A pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral via the Great Stour River, hop fields and orchards
20.1km (12.5 miles), 5 hours. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 10 hours 45 minutes.
4 out of 10.
Explorers 137 & 150 or Landranger 179. Chilham, map reference TR 077 535, is in Kent, 8km south-west of Canterbury.
This particular pilgrimage to Canterbury starts beside the Great Stour River and its attendant lakes, visits the church and green at Chartham and passes through hop fields and apple orchards to Chartham Hatch.
In the afternoon the way is through Church Wood and Blean Woods Nature Reserve to the parklands of the University of Kent, with fine views down over Canterbury Cathedral. The entrance to the city is along the River Stour, through the Norman Westgate and down the medieval high street and alleys, entering the cathedral precincts through its ornate Christ Church Gate.
Leave early to give yourself time for site seeing at the end. Also, there's not much shade on this walk on a hot day
There are buses into Canterbury, three times an hour, from Upper Harbledown. There are also buses into the city from near the Blean Tavern pub on the A290 and from the University of Kent.
The route passes near Canterbury West Station on entering the city, for those who wish to go home without visiting the city centre and there is a suggested short cut in the walk directions (below) once within the city, to Canterbury East Station.
For those interested in Vineyards and wine tasting, a short detour as you enter the village of Chartham takes you to the Chartham Vineyard in Burnt Home Farm on Station Road (tel 01233 813 709). The wine shop is open on Saturdays only from 10.30am to 5.30pm. Vineyard tours for 4 to 15 people can be booked in advance.
Attacked by marauding Picts, Scots and Saxons, the Britons could not defend the walled city of Durovernum Cantiacorum, once the Romans had abandoned it. When St Augustine and his followers arrived in 397 ‑ at the instigation of King Ethelbert and his French Christian wife, Bertha ‑ the walls were repaired and the overgrown streets cleared. The city was now called Cautwaraburg.
The Cathedral which St Augustine founded was sacked by the Danes in 1011. It was within the cathedral, on December 2nd 1170, that Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered by four of Henry II's knights. The city became a place of pilgrimage, as celebrated by Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales, although these pilgrimages were interrupted in 1538, when Henry VIII had St Thomas declared a traitor and his shrine pillaged and all references to him destroyed.
Entrance to Canterbury Cathedral (tel 01227 762 862) is free if attending evensong, which normally takes place at 5.30pm Monday to Friday, 3.15pm Saturday, and 5.15pm Sunday. Otherwise admission (2020) is £12.50. The Cathedral is open till 5.30pm in summer, till 5pm in winter - last admission 30mins before closing time.
Huguenots fleeing France after the St Bartholomew Massacre of 1572 settled in Canterbury. The Weavers' House in the High Street is an example of one of their high‑gabled houses, with loft doors for lifts.
The Westgate is the only surviving gateway into the city, built by Archbishop Sudbury before the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. It was used as a gaol. The medieval wall around the city follows the line of the third‑century wall in Roman times.
The mainly medieval church of St Peter's, in St. Peter Street, may be of Saxon origin.
Weekdays, take the train nearest to 9.10am from Charing Cross Station to Chilham. Journey time 1 hour 35 minutes. Buy a day return to Canterbury. Weekends, trains go from Victoria to Chilham (Canterbury West service). For a premium, you can reduce the journey time to just over 1 hour by taking the High Speed Train nearest to 9.40am from St Pancras and changing at Ashford International.
If you are planning to have an early lunch in Chartham (pending the re-opening of the Chapter Arms - see below) you can take a train one hour later.
Trains back from Canterbury East Station to Victoria run twice an hour. Journey time 1 hour 35 minutes. Alternatively, you can return from Canterbury West Station, where there is an hourly High Speed Train direct to St Pancras (taking less than an hour) and half-hourly services to Charing Cross, taking 1 hour 45 minutes.
The suggested lunchtime pub was the Chapter Arms pub (tel. 01227 738 340) in Chartham Hatch but this CLOSED on 30 June 2017: the pub has been purchased by a private developer for a housing development. Locals objected to the development and hoped to see the pub reopen in some capacity as a pub. As of February 2020 their attempts have failed, following the City Council's rejection of an application to have the pub listed as an asset of community value. As a consequence, it is unlikely the Chapter arms will survive as a public house. Your choice of a lunch stop on this walk is now limited to an early stop, or a very late stop in the walk, or no stop until you reach Canterbury.
Your early stop for lunch after one hours walking is the pleasant Artichoke pub (tel 01227 738 316) in Chartham, which serves food midday to 2pm every day.
Your late lunch pub option, some 9 miles into the walk, until March 2019 used to be the Blean Tavern but alas, this pub has also now CLOSED and has been sold for alternative use. Just over 1 km north of this pub on the A290 ia the Royal Oak pub at Blean Common, serving lunch between 12 noon and 3 pm. Those armed with the OS Explorer map can stay in Blean Woods longer and plot a way to this pub. Alternatively, if you have not stopped earlier in Chartham for lunch, by the time you reach Blean you might prefer to continue on to Canterbury and dine there.
Please note the Plough Inn in Upper Harbledown has now permanently closed as a pub.
There are any number of places to have tea in Canterbury but if you like to finish your sightseeing first, the suggested tea place is five minutes from Canterbury East Station: the White Hart pub (tel 01227 765 091) in Castle Row. This is open daily till late. The pub will serve sandwiches and ploughmans if requested.
A branch of Patisserie Valerie (tel 01227 760 450) is at No 23 High Street, for those who like their gateaux and nice cakes, and directly opposite is Cafe Boho , popular with SWC walkers.
There is also a friendly station snack bar at Canterbury East offering hot drinks and snacks, open until 7.30pm daily.There is also a snack bar on Canterbury West station.
Other tea places open late include (in order of nearness to Canterbury East Station): Il Vaticano (tel 012227 765 333), mainly a pizza restaurant, at 35 St Margarets, open till 10.30pm daily; and Cafe des Amis (tel 01227 464 390) by the Westgate as you enter the city, open till 10pm daily.
For those heading direct to Canterbury West railway station, your tea place is just before the station. The Goods Shed Farmers Market, Foodhall and Restaurant (tel 01277 459 153) open Tuesday to Saturday from 8am to 11pm, Sundays 9.30am to 4pm, closed Mondays. This is a great place to spend time if you have time to kill before your train home.
[All editions] Use the online version - 2 route diversions. Main update 14 April 2017.
Update on pub closures February 2020. Vineyard and Goods Shed info added July 2018.