The North Downs Way is one of the most popular of England’s National Trails. Given the route’s location just south of London, it is easy to understand why. The walk crosses the North Downs and traverses a number of beautiful landscapes, including the Surrey Hills and Kent Downs Areas of Outstanding National Beauty. Beginning in Farnham in the west and finishing at the coast in Dover, the walk is traditionally completed in ten stages.
Unique to the North Downs Way, you’ll have two options for the last two stages into Dover. The first option, known as the Southern Loop, takes walkers to the coast along the White Cliffs of Dover. Alternatively, the Northern Loop heads through the cathedral town of Canterbury before turning south to Dover. Whichever route you choose you’re sure to have a great adventure!
This post is designed to provide an introduction to the North Downs Way though in-depth maps, elevation profiles, stage-by-stage maps, and more!
Let’s get started.
In this Post
- Where is the North Downs Way?
- Interactive North Downs Way map
- How long is the North Downs Way?
- North Downs Way Elevation Profile
- Which maps should I carry on the North Downs Way?
- Stage-by-stage maps for the North Downs Way
- North Downs Way GPS/GPX
- Apps and offline mapping
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Where is the North Downs Way?
The North Downs Way is located just south of London and connects Farnham in the west with the port city of Dover in the east. The walk is traditionally walked from west to east, although you can certainly walk in the opposite direction as well. Along the way the route visits several lovely villages and explores some of the best countryside this close to London. For those interested in venturing a bit further afield, be sure to consider a walk on the South Downs Way as well.
Given the walk’s location, it is easy to get to the start and finish from London and other parts of England via rail or bus. Farnham sits on the Southwestern Railway which has frequent connections, while Dover is a major transit hub for the southeast coast.
Check out the map below to get a general sense of where the North Downs Way is located.
Highlights of the North Downs Way include the Rochester Castle, Canterbury Cathedral (for those who opt for the Northern Loop), and White Cliffs of Dover (for those who opt for the Southern Loop).
The walk is commonly completed in ten days, although it is always possible to shorten or extend your walk as you see fit. The North Downs Way is also especially well situated to be completed over a series of trips rather than in a single walk.
Northern & Southern Loops
As alluded to above you’ll have two options to complete the final two stages of the North Downs Way. This is a bit unusual for a National Trail, but gives walkers two attractive options. The route splits at Boughton Lees, and gives walkers the two options described below:
The Southern Loop is probably the more popular way to finish the walk as it takes walkers along the White Cliffs of Dover. From Boughton Lees you’ll head south to Etchinghill before heading to the coast and finishing in Dover.
The Northern Loop is a good option for history buffs or anyone who wants to visit the stunning cathedral at Canterbury. From Boughton Lees you’ll head northeast and overnight in Canterbury before continuing on to Dover. This option adds approximately 11-kilometers to the walk.
Below is the standard 10-day itinerary for the North Downs Way:
- Stage 1: Farnham to Guildford
- Stage 2: Guildford to Westhumble
- Stage 3: Westhumble to Merstham
- Stage 4: Merstham to Oxted
- Stage 5: Oxted to Otford
- Stage 6: Otford to Rochester
- Stage 7: Rochester to Hollingbourne
- Stage 8: Hollingbourne to Boughton Lees
- Stage 9: Boughton Lees to Etchinghill (Southern Loop)
- Stage 10: Etchinghill to Dover (Southern Loop)
For those who opt to complete the Northern Loop, the final two stages will look like this:
- Stage 9A: Boughton Lees to Canterbury
- Stage 10A: Canterbury to Dover
Check out the North Downs Way map below for a detailed overview of the walk.
Interactive North Downs Way map
The interactive North Downs Way map below will allow you to zoom in on the various stages as well as view the traditional stops along the route.
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How long is the North Downs Way?
When researching the North Downs Way you’re likely to find any number of distances given for the walk by the various guidebooks and websites covering the topic. The distance of the walk is of course highly dependent on whether you opt for the northern or southern loops, as the two have a difference of about 11 kilometers.
We measure (via GPS), the North Downs Way to be 203-kilometers long for those completing the Southern Loop and 214-kilometers long for those opting to take the Northern Loop through Canterbury.
While this exact measurement provides little practical value to anyone planning a walk on the North Downs Way, it is important to have a general understanding of the distances involved. The two maps below provide the stage distances for each of the 10-stages on the North Downs Way in both kilometers and miles. Use these to help get a sense of the walk and also plan your own itinerary.
Keep in mind that the distances provided here assume no detours, side trips, or other diversions off of the main route. Given this fact, you will certainly end up walking further than the distances we’ve provided.
North Downs Way Elevation Profile
The North Downs Way is not known for its difficulty or significant elevation gain. The route has modest hills, making it an ideal first National Trail to walk for someone new to hiking or a great walk for the experienced hiker looking to take things a bit easier.
For those taking the Southern Loop through Etchinghill the route gains 2,535 meters over the course of 203 kilometers. This equates to approximately 253 meters of elevation gain per day, which should be manageable for most walkers. For those who opt to take the Northern Loop via Canterbury, you can expect to gain 2,467 meters over the routes 214 kilometers.
Much of this elevation gain is evenly spread out along the undulating route providing a nice cadance the the walk. The most notable climb on the North Downs Way is the walk up St. Martha’s Hill and Newlands Corner which occurs on day two.
