estates owned by Edward, the brother of the writer Jane Austen. We know from her letters that she made several visits to it, and she describes having dinner with the owners of Chilham Castle, so she would certainly have travelled the route between the two houses taken by this walk. The house is now a college and its interior is changed from Jane’s day, but the exterior is substantially as it was.
One assumes that Jane also walked around the estate and enjoyed its tranquil countryside (then undisturbed by the A28), but in fact her letters – written to her sister Cassandra – never discuss such matters, instead focusing on people and gossip.
Edward owned Godmersham because he had been adopted by the rich Knight family, distant relatives of the Austen’s, even though his natural parents were still living. This arrangement – rather odd to us – meant he got the education of a gentleman, went on a Grand Tour, and – crucially – was able to help the rest of his family financially.
Edward’s eldest daughter, Fanny, was a favourite of Jane’s, and in her letters to her the author made several famous remarks about her work which are now much quoted. However, Fanny secretly found her aunt a bit common. Later in life she famously described Jane and Cassandra as “not as refined as she ought to have been” and said that had her father not invited them to Godmersham “they would have been very much below par as to Society and its ways”. Jane also seems to have been a less popular guest at Godmersham than her sister – at any rate, she was, as far as we can tell, not invited so often.
In the 1980s Chilham Castle used to stage medieval banquets and jousting. It now leads a much quieter life, with the gardens open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from May to September. The castle has a history going back to William the Conqueror which you can read on www.chilham-castle.co.uk, but it has basically always been a family home. The current house dates to 1616, but the keep of the old medieval fortress also survives. One of its more recent owners was Stuart Wheeler, founder of spreadbetting firm IG Index, who passed away in July 2020.
The Compasses Inn, Sole Street, Crundale (01227 700300 www.compassesinn-crundale.co.uk), 6.5km (4 miles) into the walk, is the only possible lunch option on this walk and sadly now insists on advance booking, having won awards for the best pub food in England. It is also rather sniffy about parties of walkers, though happy enough if its customers turn up in walking boots. It does also serve drinks to non-dining customers. If you are admitted to the elect, food is served 12pm to 2.30pm Wednesday to Friday, 12-3pm on Saturday and 12-4pm Sunday. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The best picnic area is the escarpment in paragraph 45 of the walk directions, but there is also a nice bench nearer to the pub indicated in paragraph 40.
If you can get there in time, Shelly’s Tea Room in Chilham, open 10.30-6pm in summer or to 5pm in winter, is the best option for tea and cakes. Though it looks small from the outside, it has an upstairs room and, according to its proprietor, “regularly holds groups as large as 45 people”.
Of the two pub options in Chilham, the White Horse (01227 730 355) has a nice location in the main square, and also does tea and sells chocolate bars, as well as serving hot deserts. An alternative is the Woolpack Inn (01227 730 351), 200 metres down the hill.
Note that it is 1.1km (0.7 miles) from the centre of the village and 800 metres from the Woolpack Inn to Chilham station, so leave 15 (or ideally 20) minutes to do this. There is nowhere pleasant near the station to spend an hour if you miscalculate.
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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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.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk