Detling – North Downs Way – Pilgrim’s Way – Thurnham round
Kent is a county in the South East of England and boarders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. Kent also has a nominal border with France halfway through the Channel Tunnel and with being located between London and the continental Europe the county has been in the front line of several conflicts including the Battle of Britain during World War II when East Kent was known as Hell Fire Corner. Kent has an extensive and varied coastline with some stunning landscapes from the White Cliffs of Dover to the mysterious and haunting landscapes of Dungeness and the Romney Marshes. Today the coastline has an array of blue flag award winning beaches and thrilling water sport activities but in the early 19th century it was a coast where smugglers such as The Aldington Gang brought spirits, tobacco and salt to the county and transported goods such as wool across the sea to France. Kent is one of the warmest parts of Britain and in the small hamlet of Brogdale near Feversham on 10th August 2003 the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK was 38.5 Celsius(101 Fahrenheit). Kent is England’s oldest county steeped in history and heritage, it is known as The Garden of England because of its abundance of orchards of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and many varieties of apples there are also many vineyards, lavender fields and oast houses. Kent with its two areas of outstanding natural beauty covering a third of the county is a wonderful and captivating place with a lot to offer such as historic houses, romantic castles to imposing castles built as coastline defences, secret gardens, woodlands, country parks, nature reserves, martime adventures aboard warships and lamplit tours of ancient caves. You can visit Canterbury with Chaucer’s pilgrims or visit Rochester with Dickens following the martime adventures that have shaped Kent from Roman invasion to World War II. There are many other major attractions to choose from and many hidden little gems to discover. Most of Kent’s attractions and best kept secrets can be reached by train or car but the best way to explore this wonderful county is by walking, cycling or horse riding.
Detling is a village in the Borough of Maidstone in Kent and located on the slope of the North Downs and on the Pilgrim’s Way. Before Detling was bypassed all traffic passed through and the Cock Horse Inn was used to stable additional horses when required to take heavily laden coaches and wagons on the steep route up Detling Hill. The disused airfield at the top of the hill was a Royal Navy Air Station during World War I and an RAF Station during World War II. In the village there is a memorial to those who died at the airfield and a Tudor gateway that is still standing since the time of Henry VIII. The village church dedicated to Martin of Tours is a Grade I listed building and was built in the 1100’s and has 13th and 15th century additions and restoration took place in the late 19th century. The churchyard contains a headstone and a table tomb that are Grade II listed.
The small village of Thurnham is also in the Borough of Maidstone in Kent and located at the base of the North Downs. The Black Horse Inn at the top of the village sits on the Pilgrim’s Way. The village church of St. Mary the Virgin is a pre Norman building and Milgate House both are Grade I listed buildings and the churchyard contains a number of Grade II listed monuments. The church began in the 12th century and alterations were made up to the early 17th century. The remains of Thurnham Castle are just north of the village. The castle built of flint was constructed by Robert de Thurnham in the 12th century now belongs to Kent County Council who have cleared the site of under growth to allow public access. Only one side of the bailey wall stands at 10 foot high but it is worth the walk as the views of the surrounding countryside of the Kentish Weald are wonderful. The Black Horse Inn, situated on the Pilgrim’s Way, is an 18th century family run inn with luxury accommodation.
The North Downs Way National Trail is a long distance path running for 153 miles from Farnham to Dover passing Godalming, Guilford, Dorking, Merstham, Otford, Rochester, along the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty of the Surrey Hills and Kent Downs. The trail is a mixture of footpath, bridleway, byway and road of which are mainly minor lanes. The North Downs Way also runs parallel to the Pilgrim’s Way between Farnham and Canterbury.
The Pilgrim’s Way runs for 119 miles from Winchester in Hampshire to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury in Kent and is the historic route supposed to have been taken by pilgrim’s from Winchester. Much of the traditional route of the Pilgrim’s Way is now part of the modern road network. From Thomas Becket’s canonization in 1173 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 his shrine at Canterbury became the most important in the country, after Rome’s chief shrine in Christendome, and it drew pilgrims from far and wide. The shrine of St. Swithin at Winchester was an important regional focus and an aggregation point for travellers arriving through the seaports on the south coast.
We park at the side of the road in Detling and make our way past the telephone box to the Cock Horse Inn. We turn right down the little road opposite the inn, sign posted Thurnham 1 mile. We head along the road, on the North Downs Way, for a few minutes and take the footpath on the left through the hedge and head forwards to the trees. We follow the path round to the right passing in front of two houses then go down and uphill and down to the road where we go through a metal gate and turn right going downhill until the road turns sharp right. We head through the gate on the left sign posted North Downs Way, Hollingbourne 4 miles. As we head forward we see a sign for Thurnham Castle and keep following the North Downs Way through the trees until we come to a gate in front of us and turn left up the steps following the sign for Thurnham Castle. We take a look round then return to the gate. We go through the gate and continue uphill on the North Downs Way near the top we turn right and keep heading forwards following the path. We go up some steep steps and keep heading forwards until we come to another road where we cross straight over. We keep following the North Downs Way between the trees and when we come out into the open we head straight forward downhill cross over the fence and turn left onto a track. We follow the track and after passing a footpath on the right the track turns right and when the track splits we bear right following the sign for the North Downs Way. At the next split with a post with yellow arrows we bear left still following the North Downs Way until we come to a road. We cross straight over and follow the North Downs Way until we come to a track at a t-junction we turn right to pass through Allington Farm. At the road we turn right and follow the minor road, the Pilgrim’s Way, through Broad Street and at the crossroads at Cobham Manor we keep heading straight forwards until we come to the cross roads at Thurnham. We turn left between the Black Horse Inn and a building named Thurnham Friars heading down Thurnham Lane towards the village. At the sign post on the right for St. Mary’s Church we turn right and follow the path to the church. We wander through the church yard and take the gate at the far end. We cross over the track and into a field via a gate and keep heading straight forwards through the field until we come to the road back at Detling.
A moderate walk along the North Downs Way with some steep inclines and declines returning on the much easier minor road along the Pilgrim’s Way.
Distance and start point
Approx 8.25 miles allow 3½ hours using OS Explorer Map 184, Maidstone & the Medway Towns.
Start point: The Cock Horse Inn in Detling near Maidstone.
Detling near Maidstone in the County of Kent.
Directions and parking
Leave the M20 at junction 7 and take the A249 towards Sittingbourne and Sheerness. Take the first turning on the right into Detling.
There is no car park only road side parking.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are no public toilets the nearest ones are in Maidstone. For refreshments there is the Cock Horse Inn at Detling and the Black Horse Inn at Thurnham. There are shops, cafes, restaurants, takeaways and pubs in nearby Bearsted and Maidstone.