The high point of the North Downs Way sits at Titsey Plantation (263m above sea-level) which you encounter after a steep climb to start stage 5 out of Oxted.
The elevation profiles below, displaying both the Northern and Southern Loops, will give you an overview of what each stage of the North Downs Way entails in terms of total elevation change and distance. Elevation is shown on the left side while distance is shown on the bottom. Each blue dot represents a stop along the traditional 10-stage walk, with the stop name shown at the top.
The steepness of the line between any two points reflects the steepness of the trail for that particular stage. The distance between the two points shows the length of the stage. For instance, you can see that Stage 6 from Otford to Rochester is rather long in distance, while Stage 2 from Guildford to Westhumble has a lot of elevation gain.
When thinking about how many days or stages you’ll take to complete the North Downs Way be sure to reference these elevation profiles. They’ll give you a sense of how hard each day is and will let you see which stages may make sense to combine or split up on your walk.
Which maps should I carry on the North Downs Way?
As the North Downs Way is a National Trail, walkers can expect the path to be very well sign posted and easy to navigate. However, as with many walks in England, it can be quite easy to get turned around or generally off the correct track.
There are countless trail intersections, bridleways, and footpaths that can be easy to confuse with the North Downs Way. For this reason, we always recommend that walkers bring a few map resources when walking the route.
Our preference is generally to rely on GPS maps on our smartphones when out on a multi-day walk, and we can highly recommend this method for the North Downs Way. All you’ll need is a GPX file for the route (available for free on the National Trails website here) and a GPS app. We like Gaia GPS, although there are many great options available.
If you want to learn how to use GPS files, plan and create your own North Downs Way itinerary, and much more, you’ll want to check out our GPS Route Making & Navigation course here!
In addition to digital navigation methods, we also recommend you bring a paper map or map booklet along. There is simply no replacement for a physical map, afterall you never know when you may find yourself with a dead battery rendering your GPS app useless!
There are several excellent physical maps available for the North Downs Way, outlined below:
The North Downs Way Guide & Map Booklet – Cicerone Guides
In our opinion, your best bet will be to pack this excellent resource from Cicerone Guides. Their North Downs Way guide and map booklet contain Ordnance Survey maps for the entire route, neatly organized into a small and portable packet.
North Downs Way Adventure Atlas
Another convenient and highly recommended option is the North Downs Way Adventure atlas. This map consists of OS Explorer maps for the entire North Downs Way route, but saves you the hassle of assembling all of the Ordnance Survey maps yourself. It is also a bit larger and easier to read when compared to the Cicerone Map Booklet, which many walkers will prefer.
Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps
Finally, no article on maps for the North Downs Way would be complete without referencing Ordnance Survey maps. These North Downs Way maps provide an excellent level of detail , although you’ll need to carry several maps to cover the entire route:
- Explorer 145
- Explorer 146
- Explorer 147
- Explorer 148
- Explorer 137
- Explorer 138
- Explorer 150 (Northern Loop only)
In addition, a weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.
Stage-by-stage maps for the North Downs Way
The North Downs Way is traditionally completed in ten stages, with a wide variety of accommodation options available at each point along the walk. The maps below provide a general outline for each of these ten stages and include distance and elevation change. Also included are maps for the Northern and Southern Loops, the two options for the final two stages to Dover.
Stage 1: Farnham to Guildford
Distance: 17.33 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +324 m / -353 m
Stage 2: Guildford to Westhumble
Distance: 21.77 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +426 m / -422 m
Stage 3: Westhumble to Merstham
Distance: 15.89 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +580 m / -521 m
Stage 4: Merstham to Oxted
Distance: 13.5 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +541 m / -475 m
Stage 5: Oxted to Otford
Distance: 19.31 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +488 m / -586 m
Stage 6: Otford to Rochester
Distance: 28.65 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +751 m / -788 m
Stage 7: Rochester to Hollingbourne
Distance: 24.13 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +758 m / -700 m
Stage 8: Hollingbourne to Boughton Lees
Distance: 20.72 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +373 m / -393 m
Southern Loop Stage 9: Boughton Lees to Etchinghill
Distance: 22 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +513 m / -460 m
Southern Loop Stage 10: Etchinghill to Dover
Distance: 19.6 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +514 m / -628 m
Northern Loop Stage 9: Boughton Lees to Canterbury
Distance: 20.39 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +502 m / -548 m
Northern Loop Stage 10: Canterbury to Dover
Distance: 31.95 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +513 m / -523 m
North Downs Way GPS/GPX
If you are interested in getting access to the GPS data for the North Downs Way head on over to the National Trails website. You’ll find a free GPX download for the walking route.
Click here to access the free GPS data for the South Downs Way
You’ll be able to load the GPX file into the mapping software or GPS phone app of your choice!
Apps and offline mapping
As mentioned above we highly recommend utilizing offline downloadable GPS maps on our smartphones to navigate while walking the North Downs Way. This is a great way to navigate on the trail as it allows you to see your progress for the day and also doesn’t require a cell phone signal (which you may not have) to display the map.
Our GPS Route Making & Navigation Course has all the information you need to get set up using an app for your map. You’ll learn everything you need to know to plan your own route, navigate offline, and take control of your trip planning!
Have a great North Downs Way adventure!
We hope this post has given you all the information you need to get a basic overview of the North Downs Way. Let us know your questions or comments below. Happy trails!